As Boy Scouts, Oakland-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Taylor Vick makes the kind of music that hits like good advice from a beloved friend. It's generously warm and inviting, built atop her open, searching voice, but it doesn't shy away from tough emotional truths. Like Lomelda's secular hymns and Hop Along's energetic kiss-offs, Vick's songs survey the damage that can come from loving other people with curiosity and grace. Her new album, Free Company (ANTI-), is her most vital and incisive work yet, a stunningly tuneful rumination on heartbreak and loss that is always galloping toward the horizon.
Raised in California's Central Valley on country music and The Carpenters, Vick picked up her first guitar in fourth grade. She started writing her own songs not long after, inspired by acoustic guitar-wielding radio icons like the Dixie Chicks and Michelle Branch. When her brother got a four-track cassette recorder, Vick started laying her music to tape. She uploaded a few demos to Myspace, back when the early social media platform was a repository for millions of DIY songs. As the internet moved, so did she, migrating to Soundcloud and then to Bandcamp. She learned to play the drums and the bass, rounding out the rhythm of her songs. Once she had put together a sizable number of tracks, she started releasing records on her friends' DIY tape labels.
For Vick, writing and recording songs is a little like journaling, a way to make sense of the present and shuttle it off into the past. But her intimate compositions soon attracted a strong following of listeners. She may have been writing for herself, but she struck a far-reaching chord. Vick started playing shows around California, opening for bands like Soccer Mommy, Palehound, and Vagabon. In March of 2019, she played her first SXSW.
Her tightest and most cohesive collection of songs, Vick recorded Free Company in a tiny studio her friend Stephen Steinbrink set up inside a rented shipping container--a unique spot that ended up being perfect for her. "It's a windowless little room, but that made me feel really comfortable," she says. "We did it in the comfort of a weird, atypical recording space." Steinbrink plays drums, synth, and bass throughout the record in addition to singing backup. It was the first time Vick had opened up her recording process to someone besides herself, and the inclusion of her friends (Rose Droll, Nikolas Soelter, and Chase Kamp also contributed to the album) helped her polish Boy Scouts' indie pop sound to a sparkle.
Written in the wake of a breakup, Free Company confronts the pain of loss head-on beneath its weightlessly catchy melodies. It may be an album about "good old classic heartbreak," as Vick puts it, but it relishes the process of healing just as much as it carefully weighs the grief. With sunny vocal harmonies, bright electric guitars, and shuffling up-tempo drums, Free Company doesn't show its hand right away. It asks you to look past its sheen and take in Vick's deeply contemplative lyrics, which add dimension to her sun-soaked arrangements.
On the album opener "Get Well Soon," Vick reckons with the difficult epiphany that comes when you've worked overtime to help someone you love, only to realize they won't meet you in the middle and help themselves. "It's a hard thing to say. You're hoping somebody will eventually feel better, but there's also this weird new distance between you. You can't do anything else, but you still really hope that they're OK," she says.
One of the highlights of Free Company with its jangly electric guitar chords and sky-high vocal melodies, "Expiration Date" tackles that universal human quandary of impermanence. "Everything changes all the time. Nothing will last forever," says Vick. "It's such a hard concept to grasp because we just get so attached to things and people and situations. But stuff can't stay how it is forever. That's also to be said about bad stuff that happens. It won't weigh you down forever."
With a keen ear for melody and a palpable sense of empathy, Vick picks apart all the confusing and contradictory ways that people glance off of each other while moving through their lives. Her music is an invitation to shake off the weight that's been dragging you down, to lighten your step and keep moving forward no matter what lies ahead.