From South London, England, comes the singer-songwriter and producer David Taro. His music, which spans the genres of indie pop, rock, and blues, is heartfelt and tender while frequently containing wry, self-deprecating humor. He has written songs about Thierry Henry the football player to fairytales gone awry over the years. a strange love song, too.
Billy Joel, Queen, and The Beatles were among the musicians David grew up idolizing. This likely explains why his first song, which he wrote when he was 11 years old, was titled Hey Bohemian Piano Man. David’s discovery of Randy Newman and blues music in his late teens introduced him to two more influential genres. He’s from a musically inclined family. His father and uncle were members of the late 1960s pop group Grapefruit, one of the first acts signed to The Beatles’ Apple label, and a number of his cousins are currently working as producers and musicians. His grandfather was also a semi-professional musician.
David has played and composed music in bands all of his life, from Britpop-inspired school bands to the blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll group The Big Red, known for their wild wedding performances and piercing original blues-rock sets.
Indie rock song “Never Had A Love Like This Before” talks about toxic relationships and how love can feel both right and wrong at the same time. The song, which has echoes of bands like Rag’n’Bone Man and Royal Blood, combines thudding drums, powerful guitars, and a piercing, emotive vocal. Check out the song and the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how you got started?
DAVID TARO: I’m a Londoner. I come from a musical family – my dad was in a late-60s pop act called Grapefruit – and I started writing songs in my early teens. I’ve played in bands most of my life, but now I’m focusing on writing, recording and releasing songs that are just me. It’s all very scary.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
DAVID TARO: I remember having piano lessons as a child, absolutely hating them, and quitting after a year. But now I’m grateful they gave me some basics – reading music, a little theory. I taught myself guitar in my teens. I really wish I’d had lessons there too – I’m a hack basically – but for me it was always primarily about using the guitar as a tool to write songs.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘DAVID TARO’?
DAVID TARO: As a kid: Billy Joel, Queen and the Beatles. More or less in that order. One of my strongest musical influences is the American singer-songwriter, Randy Newman, who I discovered in my 20s. Listening to him taught me that it was possible to write great melodies that are funny, poignant, articulate, weird… often all in the space of one song. He’s a genius.
The name ‘David Taro’… I’m going to let you in on a little secret. ‘Taro’ is actually part of my middle name ‘Kentaro’ (I’m half-Japanese), but I prefer it to my actual surname ‘Swettenham’, which is about as rock n roll as an old sock.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
DAVID TARO: I try and be truthful and heartfelt – I find people connect with your music a lot more when you do that – but I also like to throw in some humour where I can. Musically, I tend to be quite eclectic because I love the challenge of writing in a heap of different of genres. But that’s the great thing about being an ‘indie’ artist – I can do pop and rock, and then chuck in some blues, jazziness, show tunes… whatever I fancy… and it’s fine because I’m just spreading my creative ‘indie’ artist wings!
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative and entertainment?
I tend to fall on the latter side with my own work. But I wish sometimes I could be braver – there’s a lot of terrible, scary stuff going on out there, and I do think music has an important role in commenting and shaping people’s perceptions. I really admire artists who are able to make those comments in a powerful way.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfilment as the amount of work you are putting into it, or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
It’s SO fulfilling, otherwise why would you do it?! I’ve kind of made a conscious decision not to think too much about expectations and the future. At the moment, I’m just focusing on the work – regularly releasing songs that are the best I can possibly make them. Anything beyond that is a bonus.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
It’s always the melody for me. That’s the heart of the song. My process involves a lot of aimless noodling, circling round and round until something emerges from the mist. I do a lot of collaborating with other artists, mainly as a producer or a singer, but that primal thing of whittling out a melody is always just me sitting in the living room with a guitar, humming mindlessly to myself for hours. It drives my wife insane.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
DAVID TARO: I feel lucky – touch wood – that I’ve got this far in life without falling seriously ill or having traumatic things happen around me. So, most difficult thing… maybe having kids! Musically, being able to stand on stage without a band behind me has been a real struggle. You feel very naked, just you and a guitar or piano. I’m still not sure I’m entirely comfortable with it!
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
DAVID TARO: Well, after being asked to do this interview… it’s probably the kids again. Everything changes with them, and I think it’s honestly affected the music I create (for the better, I hope).
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Photo credits: Cassi Josh, Unsplash, Paul Hudson