A teen songwriter’s Swift rise to the top

by Charles Womack

Taylor Swift is just waking up. The 17-year-old singer/songwriter is still a bit groggy when she calls YES! Weekly from her bedroom at home in Hendersonville, Tenn.

She’s getting ready for Christmas and is looking forward to taking time off from her non-stop touring with country music supergroup Rascal Flatts. She has been on the road for months, and is excited about seeing her family and spending New Year’s Eve at home watching “Law and Order” with her best friend Abigale.

As one of country music’s fastest-rising stars, Swift is enjoying the release of her self-titled debut album and the radio airplay of her song, “Tim McGraw.”

We commence with the formalities.

“So give me your full name,” I say.

“Taylor Alison Swift,” she answers in that early-morning tone.

“How is Alison spelled? One ‘L’ or two?”

There’s a pause… a bit longer than I expect. She pulls away from the phone, maybe trying to cup it with her hands so I won’t hear her conversation. Then there’s simple giggling in that teenage girl perfection, and she quietly asks someone beside her.

“Is it one ‘L’ or two?”

There’s a burst of laughter and I can only assume I am smack dab in the middle of some inside joke in the teenage world of Taylor Swift.

In her grown-up life she will open for George Strait Jan. 20 at the Greensboro Coliseum, sharing the bill as a special guest with North Carolina’s own Ronnie Milsap.

“Just before the Rascal Flatts tour ended, I was asked to be a part of the George Strait tour,” she says. “I am a huge fan and am really looking forward to it. We get to go to some really neat cities like Las Vegas and Charleston… but I’m most looking forward to Hershey, Pennsylvania and the chocolate. Mmm.”

Still a kid at heart, she balances her touring schedule with a home-schooling regimen that she says has already given her enough math and science credits to graduate high school. According to her biography, Swift previously pulled double duty as a straight-A high school student and full-fledged recording artist, a balancing act the teenager handled with grace.

“I have tunnel vision as far as this goes,” she says. “I can always keep my eyes on the goal.”

Still, she admits sheepishly, there are moments when songwriting inspiration strikes in the middle of a lecture, making concentration difficult.

“If we had random notebook checks, my teachers might find biology notes, then suddenly a bunch of lyrics,” she laughs.

The songs Swift scrawls in those spiral notebooks are bright, engaging melodies filled with all the ebullience and drama of adolescent life. In “Our Song,” the narrator bemoans the fact that she and her boyfriend don’t share a sentimental tune, only to have him affectionately describe all the little moments that make their relationship special.

“Our song is the way you laugh,” he tells her.

Like all songwriters, Taylor is inspired by the life going on around her, and like any 17-year-old, she admits to a “fascination” with love. Thus, her former classmates – her biggest fans, she says – often find themselves the subjects of her songs.

“They’re all going to buy the album and have a little bit of a heart attack,” she says.

When asked about missing friends and being a normal teen, Swift says, “I’m not missing any special guy or anything, which makes it really easy. I just don’t date or really have time to. Most of my time is spent being a cheerleader to myself and thinking how awesome this whole life really is and how can I make it last.”

As most teens would be making college plans and trying to decide on their occupations, Swift is exactly where she wants to be.

“I want to focus completely on music and have put my college education on the back burner for now,” she explains. “I have a publishing deal with Sony as a songwriter and want to see how my musical career progresses.”

Swift says that some of her influences are Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town and Jake Owen.

Her hot single, “Tim McGraw,” is working its way up the charts. A tender ballad, the tune describes the way music can evoke the sweetest of memories: “When you think Tim McGraw/ I hope you think my favorite song/The one we danced to all night long.”

“Tell me about the ‘Tim McGraw’ song,” I say. “I’ve read all the notes about it and how it came about… but is there a certain song or CD you are referring to, or is it just a moment?”

“It’s a favorite, rare song by Tim McGraw that I really love,” she says. “It’s called ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’…. That’s where the idea came from.”

And I get the impression that she’s got a Tim McGraw poster up on her bedroom wall somewhere, just like all the rest of his teenage fans.

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