There are two big reasons to be jealous of Sarah Taylor: one, she’s basking in Toronto’s mid-Autumn glow while this writer experiences the cold dampness of London; and two, Taylor has had the sort of career any music-obsessed pop culture media junkie would kill for, Hunger Games style.
For those uninitiated, Taylor was once a MuchMusic VJ, the Canadian equivalent of MTV and, as such, a harbinger of all things cool. Her almost decade-long career started in 2004 when Taylor, an audience member, made an impression on another VJ, Rick Campanelli (whom Canadians affectionately refer to as Rick The Temp). The surprise career had her flipping the script on Oprah Winfrey, towering over the petite Olsen twins before they dropped acting (and interviews in general) in favourof fashion, and interviewing Beyoncé during the last of her Destiny’s Child days (more on that later).
These days, Taylor has gone back to school, honing her skills as a photographer and artist at Humber College’s Arts Foundation program. Her journey into her creative side has birthed The Crazy Project, a personal portrait project she started as way to deal with the grief of her mother’s death and to understand her mother’s life as a woman with schizophrenia. The project features portraits taken by Taylor and excerpts where her subjects talk about their experience with mental health. It aims to look at the areas within the subject that people don’t talk about enough.
While she prefers to shoot in quiet, it’s safe to say music has been a part of Taylor’s life way before her VJ days.
“My dad used to sing to me as a baby and I remember that,” she said during our FaceTime chat. “It was like Glenn Miller and weird country songs because my dad’s family… [was into] country music and a lot of rock and stuff.”
But while her dad was into Super Tramp and seventies rock, her mom was all about Motown and RnB. Using her parents’ influences as her foundation, she carved out her own musical preferences.
She counts the soundtrack of the 1995 flick Waiting to Exhale among her first CD purchases and loved Mariah Carey’s early albums. In her teens, she was hooked on classic rock and sixties soul, preferences that carried into her early twenties.
As a VJ during a relatively analog era, Taylor would receive copies of EPs and LPs all the time.
“I remember Amy Winehouse’s first album, which obviously didn’t tank but [it also] didn’t do well. But like, it was so good! I remember jamming out to that record on and on again for, like, forever while no one really cared about it.”
It’s been years since Taylor left the prominent hosting gig behind, walking away with both good and bad memories.
“… Destiny’s Child were doing their last tour,” Taylor explained. “I remember Kelly [Rowland] was so nice but Michelle [Williams] and Beyoncé were not feeling me.”
“I mean, I could be making this up in my head because I’m a very sensitive woman. Usually there’s something that clicks with people ‘cause you have to talk to them, you know about them. [Beyoncé] wasn’t feeling it. It sticks in my head!”
While her focus may be on visual arts these days, music is still a very prominent part of her life. “I was saturated in that music industry for almost a decade so it’s just a huge part of me and my process and work as a creative person,” Taylor says.
She picks up on new sounds thanks to the foreign films she watches and by the virtue of living in Toronto. As such, she favours The Weeknd, Drake and OVO sound artists, the duo Majid Jordan (she’s obsessed).
Taylor is also thinking about how she can add an auditory level to The Crazy Project. Stephen Neville of the Canadian rock group The Balconies has already taken the interview recordings Taylor taped with her participants and cut them into a track.
“I have everyone’s voice, which is very powerful, and that set to music is very beautiful.”
Taylor is also looking to work with Hip Hop Psych. Developed by psychiatrist Dr.Akeem Sule and neuroscientist Dr Becky Inkster (both of Cambridge University), Hip Hop Psych is a project that seeks to bridge the gap between mental health and the hip-hop by using the works of Biggie, Nas, Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West.
The way Taylor enthusiastically talks about her personal project and how she wants to expand it, it sounds like she’s not looking to stop with the Crazy Project or her photography any time soon.
“Photography is kind of like my way of telling stories,” Taylor says. “I don’t think that the intention for me is to become a photographer, like a commercial photographer or fashion. It’s just what I need right now…”