For years Taylor Hughes surrounded herself with walls to hold in the sadness and regret of young heartbreak, bouncing around from home to home, and being passed up in choir and high school productions.
But when she saw no end game to staying behind those walls and pursuing a degree in psychology, she found her voice, and decided to introduce it to the world.
A little over a year later she is the recipient of two Lexington Music Awards for Best Singer Songwriter and Best Song of the Year for her first co-written ballad, I Can’t Love You Like I Said I Could.
Hughes dipped her toe into music when she was 18, by asking her father Paul if she could take guitar lessons. He was surprised only about three weeks later when her teacher, Paul Felice, approached him asking to take Hughes down to Nashville to play the young entertainer’s showcase Nashville Spotlight.
Wondering how she would possibly compete in a town like Nashville having played guitar only three weeks and not knowing more than three chords, her father questioned the proposition, to which her teacher revealed that Hughes had been developing her vocals for years.
Still unsure, her parents joined them in Nashville to watch her play, her nervous mother nearly shaking as she took the stage. At first Susan Hughes thought her daughter was lip-syncing, not recognizing the confidence Hughes commanded. Her fears faded, replaced by inspiration as her daughter opened up a new side of herself.
“With my writing I feel like I’m able to bring people in a little bit,” Hughes says. “I’m actually more comfortable singing in front of people I don’t know, than I am in front of people I’m really close with. It’s one thing to sing a cover by someone, because it’s not your words, it’s somebody else’s, than to get up there and sing something that came from me. It’s about my life, it’s wearing your heart on your sleeve, and being exposed and hoping that people like what you have to say.”
That night in Nashville began the first of many road trips to bars, concert halls and soon recording studios on Hughes journey to a career in country music. In May she begins laying down tracks for her first album with the help of her guitarist and fellow Lexington musician, Aaron Gosper.
“I think she’s honest, that’s the thing I like most about her,” Gosper says. “What you see is what you get.”
Hughes’ relationship with Gosper reveals more about the less glamorous side of the industry than her well manicured, confident stage presence portray. When one isn’t sick or exhausted on the road, the other usually is. The two play shows nearly every day of the week, sometimes two in one night with all of the other projects they work with, and sometimes the shows they play barely break even for gas and a 3 a.m. meal at IHOP on the way back to Lexington.
“It’s disconcerting for parents when their kids want to drop out of college, but I was completely encouraging to her in the respect that if this is your passion, this is what you want to do, I know you’re smart enough, you can always go back to school,” her father says. “But while you’re young enough, go for your passion, go for your dream, while I got at least a couple of dollars that I can support you, and hopefully you can get there.”
Paul assumed the role of Taylor’s manager and roadie to help her dream come to fruition and ease his worries of someone trying to take advantage of her naiveté in the industry.
Doors are opening up for Hughes to play at larger venues, like her upcoming show at the Lyric where she’ll open for Nashville-based country artist Olivia Dvorak. Her father says this has been a reassurance to him and her mother that they made the right decision encouraging their daughter to pursue this, especially seeing the vulnerability Hughes has embraced.
“It makes me sad some of (her music), because I know how she felt. She has a good heart,” Taylor’s mother Susan Hughes says, remembering the relationships that came and went, as well as other regrets her daughter is finally able to talk about in her music. “She was always the type of person to keep her feelings inside, wouldn’t let you know if she was upset or sad, never liked people to feel sorry for her, so this has been good for her to express (her) feelings.”
Hughes has come a long way from singing in the background in high school choir at Henry Clay. Now that she’s finally opened up to the world about her voice, she doesn’t plan on turning back until she makes it to the CMT awards, alongside her inspirations like Miranda Lambert and Kelleigh Bannen.
“Conversation can be hard and scary,” she says. “Sometimes music is the only way (I) can get what I want to say across.”
If you go
What: Opening for Olivia Dvorak
When: 7 p.m. April 16
Where: The Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third St.