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Playing the sounds of your dreams

art frHe was a toddler with tenacity and talent.

At three years old, Seth Taylor picked up his first guitar. Seeing musicians on television and hearing them on the radio sparked something inside of the Bryson City native. Once that instrument was in his hands, it was like two magnets connecting, where it would take all your might to pull them apart.

And as the years ticked away and his experience deepened, Taylor began collecting accolades from seemingly every direction, including winning the 2008 guitar competition at Merlefest. But, regardless of the praise, what truly mattered to him was being onstage, making an intimately melodic connection with the listener. 

While other kids his age were running around playgrounds and daydreaming about the future, Taylor was already headlong into his. At age 12, he began performing with local bluegrass outfits. By 15, he was touring with bluegrass/gospel act Pine Mountain Railroad. By 18, he’d already played alongside icons such as Charlie Daniels, Brad Paisley and Marty Raybon, as well as a walk-on appearance with Mountain Heart at the Grand Ole Opry. 

That Opry appearance led to an invite by Mountain Heart to be their guitarist. An ensemble he admired for years, Taylor jumped on the opportunity, once again propelling himself further into his destiny. And it’s that constantly moving forward motion that is at the heart of Taylor’s aspirations: keep pushing ahead, keep your eye on the prize, and always be a sponge for any and all musical influences crossing your path.

The Smoky Mountain News recently caught up with Taylor while he was touring with renowned bluegrass group Dailey & Vincent in Switzerland. The 20-year-old spoke of his challenges living and working in Nashville, being the next chapter in Appalachia’s rich music history, and how that once young kid in an oversized cowboy hat and guitar is still keeping the flame lit within his soul.

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Smoky Mountain News: How did you get started playing music? 

Seth Taylor: I asked for a guitar when I was 2 years old. My parents say I loved watching music videos on CMT, so I asked for a guitar for Christmas, and I’ve been attached to playing ever since. I started taking lessons when I was 5. I’ve always just loved playing. It didn’t necessarily come easy at all, but it’s always been fun to learn and just play.

SMN: When I was mentioning doing a story on you, my publisher said he remembered you playing onstage at the Strawberry Jam, a little kid in a large cowboy hat, just cranking away on a guitar. Where did that confidence come from at such a young age? 

ST: Well, I started doing stuff like that so young, and I guess I didn’t realize that wasn’t ‘the norm.’ Back then I was so shy, I would hardly talk, but I would play whenever and wherever I could. It seemed like I was always the youngest person in a jam, but that didn’t really bother me. I was trying to learn from anyone I could, so I just paid a lot of attention to the older people so hopefully I could pick something up from them.

SMN: What’s your musical mission? 

ST: That’s a really tough question. I’d say the mission is to be as creative as possible. Doing something musically that hasn’t been done before is definitely a goal. You can try to sound like someone else, but creating something on your own is so much cooler to me.

SMN: What’s it like being an aspiring musician in the 21st century? 

ST: It’s definitely a challenge because there are so many great musicians doing the same thing as you. Especially in Nashville, where everyone is there for the same thing it seems like. But, the ones who don’t try to sound like someone else are the ones that end up successful. Its a great time for music though — so many talented musicians and bands out right now.

SMN: You’re a Swain County native. What does it mean to you to be able to perpetuate Appalachian music and its ever-evolving history? 

ST: It’s pretty cool to be from the area where this music came from. I know many musicians from our area that are so great, and that’s just cool. It’s kind of like keeping a tradition alive, and adding new elements to keep it current.

SMN: How has being a musician in Nashville changed your outlook on the music industry, your aspirations in it or your work ethic?

ST: Being in Nashville and seeing so many people being fired up about music is definitely inspiring. You can find a great show to see every night of the week that will blow your mind. I find myself just wanting to play and stay on top of my game the best I can, just because if you don’t, you’ll get overlooked in such a music-heavy town.

SMN: When you’re onstage, firing on all cylinders, what goes through your head? 

ST: Well, I’m usually just trying not to mess up. I’m usually thinking about what’s coming next in a song, and how can I play something that will add too, and compliment that. Then, of course, seeing people getting in to the music feels great.

SMN: What’s next for you? 

ST: I actually joined bluegrass group Dailey & Vincent in January of this year, so I’m not with Mountain Heart anymore. I’m currently touring with Dailey & Vincent, and we’re playing Carnegie Hall in June. I also just started working on my first solo album. I’ve been writing a lot with Jim VanCleve [of Mountain Heart], and we just started recording material. So far, I’m having a blast working on it. We’ll have a bunch of special guests, and the music is turning out really cool. I’m really excited to release that at some point this year.  

SMN: What advice, or words of wisdom, would you give to young musicians growing up in Southern Appalachia that have the same dreams you do?

ST: Stick with it. If you want to do something in music, or in whatever else, if you work hard and stay focused, it can be done. I’m always wondering what will come next for me, and so far every situation I’ve been in has only led to more great and exiting things.

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