By Marcus Jones
November 22, 2020 at 12:26 PM EST
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Credit: courtesy Atlantic records

Despite the lockdown, Tayla Parx has had an incredibly busy 2020.

On the songwriting front, she added John Legend, Kelsea Ballerini, and Troye Sivan to the long list of superstars she’s written music with, and heavily contributed to the new Little Mix and Ariana Grande albums, including co-writing “pov,” our favorite track off of Positions. “That is my song right there. I love ‘pov,’” she tells EW over the phone. “I'm honestly so happy that people are gravitating towards it the way that they are.”

At the same time, Parx had been readying her sophomore album Coping Mechanisms, out now. When putting on the artist hat, and executive producing her own project, she explains “I can be very picky when it comes to my own stuff, because I've literally felt like I've worked with everybody.” 

The smaller circle of collaborators for Coping Mechanisms includes producers like Dem Jointz and Wynne Bennett, songwriter Ali Tamposi, and one feature from Tank and the Bangas. “It's really about taking the bull by the horns, and saying ‘These are who I'm interested in dealing with,’” adds Parx. “And then also allowing for my team to say, ‘Yeah, but did you think about this person and this person?’ There's always a fresh face that kind of pops up.”

Here Parx talks more about how both touring and quarantine changed how she makes music, and the big plans she has to further tell the story of Coping Mechanisms.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you start working on Coping Mechanisms?

TAYLA PARX: So I would say I started on it when I was on tour with Lizzo. That was really fun because I was just experiencing so many new things in my life. It was my first time being on tour that long. I hopped right in from Anderson .Paak into Lizzo into my own headlining We Need to Talk tour. And it finished throughout my headlining tour into quarantine, which was very interesting because I'm a person that my music reflects what's happening in my life at that time, or what happened over the past few months since we last talked. It's kind of like that diary, and you're like, “Hey, what's up, it's been a minute.” So I think that it definitely changed. Even now the perspective of what Coping Mechanisms means to me, it's like, I can look back at that and say, “Look, I see the growth from We Need to Talk into this.” It was a process that happened along a few different states and countries.

How did going on tour change your songwriting? Did seeing the fans give live feedback to the songs you were performing make you think differently about the new songs that you were writing?

Totally. And I honestly think that being on tour and seeing people's reactions to the music that I was singing allowed me to be even more honest this time around in the music. It's usually a place where I'm the most honest, but I think that when you see that reaction, to people saying, “I'm so happy that you said it, and I'm so happy that you said it that way because I've been waiting for that,” then it gives you that confidence to know, OK cool. Other people need to hear this the same way that I needed to hear it at the time when I wrote it. It gives you that confidence to keep doing what you're doing. And in that case, it's just about being honest with my life experiences and being honest about the fact that they've evolved and will continue to evolve. Sometimes even when I listen to We Need to Talk and my Tayla Made mixtape, I hear the difference of who I was then and who I am now, and I love it actually because me and my Taylatots, we experienced that growth together.

On the other hand, did the world going into lockdown change the direction of the album at all?

Well, I started going into quarantine at a time where I was going to have to go into a little bit more focused mood anyway. There was a little bit more about the fine tuning, the mixing, the mastering, making sure that all of that sounded right versus — not that that's not a creative portion of it, it's just that's where my Virgo steps in. It's more about those types of things. Me and Riggs [Morales] for instance, who was my right hand man at my label, we'd go through that music and make sure the tracklist is set. It's about really going in and fine tuning versus when [I’m] creating an album, I'm traveling around the world and I'm having conversations and I'm doing all of these things, and being a sponge. 

Would you call this a concept album?

Yes. Actually, I never usually say it out loud, but yeah, all of my projects have been concept projects. Starting from the mixtape, where I'm literally giving you interludes and things, you hear me getting the car and I'm really setting the scene for you, into We Need to Talk, which was done in a more subdued way, less obvious, but I'm really walking you through a story. And I think that the visuals help you tie in the fact that it's a concept project, because you can clearly see if you listen to these projects back to back, it's just a continuation. Every single time it's like, “OK, so this is where we left off.” So the last project we're leaving off on “Easy” and the answer to “Easy” is how do you cope with getting your heart broken and how do you cope rebuilding all of that? And the project came into Coping Mechanisms. So you're going to see a lot of different ways that I cope with that, but it's all connected because it's all my life.

Are you telling a linear story with Coping Mechanisms?

It is a storyline. And actually you'll see a little bit more about that in the new year. We did a short film to go along with this project Coping Mechanisms and you'll see the storyline a little bit more. But yes, you're seeing me wild out for a minute, and kind of hate the idea of being heartbroken if you will. And then finding the beauty in that, that whole evolution that I think a lot of us go through with relationships in general. So yeah, you're being asked to see a lot of different sides to me, which I'm excited to show because it's some of the sides that aren't the prettiest sides that I would like to show, like “Justified,” which is a record about me just having to be openly honest about probably something that most people wouldn't want to be honest about. So it's showing those thoughts, the good, the bad and then not so perfect sides that I'm just like, “You know what, this is the album to do it.”

I love to hear that you're working on a short film. When did you decide that would be something good to do with this project?

Yeah, it's been something that I've wanted to do the past few projects, but it was just the mixtape was done independently, and it was just so much time, and juggling that and all of the other things that happened in my career. It was a lot. And so I'm happy that we were finally able to team up with the right people to just execute this honestly. I always want to find cool ways to show people that it's a conceptual album. So, I felt like that will be a nice way to do it. And also because I come from an acting background as well. I never really wanted to just have regular music videos and do a dance break, and do that, and the typical things that you see. I'm always looking forward to push the boundaries of what we can do visually to capture these audiences' minds, and get them to feel that same emotion that I felt creating it. Or their version of whatever that is.

My favorite song on the album right now comes early with “System.” How did that song fall into the story you were telling?

Man, I think at the time, that's just where I was. Coming out of “Easy,” it was naturally like, OK, I'm going to turn up. And you saw 21 year old TP again in that moment. You see the Tayla Made mixtape in there and how I honestly reacted to love fully throughout that phase in my life. I reverted back to the old me for a little bit. And that was one of the earlier songs that we did on the project, but it just seemed like the perfect way to start it off.

Why do you think so much great club music and dance music is coming out of quarantine? You definitely add to that wave with songs like “Dance Alone” and “Stare.”

Sometimes that's just what people need. Naturally people turn to music as an escape. Naturally one of people's coping mechanisms is to put on a song that makes them feel something. That makes them move, or that reminds them of somebody, or makes them forget about someone. That’s kind of why I initially started off the project that way, and why we're hearing a lot of dance music now. Because people need to hear it, coming out of any moment where it's like, “Oof this is a big deal. I think I need a song to go with this.”

Getting into the slower songs too, how did “Sad” come about?

"Sad" happened because I felt like I had numerous exes telling me that they had messed up. So I was like "Yes, yes, yes!” It was just kind of empowering, honestly, when you get that apology that you've been waiting for. And in the song “Sad,” I say that I thought I wanted to hear that, and you hear it in “Last Words” as well, these are the things that I couldn't wait to hear, but you know what, now that I'm in a better situation in my life emotionally, I don't even need to hear those words from you. And that's why I wanted to have that towards [the end]. We were really ending the album on a good note with “You Don't Know,'' and going through the last words and all of those things, coming out of this album strong. The last album I came into strong, and came out of it broken, and that honestly was something that I needed to get out of to get out of my comfort zone a little bit and see where things were going. And this album we're ending on a good note. And I'm proud of the growth, you know?

Going back a little bit, has it been hard not touring? Did the shows you did last year feel like real breakthroughs for you as an artist?

Definitely. I had been on the road for much longer than I thought I was going to be honestly. And I was just about to hop on to the road again. And that got canceled because of all of this happening obviously, so I do miss it. I have missed having that contact with my fans. I miss being able to say, “Should we play a new song tonight?” Just feeling the vibe. I'm such an empath that I thrive off of that. I thrive off of being in the rooms with people and listening to the things that don't come out of their mouth, but just come from the emotion that's in the place. You know what I mean? I miss that.

Yeah. Does releasing new music help capture some of those feelings?

Definitely! I think you're going to probably be hearing a lot more from me because of the fact that that’s one of the biggest ways that I communicate is through the music. I'm not really like a TikToker or anything like that. I make my appearances on social media of course, but I think that the music is when you're hearing the most from me.

Listen to Tayla Parx’s new album Coping Mechanisms below.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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