Featured break-out ReverbNation artist of 2016:
“There’s magic in this place, all around us,” claimed Pam Taylor as she pointed to the ceiling of the Double Door Inn while Robert Johnson softly plucked at his acoustic guitar behind her. Taylor and Johnson are the masterminds behind critically-acclaimed blues and southern-soul infused band Stolen Hearts. The Carolina-based duo has been causing a ruckus in the southern music scene for a few years now, and have no plans on slowing down. Before finishing their April tour and going down even further south to spread the love, Stolen Hearts made a pitstop at the Double Door Inn on April 9th.
My first exposure to Stolen Hearts was a few days before their first Charlotte show in April I had never heard of the band, never been to the venue, and never truly gave bluesy southern music a try, so I had zero influences going into my first listen. As I searched the Internet for any background information on the couple, a playlist I found on their website flooded my house and filled every inch of my workspace with twangy vocals, bluesy guitar riffs, and most of all, love. This emotion can be difficult to portray through a recorded track, but Stolen Hearts accomplished this task with ease. In addition to their heart-warming duets, I could hear the huge smiles and tons of fun that was being had on the other end of the recording. Dirty Southern Soul, which is the record I had on repeat days before the show, is filled to the brim with all of our favorite things: bright sunshine warming up our skin after a chilling winter, soft breezes, loving friends and family, and lots of laughter. This isn’t to say that every song is a happy-go-lucky anthem. There are songs about the reality of life and its many obstacles; what makes this record, and truthfully this band, so special is the relentless theme of love. Whether it’s a love for music or for someone else, Stolen Hearts is constantly seeking to spread it all around. While the universe might give you all it’s got, Stolen Hearts is the music you need to give it all right back.
I was given the amazing opportunity to sit down and chat with the couple before their show this past Saturday and, while I only came in with four questions, Taylor and Johnson gave me enough to write a novel; and that’s the way I like it.
As I pulled into the venue, keep in mind I had never been to the Double Door Inn before that night, I noticed how cozy the building looked. I knew it was a well-known venue but I wasn’t fully aware of how iconic the house-turned-music-venue was. It wasn’t until I walked up the stairs and saw hundreds, maybe thousands, of signatures and doodles covering the walls how the long the place had been in existence. Before I even made it to the stairs, I was stopped by the lovely Pam Taylor; we planned to meet at the front of the venue before the interview so she could take me upstairs. I had spoken with her over Facebook earlier that day, but aside from that quick exchange, I knew nothing about Pam and she knew nothing about me. When I opened the door, Taylor greeted me with a big ol’ grin, open arms, and one of the warmest hugs I’ve ever received. It was during our first face-to-face exchange that I knew this was going to be a fun interview.
After we chatted about the venue and Pam introduced me to a few of the locals, the singer-songwriter grabbed the second half of Stolen Hearts so we could get started. My first exchange with Robert was just as warm as my meeting with Pam: he greeted me with a firm handshake and sweet eyes. I barely knew either of the people in front of me, but I could tell Pam and Robert were meant to be. The aura given off by these two was indescribable in the best way.
Fifteen minutes later, we walked up a flight of stairs and I got my first glimpse of the many markings made upon the various walls throughout the years. Some appropriate, some not, and some were indistinguishable; as if a toddler had run through the halls with a handful of markers. Either way, you could tell this venue held a lot of memories and could tell a lot of stories.
As we strolled through the halls, I made a soft comment about the condition of the the walls around me; something along the lines of, “this is so cool.” Without missing a beat, Taylor began to point out all of the markings she and Robert, and even some friends of hers, had made during their previous visits. The marking that stuck out the most to me, and most definitely to Stolen Hearts, was the simplest one. It was Taylor’s signature with the date 12-21-12 written underneath. According to Taylor, this date is perhaps one of the most important and iconic dates in her lifetime. Not only was this the day the Mayan calendar predicted to be end of the world, but it was also her first date with Johnson. Along with this life changing event, numerous other instances occurred that day that ultimately caused Taylor to get the date tattooed on her right bicep.
“This day reminded me that I should be living every single day like it’s my last on earth,” commented Taylor as she showed me tattoo.
I admired the colorful walls for a bit longer before we finally sat down and settled in. Taylor claimed the couch, folded her hands, and slightly bounced on the couch as she told me more stories of the writings on the wall; it looked as if she was trying to contain her energy, whether it was nerves or excitement for the show. Johnson pulled up a chair next to her and calmly sat down, softly smiling at his soon-to-be wife. Before I began to ask my questions, I noticed how comfortable I was with them. Being in a new venue talking to an artist I’ve never met had me feeling anxious, albeit excited, before I arrived. By the time the interview started, I felt like I was catching up with old friends.
While getting to know who Stolen Hearts was via Google, I learned that Johnson had created a name for the sounds he was trying make with his music. I was hesitant to call it a genre upon reading his explanation in a another article and when I brought up my hesitation, Johnson agreed that it was more of a name than a genre. Prior to his work with Taylor, Johnson made music by himself and with other musicians while ultimately attempting to create a new, bluesy, southern sound. The result: Dirty Southern Soul. This explanation is suitable for both the name and the album.
“Dirty Southern Soul means having no boundaries,” said Taylor. “It’s doing what we want.”
Johnson nodded beside his fiancée and added, “It’s just a cool way to name a sound.” I pressed on, asking how the sound has changed since it was named however many years ago. Obviously the two have been exposed to new music and different sounds, all while creating new and different sounds, so there must be some influence of something since its creation.
“It’s always growing and always defining itself,” said Johnson. “It’s a search for something.”
Johnson continued to explain that this ‘something’ is indefinable. That the ‘something’ that is being searched for can only be found through the creation of music. There was no other name or genre that could describe what Johnson was trying to achieve, so he took the liberty of naming it himself. And thus, Dirty Southern Soul was created.
Although the name was established prior to meeting Johnson and starting Stolen Hearts, Taylor has connected with the makeshift label on another level.
“I think it’s what our spiritual journey sounds like musically,” added Taylor. “We all create vibrations in the universe and Dirty Southern Soul is our interpretation of what those vibrations sound like.”
What drew me to Stolen Hearts in the beginning was their catchy yet meaningful music, but what has me sticking around for the long haul is their understanding of music. Johnson, Taylor, and I agreed that it is more than just sounds from an instrument or background noise; it is the sound of people creating something out of love, using it to understand themselves and others, and connecting with people all around the world. There are thousands of ways to interpret music, each one just as amazing as the next, and the couple that is Stolen Hearts truly believes that music a healing agent. Mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Since both musicians feel music is something bigger than all of us, I had to wonder: how exactly does it affect them, both individually and as a couple?
While Johnson grew up on gospel music and Taylor was a stubborn teen who hated music lessons, one genre spoke to them both, so much so that it sparked a fire within to create the same feeling for others: Blues.
“The first time I heard blues was the first time I truly felt music,” remembered Taylor fondly. “I connected to it so deeply that I wanted to do the same for others.”
Music was present in Taylor’s youth, but the dangerous world of addiction caused her to veer off her path for a bit. It wasn’t until she started to create something within the chaos that her life changed for the better.
“It was my savior. Plain and simple,” said Taylor.
Johnson’s experience with the blues is very similar, and caused the same reaction.
“I remember thinking, ‘How can a chord progression or a guitar solo make you cry?” said Johnson. “That’s how I felt when I first heard the blues.”
While he was raised on gospel, music was an ever present part of his life that inspired him to create. The record that started it all was “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the Beatles and, according to Johnson, “I never looked back.” This iconic piece are art molded Johnson into the musician he is today.
Fast forward a few years, one Stolen Hearts record, and a marriage proposal, Taylor and Johnson are well on their way to a very different musical experience. When I asked how the engagement, and their relationship as a whole, changed them as musicians, they both responded with wide eyes and big, knowing smiles. This answer was going to be a doozy.
“You’re talking to do two band leaders,” laughed Taylor. “We’re not used to taking the backseat when it comes to music. It’s been a journey, that’s for sure, and our egos had to be put aside.”
I looked over to Johnson, who was nodding along with fervor. I thought I understood what the dynamic would be like in their situation, a couple who decided to make music together, but it wasn’t until Johnson spoke about the topic that I truly understood just how strange their lives are.
“Normal romantic relationships have strain, normal musical relationships have strain,” started Johnson slowly. “When you combine the two relationships, you’re feeling double of everything. Twice the frustration, but also twice the triumph. It sort of puts your romantic relationship in hyperdrive.”
“We are always together, on the road, on stage, in the studio, at home,” added Taylor. “People come to our shows to see our love; it’s on stage and is the driving force in our performance. Honestly, you’re held more accountable for your actions.”
Both romantic and musical relationships do have their ups and downs, but it seems as if Taylor and Johnson have figured out how to accept the inevitable and strengthen their love.
After speaking with them for what seemed like hours, I thanked them for their time, took a few selfies (prompted by Pam, who later told me I looked like I was in bliss), and headed downstairs. While they prepared for their set, I grabbed a beer and sat near the back of the venue; I wanted to be able to see everyone react to Stolen Hearts.
As soon as they walked on stage, the crowd, made up of nearly 30 people, quieted their chatter and watched as Stolen Hearts grabbed their instruments. Some folks were fans of the band, others were simply out for a night of music, but everyone was captivated by Pam’s voice and Robert’s skillful guitar playing. Their set was filled with cute anecdotes, silly arguments over whether Robert’s bass guitar was pink or coral, and sugary sweet harmonies. I think it’s important to note that in my notebook, I wrote the word ‘harmonies’ in the middle of my page and drew hearts all around it. As the set progressed, more hearts were drawn.
A memorable moment from their set happened at the end of their first song. As Taylor’s vocals faded out, Johnson gently grazed the chimes with his hand and Taylor shivered. She giggled and told the audience with a huge grin that the chimes “were like sprinkling fairy dust.” Johnson proceeded to ring the chimes a few more times and made his fiancée laugh even louder. The couple was just as goofy onstage as they were offstage.
Throughout the night, the crowd would offer various cheers before, during, and after each song. By the end of their set, before Stolen Hearts walked off the stage, the crowd erupted in cheers that brought me back to my first concert at Amos’. I couldn’t hear anything but clapping, even as Taylor spoke in the microphone for a quick goodbye.
Love is interpreted and demonstrated in many different ways, and the duo that is Stolen Hearts is no different. The love that radiated from their music was like no other musical act or relationship I have ever seen. After the show, I thanked Taylor and Johnson again for allowing me to ask questions and ultimately pick their brains about how music, love, and the positivity radiating from them at all times.
Stolen Hearts has some amazing shows lined up for them this year, including an opening slot for Cowboy Mouth at the Windjammer and slot at the Carolina Jubilee. In addition, the two are collaborating on a single with the family and friends of the late Robin Rogers, a local blues singer who has heavily influenced both Stolen Hearts and the blues community. If you haven’t hopped on the Stolen Hearts train, now is a great time to join the family! You can find the duo in Savannah at the Bayou Cafe in Savannah, GA on April 15th and 16th, The Whiskey in Wilmington, NC on April 28th, the Inlet View Bar & Grill in Shalotte, NC on April 29th, and Hurricane Maggie’s in Myrtle Beach, SC on April 30th. Their latest record, Dirty Southern Soul, can be found on their website.
See them around town:
|Apr 15||Bayou Cafe||Savannah, GA||RSVP||Share|
|Apr 23||SXSE Springfest 2016||Spartanburg, SC||RSVP||Share|
|Apr 28||The Whiskey||Wilmington, NC||RSVP||Share|
|Apr 29||Inlet View Bar||Shallotte, NC||RSVP||Share|
|Apr 30||Hurricane Maggies’s||Myrtle Beach, SC||RSVP||Share|
|May 05||Cinco de Mayo Party with Stolen Hearts & Eleanor Tallie||Charlotte, NC||RSVP||Share|