MC: Red is your fourth album. You’ve been through the big debut, the follow-up to show it was no fluke and then the third one. What does a fourth album mean?
Swift: Actually, the way I kind of categorize them is like the first one came out and some people noticed and we were really lucky and it sold millions of copies, but I hadn’t had anything cross over. So the second album, for me, felt like a breakthrough, and then it felt like the third album was to prove that it wasn’t a fluke.
MC: Which makes this one...?
Swift: This one is for the sake of adventure. I think I try to veer away from whatever comfort zone I developed in making my last record, and for my last record, Speak Now, my comfort zone became writing songs alone. It just became what I fell back on and what I always did and just kind of felt like what I naturally gravitated towards.
This time I wanted to challenge myself as a writer. I wanted to challenge myself as an artist. So I called up a bunch of people that I admired in the songwriting-producing artists world, and I just wanted to see if they would work with me and collaborate. It was such an educational and amazing, adventurous experience being in the studio with people who I had always admired and people who make music that’s different from the kind of music I make, so you have a blending of two worlds.
MC: Did you have a hit list? What was the criteria for the kind of folks you wanted to work with?
Swift: Well, I would come up with an idea and I’d think, “What do I want the production for this to sound like?” and a name would just pop into my head. I’d come up with like a partial idea for a song and I’d think Dan Wilson. Or, “Jeff Bhasker would nail the drums on this.” Or, “Max Martin would kill this.” And I’d bring them those ideas, and that’s kind of how it worked. I had a short list of people that I’ve been admiring for years, not only because of being a fan of what they do but being a fan of their ability to adapt and change. Jack Bhasker produces fun., but he also has done some amazing stuff for Alicia Keys, and it’s all different sounding––the same way that Max really reinvents himself all the time.
MC: Let’s hear about the Swedish adventure with Max and Shellback, since we heard “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” right out of the box. What was it like working with those guys?
Swift: Working with Max and Shellback was such an exhilarating experience as a writer, because they’re so in the moment and they’re so present and they’re so excited, and that’s exactly how I am. So you get us all in a room and it’s just like an immediate green light. We just start writing and we don’t stop and we would write several songs a day. I love to work fast, and I love to work with people who love making music. When there’s that level of excitement in the room it makes me so excited to get up and go in the studio with them the next day. It’s just like, “What are we going to do tomorrow?!”
MC: How early did you nail “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” with them?
Swift: We wrote a few songs before that, and that was the song that we really kind of realized, “We’re on to something here.” And from that point we wrote two other songs that ended up making the record.
MC: Tell me about one of those, “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
Swift: The song is about an experience where I knew that this guy was going to be bad news the first time I saw him, and I had all these red flags pop up and I ignored all of them and I believed him anyway and fell for and ended up brokenhearted like I knew I was going to. But instead of thinking, “Shame on you, you broke my heart,” I actually ended up feeling like “shame on ME, I let you break my heart. I knew you were gonna do that!” You know? It’s kind of an interesting feeling when you realize that you’ve already learned this lesson and you just ignored all of the common sense that you’ve gathered up to this point.
MC: You’ve never been shy about taking care of the guys who done you wrong in song, have you?
Swift: Writing about my life...helps me figure out how I feel about things sometimes. Emotions can be so messy and all over the place, and you can feel so many different emotions about one thing. So when I write a song on how I feel about that certain thing, it becomes simple and I can really process it and I can feel like whatever pain that situation may have brought me in my life was worthwhile and justified because it was supposed to come out in a song.
MC: So what are you going to do when you land “the one,” the one that lasts for a long time? What’s going to happen to the songwriting?
Swift: (laughs) I don’t know. I mean, I think that there’s no emotion that’s simple, not even an everlasting emotion. Not even unconditional love. There are undertones to every emotion. I’ve learned that. I think that one thing I tend to do is go back to a feeling––something I used to feel or something I felt for someone who I don’t know anymore and kind of the sadness of it––and revisit it. At the same time I get inspired by seeing my friends’ relationships. I get inspired by watching movies and thinking, “What kind of soundtrack would this moment have?” So I don’t quite know what will happen if I end up actually reaching the state of general happiness when it comes to love, but I hope that I can draw inspiration from all sorts of places.
"I try to operate on an emotional basis, which to me meant taking the general emotion I was feeling, writing lyrics that I felt depicted it and choosing production that I felt painted the picture even more."
MC: You of course write personally. Do you find this time out that you found yourself writing personally in a different way? What do you find in the evolution and the creative growth of mining those emotions and turning them into songs?
Swift: For me what comes a little easier now is the first thing that you get when you get an idea for a song, the first little fragment. It’s like a puzzle piece, right? And you have to then choose where it’s going to go in the grand scheme of the song: “Okay, this idea I just got, is it a pre-chorus? Is it a post hook? Is it a first line?” And I think that what the craft of songwriting teaches you how to do is to take that spurt of inspiration and figure out where that puzzle piece goes and how to build out from it and create the rest of the puzzle to be as interesting as that initial idea.”