With AI-generated art suddenly part of our daily news the viral impact of social media platforms seems to be taking a backseat for just a moment. Tāmaki Makaurau pop/RnB artist, Taylor Roche is a new kind of musician who has gathered a loyal fanbase on TikTok with random, quirky and funny videos that are ‘just him’. Colette Nickelsen talked with him via Zoom.
With an abundance of YouTubers claiming to have the magic formula for getting your music heard by following a prescribed set of rules, it’s joyfully refreshing to learn that Taylor Roche’s meteoric ‘cannon ball’ into social media fame has really been completely accidental, simply a result of doing something that seemed fun.
“I honestly think it is very spontaneous. With TikTok, for me it’s with the idea that for everything I do, I’m not trying to be something or be different. I’m just myself and that in a sense is my brand.”
The numbers speak for themselves, and they are loud. Roche currently enjoys over 10k monthly listeners on Spotify and an eye-watering 14.1 million likes on TikTok, the trajectory that this 23-year-old Auckland artist is on with that platform, in particular, showing no sign of slowing.
Talking about his music itself and songs, Roche is passionate and excited. Over the last four years he has released 10 singles, and every song, he says, important as he learns from each one. He describes producer and friend Joel Jones, who he has been collaborating with for the last two years, as having “a really good taste for it.” Some of his tracks could comfortably amp up a crowd with dance beats and anthemic synths, while others like ballad This Love Song are more simply driven by acoustic guitar and lyrics about longing. This light and shade reflects the musical influences that Taylor was brought up on, naming artists like Prince and INXS.
“I’ve always been a huge ’80s and ’90s nerd, but I’ve been branching into a lot of alternative pop as well.”
Yes, these are pop songs, but that doesn’t make them superficial. They are fun, toe-tapping, yet beautifully wistful, emotional, romantic and with hints of nostalgic ’80s synths creeping in through the seams. One can imagine a youthful listener locking themselves in their rooms and dancing in circles, while developing a little crush on this ‘boy-next-door.’
Released in August last year, Day & Night has been his biggest hit to date, gaining over 122k streams on Spotify alone. It’s a break-up song that echoes the torment of endings, ‘Every day and night I leave my heart on the floor. It doesn’t feel right… We can’t go back to what we had, just because everything went wrong.” Musically it reminds of Ladyhawke‘s hit Delirum with a pacey heart-hitting style that is introverted, yet relatable.
It’s not a surprise to learn that Roche hasn’t just appeared as an artist. He has learnt his craft from working as an entertainer, finding himself off the coast of Florida, singing on cruise ships, when Covid hit in early 2020. The pandemic propelled him back to New Zealand, not his home town of Ōtautahi but Auckland, where he hoped to start working with fellow musician/producer friends on his recorded music. He knew Jones from years back in Christchurch and was soon introduced to the scene.
“The producers that I know and wanted to work with live up here. It’s a small community and it doesn’t take long to meet people.”
However, with those global lockdowns audiences began to turn more to their devices for entertainment, which is how his TikTok journey began. In April 2020, with a seemingly mundane and homely trigger.
“I remember I posted a video of my dad. He like burned some garlic bread or something – something really dumb – and I posted a video of it and the video blew up.”
Realising the potential of the platform and started to make more videos, some music, some of daily life, others just musings – and followers ate it up.
“Now I post every day on TikTok, just everything and anything, which has become such a big part of my routine. The audience has grown. I’ve got a cool audience there now.”
Apparently, those whimsical daily-life TikTok videos create a magical link to the successful promotion of his released music on the platform, though Roche concedes it’s by no means automatic.
“When I have a song coming out I’ll start teasing it out, and 9 times out of 10 those videos flop. They don’t do well because the algorithm doesn’t like people on there trying to do something that their account’s not used to. The more times you do it, some of them stick. It’s more about the consistency of it more than anything.”
He acknowledges and understands that his content isn’t going to be seen by fans every time, or they might scroll past a few times, but then they might click on it when they see it again.
“It’s an awareness thing. The more they see you, they might think, ‘this guy might be worth watching’. TikTok has never been about selling myself as a musician, I just want to be on there and just be myself. At some point, those people might check me out more and listen to my music. And they may not, but I’ll still tell them about it.”
His success is a testament to being resilient in a hugely fickle and transient market, but quality is important because you don’t know which breadcrumb will be picked up.
“For my last song, Better Than Home, I did so much content around it.”
Just days before we talk Taylor had released Better Than Home. It’s a song of longing, feeling trapped and stir-crazy after two years of lockdowns and a changed world, ideas that resonate with most listeners.
‘Wanna get out of here. Book a flight leave tonight, yeah I’ll fly anywhere. I’ve nowhere to go, but anywhere is better than home.’
The official music video, shot on Barrier Island, is an improvisation by director Mckenzie Comer based on the time and place, and the sentiment of the song. The fact that it isn’t overly structured helps the video feel fresh and a reflection of actual life, that TikTok video impression again. Maybe this is the key to the magic that is surrounding Taylor Roche.
In late April he played at Auckland venue The Tuning Fork with his band, all of whom are mates, supporting local pop artist Prins. Putting his music up in front of a live audience he sees as another way of building the numbers.
“If they can see that you bring something on stage that’s impressive, then that gives even more reason to be a supporter.”
With 10 singles released since 2018 and a TikTok audience numbering over 103k, and some of his videos reaching many millions of views, his goal now for 2023 is to release an EP.
“It now feels right. We have built this catalogue of our music there and now there is a bit of an audience for it. It would be nice to do a small body of work, and I want to do more shows.”
He seems to have it figured out that living in the moment and doing what makes you happy will actually manifest amazing outcomes. While many of us get caught up in taking life and goals seriously and giving up when something fails Taylor Roche prefers to laugh at the punches – and likely make a reel of it, making them part of the amazing journey that he is on.