Those of you who have been reading this blog for a few years will remember how, in the run-up to my 30th birthday, I decided I was going to put on a gig. Although I really enjoyed the experience, and ended up putting on a few more before the law of diminishing returns resulted in me hanging up my promoter hat for what is probably good, it was a tough enough experience for somebody who was closing in on her third decade and already had a good few contacts in the Glasgow music scene.
That’s why when, a few weeks ago, I was followed on Twitter by an account promoting a Taylor Swift tribute concert in Glasgow in August, I immediately took notice. Not just because of the subject matter (although hey, I’m forever and always #TeamTaylor) but because of who was organising it: 16-year-old singer-songwriter Lisa Kowalski (and her “momager”, Rebecca).
Hailing from my own birth town of Paisley, Lisa has spent the past two years drumming up support by gigging and busking around Renfrewshire and Glasgow. And she’s also, as you might expect given the nature of the event she’s been working on, a massive Taylor Swift fan who can by all accounts play and perform every one of her songs.
On the night, eight artists will cover Taylor Swift songs from throughout her recording career in their own style, accompanied by a video timeline celebrating her ten years as a performer. The idea, to paraphrase a Taylor Swift lyric, is that it will “feel like a perfect night” as fans sing along to every word – and she’s had loads of response from Taylor Swift fans online, who have been clamouring for the tribute to go international!
The show will take place at the Classic Grand, Glasgow on 13th August – and, as final preparations begin, Lisa took the time to answer a few questions over email.
I guess the first question has to be the obvious one: what inspired you to put on a Taylor Swift tribute event in the first place?
LISA KOWALSKI: I wanted to create a celebration of Taylor and her music, as well as an event for all the fans to come together and enjoy being part of such an enthusiastic fandom while Taylor is taking a break from performing live. I think I am well placed to put this together as I know all the lyrics, chords and stories to all of Taylor’s songs and also am lucky to have met lots of talented young musicians on the music scene in and around Glasgow. They can help me do justice to Taylor’s wide range of songs and styles.
How did you yourself begin writing music and performing – and to what extent did Taylor’s music play a part in that process?
Since I was small, I have always had a fairly outgoing personality and liked to entertain people. I initially took up drama and sang in a youth choir but following a script and standing in line wasn’t always easy for me! I started showing a serious interest in playing guitar and song writing from around age 13 and Taylor definitely played a huge part in that.
Like Taylor, I have dreamed of being a successful musician and entertainer from a young age and the first song I wrote “One Day” is about that dream. Unfortunately, I haven’t persuaded my mum and dad to move to Nashville yet but might just go myself when I finish school next year!
Taylor’s musical career provides such an inspiration compared to the manufactured band thing and I love her melodies and lyrics – good lyrics are the most important part of songwriting for me.
Three words to describe your own music…
Heartfelt, lyrical, evolving.
You’re planning to have multiple artists, both male and female, perform at the show in a variety of genres – do you think Taylor’s music is particularly suited to that sort of approach? What are you most excited to hear yourself on the night?
Taylor has explored quite a few genres in her career, so it’s definitely possible for people from different genres to put their own twist on her music. Taylor’s songs have their own style to them but it’s definitely possible to re-create them in your own way. I really want more people to appreciate the quality of Taylor’s song writing by showcasing the songs with some of the finest vocals that Scotland can offer. I can’t stress enough what a brilliant selection of voices I have brought together for this event, and each one different. We have singers with such beautiful melodic qualities doing some of the ballads and then some really strong, powerful vocalists to deliver the more upbeat songs such as “Out of the Woods” and “Shake it Off”.
Funny enough, the thing I am most excited to hear on the night is the entire crowd singing along to their favourites! That’s another throwback to “One Day”, my first ever original song:
“One day, imagine all your dreams coming true and the crowd all singing along with you…
All I need is right here with me, my guitar and imagination running wild and free.”
Not all of the performers are fully fledged Swifties (yet) and haven’t previously experienced the excitement of a congregation of Swiftness in a state of mild hysteria because their favourite song is playing! I hope that will make a really special atmosphere.
What has the reception been like from fans and the music community? Has anything particularly surprised you?
Taylor Swift fans seem really excited! As Taylor won’t be touring or visiting many countries for a while, people are delighted to have an unexpected chance to hear her music live and express themselves as fans at a group event. We’ve had people from the US tell us they want us to livestream it, which is cool, and Londoners begging us to take the event down south. We have one very special guest, Wayne Price, flying up from Stoke with his wife to attend and also volunteering to build us a web site for the event. Wayne travelled all over the world to see Taylor multiple times on the 1989 tour last year, including the Glasgow date, and is having Taylor gig withdrawal symptoms I think. We didn’t just sell him a ticket; we’ve become good friends over the last couple of months.
I put on my first ever gig at the age of 29, and it was really hard work, so I’m really impressed by everything you’ve accomplished so far! What do you think the biggest challenge has been so far, and do you have any advice for young people planning live music events in the future?
Ticket selling was more challenging than we thought at first, with people being busy with exams, graduation, studies abroad, festivals etc. It’s also tricky when there are lots of people involved to co-ordinate and find dates that suit everyone – we started planning it all a long time ago! We have worked super hard to promote the event far and wide online and by reaching out to people and now everyone is really enthusiastic about it!
I would advise everyone to just not be afraid or shy. If you believe your event is something special, you shouldn’t hesitate to ask people to come along or help promote it in any way. People have been kind to us by sharing the event or telling friends about it, which means a lot, so definitely take all the help you can get!
Am I allowed to ask what songs you’ll be performing yourself on the night – and why you chose them? If not, perhaps you could tell me about your favourite Taylor Swift song and what it means to you (mine is “Long Live” 🙂
I’ll be singing “Should’ve Said No”, “Dear John” and “Style”. I love “Should’ve Said No” as it’s one of my favourites from the first album, which obviously means a lot as it’s where Taylor started and where my love for her started! I chose “Dear John” because it’s a really emotional song. I love getting to just let everything out and put my all into this song – expressing the regret but also the fight back in the lyrics. I’ve also wrote songs about people who have hurt me as a way of dealing with it and I feel Taylor’s pain. And finally, “Style”: I just really love that song! It’s got such a fun chorus and I really love to dance to it.
I also recently added another song, “Breathe”, to my list. I never planned to, but unfortunately a really sweet friend of mine and fellow Swiftie passed away recently and it really upset me. My first reaction was shock and the feeling of not being able to breathe or do anything knowing she was gone, and that’s exactly what that song explored, so I’m going to do my best to perform it and dedicate it to her. Just have to get past being able to sing the first couple of lines without dissolving into tears…
I’m from Johnstone, so I love seeing Paisley girls doing well. What do you think of the Paisley 2021 City of Culture bid, and have you felt things changing creatively in the town since the campaign took off?
I’m so happy that Paisley is part of the City of Culture bid as Paisley has played a huge part in my life and music career. I have definitely seen people become more enthusiastic about Paisley recently and show greater appreciation of what the town has to offer. I love where I live and think it’s such a great place: from the music scene, to the beautiful Abbey, to the new coffee shops and restaurants popping up, it’s just got a great environment with some really kind, supportive people. My latest song is about my experience of busking in Paisley and is about how I feel the streets are paved with hearts of gold.
Do you have any other planned gigs or releases that you want to tell us about?
I’m going to be singing at the Singing Children of Africa event in Paisley on 19 th August! It’s going to be a wonderful event for a hugely worthwhile charity and I’m so happy I’ll get to meet and perform with these wonderful children.
I am just about to go in to the studio to start working on my first EP, which will be funded by a grant from Paisley 2021 which I am hugely grateful for. Once school starts back, I need to scale back on musical activities but I’ll continue to busk and do the odd gig here and there until I finish sixth year. After that, I am taking a year out to travel and focus on music.
And finally: #squadgoals. Who would you have in your “Bad Blood”-style girl gang?
Well, obviously, Taylor Swift! Then I would most definitely include my sister as she always has my back. I’d love Ellen DeGeneres as she’d always be there for a good laugh. Hayley Kiyoko is a singer who really inspires me and I would love for her to be in my squad. I could go on for ages with reasons for everyone but I’ll just say I’d also love Karlie Kloss, Normani Kordei, Lauren Jauregui, Samira Wiley, Ruby Rose and Jane Goodall.