With a newly shaved head, and fresh tattoos, singer and songwriter Rachel Taylor has risen from ashes of sexual assault, PTSD, and the dissolve of her first musical endeavor, He Is We.
You may have heard of the former Washington-based indie pop band He Is We, which consisted of Rachel Taylor and Trevor Kelly. Back in 2010 the band released their debut album “My Forever” and had hits like “Kiss It All Better,” and “All About Us” which featured Owl City on their second album, Skip to the Good Part, released in 2011.
Unfortunately the fairytale came to a fiery end for He Is We. Rachel was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis (a chronic inflammatory disease of the axial skeleton), which she had to treat with two rounds of chemotherapy at the age of 20. When she informed the label about her illness and her need for a break, they proceeded with the touring plans without her. They were replacing the woman who had started and named the group, and who was the lead singer. What really hurt her, Rachel says, is the fact that she was never allowed to give her blessing on her replacement either. The band played the supportive band role, hash tagging “#getwellsoonrachel” on social media, which only angered Taylor more.
As a result of the all of the above, Rachel made public what was happening with the band in a YouTube video in the spring of 2012, and fans promptly rushed in to support and care for her, “I fell into the arms of social media. I realized there was a community waiting for me and I didn’t even know it. I realized how many of these people were battling different mental health issues, issues at home,” she said. Eventually He Is We was dissolved, and never released any music without Rachel.
This was the pivotal climax that brought Rachel to where she is now. One of her main missions is to prove all those who abandoned her in her time of need that she’s a survivor, and that she won’t let them break her. Which includes her former bandmate Trevor Kelly. “I stopped saying his name. He will have nothing to do with any success that I have, and from now going on forward. I wiped my hands clean of it.”
Taylor actually could not have made She is We’s debut album, War, without her final interaction with Kelly and those who turned their back on her in her time of need, “I made contact because I needed closure. I didn’t get it. And it actually sparked the record, you know, not getting that closure. And the record is what actually gave me closure. So there’s a lot of people now that I won’t say their names anymore. Because they don’t deserve it. They don’t deserve that time.... it doesn’t matter what’s happening to the people that were there, and left. It’s about the people that stood by me.”
Rachel is a very different than the girl the world first met in 2010, both internally and externally. Instead of the once longhaired girl with bangs, she’s the woman with both sides of her head clean shaven, and multiple new meaningful tattoos on her chest and arms. “I would say that the big difference is you can finally see in photos and videos of me, you can see that fire. You can feel it. And you can tell that I’m a woman now. I’m 25. I’m a woman, and I it’s just this beautiful kind of identity. Finding who I am. Loving who I am. And then teaching others to love themselves” she confidently stated.
Her health is better than ever, thanks to music she says, “I still have flare ups, but the moment I stopped taking medication was the moment that, it was weird, but my body got better. The moment that I got back into the studio, and got back into the gym, I got better.”
Taylor thinks that there’s a direct correlation between her health and her revamping activity in music, “I think that it’s a matter of having the right team and again me having to buck up, grow a pair, and shave my head,” she laughed. “And just really understand what I was made to do. Understand that I can't stop. I’ve tried and like I can't. I’m not good anything else.”
Taylor is actually good at something else though. Two weeks before she got the call about her record deal for She Is We with Vanguard Records, she was on her way to becoming a police officer in Seattle, just like her father, “I was ready. I was like I got my glock 17, my glock 19. Like I’m ready! And now I get to find justice elsewhere, and make sure that other people have justice for things that have happened to them and people who have wronged them. So I still get to do that “law” enforcement I guess, but it’s more about principle.”
Rachel says she still wants to be a cop, but what she’s is doing now was made possible by her training as an officer, “Being a cop was something I wanted to do because I can defuse a situation and I understand pain, but I can also handle it. And low and behold, these last several years was my boot camp, and serving justice like Batman still feels good,” she said with a grin on her face.
Rachel’s desire to help others has to do with her own demons. Taylor suffers from PTSD as a result of a sexual assault which took her virginity at age 19 during her initial touring with He Is We. “I won’t say victim, I always say survivor,” she said. “Because a victim allows that name of the person or whoever it is, whatever happened, they allow it to flood their mind, and for me it’s all about getting back up. And so the PTSD is the hardest part actually.”
Writing this album Rachel says, it what helps her mange her PTSD, “I would say it’s therapeutic for me, but when I get to play it on stage, that’s when it’s like the middle finger is just flying. Because you know in the studio as I’m writing it it’s like weight of the world is being lifted off of me, and all this negativity, all of this negative energy, and then on stage I get to smile while I get to sing these songs. . . And it’s weird to be so angry in the booth, but on stage be so happy. It’s the craziest thing to sing a song about PTSD, and smile through it”.
War has a much heavier and grittier sound than music previously released by He Is We, which is exactly what Rachel has always wanted, she says, “What’s actually interesting is if you listen to the old He Is We stuff, like “Too Beautiful” about get physically abused, and “Kiss It All Better” about going and having revenge for someone you love, they’re all heavy. But I was finally able to get into the studio and take the lyrics, the message, and do the production to where it all made sense, and to where if I wasn’t already signing in it, you would still understand the emotion.”
The album consists of chapters, Rachel says, much like the chapters of life she’s lives thus far. Her first single off the album, and opening track of War is “Boomerang.” “The record starts with Boomerang, which is kind of like ‘This is where I’m at right now, but let me tell you where I was.’”
Though War is the new album, most of the songs on the album had been written for years. “When the dissolve began of He Is We, that’s when I went to my buddy Adam Mitchell, he did all the old He Is We stuff. I had nothing, and I told him ‘they’re expecting me to swallow a bullet, and I need to do something… so I wrote a song called “Monster” with him.” Monster is a track that was inspired by Rachel sexual assault, and the medication she was taking at the time that she felt fogged her mind.
Other older tracks like Rachel’s 2013 self-released single “Lead The Fight On,” appears on the new album, “I wrote that during the dissolve when the whole replacement drama took place,” she explained. “The concept was ‘Broken hearts with a motive to move the world’. So no matter how broken your heart is, you still have a silver lining, and you still see good in people, and you still believe in love.”
The fans response to the music, and the band’s live performances of it has been phenomenal, and emotional Rachel says, “Wow. A lot of people are connecting with in a way that I didn’t expect I hoped that maybe a couple people would connect with it, but it’s more than just that. . . I guess they are reading my diary and they’re approving and it’s a really fulfilling feeling. They’ve just been so kind”. The affection her fans have shown her blows Rachel away, “And the hugs. It’s pretty amazing how, it’s a really personal thing for some people, especially people who have suffered trauma, and it’s like they wanna hug you. That’s powerful.”
Though Rachel remains positive, she said that she hasn’t forgiven or forgotten those who kicked her when she was down, and that two of the tracks on the album are musical takedowns of those on her “Hit List”. She was candid about the motives behind the musical revenge, “I’ve got seven more. I mean these are people that I’ve actually gotten to see in person, as I am now and they didn’t expect me to be here. They didn't expect me to be doing what I’m doing, they had no idea. Like I said they expected me to kill myself. That’s why I go the tattoo ‘And she rose from the ashes.’ My calls me his Phoenix.”
Now the newly formed Phoenix that is Rachel Taylor is happier than ever, and joked about licking Tom Hardy’s face, and being surprised that she’s even wearing pants during the interview.
She believes that as musicians and as a survivor of what she’s lived through with a microphone, comes great responsibility, “I’d rather be that person that speaks up, because there’s’ nothing I should be ashamed of. I didn’t do it to me,” she said.
“But I am the aftermath, and I’m standing with a microphone. So I better do my damnedest. Better do my damnedest.