Unexpected Influences: Ishi's Taylor Rea Explains Her Inner Appreciation For The Blues

Welcome to a new recurring feature here on DC9 where we talk to musicians about the music no one expects them to like. We're calling it Unexpected Influences -- because, we hope, that's what it will show.

Very few bands can claim to have ever walloped Dallas year as heavily as Ishi did in 2010. This year, in addition to seeing their debut album drop, the band played a string of jam-packed shindigs, and won over a glut of new fans with honors bestowed by both Observer readers as well as local radio station KDGE-102.1 FM The Edge.

Anybody who's seen an Ishi show has been witness to the euphoria that ensues when Taylor Rea, the band's female vocalist and the counter to John Mudd's seductive croon, takes over the affair. While the band has a penchant for mixing conventions of the '80s with a forward-thinking, dance music-inspired backbone, Taylor's vocals keep centered, organic, soulful.

Talking to her, there's no doubt that we'll have to give in and borrow the "old soul" cliche. Studying her influences, it becomes even more clear that this talented vocalist, who may only be in her early 20s in this life, is a transplant from a different era. Some of her influences you can clearly surmise -- Bonnie Raitt for example, whose bluesy vocal imprint Taylor oftentimes channels. Others are less apparent, like Tom Waits, who is already making his second Unexpected Influences appearance. A vastly different performer from Ishi, galleryCat also cited Waits on his list.

Read on to learn of Taylor Rea's celebrity neighbor, her obsession with the blues, and how she derives inspiration from former dark times.

Do you have any influences that your listeners may be surprised to know about?
Nothing hits me harder than the blues. When I was 17, I lived in a small apartment next door to an older cat named Wayne Dehart. Wayne was one of the most influential people in my life. He told me stories -- great stories about his life as an actor and the people he met along the way, working with Taj Mahal, Kevin Costner and Sandra Bullock to name a few. Everyday around noon, I would find him outside of his door sitting on a bucket flipped upside down, bobbing his head to whatever he had blasting on the stereo. This is how I first met Wayne. He had one leg, a lazy eye, gypsy jewelry and wore the sweetest Chucks. He also smoked jazz cigarettes like nobody I'd ever known. I felt a very strong connection to him. I loved him like a father. He was my mentor when it came to the blues. He taught me all the greats: Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, Bonnie Raitt, Son House, The Jimi Hendrix Blues album, Howlin' Wolf... the list goes on and on. Every day for a year, I would spend most of my time with him, hanging out on his sofa listening to his music collection and his stories. Here is a clip of Wayne from one of his many movies:

What was the first record that you bought for yourself?

Sly and The Family Stone's Greatest Hits. Listening to it, I felt like I knew what I was living for. It was the most amazing feeling I'd ever experienced. I wanted to scream, shout, and kick at the air full of adrenaline.

What are some ringtones from your personal Hall of Fame?
I think the coolest ringtone I've ever had was the intro to [Ishi's] "Pastel Lights." I became tired of it quickly. I stick with the factory ringtones. I currently am using the Sci-Fi ringtone for my iphone. It freaks people out. I love it.

Do you have any musical guilty pleasures?
If there is particular song, or album that I cannot get out of my head, I will listen to it on repeat for hours. HOURS! Singing at the top of my lungs to the radio is also something I do daily.

Who do you look to for inspiration when you perform?
I enjoy listening to funk and Motown before I play. I also think about me five years ago when I was completely lost and confused about my life -- heavy on drugs and close to death. The Taylor Rea who couldn't sing in front of even her mother and father. The girl who would burst into tears at an audition from anxiety because of stage fright. I think about her, and where I am now. I'm proud of me.

How about a mini playlist for your listeners so they can get a taste of your unexpected influences?
The Seeds - Cant Seem To Make You Mine
John Lee Hooker & Bonnie Raitt - I'm In The Mood
Tom Waits - Jockey Full of Bourbon
Stars - Ageless Beauty
Michael Jackson - Off The Wall
Sleepy Sun - Marina
Gary Numan - Music For Chameleons
Muddy Waters - She's 19 Years Old
Led Zeppelin - White Summer/Black Mountain Side

Download Rea's mix right here.

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Nic Hernandez