We have stunningly versed songwriters like Tayla Parx to thank for some of the biggest bops on the contemporary charts. Parx’s resume continues to be as expansive (and impressive) as ever, but just a few hit songs she is credited with are “Thank U, Next” (by Ariana Grande), “Pynk” (by Janelle Monáe and Grimes), “Love Lies” (by Khalid and Normani), and “High Hopes” (by Panic! at the Disco).
And, the creative genius and hopeless romantic is back with even more anthems as she lets loose and opens up on her sophomore album Coping Mechanisms. While tracks like “System” make you want to go out and party until you (quite literally) get everything out of your system on the dancefloor, tracks like “Fixerupper” make you want to stay inside, take things slow, and evaluate all those skeletons in your closet.
We got to talk to the talented Texas native about going to therapy, learning love languages, and of course, figuring out her very own coping mechanisms for life’s ups and downs.
You’ve been songwriting since you were very young. What’s the earliest song you can remember writing?
I think I wrote my first song when I was 12. I wrote this song called “Opposites Attract.” That was one of my first songs that I remember writing. And it’s hilarious looking back on it, honestly… It’s pretty funny to hear the growth.
To date, you’ve written for some of the biggest artists we’ve ever seen. Your recent hits include “34+35” (with Ariana Grande), “Take Yourself Home” (with Troye Sivan), and “Sweet Melody” (with Little Mix). When do you find that creative collaborations work the best for you?
I think some of the collaborations that work out the best for me are when I’m working with somebody who I’ve never written with before, just because I’m automatically going into the situation from a very new kind of approach versus going in [to the studio] with somebody and leaning on the fact that you know them so well. But, when you’re coming into a situation with a stranger you really have to listen 10 times harder. You really have to communicate in a way that you wouldn’t do typically, so I like that extra challenge of being able to tap in.
So, back to working with Ari. You two work together quite a lot. You made a cameo in her “Positions” music video, and the music video for your song, “34+35” just came out a few days ago. What kind of creative genius goes into making these massive hits?
I literally texted her and said, “this is my new favorite video that you’ve done and it’s really really good.” These songs come about definitely from having real conversations. I think all of the songs, especially with Ari’s project, really just come from a place of her talking to her friends, whether it’s me, Vic, or Leon Thomas. She tends to collaborate with people who know her well and has had some of the biggest successes throughout her career working with people that know her best.
What’s one thing you enjoy most about writing for others and one thing you enjoy most about writing for yourself?
The thing that I enjoy the most about writing for myself is the fact that it’s like writing in a diary except you’re adding melody so that’s a really dope coping mechanism for me – just writing. And then the thing that I get out of writing for other people, is honestly the ability to be an empath and being able to get somebody else’s story across…
And being able to be people’s scribe and their therapist and all of those things – I enjoy playing that role as well.
Your sophomore album Coping Mechanisms is out now. A big theme of this album is taking care of yourself and keeping your energy protected. What are some of your own coping mechanisms for dealing with life?
I’ve definitely gone to therapy and I do a lot of reading and self-care books. I’ve always been into those types of things, like those [self-care] are my favorite kind of books. The ones that just talk about real life, and the human emotion, and the human brain, and why we do the things that we do, or why we might. And so I really do go down rabbit holes regarding that, and human connection, so it’s something that shows in the music I write…
I’m also a big believer in what’s meant for you is for you, so I think those books definitely remind me that there’s always some type of reason why you’re meant to do it the way that you’re going to do it.
Now that we’ve talked about your coping mechanisms, I’m even more curious about your defense mechanisms…
Well, I think definitely some of my defense mechanisms (which is something you don’t learn you’re doing until later on) would be to shut down emotionally. I hated to cry and show those emotions and all of those things, but it was really just a defense mechanism. And I didn’t start unraveling that until my last album, We Need To Talk, which is talking about all of those ways I’d been afraid to fall. And it’s really about just being scared, and stopping myself from falling in love for a very long time. Probably that’s my biggest defense mechanism.
One of the tracks on We Need To Talk is “Slow Dancing.” You are quite the romantic who loves a good slow dance. How are you finding ways to keep the romance alive during quarantine?
I’m definitely having to find ways to keep things fun. We’re being safe and staying in as much as possible. Sometimes we’ll go and enjoy a picnic in the backyard. And I’m finding myself getting more creative because even though I’m so romantic (you hear it all in my songs), sometimes I don’t talk about it [love/romance] in real life. So, sometimes my partner’s like “I’m hearing all these sweet songs and all of this stuff, but you’re putting it all in the music.” And so sometimes I’m like “look at all these songs I made for you,” and then they’re just like “Oh, well it would just be nice to hear ‘I love you’ every now and then.”
So, honestly, I’ve just been working on communication. That’s been the biggest part that I’ve been able to do in quarantine — is try to figure out the communication and continue to figure out those love languages, and how we can just keep everything going, and keep everything sweet, and keep everything fun.
What’s your love language?
I think my love language is acts of service, for sure. I think I was just raised that way. Naturally, it was the way that my parents showed they loved me…
It’s interesting because my partner and I have completely different types of love languages, and now I’m happy I read that book because now I’m going to have to learn up. My partner needs to hear. They need to hear that I love them, so they’d rather hear “I love you” than “Here’s this cool song that I wrote.” So definitely words of affirmation and quality time, for sure.
Aside from your romantic partnerships, are there any other musical partnerships you’d like to pursue in your career that you haven’t yet?
Adele and Ed Sheeran. I haven’t worked with them yet and I would love to work with them, for sure. [Adele’s next project] is going to be amazing. I can’t wait to hear this next piece and I just feel like if we got into a room together, we’d just get into something different…
I’ve met Ed before and they both just seem like really cool people.
When you’re not making music, you’re running a self-care camp for songwriters called Burnout. Can you tell me a little more about this?
Well, there was a point where I had 30 songs in one year, which for a songwriter, that’s a hell of a lot. We write a lot of songs that never really see the light of day, and so there was a lot coming out at one point and I needed to make sure that I was for one, happy doing the things and the music that mattered to me, and also the biggest part of my entire career that I’ve focused on is efficiency and consistency.
So, how do we keep this efficient and how do we keep this success consistent? And that’s by taking care of yourself. I realized that I was looking to my left and my right and was seeing creatives be thrown away like trash the moment that they felt burnt out or the moment they no longer could produce like they used to. And I’m like “Okay, let’s figure out why they aren’t able to produce in the ways that they used to.” And it’s because we’re not proactively taking care of our mental health, not proactively taking care of our minds and bodies and souls. And so you don’t realize this is a problem until you have writer’s block. So, how can we proactively avoid writer’s block or creative block, and really take a more silicon valley approach towards the music industry?
I wanted to do something that would give back to my community, and so I put on Burnout. You know, a lot of these creators have never done Tai chi before. A lot of them have never done color therapy and things like that. And to see the change it’s had on some of their lives was incredible because I know that we’re breeding better creatives and we’re making this the new normal.
What exactly is color therapy? And how does it help you personally?
There are numerous ways you can do it. There’s a science behind how certain colors make you feel. So, whether it’s yellow and makes you happy, or whether it’s green and you’re trying to sleep, all of these colors have a particular attachment to the way they make you feel. The other type of thing that you can use with color therapy is coloring books. It’s a nice way to relax and get your mind off things. You wouldn’t think that it would but after 20 minutes of sitting there trying to stay in the lines…
I had a Prince [coloring book] and a swear word coloring book, so it would be like ‘Fuck,’ but I would make it look beautiful, you know what I mean? You can just take those words and create however. Regardless of how you’re using color therapy, it’s nice for creatives, in my opinion…
Every room in my house has hue lights and I can set it by the mood. So, if I’m feeling anxious or if I’m feeling a certain way, I’m like, “Okay, let me get my good music playing, let me put my lights on the color that I need them to be, and let’s just relax.”
Speaking of colors, you have a pretty bright sense of style and your shoe game is impressive. Do you enjoy dressing up for the ‘gram?
I’m going to be real. I change outfits like three times a day. It’s actually probably one of the most girly things that I do. I’m all about a look. It all depends on my mood for the day. Is this a loafer day? Is it a sandal day? Is it a sneaker day? I have so many different sides to my style. It really just depends on the day…
Anderson .Paak just sent me some shoes yesterday. He has a Vans collab and the shoes are hard so I’m excited to put those to work ASAP. So, anybody reading this, I wear a size 6 ½.
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photos / Joey James
story / Ashley Johnson