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Ready to take wing

Taylor Swift is a country sensation. The talented singer-songwriter and teen dynamo seems to be popping up everywhere.

February 06, 2008|Randy Lewis | Times Staff Writer

THE music world is racing to keep pace with Taylor Swift. It's a none-too-easy job requiring speed, stamina and dexterity now that the just-18 singer and songwriter is in high demand for TV talk-show guest spots, award-show performances and hosting gigs and gearing up for opening slots on three of country music's big headlining tours for 2008.

It's been nonstop since her debut album, "Taylor Swift," topped the 2-million-sales mark and swept her to a best new artist Grammy nomination, a rarity for someone from the country music field.

And Swift isn't the type to slow down long enough for anyone to catch her. She spent her Christmas holiday working on her second album, due later this year, squeezed in a few headlining dates at some mid-size theaters, including the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills just last month, and seemed utterly in control of all the plates she's spinning during a whirlwind visit to a major music industry convention in Anaheim to thank the makers of the Taylor Guitars (no relation) she plays.

She was one of the guest announcers when the Grammy nominations were revealed in December, and figured she might be lucky enough to show up in one of the country categories, given the breakthrough success of her single "Tim McGraw" and succeeding hits "Teardrops on My Guitar" and "Our Song."

"I didn't think I'd hear my name called in that category," she said of her best new artist nomination. "The fact that I'm included with those others," including critical faves Amy Winehouse and Feist, "that absolutely blows my mind. . . . To be included in an all-genre category like that, and to represent country music in that category, I can't even tell you how happy I am about that."

In Anaheim, before an enthusiastic crowd of instrument makers, sellers and their friends -- the biggest gathering the Taylor booth has ever pulled in, according to company chief Bob Taylor, who rattled off an impressive list of previous rock and pop stars his company endorses -- Swift noted that she was 14 when she wrote her recent hit, "Our Song."

It may be the first No. 1 country hit that got its premiere at a ninth-grade talent show.

All the attention has put a lot of weight on her teenage shoulders, but her mother, Andrea Swift, said she and her husband have tried to ensure that their daughter stays focused on her love of music.

"We've always made it clear that we didn't need her to pay the bills," Andrea Swift said as her daughter taped some announcements for the Academy of Country Music's awards night in May. "She's been writing songs since she was 5 or 6 and knew from the time she was 11 that this is what she wanted to do."

THE Swifts took Taylor to Nashville from their home in Wyomissing, Pa., for the first time when she was 11. "I started knocking on doors and saying, 'Hi, I'm Taylor! I write songs and I'd like a record deal!' "

Now she's co-producing the new album with Nathan Chapman, who co-produced her debut, and Andrea Swift says it's more than simply a case of a teenager set on getting her way. "When she writes her songs, she hears them in her head, and she knows where she wants the mandolin to come in, or what guitar lick should be there." That led her to reject an offer from a giant Nashville record company in favor of signing with one that was just getting off the ground, Big Machine.

"Obviously, creative control is the most important thing for me," Swift says, "or I wouldn't have left the biggest label in Nashville for a label that didn't have any furniture."

She says her goal for her next album is to reward those who responded to the first one, and find some new fans.

"I look at my favorite artists and how I feel when they put out a new album, like Garth Brooks or Tim McGraw," she said. "It still has so many things about the reasons I love that artist, but there's new material. . . . I'm not going to throw anybody for a loop or try to change my sound or be edgier. I've aged two years and I've been writing for the past two years, and I really think there won't be any fans who feel like I've tried to desert who I am."

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randy.lewis@latimes.com

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