Taylor Harris is Lady Lark, a pop/soul artist making her Entry debut on Monday. Her music is bouncy, playful, and slinky, cut out for the roller rink or a Mayer Hawthorne fan’s playlist; Harris is playful, too, but as Lady Lark, she ups the ante, becoming a compelling, commanding bandleader. She and her fellow songwriters, Oran Chan and Kyle Pleggenkuhle, joined me in a Northeast coffee shop this week to talk about their story as a tight-knit group, their philosophy of live shows, and performers who inspire them (for example, Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley, and Hall and Oates). I expected to boil down our conversation into a feature, but the interview delighted me so much that I wanted to share the whole thing.
Cecilia Johnson: How did you all meet? There’s not much about you on the interwebs.
Taylor Harris: Right, we keep it locked down. [laughs] So Kyle and I used to work together at an ad agency, so we just became friends through work. But Oran and Kyle have been making music together since college.
Oran Chan: He lived with one of my best friends who I grew up with.
Kyle Pleggenkuhle: [Oran had] always been doing punk rock and other bands. I was in my room alone making hip hop or doing beats. One day I was like, “Wait. You play guitar. I can do this drum track. We can start making music.”
Chan: When I heard his stuff, I was like, “Oh my god! I can truly tell somebody I like this music.”
Harris: Then, we were out for Kyle’s birthday, and it was post-party back at his place. We were listening to music, and I was like, “Do you have any Allen Stone? Let’s play some Allen Stone.” I started singing along because, you know, liquid courage and whatnot. At some point, I was like, “If I could do anything in the world, I’d be a back-up singer and play the tambourine in a band.” Kyle was like, “Maybe you should come play with us.”
Chan: Tay’s the driving force keeping our vibe going for the last three years. All praise be to Lady Lark!
Where did that name come from?
Pleggenkuhle: Part of our journey was multiple attempts at being a band. Playing one show and then immediately being done. Then we said, this is all about Taylor. “Lady Lark.”
Harris: I think it’s funny that Lady Lark has actually stuck. There’s some irony — I’m actually afraid of birds. So when I tell my friends about our band, they’re like, “You know a lark is a bird.” I’m like, “I know. But do you also know that a lark is something that you do for fun and excitement?” It ended up fitting.
Pleggenkuhle: Lady Lark not only embodies what Tay represents, but that feeling of joy and having a good time.
Harris: That’s our biggest thing. We’re there to have a good time, first and foremost. We’re going to have fun.
Chan: I would say that. However, we have been rehearsing for nine months. [laughs] The funny thing for me is that when you meet Tay, you see the love and the passion, and she does that in her work, too. She’s able to pull that out of us. I mean, the tear we’ve been on — Tay is just pure muse for the sound of Lady Lark. And she’s starting to write, too.
Harris: The thing that’s so amazing to me is how these guys, being males, are able to pull something that’s very feminine, sexy, and sassy out of me that I think I’ve always had but never really expressed. It’s kind of a perfect marriage.
Pleggenkuhle: You trust us.
Chan: We trust each other. It gets weird sometimes — sometimes angry — but it’s a true fam. [In] my other life, I have a family. I have kids. You don’t get a lot of time out as a dad, to be honest. So this is my only outlet. My wife knows. [laughs]
Everyone needs that.
Chan: It’s a pure release. It’s therapy in a hectic world.
How many shows have you played as Lady Lark? The one in the Entry is coming up.
Harris: It’s so crazy that we have that opportunity. We’ve actually had two shows. We did the Amsterdam in St. Paul. Then, we did the Kitty Cat Klub. This is our third show, which is kind of amazing that we’ve had this opportunity to play a place like the Entry so quickly. It’s been frightening, but in the best way.
We’ve got two shows booked for February, as well.
Pleggenkuhle: We’ve been cocooning for a while, and now we’re butterfly-ing. So hopefully, you’ll see more and more of us.
Chan: We don’t want to oversaturate, by any means. But we’re going to find new things. We’re going to keep changing the set. That’s the coolest thing about working with the musicians that complement us in the band. And the environment we get to work in is the Pearl Recording Studio in Minneapolis.
I’ve never been.
Chan: It’s amazing. And our bass player, Zach, is the owner and engineer there. The environment is — Semisonic used to play there in the same loft. There’s really cool vibes, and the equipment he uses is old-school. And yeah, we’ve only played two shows, but we record and nitpick nonstop.
The Entry is a launching point. The first two shows were, “Okay, is our wardrobe legit? Do we know how to soundcheck?” It was a welcoming thing — we wanted to play two cities in one weekend and feel that hustle of not being able to practice right after a show and play the next day. Can you still sound good?
Who make up the whole live line-up, then?
Harris: So we’ve got Zach Hollander, who runs the Pearl Recording Studio. He’s our bass player. Oran plays guitar. Kyle does the keys. Our friend Joel Komoto plays the drums. Jesse Siegel is our back-up singer. And me. Did I forget anybody?
Chan: You are everything, girl. It’s Lady Lark and her five boys.
Pleggenkuhle: A lot of people, when they hear “band,” they think rock, or it’s going to be loud — a couple of guitars, heavy riffing. But no, we are very much playing our places. We’re trying to bring forward a sound that’s more pop than rock. It’s harder to pull off with live instruments — subtlety that’s still dancey and still has a vibe to do. That’s our balancing act as instrumentalists behind Lady Lark. How do we make her shine while still giving her the platform she needs?
Chan: We don’t have a band name. It is 100% Lady Lark.
Pleggenkuhle: We’re just a live karaoke machine.
Chan: I think people will be surprised from — let’s be honest — they’re demos that we have online. “The Rhythm” was definitely our most fine-tuned. But I think once they hear the live show, it’ll be like, “Wow.” You don’t understand Tay’s volume and the way she can fill a room until you hear it live.
This is so nice.
Chan: Are we not supposed to compliment her this much? [laughs] It’s super vulnerable out there. Even the topics we cover are a little more on the risky side. There’s sex and desire.
Where do your lyrics come from?
Harris: It’s that deep feeling that I think everybody experiences. There’s a Lady Lark in all of us. That sexy part of you that maybe you do, maybe you don’t express all the time. But you know you have that experience of going, “No, you’re not going to do that to me.” Or, “That s— ain’t right.” The truth of those feelings comes to life in these songs.
Chan: I think you can get in those holes where it gets super personal. Those songs can be truly, truly amazing. But does it necessarily connect with everyone? When we work, it comes down to, “Can we all feel like this?”
Is there an album in the works?
Pleggenkuhle: Good question.
Chan: We are recording. We’re really focused on this Lady Lark live component.
Pleggenkuhle: Better answer: This next summer, be on the lookout.
Chan: That is a better answer. [laughs] As musicians, you can always push it along. But we don’t want to expect anything.
Pleggenkuhle: We have done the hamster thing, like a kid. Where it’s like, “I love this hamster!” [mimes squishing hands over a hamster] So with this project, it’s like, “Let’s just let it sit in our hands for a while.”
Harris: We all have our day jobs.
Pleggenkuhle: We’re not 18.
You mentioned wardrobe. What’s up with that?
Harris: That’s Oran. He wears a lot of hats.
Literally and figuratively?
Chan: [laughs] As a band, we try to be mannequins for Tay. So we all wear midnight blue crushed velvet; black lapel blazers; button-up shirts; black tie joggings; vinyl shoes. We keep it classy behind her, with a little flash.
Tay depends on the night. I think at First Ave, she’ll be a little dolled up. Big hair, big voice, big lips.
Harris: Big hoops. My outfit is definitely not “Tay.” It’s Lady Lark. I got big make-up on; big lashes; bright lips. The hair’s out, and there’s some sunglasses at times.
Chan: We’re such fans of good musicians. Sharon Jones. The show is a show — we don’t like to talk a lot between our songs. There should be transitions. I think that ties back to how the wardrobe looks.
Pleggenkuhle: Copying is the highest form of flattery. We’ve been fans of artists like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Even Mayer Hawthorne in a tuxedo. We’re professionals, even while we’re having fun.
I got to see Lauryn Hill back in September, and that was a show. [Taylor nods] Were you there?
Harris: Yes. She commands that stage like no one I’ve ever seen before.
Getting to watch these amazing black women bandleaders, too, like Erykah Badu at Eaux Claires saying, “Hit that. Play this.”
Harris: I totally agree.
Chan: That sounds like Tay at practice.
Harris: People like Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, and Beyoncé — those are incredible people, far beyond what I’ve ever done, obviously. But to have those women as the ones I look up to and respect immensely feels pretty cool. God, it’s just so fun.
I saw Charles Bradley at First Ave. I always thought it was weird when people cried at live performances. I get that you’re enjoying it, but why are you crying? But I actually cried at his show. It was actually in the middle of one of his stories, and I was like, “Oh my god, this is what we all need to hear right now.” I was in love.
Do you go out and see live music super often?
Harris: Yeah. It’s my pastime. I was counting from 2016, and I think I went to 27 different concerts and also went to Coachella.
Chan: I’d be like, “Can we practice, Tay?”
Harris: “Sorry, I’m going to a show tonight, guys!”
Chan: At the inception of this, [Kyle and I] went on a pilgrimage to see our idols, Hall and Oates. We saw them in California, and Mayer Hawthorne opened for them. That’s another show we set on this pedestal. Even though they were having so much fun, we were blown away by the musicianship. I went back to all my old vinyl, and I’m like, “Dude, this guy played for, like, 30 years.” They’re something so cool about the longevity.
Pleggenkuhle: For me, that’s always been the magic of it. The music that makes me feel a certain way is magical. And if someone can do that to me, how do you figure out how to do that to someone else? How do you learn that magic trick?
I don’t know if we’re having that impact on people, but that’s the intention.
I also feel like that with writing. If I’m crying at what I just typed, hopefully someone else is, too.
Pleggenkuhle: Or you’re just a wreck. Who knows. [all laugh]
Lady Lark performs with Rich Jones, Wisco Kidz, and Show at the 7th St. Entry on Jan. 16.