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Taryn Manning Gets Real About Self-Acceptance: ‘If You Don’t Love Yourself, You Can’t Really Love Anybody Else’

Courtesy of Taryn Manning
Courtesy of Taryn Manning

Taryn Manning knows a thing or two about playing damaged characters onscreen, from Crossroads‘ outcast pregnant teen Mimi, to 8 Mile‘s brokenhearted Janeane, to Orange Is the New Black‘s fundamentalist Christian meth addict “Pennsatucky.” But when it comes to expressing herself musically, she tries to keep things more optimistic, even when the subject matter is emotional.

In the early 2000s, Taryn and her brother, Kellin, performed as experimental hip hop/electronica duo Boomkat, releasing a string of singles—plus two albums, 2003’s Boomkatalog.One and 2009’s A Million Trillion Stars—that gained them notice by Billboard as well as soundtrack spots for movies like Mean Girls. In 2009, the actress-singer-fashion designer launched her own solo pop career with “So Talented,” an ode to Michael Jackson (one of her most beloved inspirations) that she debuted during an episode of Melrose Place.

Since then, Taryn has juggled acting roles on high-profile shows (Hawaii Five-0, Sons of Anarchy, OITNB) with pop stardom, collaborating with EDM producers like KDrew and Sultan & Shepard while diligently working on her forthcoming debut album behind the scenes. Her music is a bright concoction of thumping dance beats, emotionally introspective lyrics and infectious pop melodies, hallmarks that are present on the singer’s latest single, “GLTCHLFE”—a raw, throbbing ode to the innate messiness of love and loneliness.

Ahead of the entertainment industry triple-threat’s forthcoming EP, Tarynoid, I caught up with Taryn to dig into the meaning behind her new single, the importance of staying true to herself and how being a musician can often be more challenging than acting.

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“GLTCHLFE”  is such a highly emotional song. Was there a specific moment in your life that inspired the lyrics?
It’s emotional. There [was] a little bit of a breakup involved and yeah, that could be pretty emotional. Then we got back together and stuff… Sometimes after the lows and the highs that come out [of a situation], you can’t write lyrics for it! But really it’s about my life, and also other people’s lives too.

The video is gorgeous. I love the part where it’s late at night, you’re running through the woods and it’s dark. Everything is super lush and gorgeous and I thought that created a really cool space for the content of the lyrics to play out. You’re singing about feeling lonely and going through this tumultuous relationship…
It’s very soulful. This character, this woman, she’s in this ginormous mansion and she looks really beautiful, kind of all dressed up with nowhere to go. And then basically what I was trying to say is that she’s alone but all of these voices are yelling back at her [in her own head]. It’s kind of just like, wherever you are, you can keep running away from something, but not when it’s right inside of you. Oftentimes we create such illusions about so much because of what’s in our heads. Artists experience that a lot… You have to quit lying to yourself! Wherever you go, there you are. You are your own home base and if your center isn’t right, you’re not right. This is so cliche, but if you don’t love yourself, you really can’t love anybody else. That’s the message of what I’m trying to say.

It’s true. If you’re lying to yourself, you kind of create a sense of isolation. I hear that theme of isolation in other songs by you, like “Send Me Your Love” and Boomkat’s “Lonely Child.” Would you consider grappling with loneliness a recurring topic in your songwriting?
You said it. My brother actually wrote “Lonely Child” but we’re like two peas in a pod. I think for me, it’s what that looks like. I’ve always had a lot of friends and a lot of activities to do, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve scored down a little bit. I’ll think like, “Okay, all of my friends don’t need to be involved in all of the activities!” That’s been a big thing for me, just learning to navigate being alone.

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You have to move beyond the things that don’t really speak to your soul anymore
Exactly, yeah. I love my friends! But as I go on in life, my mom always said: My true friends are going to be the ones I have when I’m older. Like, because I have so many! [Laughs] You can tell the ones who [really care about you] because you want to spend that extra time with them. There’s no temper tantrums or drama or bulls— or whatever. The point was that, friends who are just there for your money, or for going out, they’re greedy. Nowadays I find myself sitting and just meditating…. There is beauty in life.

Which is more challenging for you as an artist: Acting, where you transform yourself into a character and have to imagine what another person is feeling, like on Orange Is the New Black, or making music, where you bare your inner self?
Well, the music comes easy as far as like, writing it and performing. There’s definitely moments where I’m like, I suck! There are attitudes like that in my head sometimes. Half the time I’m like, people aren’t listening to what the hell I’m saying anyway. It can be tiring. The other day I was performing and really pushing the lyrics through my acoustic set—I wanted people to understand what I was really saying. Over time I’ve realized that I’m a songwriter. I’m not just a singer or whatever; I don’t really even consider myself like to be the greatest vocalist. Just performing, I want people hear my words because maybe what I have to say can help them.

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I think that’s important. For instance, “Runaway,” another Boomcat song, has helped me as a listener through bouts of depression, because I really connect to that song and its message. I can relate to it.
Ah, that’s so nice to hear. Thank you. I appreciate that, that’s awesome that it’s helped you.

Finally, I know you have an EP coming out soon. What can listeners expect?
I mean, honestly, some of the stuff that you said is what you can expect. It’ll be kind of a glimpse of me, without my brother [and without Boomkat], as well as others I co-wrote with—people I selected to work with and people who, over time, I realized I like what they stand for and talk about. There’s all kinds of types of songs on it. There’s something in there for everybody. I try to create music that’s girly, with pretty melodies mixed with the bass drums and all that. It’s about the love of finding yourself and, like you said, you can dance to it but there’s a message in all of it. But it’s not a hugely profound message, it’s keeping it simple: Love yourself. I kind of aim for that. [Laughs] It’s me being free, you know?

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