Alumnus Taylor creates Atlanta-inspired experimental music

Aran Sonnad-Joshi

In his 2020 single “Archaeology,” Ayo River, the stage name of 2010 Midtown graduate Weston Taylor, sings, “Don’t go pulling levers If you don’t know what the lever pulls.”

Despite his own warning, Taylor has built a music career out of innovative songs, experimental sounds and poetic lyrics. 

“My thing with Ayo River is I want it to be genreless so that it can apply to everybody,” Taylor said. “There’s a huge emphasis on the lyrics, and I try to work really hard on creating emotional stories. Even though they’re from my life, I try to leave them in a space where anybody could relate to them or find something they can latch on to.”

An important influence for Taylor is the city of Atlanta, where he grew up.

“I think Atlanta is a huge influence for me in general, like the sounds of hip-hop in Atlanta, as well as the indie rock scene in Athens,” Taylor said. “Atlanta has such a specific sound to it, especially when I was growing up, like cars driving by and deep bass rumbling. I’ve always loved that, and I’ve tried to have that be a character or a recurring theme of some of the songs that I create as ‘Ayo River.’”

Taylor’s half-brother, senior Tanner Lamar, is inspired by his creativity. 

“What he’s done certainly is amazing — his own music — but even just messing around; that’s more of what inspires me,” Lamar said. “He’s actually a great rapper; so, he’ll just throw down a couple of chords on guitar and start and just make up any lyrics. You throw out two words to him, and he’ll come up with a bunch of paragraphs with beautiful lyrical content.”

(Click here to view the full playlist of Ayo River songs selected by Taylor)

Taylor says that another one of his influences is the Midtown music program, specifically his music theory course with chorus teacher Kevin Hill.

“It gave me an appreciation for different kinds of music, and we were always looking into different music genres,” Taylor said. “I don’t really use music theory to a heavy extent when I’m writing my music. . . but it’s always good to have the foundations, and [Hill] was really good at helping with that.”

In addition to making his own music, Taylor works as the director of the Atlanta Center for Songs For Kids, a non-profit that brings musicians to play for kids with illnesses or disabilities. The foundational, musical knowledge he acquired from Midtown has helped him play for the kids.

“I’m constantly using music as a therapeutic device to work with these kids, who you know, are oftentimes in really rough circumstances and trying to just use music as a way to brighten up their days and make them feel happier and feel better,” Taylor said. “I feel like I’ve had to rely on my past musical knowledge a lot to help me in situations when I might walk into a room at the hospital and a kid requests a song and I have to figure it out on the spot. ”

Hill says Taylor’s talent was immediately apparent to him. 

“I think it was in tenth grade he auditioned for a talent show, and I think he did an original song,” Hill said. “It was just really impressive for both his vocal ability and he plays guitar really well. He had a great attitude, number one, but then really developed some serious music skills. In fact, [at] the end of his senior year my wife and I got married, and he and Luke Mashino, a good friend of his, played at our wedding.”

Hill also shares Taylor’s music in his Music Appreciation class. He says that Taylor’s story inspires students who are aspiring musicians.

“I think hearing that someone came through … [in] the same school and made it big or found some success on whatever level is inspiring,” Hill said. “It’s a bigger lesson than just me telling them [students] about what they can do. To have someone that went ahead of them and kind of blazed a trail gives them somewhere to focus …. They will always feel that connection to someone that has come through the same school.”