Updated as of 12:49 p.m. on Sept. 28 to include video of junior Tabby Spell.
Elon junior Tabby Spell performed in musical theater most of her adolescent life. Growing up in Mechanicsville — a southern Maryland town of 1,857 people — theater was her outlet.
Until it wasn’t.
“I had a really interesting theater director who had a lot of favoritism issues, and it really wreaked havoc on my self confidence and the things that I thought I could do,” Spell said. “I really think that's kind of what eroded my love for musical theater. I might still be doing it if that hadn't happened.”
Spell said she felt that she still needed to go to college for musical theater. She applied to six programs, including Elon, and got rejected from all of them.
Despite this setback, Spell labeled it a “blessing in disguise.” Shortly after reapplying to Elon for the political science major and getting accepted, Spell said she fell in love with Taylor Swift.
Spell grew up with Swift’s music because of her older sister’s obsession with Swift’s debut album. But Spell said when she watched the Reputation Stadium Tour film on Netflix for the first time, she realized she needed to be a singer/songwriter herself no matter how scared she had been in the past.
“I started analyzing rhyming schemes and the strategies that she used,” Spell said. “I was sitting in English class and not doing English work, but sort of highlighting things in Google Docs and recognizing patterns. And Taylor did essentially teach me how to songwrite.”
While Swift has inspired lots of Spell’s music, Spell said she doesn't want to be the superstar in every way.
“I don't want to be another Taylor Swift knockoff,” Spell said. “But she is a very big part of me becoming the songwriter and the performer and the musician that I am today.”
On Sept. 21, Spell released the second single for her upcoming debut EP. The song is called “Fallin’” and Spell said it tells the story of a boy she fell for in her freshman year at Elon, even though people around her were telling her it was a terrible idea.
“It's sort of that euphoria of, ‘This could go so badly, but I don't really care right now because this feels so good,’” Spell said.
Spell describes the track as “poppier” and “peppier” than the rest of the EP, titled “Young.” Spell said while there is not an exact release date for the project, she is aiming for the end of this year.
In June, she released the first single, which shares its name. Spell said the song “Young” is about thinking she was going to marry her first love from high school, but realizing she was too ‘young’ to know the declining situation better.
Spell said the song’s meaning is reflective of the rest of the EP.
“It includes a lot of themes that I think people can relate to at its core,” Spell said. “It's about sort of growing up and losing your innocence and it not being what you thought it would be and the love and the loss and everything that comes with it.”
Spell said the EP follows a chronology of her freshman year, which she describes as an “absolute trainwreck.” While Spell didn’t anticipate a chronology when writing the six songs, a friend of hers mapped out the songs from the beginning, falling deeply in love, to the end — being broken down and learning to proceed with life.
Spell said there is not a confirmed date for the EP’s release due to production occurring in a southern Maryland studio and the financial burden of the project. She is aiming for a late 2023 to early 2024 release date after having worked on it for three years. Spell has two songs left to record.
In the meantime, Spell said she is heavily involved with the music scene at Elon. Instead of political science, she now double majoring in music in the liberal arts and arts administration. She auditioned for the music production and recording arts major after arriving on campus in 2021 but said she was told there was not a spot for her.
Spell is the music director of the show choir, Elon Muses, and a member of the on-campus groups Techtronica and Electric Ensemble. Techtronica is a pop music ensemble while Electric Ensemble is a multigenre group. This is her second semester in both groups, and she credits them with her growing confidence when performing live.
“I was so used to musical theater, where you have a whole ensemble behind you and other people picking you up, but when you're a solo musician, it's just you,” Spell said. “And even, on top of that, it's stuff that you wrote. So, you're really just baring your soul for everybody.”
During Spell’s time at Elon, she has performed at the Common Grounds in Greensboro, a coffee House performance in Irazú Coffee and Elon Elite, a benefit concert from 2022 that supported Ukraine.
But over the summer, Spell said she returned to her roots and performed in La Plata, Maryland, at an artist showcase called “Play Music on the Porch Day.” Spell said the performance “opened up a lot of doors,” where people came up to her afterward and offered to book her at places she used to not qualify for.
Spell said she was able to introduce a new chapter of her life to the place she grew up in, and hopes people everywhere can rely on her music when going through similar, tough times to hers.
“I used Taylor's music, but also, other people's music, to help me through those moments,” Spell said. “And I hope that when people listen to my music, they can sort of take comfort in it with something that they can relate to. I want them to have that moment that I had where a lyric comes out and you go, ‘Oh my gosh, that's exactly how I'm feeling.’”