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A Dirty Dozen with JULIAN TAYLOR – June 2020

| 17 June 2020 | Reply


According to a recent press release: “Award-winning Toronto-based Americana singer-songwriter Julian Taylor is set to release his latest album, The Ridge, via Howling Turtle, Inc., on June 19, 2020.  Composed of eight deeply intimate songs, The Ridge was co-produced by Taylor and longtime collaborator Saam Hashemi, mixed by Hashemi, and mastered by Noah Mintz. The album, which was recorded at The Woodshed (the Toronto-area studio owned by a Canadian alt-country stalwarts Blue Rodeo), is the aural result of a songwriter clearly embracing his prime. Originally scheduled for a fall release date, Taylor decided to release the album sooner in the hope that his songs might bring joy to listeners in troubled times. A major-label veteran, Toronto music scene staple, and a musical chameleon, Julian Taylor’s versatility as a songwriter is signature; one minute he’s on stage playing with his band spilling out electrified rhythm and blues glory, and the next he’s featured at a folk festival delivering a captivating solo singer-songwriter set reminiscent of Jim Croce. He is a prolific artist who has released ten studio albums since 2001.” We get Julian to discuss new music, influences, and much more…

Photo credit: Mark Robinson

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

The latest release is called “The Ridge.”  It’s the title track and the name of the album.  It’s about a little place I grew up in called Maple Ridge where I spent my summers with my grandparents.  I’m really proud of it because it’s a reflective album about my family.  I even recorded it with some of my family members; I asked my cousins Gene and Barry to come down from Kahnawake and record the album with me.  I also have some brilliant musician friends from Toronto playing on it – the likes of Miranda Mulholland, Derek Downham, Burke Carroll, Kevin Fox, and my good pal Saam Hashemi was behind the board putting together much of the magic.  Yes, there are a lot of hidden nuggets on this record – in fact one of the lines in the song “Ballad Of A Young Troubadour” actually appears in the first song that I ever released back in 2001 when I was in the rock band called Staggered Crossing.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

I got into music at a really young age.  I was four years old, and I started playing piano and I believe I was even younger than that when I started up in the church choir. I continued singing in the choir for many years and remember being in a group called the Super Kids that my Uncle Dean actually was the leader of. Music was and is really important to me and everybody in my family. We congregated around music, and I’m not just talking about at church.  When we get together around Christmas time, there’s always been singing and playing the piano together.  On my dad’s side of family, we sing Christmas carols and hymns, and when I go to the Pow Wow in Kahnawake, it’s all about having a good old kitchen party with my mom’s side of the family.  It’s pretty cool, and music is and has always been a universal language, and I’m feel so fortunate to have a family that has always really been involved in music because that’s how I got involved.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

There’s never really a specific song that I have listened to that made me feel like that was it. I guess maybe “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson when it came out might count. I was only five years old, and it really floored me, so my dad ended up taking me to The Victory Tour.  We went to the Buffalo show, we went to the Toronto show, and the Detroit show. We’re kind of like Dead Heads for The Jackson 5 back then, but my parents were only indulging me. My dad loved Andrae Crouch, that was his hero, and my mom loved Motown, while my grandfather was into a lot of jazz, blues, roots music, and folk. Folklore became it for me. I just listened to his records all the time, and that’s where I got my start. I think my favorite record in the world is by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee – that would be the record I’d say that really changed my whole view on music. That one, and maybe “Autumn Leaves” by Coltrane and Davis. As a songwriter, Bill Withers and Jim Croce are high up on my list of favorites. I love Steve Earle, and discovering Wilco was life changing for me too. When I heard Being There, it blew my mind.

4. Who would be your main five musical influences?

My five main musical influences… I’d have to say Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and after that I don’t really know. The Beatles from a songwriting point of view.  I really enjoy their arrangements as well.  As for songwriters, it’s hard to ignore the influence of Bob Dylan. I do love Jim Croce and Bill Withers, and, because I am from Canada, there’s the influence of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. My mom loves to dance to the music of Motown, so that’s been a really big part of my life.

5. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

I’d love to do a collaboration with Rhett Miller. We’ve met a few times and played a few times on the same stage. He’s just such a wonderful, down-to-earth guy and really cool. I love his voice, I love his songs and I love his vibe. I think Brandi Carlile is amazing, either her or Bonnie Raitt would be cool, too.  They both are astonishing performers and writers with beautiful voices, and it would be an honor just to hang out with them, and if they asked me to sing with them I’d just cross my fingers and pray my voice would still work cause I’d be that nervous.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

I love when people ask that, but it’s taking me a long time to figure it out.  It’s roots music and it’s got a tinge of folk to it, it’s also got rhythm and blues, a bit of country, some rock and roll. It’s got some jazz in there, too. I’m a soulful singer-songwriter, and that’s the bottom line. I’ve always followed the song, and whatever the song is telling me is where I go. Over the years, I have been compared to a plethora of performers and genres.  I’ve been compared to Prince, Marvin Gaye, Jim Croce, The Stones. You name it. Literally tons of comparisons have been made, and some make sense while others don’t, but that’s not for me to decide.  I’m the artist, not the reviewer, but I have enjoyed recent comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and even Willie Nelson. When my first band hit the scene back in 2001, we were compared to Hootie & The Blowfish and Counting Crows. I used to get really mad about it, because it felt wrong to me. The band backing me up was all white, and I’m black. It made me feel like people were listening with their eyes and not their ears because there was so much more to us. People just didn’t delve into it further, which is unfortunate, but I hope one day they go back and check it out again. We certainly did not sound like Hootie & the Blowfish – my voice is not a baritone like Darius, who I think is great, by the way.  At the time, I can understand the comparison to Counting Crows’ first two records.  I like them, too, but we were a different band. It doesn’t upset me anymore, people are people and they have their ideas of what they think they’re listening to, and that’s OK.

7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

It all depends which band we’re talking about.  If we’re talking about being on tour with Julian Taylor Band, then I’d say the guitarist Gareth Parry is the cook. He’s pretty serious about it. It’s usually me getting the drinks, or Jeremy Elliott who plays the drums in that band. I’d also be the first to crack out the acoustic and start the jam session. If we’re talking about the family band that recorded The Ridge, then my cousin Gene is definitely one on food and drinks, while my other cousin Barry is the first to start the jam session.

8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

The last time I was really starstruck was when I met Robin Williams. I was bar tending at a place called Dora Keogh on the Danforth here in Toronto, and it was a busy night celebrating a friends’ birthday. I guess he was in town filming or something, I don’t know, but he was at the end of the bar just standing there waiting to be served. I remember the owner of the bar tapping me on the shoulder because when I turned and saw him I almost lost it. She just turned to me and said, “Hey man, be cool, don’t lose your cool.” So I was as cool as you can be, talking to a man who forever changed the world.  I asked him how he was, and he said he wasn’t doing so great, and this is when I asked him why. I could see the pain in him, and said, “I’m sorry to hear that… what’s wrong?” He told me that a friend of his had just passed away. I told him that I was really sorry to hear that. He placed his order and then jumped up on stage with the band to sing “Come Together” by The Beatles, and as soon as he was there, he was gone. The next day I picked up the newspaper and Richard Pryor had passed away.

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

The best part about being a musician for me is connecting with people, and the cool thing is that the conversation usually starts with myself. I write because I’m trying to help heal myself. When I’m writing songs and playing music, I’m trying to fight off the boredom or the pain inside me. I have a little girl, and she always likes to tell me how bored she is, and I always tell her that boredom is a beautiful thing. If I hadn’t gotten bored, I never would have become a musician. I had to do something with my boredom, so I started playing music. I had to do something with my feelings, and I couldn’t express them to people the way that some people can, so I found my way of communicating by writing lyrics and singing melodies. Writing songs was one way to connect with people, and that is the most important thing that I believe people can do. If something in my life experience can related to someone else, whether it be even the slightest bit of comfort, sadness, joy, or reflection, then I think that that’s a beautiful thing to be able to do; to communicate with someone who you don’t even know by playing notes and reciting words. So with that, I think my dream job would be to be a writer, and I’ve often thought about a segue into that profession one day. I am a radio jockey for a radio station here in Toronto called ELMNT FM, and I love doing that, so I kind of do tell stories through that medium. I also think that I’d like to be someone who chops fire wood and delivers it to people. I love to chop wood and then build a fire.  There is something so natural and powerful in that. Let’s be real though for a minute, the most honorable job of them all, in my personal opinion, is the job that our first responders are doing in hospitals all over the world. They have the most important job in the world now, and they always have. Our first responders and the people who are in grocery stores and drugstores and who are essential workers haven’t been treated fairly by society for a very long time, and they’re literally keeping society going. I mean pay people fairly. People who look after other people deserve their weight in gold. It may not be the same, but I bar tended for a long time, and I gotta tell ya, it taught me a lot about people and about human nature. I’ve always said this and I’ll say it again, anybody who gets out of school, post-secondary or not, should spend a year or two in the service industry. It should be mandatory. Too many people take the people looking after them for granted simply because they haven’t experienced what the real world dishes out. No pun intended.

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

This one.

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

I think the only thing that comes to mind is when I was really young. I was just a kid, and my band had put out a record on a major label, and then we had been dropped in the same year.  It was really difficult for all of us, and I got really angry and really sad.  I think I was depressed but never really admitted it.  I continued to press on with the band, but I would often slander the record company in the press and that was unkind, because I thought it was their fault that it didn’t work out… and it wasn’t.  It was my fault for thinking that it was their fault, because it honestly was nobody’s fault. Timing has a lot to do with pretty much everything in the music world. It has a lot to do with things in life in general. I’m also glad that it didn’t work out then because I wouldn’t be where I am now. I also don’t think my friends and I would have survived any real type of big success at the time. In fact, all of us didn’t survive. Some of us didn’t make it and are only here in spirit, and I was mad at people for that, too. I carried a lot of anger with me. One thing I think I would change is how I dealt with my anger. I didn’t need to blame anybody, I didn’t even need to blame myself for what happened, but when you’re that young it’s hard.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

If I could magically go back in time and sit in on a recording session there are two that come to my mind.  One is Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, because it’s absolutely mind-blowing, and the other might be Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, because it’s also completely mind-blowing, but in a totally different way. One is orchestrated and arranged piece by piece, while the other is completely live off the floor. I really appreciate both forms of thought, because music is a conversation and you can have a conversation in person with someone or you can have a conversation with someone on the telephone or through letters that have been written down. It’s all a blueprint that you can see and feel. When I am recording a record, it’s my job to communicate to others what that blueprint is, and after watching documentaries on both of those records, I am fascinated by how they were achieved, so being a fly on the wall would be a dream come true to me.





Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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