Five Questions With... Julian Taylor
Julian Taylor is a different guy these days, as he’ll be the first to admit. Back in the early 2000’s when he was fronting Staggered Crossing, it was understandably difficult for him not to be caught up in the whirlwind of the band’s rapid rise from being Toronto hometown heroes to signing with Warner Music Canada, and then (seemingly just as quickly) diving head first into being independent label owners with Bent Penny Records.
The weight of all that ambition eventually got to be too much for Taylor and the rest of the band, resulting in Staggered Crossing’s official break-up in 2007, announced through a statement that read, in part, “We simply cannot continue to commit the time, energy and enthusiasm to this band that we love so much.”
Having now fully recovered from that hectic decade, Taylor has gone back to making music on his own terms, and his latest endeavor, The Julian Taylor Band, shows that he hasn’t lost his trademark zeal. Fusing soul, rock and R&B, the group — which counts up to eight members at any given time — is in the midst of releasing its sophomore effort, Desert Star (Aporia Records), as a series of four five-song EPs at regular intervals from now until the summer of 2016, when it will arrive fully formed as a double LP.
The project’s guiding principle is that if a single flower can grow in a desert, then a multitude can, and Taylor appears committed to applying that philosophy to all aspects of his music by making it as inclusive as possible in order to put down roots everywhere. The Julian Taylor Band launches Desert Star (Side One) at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern on Saturday, Nov. 28th.
What sets this new album apart from your previous work?
Some people have said that it defies genres and that’s quite possibly the biggest compliment I can think of. To me, that means it has universal appeal. When I first started out as a songwriter I don’t think I was consciously aware of who I was, and that was reflected in what I was writing. I was very young and had a chip on my shoulder. I think that getting signed right out of high school made me think I was more important than I actually was. It took getting beat up and having to claw my way back in so many aspects of my life to make me finally realize that all people are the same and go through so many challenges. No one owes you anything in this life but I think it is possible to earn it. The music that I write now is coming from a place of growth and honesty. Only now, after 25 years in the music industry, do I feel in touch with myself, which enables me to attempt to write music that means something to me and in turn mean something to others.
What has been the biggest change in your life in the past year?
I think it’s been that I’ve stopped playing all the time and under any circumstance. Over the past nine years I have been playing four nights a week doing three 45-minute sets every night. It was the only way I could make a living and it’s what many musicians have to do to get by. We all know that there are hundreds of dollars to be made in the music industry, right? Anyway, they call musicians like us “jobbers.” You would regularly find us heading out of town for a weekend residency and performing for three days solid every weekend. Opening bands touring the country don’t get that much playing time, and it was a blessing in disguise because I think it helped the band’s chops in a major way. We are now booked by Ralph James and Lorraine Webb at United Talent and have been playing some higher profile shows. I recently received a contract that said we were only expected to play for 20 minutes. I thought it was a typo and had to call the office just to make sure.
What song in your catalogue means the most to you and why?
A couple of years ago I was on vacation in Mexico for a friend’s wedding. While I was there, my grandfather passed away and I was unable to get home for the funeral. It broke my heart because he was one of the most important people in my life. I am part Mohawk and my grandfather raised me to believe in a certain way of life. Essentially, he taught me that all we need is all around us. I admit to forgetting those lessons when I was a bit younger but I have found those values again. Like they say, everything comes around eventually. There’s a song on my last album Tech Noir called “Carry Me Home.” I wrote that song for my grandfather in my hotel room in Mexico while everyone else was on the beach. It took all of 20 minutes to write, and is a song that I hold most dear to my heart. Last week, I actually stumbled upon the original lyrics written on the hotel’s letterhead. I’m going to have them framed.
What is something people might be surprised to learn about you?
Only a handful of people know this, but back when I was still in Staggered Crossing, my bandmates and I actually had a hand in amending Canadian bankruptcy law. This is something that benefits not only musicians, but anyone who is considered a curator with rights to intellectual property. We were one of the acts that got caught up in the Song Corp bankruptcy and at the time the law stated that if a company went out of business then they would be allowed to use and sell unpublished works as an asset. Alongside our management (Bumstead) at the time, and (Peter Steinmetz) one of the country’s most respected lawyers, we argued that the ownership of unpublished compositions should revert back to the composers. We won, and since then that is what the law states. It also includes demo recordings, lyrics and lead sheets. It was a big win for us, and a big win for Canadian artists.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written?
I really wish I had written “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. It’s a song that is just as good if not better than anything The Beatles or anyone on Earth has written. The chord progression is utterly simple as are the lyrics, yet the message is so poignant and deep. Sure, we should all “let it be,” but I firmly believe that if we want to change the world we need to realize that it all starts with community. Not on a global scale but in our own backyards. That’s where the nucleus is. I need you to lean on when I can’t do something for myself. Maybe it’s because I’m sad or because I’m sick or because I write songs and can’t build a house. It’s pretty simple stuff to me, yet we all over-complicate things. You’re my brother and I am your brother, you are my sister and I am your sister. That’s all he was trying to say. As the world gets smaller and bigger at the same time, I hope people remember that it’s very important to take care of each other. After all, I am your neighbour, lend me some sugar!