By Ava Zardynezhad, September 13 2021—
Back in July of 2021, here at the Gauntlet, we had the pleasure of attending Julian Taylor’s performance and chatting with the Toronto-based artist, who was one of the many artists featured at the 42nd Calgary Folk Festival (CFMF) Summer Serenades.
For the first time after a year spent at home, Taylor presented his record, The Ridge, live, this summer. Since its release, the album has been nominated for a handful of awards, with Taylor being recognized as Solo Artist of the Year at the 16th Canadian Folk Music Awards.
Taylor has been recording music since the late ‘90s. He got his start as part of Staggered Crossing, a band he had formed with a few high school friends. However, the influence of music in his life dates back to his formative years.
“I come from a pretty musical family. My dad’s family all sang in the church choirs and my dad played the organ at the church,” Taylor says.
Music also runs deep in his mother’s side of the family. His cousins Gene and Barry Diablo played drums and bass — respectively — on The Ridge. Taylor spoke of his father’s influence on him as a child, recalling staying up at night just to hear him play the piano after he got home. His father’s influence might have contributed to Taylor receiving piano lessons, starting when he was four years old. However, around the age of 10, he decided the guitar was a more convenient instrument for playing amongst friends and around campfires, henceforth quitting the piano.
Taylor has dabbled in many genres of music, but the best way to describe him is as a folk artist.
“I like to think of folk music as something that is not specific to genre. It’s more of a narrative,” says Taylor. “The art form of folk music was to tell folklore to communicate stories. [Folk music] it’s the folklore of the people of [any particular place]. The stories of people’s lives is what we all identify with — that’s why we’re called ‘folk.’”
To Taylor, folk music is about people — about understanding and accepting the differences that exist between us. Based on his own definition, Taylor is a near-perfect embodiment of folk — both his music and he himself radiate the spirit of folk.
Reflecting on his journey, Taylor mentioned how his time with Staggered Crossing taught him how to communicate with people and developed his understanding and acceptance of various individuals he crossed paths with. However, looking back on his time as a solo artist, he says, “I’ve tried to really work on my storytelling and sharing my story with other people.”
Clearly, his hard work has paid off. His album, The Ridge, is a vivid collection of songs, memories, feelings and stories that has resonated with many.
When he spoke about the conception of the album, he mentioned that the music stemmed from great pain within his family.
“When you start to lose people that you love, it causes you to reflect on your own existence, your being and your relationship to them. That’s what this record was about.”
In addition, Taylor noted that The Ridge was also about his personal struggles with his identity.
Taylor’s performance was a memorable part of this year’s CFMF. During his performance he says, “I’m trying to go up there and share my stories. I’m trying to go out there and have a beautiful time with my friends and I hope that that translates to other people.”
The album was released during the COVID-19 pandemic, so naturally, much of its promotion was done virtually and live from Taylor’s home. He briefly spoke about the struggles of working during the pandemic and on the invasion of privacy many experienced with the new virtual medium of work.
“I had homeschooling with my daughter, I was working doing my radio show from home and space and time were really limited. I think when you get stuck in your house and stuck in certain routines, even though you’re not doing anything, it can drain your energy. I was more tired than I think I’ve ever been in my entire life, which is crazy. So I’m looking forward to getting out there and [performing],” he says.
He expressed immense joy about the return of live music — first by jumping up in the air and dancing and then explaining, “I hope that after [the pandemic], the arts are supported in such a way, where they’re appreciated more than they ever were. Everybody has something to say and with those stories, with that folklore, we have an opportunity to learn a little bit more about each other.”
When asked about the impression he wants to leave on his audience, Taylor says, “What I want people to take from is that my experiences as a person — not just a Black-Indigenous person, but my experience as a person — is valid, just like theirs is. The only takeaway is that I want people to feel appreciated.
“I’m not so different from anybody else. The things that I’ve gone through are common things that others have gone through. The way that I feel about them is similar too and I want to be able to share that with people,” Taylor says.
That is certainly true when it comes to his latest album. Serendipitously, The Ridge ended up being one of the best albums I’ve listened to this year and one that I have been playing on a loop way too often. The album deeply struck a chord. I get very emotional listening to “The Ridge” and “Ballad of a Young Troubadour.” The former depicts memories of Taylor’s childhood, spent on his grandparents’ farm. It reflects a certain nostalgia, the peace and freedom of childhood and being surrounded by family and loved ones. This song makes me long for the comfort and excitement of my early days. The latter is Taylor’s reflection on the days of his youth, his start in music, his memories and how far he’s come since. It’s a very personal song with a lot of heart and one I haven’t been able to stop listening to. A couple of my other favourites include “It’s Not Enough” and “Be With You.”