For Toronto singer-songwriter Julian Taylor, his latest solo album, The Ridge, is a breakthrough, garnering acclaim across Canada and as far away as Australia. Glide Magazine recently called it, “one of the strongest Americana recordings we’ve heard to date.” Folk DJ Jan Vanderhorst had the chance to ask Julian a few questions about The Ridge, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the current social discussion regarding anti-Black racism.
Jan: The Ridge is the 10th album you’ve released in the last 20 years. These albums have showcased a variety of styles and influences. What was your vision or focus for this one?
Julian: Every time that I set out to make a record, I try to establish a theme, some kind of thread that flows through from the beginning to the end. I don’t think that I have ever consciously walked into a studio to make an album based on styles of music. I’m a songwriter at heart and try to allow the songs to dictate where they feel they need to go. I’d like to think that, after ten records, that I have gained some kind of perspective and developed some good instincts. On this record, I chose songs that fit one another and felt at home sitting next to each other.
Jan: Were the songs written specifically for this project or had some of them been waiting around for the right time to be released?
Julian: Most of the songs were written for this project but there were a few that had been around for awhile. The title track was written specifically for this record for sure. Songs like “Love Enough” and “Be With You” were around but not finished. I wrote “Ballad of a Young Troubadour” when I was a participant in the Acoustic Guitar Project, and “It’s Not Enough” was previously recorded on another record that I released over a decade ago.
Jan: Tell me about the title song and the times you spent with your grandparents.
Julian: I used to spend every summer with my grandparents in Maple Ridge. When I close my eyes and meditate or dream about a place that makes me happy, I always end up there. I had so many adventures with them. They were really down to earth people, hard working people and kind and funny. They taught me a lot. All of my family members have taught me a lot. I guess that when I was so young (it was) the mysticism of being out west and living in such a magical place. I’d get up in the morning and head to the barn with my grandmother to see the horses and help her clean their beds. Something so simple stuck with me all my life.
Jan: The song “Love Enough” has some wonderful guitar work by you. It sounds like something Marty Robbins or Willie Nelson would have recorded. Was that an occasion where the music came to you before the words?
Julian: Well, thank you very much for the compliment but I certainly cannot take credit for the lovely guitar work on that track. I played rhythm guitar on the song but the lead work is performed by Derek Downham. He and I have been friends ever since his band Grindig and my band Staggered Crossing toured together in 2001. He sparkled on that track. Everyone truly shines on the entire album if you ask me. I’m proud to have been in their company. On the record, a tip of the hat is in order for the ladies in DALA, Miranda Mulholland, Burke Carroll, Kevin Fox, Noah Mintz, Saam Hashemi and especially my cousins, Barry and Gene Diabo.
Jan: The COVID-19 pandemic has made an already difficult music environment even harder to cope with. Who has given you guidance in dealing with lost gigs/promotional events and the like?
Julian: At first it was really difficult but I don’t feel that way anymore. I’ve been very lucky and have been offered online virtual shows during this time, and I am so grateful. Americana Highways, AmericanaFest, Music Together, Mariposa and The National Arts Centre are a few that invited me to perform from my very own living room. It is the closest distance from the venue, the stage, the dressing room and the hotel that I’ve ever been.
Jan: I would be remiss in not asking for your insight into the current Black Lives Matter discussions and overall racial injustice. It’s important for all of us to show support but the pandemic puts the participants of any large gathering at risk. How can we balance these competing issues? And am I even being fair to you in asking the question? Does any one person have the answers?
Julian: It’s ok. Asking hard questions is good and give us the chance to learn from each other. I wanted to join the protests in person but opted not to. I have aging parents and a young daughter and at the time decided that I would use whatever voice I had to share and express my opinions through social media and the radio airwaves as well as speaking to friends, of course. Some friends weren’t and still aren’t sure how to bridge this conversation, and that’s fine. I’ve grown up with prejudice in my life and my family has. I have so many stories that I could tell but to be honest, it’s a tad bit exhausting. (One) little simple thing that I feel able to share is one story that might help people distinguish the difference between white privilege and what it means to have it. I was speaking to an old friend and asked them if their dad had ever been pulled over by the police because of the car that his dad was driving. It happened to my dad a lot and still happens to him and to me as well. But it was hard to see. They’d pull him over and he’d ask if he’d done anything wrong. They’d reply and ask…“No sir, but is this your car that you’re driving.” Pretty demoralizing if you ask me.
You can find out more about Julian Taylor and The Ridge at juliantaylormusic.ca.