Known for their outstanding performances on the live-music circuit across their home province of Ontario, the Julian Taylor Band (JTB) are definitely one of the hottest bands in town. We were fortunate to sample our first taste of their fabulous funk grooves and sweet soul-folk music during the inaugural Sawdust City Music Festival in 2017, and could not believe that this eight-piece band had eluded our listening pleasures up until that time. Craving much more from JTB, we caught up with them shortly afterwards in Hamilton, ON, and once again relived more of their soulful sounds. Needless to say, we quickly snapped up both their 2014 “Tech Noir” and 2016 “Desert Star” albums, which receive plenty of frequent airplay here at home.
Earlier this year we posted about a handful of new album releases scheduled for 2019 that we were incredibly excited about. JTB were the first, and most anticipated ‘mention’ on that exclusive list; whose latest album, “Avalanche,” shall be released on March 29th through the recently announced collaboration with Gypsy Soul Records. With his previous two albums, Taylor found an enthusiastic and youthful audience when opening for prominent soul artists such as Leon Bridges, or folk-rock favorites Blue Rodeo. Indeed, being able to resonate with fans of both genres was evident on those albums, in which Taylor jumped effortlessly between vintage soul and funk grooves one moment, and modern pop and folk-rock styles the next. “Just put us in front of an audience, and we’ll make it work,” states Taylor. “We’ll work hard to make it translate.”
With their strong work ethic and passion for fusing an eclectic mix of musical styles to define their own incredibly unique sound and persona, “Avalanche” sees the JTB continue to push further against their own boundaries. Per his own press release, “Avalanche” is the sound of a band who is fully capable of cranking up to 11 and dazzling you with pyrotechnics, but who chooses instead to put that energy into slinky grooves, smooth country rock, and soulful blues. With eight self-penned tunes clocking in at just under 34 minutes, this is an incredibly concise album from Taylor. Offering a deeply personal narrative, Taylor drew inspiration from an abundance of family memorabilia, and the soul-searching and self-reflection prompted by snap-shots of his memories. Lyrically and musically, it’s an album that he could only make at this stage in his life, and one that he is finally ready to share.
Having teased us with the rock-soul beats of “Sweeter” (complete with a nice nod to 54-40 within the lyrics), and the current hit single, “Back Again,” expectations are undoubtedly high for this new album. Having spent the last couple of weeks absorbing these tracks, rest assured that while all nine tracks may reflect much more of a personal nature for Taylor, each one is wrapped within the outstanding instrumentation that we have come to expect from this band; courtesy once again of their funk grooves, adrenaline-fueled rock, and highly emotional soul sounds. Funk lovers will gravitate to “Time” and “Never Let The Lights Go Dim,” while “Learn To Love” and “Back Again” will be appreciated by those partial to the guitar focused dance tunes. Even those who identify with the reggae-riffs of “The Belly Of The Underman,” from “Desert Star,” look to “Take What You Need” as the song that shares similar genetics here.
While I am always in favor of their eclectic mix, this time around, Taylor has completely captivated my attention with a pair of slower, soulful ballads. “Gone” provokes noticeable goosebumps the moment you encounter the smooth organ sounds, building into a 3:31 journey of epic proportions. There are many similarities to the sounds and emotional punch of both Al Green and Otis Redding on offer here. As the title track, “Avalanche” got under my skin very quickly, and became not only my personal favorite, but is challenging all current JTB favorites as my new go-to number. Yes, those moving organ key strokes and Taylor’s soft vocals are enough to bring anybody to their knees, but do nothing to prepare your senses for the acoustic guitar and strings that build gradually into this 4:58 masterpiece. Please don’t ask my how many times I’ve hit the repeat button with this one; the answer may just scare you.
All nine tracks on this album are stunning. There are no fillers here. Taylor has combined his deepest and darkest memories with his strong musical roots to create possibly his finest collection yet. I for one cannot wait to experience hearing some of these at a JTB live show. Go ahead and ask me to name five Canadian bands that I urge you to see live, and I can guarantee that the name Julian Taylor will be quickly dropped into the conversation. With the release of “Avalanche” just a week away, we are grateful to Julian for taking time away from both his JUNO awards appearance and launch preparations to discuss this fantastic new album with us.
You are ready to release your brand new album “Avalanche” on March 29th, your first since the highly acclaimed 2016 Desert Star album. How excited are you to share this new material with us all?
I couldn’t be more excited that the album is coming out. I am really nervous though. It’s hard to let a piece of you out into the world but I was meant to make this record at this stage in my life. It was a real period of learning and growth. It was also a time of grief and loss. It’s hard to get into it because I don’t really want to divulge everything about my personal life but there was a lot of stuff happening around me that I was unsure of and I experienced a lot of change.
At times it felt like my life was one big lie even if I knew that wasn’t true. I needed to find a way back to myself and to a place of understanding and grounding.
In fact I believe that I am still going through that process because I am human. What I do know is that perhaps that’s what happening to all of us throughout our lives is happening to all of us at the same times as if there are no new thoughts. What I mean by this is that there’s really no real point in causing ourselves so much stress and anxiety over these thoughts we have. Things will be ok and the universe is unfolding exactly as it should be. This album helped me to grasp that and I hope that it helps others do the same.
You’ve mentioned that the basis for this new material stems from the recent discovery of some personal family memorabilia. Tell us a little about how you brought memories and song together for this album.
Yeah… It was a time capsule that was given to me for Christmas in the form of a treasure chest. You know that incredibly overwhelming feeling that you get when you thumb through an old family photo album? It was that times a hundred. There’s that feeling of nostalgia and longing for the days when you thought everything was like a dream. Especially when you were a child. I suppose that depending on where you were in your life that it could be really haunting and feel a bit like a nightmare too. It was a bit of both for me.
When it comes to our lives and looking back into your future it can be a little daunting. I had originally set out to call the album ‘Last Universal Common Ancestor’ because what I was trying to achieve was some commonality within us all. I’m kind of glad I didn’t name it that. ‘Avalanche’ pretty much sums up that notion and in more spellbinding fashion.
With these memories came a natural decision to defy convention and craft the lyrics before composing the music. How much of a challenge with this for you, and how would you describe the experience of putting ‘words before the music?’
What I ended up doing was laying out all of these old pictures, post cards, love letters, funeral programs and what not, scattering them all over my attic floor. I’d spend days with them. Laughing, crying, smiling and doing my best to write down what all of these artifacts made me feel. At the same time I was trying to remember to be easy on myself and convince myself that there’s nothing for me to prove to anyone.
We have all felt exactly the same way I did when I was looking at all of these things that have seemingly have defined who I am till now. It was incredibly hard to do and took a lot out of me. I started to learn that perhaps I’m not even who I am. I am not Julian Taylor… that’s just my given name.
I think that moving forward I will always challenge myself to break things down and find my voice within the darkness and the light. We all have the power to change the world and that change is not meant to be exterior. What’s ironic is that that’s what it may appear to look like.
Both Desert Star and your 2014 Tech Noir albums saw you incorporating an eclectic mix of music and styles into your recordings, providing great fuel for the amazing live shows that you consistently perform. With just 8 tracks and a run time just under 34 minutes, this album is much more concise, than say, the 22 track double album last time around. Is there a reason for these restraints, and if so, how hard was it for you to stick to your guns with this one?
I really wanted to tell a narrative with this album. It’s very much the narrative of my life so far. One that’s been filled with so much happiness and so many victories, but one that’s been so painful and filled with disappointment too. It was important to keep it short. Similar to a short story that happens to be a little window into my soul.
I think my work has always done just that but in my opinion some times the music has distracted from the message. Over the years the reputation of being a funky dance band may have over shadowed the lyrics that I write. This time I made sure that I kept that in the forefront.
Avalanche is still eclectic but I guess I wanted to prove to myself that I could write a good song, sing it well and play a guitar like nobody else can. I want to be the most authentic me that I can be. I think I’ve done that without doing that. It was one of my mandates in the studio when communicating with the band. I always, before every take, said… “Have fun and do nothing.” Emphasis on do nothing.
Touching once more on your own musical diversity, while you have just the 8 new tracks to offer, you still crank out that true JTB sound. Lots of rock, blues, soul, and a little country too. For the uninitiated listener, how would you best describe your sound?
I don’t think I can describe my music or classify it. It doesn’t even feel like it’s mine too. All of these sounds and lyrics and melodies all come from the source. You know… that ancient well at the edge of the universe sort of thing. LOL.
I have been lucky enough to be given a gift by the creator that allows me to sometimes tap into that source. I try to allow myself the freedom and openness to follow where these songs want to go. The songs guide me.
I am a huge fan of music and not a music snob at all. At least that’s what I think. Some friends may say otherwise, but I love pretty much anything that’s got soul. I guess if I really needed to classify my sound and my music then I would call it folk music infused with soul music. It has always been a little bit of everything that my ear has heard. I pick up on so much music that’s happening around me. It seems impossible for it not to rub off and cycle its way through everything that I do.
I am loving the new track “Back Again,” which is your current release from the upcoming album. The sound is so fresh and pure, yet for those of us already familiar with your music, it is ‘vintage’ Julian Taylor. It has such an old school charm. Tell us a little about this track, and your reasons for making it the teaser track to generate buzz for the new album.
I’m glad that you like it and I appreciate the compliment. This song stems from my days out west. It is inspired by the unconditional love that I had for my Grandparents in Maple Ridge who taught me about the importance of being with nature and who really helped raise me. I’d visit them every summer on the west coast where they lived on a farm. They use to breed dogs and horses. It was a very magical time in my life. Every morning I would head down to the barn with my Grandmother and clean out the stalls and collect the eggs from the chicken coop.
They’re gone now but before they left this Earth they taught me about being a good person and how to carry myself. My Grandfather was Mohawk and instilled Indigenous values and ways of life into everything he taught me. It’s about the cycle of life and now it’s my turn to create those kinds of memories and teach those values to my kin.
The title track, “Avalanche,” really stands out on this album. The organ intro, and the nice touches with the acoustic guitar and the purposeful addition of some strings had me playing this one several times. Topped with your amazingly slow and soulful vocals, this is an outstanding 4:58 of music. How does “Avalanche” fit in to the theme of personal recollections for you?
Avalanche is inspired by death, remorse, redemption, and unconditional love. Life is made of two things; moments and the memories that they leave behind. So much of my life has been jarred by the loss of people close to me. It’s been tragic and I am still trying to get over it all. I doubt that I ever will.
This is the title track to the album because when I began working on this record my life was all over the place. Was I in turmoil? I don’t know, but what I do know is that things were not in balance yet I felt so much love. It felt similar to a time when I buried a lot of close friends and I mean a lot of close friends. I was in this endless spiral of self-destruction and it seemed like I was at a funeral every other weekend.
It was a few years ago when my parents gave that time capsule for Christmas. I didn’t go near it until I was ready to. Inside it there were so many moments of my life. It contained all the photographs, letters, postcards, and even funeral programs that I spoke about. Funeral programs of the friends I had lost when I was very young. It was unknown to me at the time but by finding those programs in the time capsule I realized that my mother was there with me all the time. She had been to each and every one of the services hiding in the back until it was time for her to leave. I know it must have been hard for her having lost her own sister at a young age. That kind of support is what love is. Sometimes all we need to do is show up for each other, especially when everything is falling apart.
The album ends on a high note, with “Never Let The Lights Go Dim.” This is incredibly up-tempo pop-soul gem that sees your vocals truly dominate. And just like any live experience at your shows, we never want those stage lights to go dim while you are up there. What’s the message being sent here as you close out this particular project and chapter that is “Avalanche?”
In the beginning stages of writing this song I was searching for a way to tell people a little about what it felt like and what it continues to feel like being a mixed person. It’s a wonderful struggle that I have had to endure. I say this because I come from two very strong cultural identities. I am proud but I’ve never really been so blunt as to share those struggles and feelings the way that I have on this album.
I want to just be able to speak my authentic truth and to keep moving forward spiritually and emotionally. When I think back to my childhood I have so many fond memories and have made so many beautiful friendships and forged so many great relationships with people. Over the last few years ever since social media made some hidden circumstances and truths readily available to the general public we have seen a little shift. That shift is a sensitive one.
Once upon a time I truly think that the general public believed that we had gotten rid of bigotry. It certainly looked that way on the surface but we all know that that’s not the case. In this song I am trying to revive that dream. I am saying that I am hurt and I always have been hurt but pretended not to be. Although it’s been painful I have endured like so many others and I believe with love in our hearts we can overcome anything.