It isn’t until you become a parent yourself that you gain insight into the worries and concerns your parents felt when you were growing up. As a teenager in Toronto, my parents most likely wondered who I was hanging around with, where we were going and what we were doing when we got there. What they didn’t have to worry about was the possibility I might not come home because of the colour of my skin. But for so many families in this country, this is a real and constant fear, especially families with adolescent or young adult males. It’s a topic singer-songwriter Julian Taylor addresses on his latest song, “Wide Awake.”
“My mom and my father had significant worries, and people like them to this day do, having a Black boy,” Julian said when I talked with him at the Greenway Jam in Kingsville, ON. “I’m of mixed heritage but I’m visibly Black, and they had a really hard time with that. We lost people along the way because they were Black men. I was pretty lucky; some people weren’t so lucky.”
“Wide Awake” is the second single from Julian’s upcoming album, Beyond The Reservoir, the follow-up to his award-winning album The Ridge, and writing the song helped Julian get out of a writer’s block.
“During the pandemic I was blocked in more than a creative sense,” he said. “I was blocked in a physical way and a spiritual way. At least I was consumed with taking care of my family and my daughter while The Ridge was being promoted. But at the same time, I didn’t really know what I was going to do next. So I was frightened, and it was a bit of a daunting task.”
In the end, Julian was guided by what felt right for him and soon enough, the words to “Wide Awake” came to him while strumming some chords on the guitar.
“The first verse just came out effortlessly, which is the most fun,” he said. “So that one sort of got me out of the rut and the rest of the record just started to flow.”
Comparing The Ridge to Beyond The Reservoir, Julian said it’s the difference between a childhood memory and a coming of age story.
“I touch on difficult moments as an adolescent person, then as a young adult and then now,” he said.
Julian believes Beyond The Reservoir is his strongest release lyrically and admits the songs may confuse or even anger some listeners.
“I take jabs at people, even heroes like Woody Guthrie,” he said. “I’m just saying maybe there’s another way of looking at things.”
When it comes to his development as a songwriter, Julian looks to the last Julian Taylor Band album, 2019’s Avalanche, 2020’s The Ridge and Beyond The Reservoir as somewhat of a trilogy.
“When people finally hear Beyond The Reservoir it’ll wrap the whole thing up. It will all make sense,” he said.
The success of The Ridge was somewhat of a surprise for Julian. It earned two Juno Award nominations, won one Canadian Folk Music Award and was nominated for another. It was also short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize and nominated for five Native American Music Awards.
“I was shocked at how well it was received — flabbergasted, honoured and grateful,” he said. “I was once in a cab with Pat Vega, the bass player from the rock group Red Bone and said, ‘Hey man, what’s the trick?’ He says, ‘Everybody gets one [hit] if you stick with it, and make sure the drums sound like a motherf#@$!’ So The Ridge for me was one of those records for sure. I hope people like the things that I do next and continue to do, but The Ridge was the one that I think opened a lot of doors that hadn’t been opened before. It was the one thing that even the people who had heard me before had actually listened to. That was one of the times when I think people started to listen on a grander scheme. I don’t go into things thinking these are the best things I’ve ever done. I got into things thinking this is next to the best thing I’ll ever do.”
For more on Julian Taylor and Beyond The Reservoir, go to juliantaylormusic.ca.