Oct 11, 2022
By Caleb Campbell
Photography by Lisa MacIntosh
Later this week, Toronto-based singer/songwriter Julian Taylor is set to debut his latest full-length record, Beyond The Reservoir, releasing on October 14th. The album follows 2020’s The Ridge, Taylor’s critically acclaimed sophomore solo album, and sees the veteran songwriting delving into more personal territory than ever. Evoking themes of loss, identity, grief, and hope, the record offers both gorgeous universal narratives and starkly personal confessions, sketching them all with vivid lyrical detail and intimate folk instrumentation.
Ahead of the record’s full release, Taylor has already shared a trio of new singles this year, “Seeds,” “Wide Awake, and “Opening The Sky,” and today he’s back with an early listen to another highlight from the record, “Stolen Lands,” premiering with Under the Radar.
With “Stolen Lands” Taylor explores his own heritage as an Afro-Indigenous person, tracing stories of dispossession, cultural genocide, and police brutality, amidst darkly layered folk rock. Taylor’s voice is the unwavering centerpoint in a stormy swirl of acoustic guitars, keening fiddles, and subtle percussion, with the instrumentation offering a spotlit stage for Taylor’s storytelling.
By its end, the track is equal parts a stark confessional, sorrowful narrative, and powerful statement of purpose. Its most moving moment comes with its chorus as Taylor unpacks the lyrics of a classic folk hymnー“This land is your land and this land is my land / This land was made for you and me / A poor choice of words by Woody Guthrie/ This land was taken and now everyone sees / One family had their land stolen / The other was stolen from their land and here I stand.”
Check out the song below, along with our exclusive Q&A with Taylor. Beyond The Reservoir is out everywhere on October 14th.
“Stolen Lands” is a moving, thought-provoking song. Was there a particular moment that made you decide it was time to write about this topic?
I wanted to write a song that honored my ancestors and all of their strength, courage, sacrifice, and love.
How did this song come together on the recording side of things? Did you want a particular vibe or feeling for this song? How did you accomplish that?
This song was recorded in the summer of 2021 at the legendary Canterbury Sound in Toronto. Performing on the song is me, Anna Ruddick on bass, Shamaka Ali on drums, Derek Downham on ukulele, Miranda Mulholland on fiddle, Colin Linden on dobro, and Dala on backing vocals.
When we went to do the bed tracks, I was looking for a tribal sound beat that would be a little bit tough and a little nasty, but I was also looking for that early Dire Straits kind of groove that you might hear on “The Gallery” or “Portobello Belle.” It was important for me to have the acoustic instruments meld together and sound like one conversation. I think that they do.
As for the vocals. I wanted it up front and center to convey the narrative and message, which is dark, to the point where it might be a little disturbing but yet ever hopeful as well.
There is a lyric line in the song that challenges an old Woody Guthrie folk song. Can you talk us through those lyrics and explain why you wanted to make that statement?
I wanted to challenge the ideology of the status quo. The majority of the population around the world has been taught one specific narrative because the history books have been written by the so-called apex and elite citizens of the world. This has gone on for hundreds of years. It’s like the story of Christopher Columbus and how his discovery of North America was the first. Well, there were people living here well before that discovery and those people nurtured the land and valued their connection with Mother Earth. When I wrote the line about Woody Guthrie, I was trying to expose the truth about the history that people have been taught up until now, and my goal is to make others truly think about it because what they have been taught isn’t necessarily the truth at all.
Reconciliation is an important step in Indigenous history, and there are some efforts being made on that front, particularly in Canada right now. How do you feel about those efforts, and are there certain things being done that resonate for you?
In my personal opinion, there cannot be reconciliation without truth. I appreciate the efforts being made, and I myself have been doing my best to be an ally. I want to be on the right side of history. I cannot speak to the experience of a vast majority of First Nations people, because I didn’t grow up on a reservation. I can only comment on my experience and my family’s experience, because that is what I know. I do spend time reading and following others in the community with powerful voices, and whenever I feel like I can add to the conversation and help reflect real change, I am there to use my voice and support others. One way that I’ve learned to lend my support is to source out organizations that are leading the way and helping communities learn, love, and thrive. I also use my music and stories to communicate important messages that I feel are compelling and close to my heart. Here’s a short list of some that I support.
A large part of reconciliation is listening and learning. What do you feel non-Indigenous people can do to try to understand the Indigenous story? And how do you feel this song fits into that narrative, one that they should listen to and learn? What message do you hope this song imparts?
Yes. I agree listening and learning is one of the most important keys to healing. I feel that one of the most important things that people in general can do, regardless of whether they are Indigenous or not, is to start conversing with one another. It may not be comfortable, but it, in my experience, has always been educational.
In fact, the song “Stolen Lands” is a song about starting a conversation. It’s a song about being me. It is about attempting to identify what it’s like to be a person who isn’t completely one thing but rather more than one. It’s about containing multitudes. It’s about being a seed and coming from two Indigenous cultures that were persecuted, and how the strength of my family and my ancestors eventually allowed for my creation and sustainability in a world that tried to get rid of us. I talk about the pain that my grandfather felt because he’d lost his language, and I also talk about how a family friend who was Black was gunned down by the Toronto police. I’m not only trying to speak to non-Indigenous people. I’m speaking to them and to Black people and sharing my experiences with them. It’s all I can do to shine a light on the feelings that I have, because, deep down inside, I know in my heart that sharing those feelings helps me better understand myself when they’re written down. Perhaps, by just doing that, it may help others like me to feel and do the same.
Can you tell us a little bit about the album this song comes from? It’s coming out at the end of this week, so what else can you share with us about the album overall? How does this song fit into the record with regard to themes and topics you tackle, lyrically speaking?
The new album is a deep and loving coming-of age-story. It’s my little folk-rock opera, as one person put it. There’s a lot of me in this record, because I put everything I had into it. It wasn’t an easy album to make for many reasons. One, the songs contain a multitude of emotions, and it is never easy to go through that and create something that’s meant to be shared with the world. Two, it was a scheduling nightmare due to the pandemic.
I feel I have a responsibility as an artist to bare my soul and talk about my personal experiences in as vulnerable a way as I possibly can. All the true artists and musicians that I love are brave, deep, and extremely real. So I am doing the best to be my authentic self and as real as I can be.
I hear a lot of people in the world talk about following trends, and I’ve never done that. I purposely try not to follow trends and consciously make an effort to find my own voice in whatever I put out. “Beyond The Reservoir” is a brave and vulnerable piece of work. The title of the record wasn’t originally “Beyond the Reservoir,” but I am glad that I changed it, because it conjures evocative imagery of reaching for a perceived summit and then pushing beyond its nexus point. The fact is, it is also the name of one of my old stomping grounds from the not-entirely halcyon days of my teenage youth, so it was also quite deliberate because the metaphor is spot-on. If “The Ridge” was a childhood record in a lot of ways, “Beyond the Reservoir” is an adolescence record about moving into adulthood — and divining spiritualhood as well. It starts off pretty sad, but then it begins to grow. Identify, loss, struggle, heartbreak—they’re all themes explored within the record, and, as it nears the end, it becomes filled with joy and hopefulness.