Photo: Lisa MacIntosh

Julian Taylor Shares His Childhood Tale Through “The Ridge” (premiere + interview)

Folk artist Julian Taylor's video for his powerfully nostalgic song, "The Ridge", sets a soundtrack to scrapbooked childhood memories showcasing growing up as an Indigenous person of color.

Following lockdowns in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Julian Taylor wasn’t able to record a music video for “The Ridge” in the traditional sense. Instead, he mulled through his archives and gathered childhood memories, setting the song as their soundtrack. The video takes a look back on the folk artist’s life, telling the tale of his early years on his grandparents’ farm and the Mohawk powwows he attended. The title track of Taylor’s forthcoming EP, set to release on 19 June, the song incorporates forward-driving acoustic melodies to paint a vibrantly wistful picture of the past.

Half West Indian and half Mohawk, Taylor grew up as an Indigenous person of color in a mixed household. “The Ridge” is, in part, a reflection on the confusion that he’s felt as someone who was raised by a white step-grandmother, who didn’t feel that he was Indigenous enough to be part of Indigenous circles or black enough to take part in black culture. Otherwise, it’s a grateful look back on precious times shared with his family, a nostalgic reflection on the love shared between him and his sister, his aunt, and his grandparents.

Taylor says, “When I was a young child my sister and I would spend summers with my grandparents in a little town called Maple Ridge, BC. They had a little farm and bred dogs and horses. It was a magical place for a child to grow up. Every lyric of the song is true. They had a little pond on the way down to the barn, and my sister and I would catch frogs there. I have pictures of me with all the horses, Frosty, Zarreef, and Sherry, who bucked me off her once when I was about eight years old.”

“My Aunt Roberta use to come out west with us and be our chaperone. She loved cats and laughed lots. When my grandparents got older, they couldn’t physically keep up with the upkeep of the farm, and they had to sell the place. When I think of my happy place, it takes me there back to the driveway that was enveloped by huge trees and greenery right up to the red front door of their house, and I can see it all. I can visualize my childhood. My grandparents and my aunt have since passed away, but they all live in my heart and through the stories we shared and memories we created.”

“The video shows my life, but what’s so interesting is that all the faces of my family are so different from mine. This is an important tale of a mixed child, and it shows that love is universal and has no color.

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Talk a bit about the song. What is it about and what prompted you or inspired you to write it?

I started to write this song when I found out my step-grandmother had passed away. It was Thanksgiving, and my family was an hour north of Toronto visiting my Great Aunt in Creemore, Ontario. It was really late at night when my phone rang, and it was her longtime friend who would become the executor of her will on the line who broke the news to me. I broke the news to my mother right there and then, as everyone else was asleep at the time. It came as a shock to me because I’d been calling her and there hadn’t been an answer for days, which to me wasn’t the norm. The next morning, I went for a walk and took the picture that’s on the album cover. It reminded me of the mornings I’d spent with her when I was a child and prompted me to pen a letter to her and recount those memories. That’s how the song came to life. It’s a song about the innocence of being a child, but deep in the trenches of the lyrics there’s an underlying thread and theme of the innocence being left behind and thrust into the juxtaposition of realness and the pain that comes with becoming an adult.

This is the title track on the album. What made you name the album after this song?

It’s named after the town Maple Ridge, British Columbia. that’s where I spent my summers with my grandparents. My grandfather remarried when he and my maternal grandmother split. She took the four girls and headed back east to Toronto, while he moved west. If it hadn’t been for my mother and my aunt and their quest to find him, I may not have had the unique pleasure of even knowing him. They had been estranged for many years until they were old enough to go out on their own and find him. I for one am glad that they did. People in the town call it “The Ridge” for short. I’d originally thought of calling the album Little Big Man, but when the title track had been written it was obvious that the title needed to be changed.

The video taps into your childhood via a montage of photos. What made you want to use these images for the video?

I have several boxes and photo albums in my attic from when I was a child until now. In fact, the last Julian Taylor Band album, Avalanche, was inspired by the photos in my attic.

During a few of my first visits to Maple Ridge, I was sent home with photo albums that my grandparents put together. The video is of all those photos. They are pictures that I go back to every so often and just sit with. They are photos I’ve shown my own daughter, and they hold all of the stories of my adventures there on their farm. When I look at them, real life unfolds in front of my eyes and I wanted to share that with people. Those adventures are the same adventures we have all had. Sure they’re mine and they’re a little different, but they do show how similar and common the human experience is regardless of who you may be and what you might look like. They show unconditional love.

Was that your idea, to use the photos? Was that always the plan for this video? Who put the clip together for you?

When it came to figuring out how to visually represent the song, there wasn’t much of a choice. Ontario declared a State of Emergency, and all my meetings with video directors were canceled. I kept mulling over ideas, and the concept of doing a photo montage like they do at weddings kept coming to mind. I didn’t want it to come off cheesy like some of those kinds of videos do, so I called up an old friend who does them for a living. I tried myself at first but wasn’t happy. My friend Richard Saunders of Redstone Pictures really brought the photos to life, and I’m very grateful. He’s a longtime friend of the family and worked with my father. When I was a teenager, I’d go to work with him on occasion and help my dad, who’s a photographer, lift equipment. That’s where I met Richard. In fact, I believe that he has some of the first-ever live video footage of me performing with one of my first bands, Staggered Crossing, at The Rivoli in Toronto circa 1997 or 1998. I’ve got to ask him where that footage is one of these days.

What do you think the photos reveal about you and about the song?

I think that it reveals love. When you hear the song for the first time, it takes you with me. It takes you down the path to the pond and to the stables. Many people might hear the song and say that the lyrics were fabricated. Well, they are not. Every damn thing in the song is true. The pictures don’t lie and I think that gives the whole song a refreshing authenticity in a world that’s become very plastic.

Do you have a favorite image from the ones in the video? Why is it your favorite?

No. I don’t have a favorite image, and there’s a good reason why. When I look at the video, I don’t see any images. It’s impossible for me to. I only see what I’ve always seen, and that is a feeling. It’s like watching part of my life flash by me in an instant. Every single image is greater than the sum of them and the sum of them feels to me like one.