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INTERVIEW: Singer/Songwriter Taylor Abrahamse Talks The “Magic” Of Music, Finding Freedom Within, + More

Singer-songwriter, recording studio owner, and voice actor, Taylor Abrahamse is one-of-a-kind. Fans have described him as ‘The Canadian Paul Simon’ and Grammy-winning producer Chris Birkett says: “Taylor has all the talent of some of the world’s mega artists like Michael Jackson, Prince and Jon Anderson (of Yes). His vocal range is almost off the audio scale. Seeing him perform is an overwhelming experience.” 

Beginning as a five-year-old Elvis impersonator at county fairs, and writing songs/playing guitar since the age of 12, Taylor has performed concerts on stages across Ontario including Dundas Square, The Mod Club, The Festival Of Lights, and as the closing performer for the Ontario Special Olympics.

 The former Canadian Idol Top 30 finalist collaborated with legendary Beatles and Jimi Hendrix producer Eddie Kramer on his recently released, self-titled debut album. Taylor’s latest release titled  “I Don’t Care Anymore” is a sunny ballad with a 1970’s feel that is lyrically reminiscent of James Taylor and Randy Newman, with beautifully melodic instrumentation. 

What has working with legendary producer Eddie Kramer taught you about the music industry as a whole? What elements of 60s and 70s artistry, performance etiquette, emotion, etc., do you hope to carry with you throughout your musical career? 

Great questions, gees. I could go on for ages, let me try to distill it –  As a whole, Eddie is proof to me that this industry can try to chew you up, but you can still hold onto that initial fire & spark. He’s someone who even today, carries himself with the kind of playfulness & passion you would expect from someone in their 20’s. His complete fascination and excitement for sound & his kooky kind of professionalism just radiate out of him, all the time. He’s possessed by some incredible frequency – when you’ve worked with Lennon & Hendrix & Bowie & Plant & everyone else, I’m sure you can’t help but be profoundly affected. And I feel through just being in Eddie’s presence, I picked up a bit of that magic, whatever it is, too. It’s easy to get jaded in this industry and his playfulness and joy about it all, while inspiring a high level of professionalism, definitely rubbed off on me in a good way. Also, a lot of our production & musical instincts were very similar, which to me was reassuring.

He also showed me how powerful generosity can be – how its effects can be truly profound. For a while, I was honestly thinking of giving up being a singer/songwriter, thinking I should only write for TV and where the money was – I was too strange for the 21st century to ever take me seriously. Eddie has worked with almost every great musician you can name – and the fact that he would take a chance on me out of a sincere belief in my songs, and will still call me up out of the blue to talk – is something I cherish. He saw the unique path I was cultivating as a songwriter, got excited by it, and went very out of his way to support me & mentor me. Most of these songs & recordings wouldn’t have been written if he hadn’t had stood up and believed in me – not to mention whatever I do next. He gave me a jump start when I needed it. Having gone through that, I can’t help but try to pay it forward – to look for those moments where I can make that sort of difference for others.

Working with Eddie was also a reminder of how fragile trying to make something great & new & unfamiliar can be. It felt like we were trying to push how harmonically adventurous an accessible song can get, I’m often trying to push those boundaries and see how far I can take something. But everything truly unique and unfamiliar is always on the brink of falling apart – whether it’s landing on the moon, or trying to make your version of Pet Sounds. In our case – Studio malfunctions, scheduling & rescheduling, figuring out which songs to cut, people backstabbing us, deadlines, musicians going crazy, urgent phone calls, losing perspective on the songs, remixing, remastering – I was in the eye of this expensive storm at all times, and sometimes one mistake could twist my whole vision & be impossible to repair. And you care about it so much, you know it’s such a rare and wonderful opportunity you’ve been given – that it can be, at times, paralyzing. I thought it would be this easy thing to make – like Elton John knocking out Yellow Brick Road in a month. But the industry is painfully different. It feels like there’s a whole lifetime of stops & starts, turmoil & joy baked into every song on this record, and it was always teetering on the edge of falling apart. But ultimately, it came out, and I think it came out pretty good. I’ve received a lot of kind words from people about it. Basically, anything great is such a delicate balance – Humans are but glorified monkeys who have somehow managed to wield Pandora’s Box, and a few wrong moves can have profound ripples. If you want to look at how profound privilege is, just look at human evolution compared to other species – baffling that we have this much power, a power so fragile that a SARS mutation can bring the world to a standstill. It’s amazing, and humbling. Anyways.

In terms of ’60s/’70s etiquette, I’ve always been partial to music from that era. I need music that feels human & is willing to melodically & harmonically go anywhere and everywhere so that we get the whole human experience. Paul Simon used to ensure he fit all 12 notes into each song, and I like that theory. I also need music where I instinctually know it hasn’t been touched by too many hands or had all the hair waxed off it. But at the same time, we largely live in the exact opposite of that ’60s/’70s time, so it’s extra scary to be that raw or daring – it starts to sound like trash once you play the comparison game, and you feel you have to streamline what you’re doing or else you, well – won’t get streamed. However, Eddie was always pushing me to put ‘feeling first’, and I think that’s the main thing I’ll take with me from this – even though I resisted it a bit on this record.

Maybe the most priceless moment of the whole experience was having Eddie sit me down & listen to a 5.1 surround sound Hendrix remix he was working on. Hearing Hendrix in a setup like that, you really realize how much the flaws & the rawness and the authenticity of these players responding to each other live in the moment tell a whole bonus story – a story that takes a bit of time & distance from, to really experience – a story that pop production is too curated to really tell. I hope that makes sense.

Doesn’t matter how short I try to make my answers, they’re always long if the question is good… I’m scared for the rest. I’m gonna try and keep it down!

Oftentimes national television competitions commercialize talent for the sake of becoming mainstream. Though commercialization doesn’t have to be a bad thing, it’s certainly led to many favouring money over true meaning and quality. In what way has your journey on Canadian Idol taught you to rise above mainstream culture and carve out your own unique identity, as well as build self-confidence in who you are as a musician?

Astute questioning – Idol was definitely a catalyst for me to carve out a unique identity, although as soon as I started writing music my influences were so wide and strange that I couldn’t help but stick out like a sore thumb in the 2000’s. I had experienced a lot of famous people & the culture of celebrity as a result of being a child actor, and already had a certain love/hate caution with the entertainment world going into Idol. Ultimately, Idol was something I’m glad I did, just to start really realizing that I didn’t need a show or grand public admiration to feel I had real value. Truth is I may never get those things, and that’s okay –  these talent searches are a funnel to find artists that can fit a mainstream definition of talented, authentic & original. The X-Factor idea of unique is a girl with a bob cut playing a ukulele – superficial originality, stuff that more people can easily appreciate.  I don’t want to sound bitter, its self-poison to bite the hand that feeds you, it’s just what’s so – cos of, as you suggest, money. I’m a hard kind of artist to pin down – I’m hard to make sense of, so I’m a riskier investment from a financial perspective. How do you market someone who kind of does everything?

Anyways, when I was part of Idol at sixteen, it started to became clear to me how much the music game is barely about music if you want to be a ‘star’ – Idol was more interested in storytelling, in the iffy reality TV sense of the word. For example, they would withhold what our song choices were for the next round till 12 at midnight – so you only had a couple hours to practice, then maybe a two or three hour sleep before you had to perform for the judges at 7 or so that morning. They were making the rules, and there was little effort made to help us deliver our best performances. Speaking of which, I was booted off when I probably did my best performance, a re-harmonized cover of ‘Simple Man’ – They didn’t air any of it, which is odd because they focused on me extensively before then. Maybe it didn’t fit their narrative of ‘the goofy mama’s boy with a high voice’ – they turn you into a bit of a TV archetype for easy comprehension. Remember, quirky = ukulele. To his credit, Ben Mulroney took me aside and said he loved it at least.

Driving back home, I remember listening to David Bowie’s ‘Low’ album, particularly ‘A New Career In A New Town’  – a haunting, hopeful, confused instrumental that seemed to encapsulate the whole experience. I was hurt, felt treated like a piece of meat, confused about my place in the world, but also felt a bit liberated. Like the peace when you’re rejected by a girl you liked, where you’re glad you went for it, so you could see she’s just not for you. ‘Low’ could make me feel more than anything I’d heard during Idol. It definitely cultivated some sort of extra confidence in me – it was proof of how much of a dreadful joke trying to ‘make it’ in the mainstream really can be. A lot of music ‘taste’ is a strange feedback loop based on some actual merit, but also on who has bigger pockets to try and convince everyone that something is good or not – and that system usually celebrates familiarity over originality. Agreement or popularity creates the sensation that one thing is good or bad, but it’s truly all subjective.  It can seem like these days being an artist is about cultivating a story, an image, turning your life into a mini Canadian Idol in little online bites, hoping for 15 seconds of fame, and maybe putting out six songs a year that are quick-to-make laptop pop tracks cos that’s all you’ll have time or money to really make. Bleak! But I’m convinced there’s another way, and I’m working on it.

At its worst, mainstream ‘sellout’ music is people getting hypnotized by & deifying safe superficial artists that make them feel comfortably numb. At its best, you can still find ways to use the forms of pop music & being a pop star to contribute something meaningful, although maybe a double-edged sword. I like what Bruno Mars does, but it hides behind a nostalgic self-parody & being hyper-polished rather than doing something truly new. I also like stuff like W.A.P where, even if it’s vulgar & dumb, it’s deliberate & vaguely clever about it, and it’s doing something important for feminism at the same time. But still, usually, I feel very little from modern music, it’s strange, it’s like MSG – it satisfies you, yet gives you nothing at the same time. There’s that stuff in every decade, but it just really does seem it’s been usually more ubiquitous since the ’80s, especially the ’00s.

As someone whose music can be seen as a companion to those struggling with mental health, love, loss, gender identity, etc., explain how your music might encourage others to speak up, and/or keep their head held high in trying times like we’re experiencing?

I’ve definitely had the experience of having music bring out something in me I didn’t know was there. A feeling, an idea, a fear, that gets stuck and can’t pass through me – until I hear it in a song. Empathy creates peace – like how if you send two identical sound waves at each other with reversed polarity, they cancel each other out. At its best, music is liquid therapy for the soul  – it’s getting chills for reasons you can’t quite comprehend, or for reasons that are painfully obvious. It’s finally feeling seen – and when that happens, you can process those feelings, see things for what they really are, get the gunk out of the way, and get back down to a place of nothing. A beautiful open field. If you can keep getting back down to nothing by feeling your feelings and examining your thoughts, you’ll always find fulfillment, regardless if the world is in a pandemic or not. If my songs can provide that for people, then I’ve done something I can be thankful for.

As a song that stems from real-life experiences, can you explain the moment of catharsis felt when writing your newly released single “I Don’t Care Anymore”? How have experiences like these allowed you to be upfront and honest about your feelings, facing them head-on?

I Don’t Care Anymore was written from a place of denial, of not wanting to care anymore about a relationship that had ended. It was my first long-term relationship, and definitely toxic in a lot of ways, but also really nice – to this day, my depression will use it as a little button to press to try and get me feeling bad. I can be a perfectionist, so failing at anything, especially something so intimate, can make me feel like everything is failing. As for being upfront and honest – Honestly, most of the time I’m never sure if I’m honest, I’m always battling with a sense of guilt that there’s more I haven’t said, even if I can’t put my finger on it. If I felt I was truly honest, maybe I’d feel like I had nothing more to say, so I sabotage it, I don’t know. I tend to think humanity just actually isn’t wired to be honest, or at least most of the real creatives are always contending with a strong sense of self-doubt because they are more aware of everything they don’t know. I will say though, that as a song, I Don’t Care Anymore was definitely an attempt at expressing it all I’m pretty content with, especially the bridge. Writing that song felt like I had been waiting for it, a song that could only come from lived experience and one I was meant to write. As long as you practice writing so your brain-sword is sharp – when those experiences come, you’ll have the tools to write those songs. You’ll be so in the flow that it will be hard not to write them. To keep the sword sharp when self-inspiration isn’t there, I’m often writing for other artists, or writing musicals, or writing for TV – things that I find easier than writing for myself.

Pulse Music Magazine is a creative space allowing musicians to showcase their craft and build their audience. Is there any piece of advice you could offer other up-and-coming artists who wish to follow their dreams?

I feel like Tweek in South Park: “This question is too much pressure! Agh!”

I’d say to have a mentor, have lots of them. Have people around you that are carefully selected to lift you up. In addition to friends & family, take seminars on personal development, or anything that will stretch you outside your comfort zone – as intense as they can be, I recommend Landmark seminars. You never realize how stuck you are in your habits, and how asleep you are at the wheel, until you get trained in how to notice when you are. Let yourself ask for what will lift you up, even if you feel uncomfortable doing it. For example, I reached out to some of my Canadian musical heroes a few months ago with the album, and had a walk & talk with the great Hawksley Workman as a result! It never would have happened if I listened to my head!

And also, be generous & bold within your dreams – don’t float along in a romantic notion that everything will work out because you want it so bad. That’s what society uses to sell us iPads. Ask yourself: Why do you want to ‘make it’/succeed? Are your aspirations generous and for something, or just for admiration? What do you actually want to achieve, specifically? Not ‘helping a charity,’ but ‘5,000 dollars raised for Kids Help Phone per quarter’, ‘having a Top 40 single about mental wellness by the end of the year’. It’s okay if your answers change and evolve over time, but have your central focus be a selfless one, or you’ll burn out on ego. As a tween, my love of music was pure, but it quickly got corrupted by trying to prove I was better than the kids in my class – feeling like a big fish in a small pond. But as soon as I entered high school, I could no longer be a big fish – in my mind, I was always second fiddle to classmate Jimmy Bowskill. He had a Juno nomination at 13 for criminy! It felt insane to stop, and horrible to keep going cos I couldn’t be the ‘best’… That’s my music career whenever ego takes the wheel. When I make what I do about doing something I find exciting for something or somebody rather than about being admired & being the best, then fulfillment usually comes back.

Last thing: Promises. Make a clear plan, a six-month plan, and work backwards, week by week, till you know exactly what you need to do today to have that result at the end of six months – and follow it! Use every time you mess up as a chance to learn – and you will mess up if you made a plan worth pursuing. If you can start to manage those promises, you can give your word to bigger and crazier things – gold records, etc. – and have them show up simply because your relationship to your word has become that powerful. I haven’t given my word to a gold record, but I did to owning a professional studio – and it showed up within a year and a half of that promise because I had made a strong relationship with my word.

I honestly think it’s a bleak time to be a musician, where privilege and fear and money have officially buried the truly beautiful and ravaged the attention spans of people so much that art can seldom make the impact it was meant to. We need people to step up and be the difference, to give your word to being innovators, disruptors & soul stirrers – to create not for admiration, but for the sake of letting yourself be, which will free up others to be themselves too. Someday someone could really be helped by you just being you in your art. And if you aren’t you, then who will they be?

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Matthew Patania

Hi, I’m Matthew, and I am the Founder of Pulse Music Magazine. Having attended my first live show in the Spring of 2015, I realized just how much joy music brings to my life. As my love for music continued to grow, I decided to create a publication that serves as an outlet to share stories told through life's grandest medium.

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    Written by Matthew Patania

    Hi, I’m Matthew, and I am the Founder of Pulse Music Magazine. Having attended my first live show in the Spring of 2015, I realized just how much joy music brings to my life. As my love for music continued to grow, I decided to create a publication that serves as an outlet to share stories told through life's grandest medium.

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