17 On The Frontline: Aaron Taylor

“I just want people to listen to what I’m saying rather than who I am”

“Where is art in the life that is still?” Those are the lessons that Aaron Taylor, the South East London born and raised R&B soul singer/producer, has been learning while blossoming out of his cocoon of musical uncertainty into a fully fledged musician.

Life lessons are never completed in a day and while Aaron Taylor is still finalising exactly who and what sort of musician he wants to be, one thing is clear; his dulcet vocals, paired with smooth production and content that spans both the global and personal, means Mr Taylor is onto a winning formula. From creating his debut EP, ’Still Life’ in a matter of weeks, to his follow up EP ‘Better Days’ a few month later, Aaron’s work-rate in 2016 was unstoppable. And, it’s precisely that unflappable work rate, paired with his throwback, neo-soul sonics and eclectic beats that caught our attention… And that of Apple’s too.

While we bonded over a mutual love for artists like Ray BLK, Kamau, Nao and Anderson .Paak – Aaron Taylor allowed us to dig a little deeper into the things that make him tick, and more importantly, allowing us to get to know the man behind ‘Still Life’ and ‘Better Days’. Growing up in the church environment, Aaron had already learned a lot of his music skills by ear and taking that ear to school, he went to work putting on showcases while pushing others to do music and enter competitions. But Aaron wasn’t one to preach something he didn’t intend to practice and taking up his own advice, he went on to study music at university. After that, he spent a lot of time working and figuring out this thing we call music.

I didn’t feel that I had a breakthrough. So, I just sat down one evening and thought, ‘I’m going to start from scratch’

“Still Life was birthed from a place of frustration”, Aaron tells me, early one December morning. “It was like a last ditch effort. I had been producing…or trying to produce for myself and others and just generally get out there in the industry”. Experiencing that all too familiar feeling of trying everything to get out there, Aaron explains “I felt I was going in circles”, he adds, “I didn’t feel that I had a breakthrough. So, I just sat down one evening and thought, ‘I’m going to start from scratch’. Then I just started recording my own songs and have a go at singing on my own tracks”. The result of this? Aaron Taylor’s six track introductory offering – ‘Still Life’.

Influenced by the likes of D’AngeloMusiq SoulchildAnthony Hamilton and Pharrell Williams, his debut project blended a multitude of sounds but also was a showcase of Aaron’s undeniable talents. The self-produced EP was completed in a “really short space of time” in fact as Aaron elaborates “literally within days and then I spent a bit of time (months) tweaking it”. 

One thing that made ‘Still Life’ stand out was the running narrative Aaron included within in. It allowed you to lose yourself in the music and forget whether you were on track two or four. Interlaced between the tracks were snippets of poems and in particular interludes like ‘I Ain’t Worried’, which stood out even more by the poignancy of Martin Luther King’s words – “only when it is dark enough you can see the stars.” Aaron describes the thinking behind the process, “I wanted something to link everything together” adding, “It was to set up the next song… I wanted people to escape and like not worry about the stuff going on in the world… and I felt like it matched perfectly what I was trying to say in the song”.

Kicking off the EP with a 22 second interlude which allowed space for introspection, the project was styled perfectly for that easy-like-Sunday-morning playlist of songs, all so very, very easy on the ear. Featuring a single white rose on the cover art, Aaron remained anonymous. Nonetheless, this wasn’t just a sly attempt at being pretentious, for Aaron it was about timing, “I wanted the focus to be the music”.

“I feel we judge what we listen to based on what we see…. and that’s ironic and not the way to listen, we don’t listen with our eyes! I wanted something that was classic and looked like a painting… that’s why I went with the image of the rose… I just felt it matched the whole concept”.

Clearly Aaron did something right. Still unsigned, he’d released his debut EP out of frustration and yet one of his songs caught the attention of global tech giant, Apple. ‘Lesson Learnt’ was subsequently picked up and featured in an advert for Apple TV featuring Jon Batiste, the multifaceted jazz artist, bandleader of the Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Now, just for a minute, take that in and note that was at that time when he was without any management, any major promotion or a concerted effort to push himself into the frontline.

Imagine, you’re trying to drop a project as inconspicuous and as incognito as possible, but Apple asks you to use it in an advert. It’s safe to say things, quite unexpectedly, snowballed from there for Aaron Taylor.

Rather than languish in the sidelines, within six months of ‘Still Life’, Aaron Taylor unleashed his second EP upon the world. Again, armed and coated in pure musical expression, it was as fearless and experimental throughout as his debut. Aaron Taylor’s unique and distinctive musical craftsmanship, was making it impossible to ignore a musician who was surfacing as a testament to how music could literally speak for itself.

“I’m a big fan of albums like ‘Malibu’ [Anderson .Paak] and ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ [Kendrick Lamar], albums that are glued together well.” And ‘Better Days’ as a follow up project, showed exactly where Aaron was at mentally. “Still Life was a personal frustration. But after, I was in a better place and at the same time it was better days… like what society and a generation needed, so I made ‘Better Days’”. Imagine, if you have to write a song, what would you write about? Aaron Taylor just went off what he had and what he wanted; “I included songs about current things, from police brutality, and other things going on in the world and my own life too. ‘Better Days’ was an overall comment on things right now, we see crazy things everyday, from Syria to situations both in the U.K. and U.S.A”.

Writing an exposition about ‘Better Days’ in a Facebook Note, Aaron in his own words, gave a track by track account of his state of mind, ‘The beginning of the EP details a patience and willingness to wait for the change but now the patience has dissipated and I need my change, I need my troubles to be gone, I need my better days.’ But, just like ‘Still Life’, Aaron Taylor yet again opted for conceptual cover artwork for his project and it’s significance was pertinent to it’s place at home. He wrote, ‘Some will wonder about the the Better Days artwork. Such figurines were, and still are, commonplace on mantelpieces in black homes, placed as memoirs by the older windrush-generation of better days and perhaps in some ways to remind us of the expected ideal’. 

I just want people to listen to what I’m saying rather than who I am

Opting to keep his cover faceless, meant listeners would need a little more patience and wait just a little bit longer. “For ‘Better Days’ it was more coming up with something that would raise eyebrows and peak interest… something a little more than just a selfie”, Aaron laughs.  This idea of forcing listeners to ignore appearances and listen to just exactly that, the music, is something Aaron is clearly passionate about, and with reason, “I think [faceless artwork] shows you’re more about the music, rather than the person delivering… But I hope it’s not received in a pretentious mysterious way… I just want people to listen to what I’m saying rather than who I am.”

Who he is as an artist, who is still in the early days of his journey. Within just shy of a year, he’s had two EP’s and a song that’s been used in a major TV advert by Apple. And Aaron has pretty much done in one year, what most artists try to achieve in years. Still incredibly grounded and finding his feet, one thing is clear, his passion for music is as pure as the light of day. “I’m not sure what 2017 holds for me”, Aaron says, “at the moment, it’s just more music… I’m not sure if it will be an EP or something longer. But I definitely want to do more live shows, festivals and more support slots — hopefully some collabs!”

Aaron Taylor armed with his pure and passionate ethos has been on a winning streak so far. Frustration and fears aside, it’s safe to say he’s pushed forward comfortably to the frontline for 2017, and it’s not undeserved. Whether the lessons learned in Aaron’s tale, will be that good music always prevails, or that skilled passionate artistry always wins, for now, we’re looking forward to even better days ahead for Aaron Taylor.