Genuine gratitude from an artist is a form of flattery for music journalists, particularly those writing about talented emerging and established acts at all hours of the day and night. Aaron Taylor, a bashful British singer-songwriter, is sated with humility and gratefulness as early as the start of our rescheduled chat. That sense of great appreciation from Taylor lingered densely through the nearly 40-minute conversation focused on his debut album, ICARUS, which is out now.
According to Taylor, it’s a chilly, sunny afternoon in his South East London neighborhood at the time of our call. Like myself, a native of country towns in the Carolinas, the new dad is used to the weather across the pond being an amalgamation of all four seasons. Germane to his newborn son, whose cooing doesn’t make an appearance on the call, Taylor has nestled comfortably into fatherhood. It’s partly because of the ongoing pandemic, which he’s thankful for in the most gracious way. Even if he’s not getting as much sleep as he once did prior to his son’s birth.
“He’s been a welcome addition,” Taylor warmly tells Rated R&B over the phone. “There’s not been all that much to do. Normally, I would have been up and down and out and about, and maybe performing a few gigs. But because that’s all been canceled and he came at a time where everything was on lockdown, it’s just been nice to just focus on him. If anything, he’s refocused my motivations and why I’m doing music.”
Recently, the R&B sensualist released his debut album ICARUS. The title hints at the myth of Icarus, the son of Daedalus, who fell to his death after soaring too close to the sun on wings of feathers and wax designed by his father to escape from Crete. When asked why he decided on this album title, Taylor quickly responds, “I related to the idea of wanting to be free and wanting to ascend and reach a certain height, but being aware that those desires and those aspirations come with limits, warnings and so on.”
What could those roadblocks and limitations be? Taylor has a pretty direct answer: “I think sometimes I can be really hard on myself in terms of where I want to get to. I think once I kind of set those limits, it might be a bit easier to attain some of the personal goals I have.”
ICARUS, the third release under the Edenic Records imprint, feels “quite surreal” to Taylor. Namely, because he’s a traditionalist of sorts when it comes to the fan and album experience. “I prefer bodies of work as opposed to random singles. I like for listeners to concede that way.”
On the album, which he calls a landmark, Taylor released a duet featuring Lalah Hathaway called “Don’t Leave Me Alone” as the lead single. Then, he debuted four more tracks like “Shooting Star” and “Flowers” to sweeten the deal ahead of releasing the full album. All five songs have distinctive vocal styles and instrumentation that uphold Taylor’s many takes on Black love, and make him the new leader of the pack for positive R&B.
In an interview with Rated R&B, the British everyman talks more about his new album, working with Lalah Hathaway, the best apology flowers, his future in R&B and more.
On ICARUS, you’re voyaging to romantic stability, while experiencing some emotional turbulence along the way. Is there ever any hesitation in baring the many truths of love with such transparency and relatability.
It’s always hard to be vulnerable in your music, but at the same time, I think that’s what makes the music that much more relatable. I think that it’s hard for me as a songwriter to write anything except what I’ve lived or what I’m feeling in that very moment. I’ve noticed that when I write songs, I tend to write with whatever has been on my mind literally that day or in that time. At the time, relationship stuff was going on. A lot of personal goals and personal feelings of wanting to be emotionally close to somebody, so that spilled out into the music.
There’s a lot of talk about ideas of detachment and loneliness in the context of a relationship on this album. Are you afraid to be alone in a romantic sense?
It’s a good question because I’m actually quite an introvert. I like my own space. I’m okay with being alone on the day-to-day thing, but I think emotional separation gets to me. I think sometimes it’s like being with someone, but not being with someone, if that makes sense. I think at the time I was kind of wanting to just bridge that feeling. That’s kind of how the songs ended up sounding the way they did.
Having Lalah Hathaway bless your debut album with her presence had to be an incredible feeling for you. What was it like working with such R&B royalty?
It was crazy. It’s quite surreal to even have my name in the same sentence as her just because of who she is. We have a mutual friend and I met her probably in 2018. She was in London at the time and our mutual friend connected us and I went to go see her show. We hung out a bit afterwards and then my manager made a joke about having Lalah on a record. He didn’t know that I had that connect. So I told them, “I think I can make that happen.”
From there, it was a beautiful email exchange. The next thing I had her vocals in my inbox. She was really supportive. DM-ing on Instagram and expressing a lot of support for the record. In fact, she’s been super supportive to this day. She’ll still retweet something [on Twitter]. That’s not to be taken for granted because she is such a legend. It’s just so beautiful that she is willing to support someone on a grassroots level like myself.
Songs on ICARUS are an ode to the basics and simplicity that once made break up to make up worthwhile. Like “Flowers,” you sing about bringing a disappointed lover an apology bouquet. Are there any particular type of flowers that you’d recommend as a gesture to smooth things over?
I’m probably a sucker for a lovely bunch of roses. I think those just always do the trick. I think they’re quite universal. I used a rose on one of my first EPs as the cover. There’s really no debate as to what a rose is or its beauty. Even though it comes with its thorns, it’s just a beautiful thing to behold.
The first thing “Be My Muse” made me think about was music from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s catalog. Were you thinking about them at all when recording this song?
I wasn’t thinking of them specifically, although they have great songs. But [the song] was definitely of that era. I don’t know who subconsciously I had in mind, but it was definitely that kind of tempo and instrumentation and vibe. I can’t remember who I was listening to at the time now, but it definitely wasn’t a far cry from those guys. I think that music like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony is kind of in your subconscious and it’s funny what can come out when you’re creating sometimes.
I have to say that it’s refreshing to hear an album like ICARUS that isn’t rooted in toxicity as it relates to love or feelings for someone. Was that a challenge for you not to conform to those that subject matter, especially given that form of lyricism is front and center?
I’m in a happy relationship and maybe because I don’t have toxic relationships around me is why I don’t gravitate towards those things in my music. I prefer to focus on positive elements in my music and I like for my music to be a safe space for people. I wouldn’t want to necessarily write about [toxicity] in any case unless it was something I was personally going through at the time.
How do you view the title or the responsibility of being an artist who champions creating positive R&B?
It’s interesting because there’s so much negativity in the world at the moment, and so much reason to be down and be depressed. I don’t even have to tell you the reasons because we all know what they are at the moment. If my music can be someone’s reason to keep going, then I’ll happily take that positive R&B title.
I think it would be lovely if more music did that and more music was not only just an escape, but just a safe space for people. Equally, I think artists should reflect the times that we’re living in and I don’t think we should ignore them. But equally, people don’t want to be reminded of coronavirus every day. So, if my music can tell them that things are going to be okay or provide some hope, then I feel like I’m doing a good job.
Live instrumentation is making a comeback and you’re one of the artists putting it back on the map. What do you like most about producing music with live arrangements?
I really love trying to make something that isn’t necessarily overly dependent on technology. I like the idea that a band could play this without needing a load of electricity or if the electricity was to go out, the band would still be able to do their thing and it would sound very similar or without the production, the song by itself would still be able to stand up. I really try to have that sense of something organic in the music that is still true to the music I was raised on. And again, [computerized production] has its place, it works definitely. I think sometimes that soul of live music is hard to replicate when there’s too much electronic stuff in the way.
I know that you’re going on tour next year, as well as a few artists who are going to start stepping back into the tour world. Is there any artist — past or current — whose dream tour you would like to attend once everything gets going again?
I would love to see D’Angelo live. I’ve never seen him live and I know he rarely performs live and so on. If he were to decide after COVID that I want to go out to the people, I think I’ll definitely try and be one of the first in line. I’ve seen Jill Scott live before and I’d love to see her again. The only reason I brought her up is I actually had a ticket for her in July this year and obviously that got canceled. So I was pretty gutted about that.
Are there any contemporary artists that you would like to open for on tour here in the States?
I really love Baby Rose. I think her album [To Myself] is one of my favorites of the moment. To be able to be on the same lineup as her, would be pretty special to me. Also, another artist, if I was able to share a lineup with, it would be PJ Morton. That would be a huge honor. He’s like another favorite of mine.
Going back to what you said earlier about personal goals. Have you set any musical goals for yourself?
I’ve always joked that I want to win a Grammy one day. I think every musician would love that sort of wider recognition for the art they make. I’m definitely not an exception to that. I also would love to reach more audiences and reach more ears through what I’m doing.
Listen to ICARUS by Aaron Taylor below.