Rory Taillon is a songwriter who really has something to say through his music.
The 25-year-old Oshawa, Ontario resident demonstrates a lyrical mastery that belies his years and shatters formulaic conventions. This is deftly matched with a powerful, bluesy musical style that sets him apart from his contemporaries. With an undeniable and palpable sense of urgency in Taillon’s music, most evident on his latest release, It’s Not Black & White – this is a visceral look at life through the eyes of the dislocated, disenfranchised and dissatisfied. Combining the best of the poetic wordsmiths of the classic rock era with the 1990s alternative rock sense of nihilism, Taillon’s songs are impassioned pleas for people to be allowed to be who they want to be. “A friend of mine told me a long time ago that if I am going to write about something, I might as well write about something I know, something I really feel, something I am passionate about,” Taillon said. “I am not really the love song kind of guy. I really like using the songs to send a message and I really like other musicians who do the same thing, but in a really creative, impactful way. Tom Waits is like that and he has always been one of my favourites.” Taillon’s songs use the imagery of cages, prisons and walls as a way of showing how so many people are trapped in their lives – trapped by addiction, trapped by mental illness, trapped by love of money, trapped by the hypnotic, dehumanizing nature of technology, trapped by conformity and other people’s expectations of what they are supposed to be. “I guess I have always felt a little like that, especially when I was younger. My family was very much about going to school, then you go to college, get your career, work 9 to 5 and retire at 65. It took me a long time to get out of that mindset myself. They weren’t belligerent about it, it was just how they lived. It took them a while to wrap their heads around the fact that I wasn’t going down that road; that music was what I was going to do,” Taillon said. Even the title of the album, It’s Not Black and White is a commentary on a modern world that doesn’t seem to allow for shades of grey in the way people live their lives. The songs on the album, while not as angst-ridden as the 1990s alt-rock stuff that he grew up with, nonetheless carry the overarching message that people should be allowed to be who they want to be without fear of recrimination. “I wrote the song Through the Glass when I was contemplating starting music as my path. It’s about a kid who has all this imagination and all these wonderful dreams and when he grows up they take his wings from him and tell him he can never fly. They take his dreams away. The message to me was seeing myself as an old man one day. Maybe I had been successful and got some money from a job I didn’t really want, and then looking back and saying, ‘sh** I should have lived my dreams.’ Ultimately the message of that song is that I don’t want to have those kinds of regrets at the end of my life,” he said. Durden is based on the movie Fight Club, which starred Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, about a man trapped in a conventional lifestyle that provides him with all the material benefits in life but leaves him emotionally bereft until he discovers Durden and Fight Club. Of course, the big twist at the end is that Durden is simply a figment of the lead character’s own psychotic imagination – a projection of the life he craved. The song is not just remarking on the double life that conformity sometimes causes people to lead but also the insidious nature of mental illness, for which Taillon said he has a deeply personal connection. No song typifies Taillon’s spirit more than Misfits, which to some people is an insult, but to people like Taillon and other authentically creative artists, is truly a badge of honour. “It’s about a group of people who are saying, ‘yeah we could go get regular jobs, but wouldn’t it be better to do this?’ It’s a song about being told what you’re supposed to do in life, but what about us? We don’t want to do that with our lives, but we are judged and cast aside. And for me, I feel like I would rather do that than follow what I am ‘supposed’ to do.” Taillon admits he did try the conventional life. After high school he went to college for art and when he couldn’t immediately find work as an artist, became a labourer working with contractors and roofing companies. One time during the slow season for construction, sensing how unhappy he was, his wife and best friend both said he should take a run at music as his vocation. He did and for the past three years he has been a full time musician, touring regularly throughout southern Ontario and the Maritimes. His naturally powerful and emotive voice was honed through years of church choir and vocal lessons. He first picked up a guitar at age fourteen and the harmonica a few years later. Mislabelled a blues performer by many commentators, Taillon said he was influenced greatly by the blues-based classic rock acts that his father enjoyed listening to. “We always had Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Steppenwolf playing in the house. Those bands were huge influences on me. I remember getting a Jimi Hendrix record when I was kid, simply because I knew his name from my dad and I threw it on and I was like holy crap, this guy is something else,” Taillon said. “But I like a lot of the 1990s bands too, like Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Bush X” The combination sounds very much like the material created by Tom Wilson’s band Junkhouse, where there are elements if hippie-rock, blues-based rock and the alternative vibe of the 1990s. “It’s a combination of both my major influences I guess. I like the way songs were structured and the poetry and imagery of the 1970s stuff, but with a 1990s attitude. It’s definitely not a happy, hippie rebelliousness that I am talking about. It’s more of an ‘I’m pissed off and things suck,’ kind of thing,” he said with a laugh. “I have a very loud voice, and that doesn’t always come across in recordings. I have played venues where the sound guy just turns off my microphone. And I think my voice grabs people and helps me get my songs across because their attention is completely focussed on me. I feel that if I am really into the music, then people in the audience will sit up and start really listening and feel what I am trying to say,” he said. At 6’ 3” and a solid 220 pounds, Taillon is an imposing figure. And this is matched by an onstage intensity that makes him a truly compelling performer. But there is also a sense of vulnerability that clashes with this persona, a softness and gentleness that belies the physicality and power of his stage demeanor, proving once and for all, when it comes to Rory Taillon the musician, It’s Not All Black & White.