On Thursday, April 7 th , Sarah Burton, a Toronto-based singer, songwriter and leader of the Sarah Burton Band held an acoustic show at The Yellow Door on Aylmer Street. For her opening acts, she enlisted two Montreal-based artists, Vikki Gilmore and McGill’s very own Julian Golden. The small basement venue brought the audience closer to the artists, both literally and figuratively, giving the impression of an intimate listening party, or even a casual musical hangout. What was most apparent was how, despite such performances being a nerve-wracking experience, all three of the artists seemed very at ease – this was an opportunity for them to present their music at it’s most raw and directly to others, without the distance that a stage or electronic equipment can bring.
Vikki Gilmore solidified this impression, kicking off the night with her soothing folk music, mixing her soft but strong falsetto with spacey guitar melodies. Hers is the kind of music that you feel more than hear, as its soothing nature engulfs you as you listen. She played original songs, but also sprinkled an impressive cover of “La Vie En Rose” into the mix, much to the surprise and appreciation of the audience.
Next, there was Julian Golden. His set was a bit more upbeat, but this did not always match his subject matter – many of his songs told stories of the negative sides of relationships, such as misunderstandings and loss. Like a storyteller, he draws the audience in by painting pictures of moments he has lived with his songs. Another unexpected moment came when, after declaring his childhood love of T-Pain, Julian performed a cover of the legendary “Buy U a Drank” – Jeezy’s verse included. Last, but certainly not least, was the headliner, Sarah Burton. She was the most experienced of the three, and it showed – she seemed most comfortable in front of everyone, speaking to the audience as if we were all hanging out at a friend’s place on a Friday night. As opposed to Vikki and Julian, Sarah’s songs veered a bit more towards country and rock. Through her music, she told a wide range of stories, from struggles with student debts to relationships and moving. The emotion in her voice during each song made it seem as though she was reliving her experiences, bringing us along for the ride every time she sang about them.
After the show, I was able to talk to Julian Golden, who, since arriving in Montreal, has been slowly but surely and effectively building a solid fan base in his adopted city.
We chatted about his music, school, and his plans for the future.
B&B: First of all, how would you introduce yourself?
– I’m Julian Golden. I’m a Toronto raised Montreal based singer songwriter. Just loving what I’m doing, playing guitar and singing songs as much as I can.
B&B: How did you get into music?
– Well I started really early, with elementary school – learning music theory and then I got into the school band and started playing clarinet. When I was 13, I didn’t really want to play clarinet any more so my parents [said] “alright, pick piano or guitar” and I picked guitar because I wanted to do punk rock, electric guitar stuff. So I was doing that for a while. So 13 to maybe 15, I was in that electric guitar realm. I think once my guitar [playing] started improving, that’s when I got more into the acoustic stuff because, like I was kind of tired of playing bar chords on the electric and I wanted to get a bit more serious. So it started when I took lessons for a couple of years and then now I’m just playing as much as I can.
B&B: You write your own songs right? What inspires you to write? I know you talked about relationships and such during your set.
– Yeah! It’s really just whatever is going on in my life at the time. I’ve learned that you can’t really force a song, and so I will no longer just try to write songs to have songs. ‘Cause you can tell when they’re forced and the words aren’t right and the guitar’s not as good as I can make it, so if something happens in my life and it really impacts me, whether it’s good or bad, I’ll go home and probably pickup my guitar and if something comes to me, great, and if not, then it won’t and that’s fine. But yeah, over time I’ll start something and who knows – maybe the next day I’ll finish it or the next month I’ll pick it back up again. It really just depends.
B&B: I saw in another interview you did (with RandomRecords) and with your T-Pain cover that you used to be into rap. Have you ever tried to make any rap songs?
– Yeah! Funny story, when I was doing the punk rock stuff, I had a band, and we were doing a lot of Down With Webster type stuff, mixing pop/rock and rap, so I was the guitar player / rapper for the group. You can look up the band, it’s called The Noms – we have a Facebook page, and the YouTube hasn’t been active for years but… Yeah! We had and EP and you can hear me rapping! I was like 14 and it’s horrible but… Yeah. I’ve been listening to hip-hop longer than I’ve been listening to guitar and rock music. T-Pain was my childhood. I remember one of the saddest moments of my life, like grade 5, was not being able to go to a T-Pain and Lil Wayne concert because my parents knew that there would be drugs there, and I was 10, so… But that was a huge influence for me, and a lot of my songwriting started from me trying to write raps. They’re shit, but that’s kind of where I learned about writing on beat and getting words that rhyme and flowing the lyrics. That’s where it started for sure.
B&B: Are there any artists you look to as role models?
– Yeah, John Mayer – everyone says John Mayer – but [he] was the first guy who really got me into wanting to be a better guitar player. He’s absolutely incredible. And with that, followed by his lyricism and stuff like that, but he was the first guy whose songwriting was sick. He makes dope songs. Ed Sheeran was a big influence too, because his stuff was simpler than John Mayer’s – it wasn’t so intense, there weren’t all of those licks and the chords were more simple, so they were easier to play when I was just starting out. But now, it’s everyone – like a lot of the older artists. Eric Clapton is huge for me… Fleetwood Mac, in terms of songwriting, their song structures are huge. Recently, my dad and I were going through our CD collection, because he has so many and no one listens to CDs anymore, right? So we were going through them all, getting ready to put them on the laptop and get rid of them, so I got a lot of his old music, which is really cool and opened me up to a lot of new stuff. Even old U2! I was big on U2 when I was younger, then I stopped and now I got back into it. I’m at a point where [I’m influenced by] literally everything.
B&B: Are your parents into music?
– They both listen to music for sure – my mom, her brother, her sister all played. I don’t know how long she played, but now she really regrets quitting and she wanted to get back into it. My dad played sax in high school, like school band, and harmonica, so that kind of into the harmonica. I have a set of harmonicas that I haven’t pulled out for performances recently. I have the thing that you can put around your neck but I forgot it at home! I forget a lot of stuff in Toronto, which affects my shows – like my loop pedal, I forgot the charger this semester, so I couldn’t do that either. So yeah, they were never super serious, never writing songs and stuff like that, but they both played so they definitely wanted to get me into music when I was younger.
B&B: How far do you want go with music?
– As far as I can go. If I can make a living off of playing music, that’s the goal for sure. I mean, at some point you have to be realistic right? That’s why I’m in school, and school is #1 priority, but I’m still trying to play as much as I can now, and you never know what could happen. If I could make a living just playing shows, that would be unreal.
B&B: What are you studying by the way?
– I’m an econ major and sociology minor.
B&B: Do you have any idea what you’ll do with your degree after?
– I have no idea, to be honest. I’m definitely going to do more school after – unless I get a record deal and I’m huge – but I think it’s a great degree and I really enjoy it, but I’m trying to get into a marketing minor right now to add some business experience to it. I’m into marketing and brand management and all that, so I want to get into that. But I have no idea right now – I’m in second year so it’s hard to figure it out – I’m still the director of a summer camp, so the professional world is still far away [laughs]. I’m not even thinking about that right now.
B&B: Is there an overarching feeling or message that you want to convey through your music?
– What I’ve always found is music is a great way to be honest. Like if I were to go up to a group of 20 people and just tell them about a breakup, it would be super weird, but I love being able to share my experiences in a way that people can relate to, and I find that that’s facilitated through music. You put a guitar in that story and it changes the way people see things and the way you think about it. Obviously I would love to be able to just go up and tell people everything, but you can’t always do that, so it’s nice to be able to express yourself. Everyone says: “yeah music is where I find myself”, but I think it’s true – it’s really what I love to do. I’m not an artist who’s trying to push peace on earth or anything like that – that’s great, those songs are incredible but I’m just trying to express myself, and hopefully people like what they hear.
B&B: How do you find a balance between school and music?
– It’s really tough! It’s a lot of work. Obviously I’m in school, I’m paying for school and it’s the #1 priority, so time management is important. I’m trying to play shows as much as I can, so I’ve worked that around whatever the school schedule is. I think that’s what it is – I won’t book something before a school thing, but if I can find the time, I’m going to try to do the music stuff for sure.
B&B: Do school and music ever overlap / intersect? Or do you keep them really separate?
– I actually keep music and studies very separate. I don’t even listen to music when I’m studying. I just can’t focus on other things if I’m listening to music. If it’s instrumental, maybe a little bit more, but if there are lyrics playing then I can’t do it. Even that’ll mess me up a bit though – I’ll be studying and I’ll think of a song and it’ll mess me up. In that sense, no, not really. I don’t mesh them, because I have a problem. Sometimes if I need to study, I’ll start playing music instead, so I’ll lock the guitars up during exam time just to be able to focus, but I keep them separate because they just don’t really intertwine, and if they do, it just ends up going to music and not to the studies.
B&B: Smart move. How would you describe your music?
– [Laughs] Okay – so I wrote a blurb: “Julian Golden is a Montreal based singer- songwriter blending bright and uplifting acoustics with powerful vocals to create story-telling songs that are sure to keep your ears locked from the first to the last notes. His sound is a fun and relaxing combination of modern day acoustic pop and just the right amount of folk, all of which can be heard in his highly personal and relatable songs. With one EP out and another in the works, you’ll quickly learn why his sound has been compared to the likes of John Mayer, Jack Johnson and Donovan Woods.” I wrote that! I’m taking a music-marketing course and one of the first things that we did was “get your brand statement”. It’s the most uncomfortable thing – everything you write is going to sound corny, like “I’m emotionally relatable” or “deep”.
B&B: Yeah, it could sound like you’re trying too hard.
– Yeah! It might be true, but it’s hard to talk about yourself like that.
B&B: Last question: I know you have an EP coming out, what can you tell me about that?
– So, I’m recording right now. I was hoping it would be a six-song EP, but it’s looking like it could four because of the timing – the studio I’m recording at is in Montreal, and I go back to Toronto on May 1 st , so with exams coming up and with the studio time it’s hard to get as much of that as I want. I was planning on a summer release, but that might get pushed to September, depending on how I’m feeling about the EP and the promotion, and where I think the release will do the best. I have my following in Toronto cause I’m from there, but I’ve really started to build a following here too, so I don’t know what I’m going to do. For now, all I have is the title, which is “Here I Am”, and it describes that honesty in songwriting. My first EP was about my life, but I shaped it towards what you want to hear form singer-songwriters: you have your love songs, songs about how I’m so torn apart, and another song that’s like “I think you’re amazing, you should be with me cause I’ll give you everything you want in the world”. My single, the chorus was something super corny… It flows, but if you think about it, this guy can’t just take her to the islands and start a life there, that doesn’t make any sense. So this new EP is based on real situations, but I think it’s just more honest. I’ve become a better musician since the last one, the guitar is better, and the lyrics are better too. So – “Here I Am”. I think it’s going to be four songs, but I have no idea. The last interview I did, I said it was going to be six songs, and I played a song that I said was going to be on it, but now I don’t think it will, so I really have no idea. Basically, I’m making an EP, it’s called “Here I Am”, and it’ll come out in the next year – that’s what I’ll say. [Laughs]