Canadian Built: Mike Taylor

We’ve all seen those videos dash across our screens, lost in the masses, Walk Off the Earth’s viral Five-People-One-Guitar stands out and leaves you wanting more. Their unique musical talent has allowed them to continue on their path to success and show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Using a variety of unlikely tools the group continues to shake things up and impact fans on a global scale. We had the chance to sit down with Mike Taylor and discuss how the group came to be and how their creative differences help them to stand out.

Tell us about yourselves and how the group got together.

The band that you see today is galaxies apart in the way it looks and sounds from WOTE 1.0, the project that Gianni and Marshall started back in 2006. This first take was more raw and stripped down, but that said, the ska reggae roots and optimism that animated those early songs, I think, still shapes the music we produce today. The roster that you see today came together in 2011, the year before we broke out with our Five-People-One-Guitar video, “Somebody I Used To Know.” Since the video we’ve continued to break new ground creatively and that’s been on full display in the videos, music, and the live presentations that constantly flow out of the WOTE workshop.

Why did you join?

Firstly I dug the music--and the good vibe--that emanated from these two guys. There was something special there. But the other thing that really hooked me, and intrigued me, was the novel way they were talking about reaching out to their audience through YouTube. Believe me, I know what it’s like to play to 30 people, in Goderich on a Tuesday night, 27 of which you’ve trucked in yourself, and walk away 125 bucks in the hole at the end of the night. I love playing, but paying to play, well, that is both bad business and karmically exhausting. Ha. So the idea that you could reach out and touch tens of thousands of fans through social media, and avoid three hours in a drafty cargo van eating Hickory Sticks seemed to me to be almost magical at the time. As it turns out, a half a billion You Tube views later, I am convinced: it really is magic.

"Having a positive outlook, believing that good things can and do happen is not something that you just stumble upon, it’s a decision—and a decision you need to lean into."

Did you know you were always going to be creative?

From an early age there was a very high probability that vocationally it was either urban-organic egg farming or…music. Curiously enough, the corner office at Goldman Sachs or the space program, neither of these ever really seemed to be in the cards. My parents were very musical people. As regular performers in musical theatre they lived and breathed musicality, and so my brother, sister and I all grew up thinking that ducking the batons of masochistic classical piano teachers and sitting around the breakfast table singing Bavarian Christmas carols were just things that families did. So yeah—perhaps by process of elimination—yeah, I suppose I knew.

What’s your favourite aspect of what you do?

I truly enjoy playing. But being able to do what you love in front of people that appreciate the art you create, that’s a spiritual experience and nothing less. I also enjoy the fact that my life has become a little unpredictable—and I mean this in a completely positive way—because of the band and the travel and the whole routine that goes along with it. I’ve met fascinating people, I’ve shared the stage with my musical heroes, I’ve been in places and in situations that I would have never been otherwise if it wasn’t for being in a band. Except for being away from the people I care about, I love the whole package.

What makes you the most proud to be Canadian and why?

I’ve always been proud to be Canadian. In a personal sense, one of my proudest moments was just recently when we were asked to perform the national anthem at the World Cup Hockey Championship at the ACC in Toronto. For me it brought a bunch of things together: my music, my passion for hockey, and just being Canadian. But, you know, the broader question is difficult one because when you are a Canadian you can’t see Canada from the outside, as others see us. That’s why my pride swells when I hear about Canada as a reflection, from people I meet around the world who see us as a dynamic, creative, generous and compassionate place. They envy our cool. And that warms my heart.

Being a talented multi-instrumentalist what motivated you to learn so many instruments and what is your favourite to play?

Basically I’m a piano player. And for a lot of reasons it’s easier to transition from piano to bassoon than the other way around—though, for the record, being a concert bassoonist is not on my bucket list. The piano is the one instrument where you have a bass line, chords, melody and counter-melody all happening simultaneously. It gives you an innate understanding of how the parts of a song fit together and the role that each instrument plays. And so, when I pick up a new instrument I already know what it is that I’m trying to accomplish. Then it becomes just a matter of moving my fingers.

"I also enjoy the fact that my life has become a little unpredictable."

You guys regularly use an eccentric repertoire of instruments, from toothbrushes to a didgeridoo. What inspired you to reach outside the standard instrumental tools?

Gianni brought this to the band. He’s got this weird ability to see something that’s not a conventional instrument and hear how it can be weaved into the arrangement of a pop song. Most people see a microwave oven door, but Gianni, he hears it. This open-mindedness of Gianni’s, in a creative sense has rubbed off on all of us. That said, in terms of execution, more often than not if you ever see us perform, I’m usually the one with the turkey baster in his hand or shaking a bag of walnuts.

What message or advice would you want to impart to anyone who’s just starting out.

First, we always believed that you’re only going to get where you want to go if you own the journey, and all the pitfalls and accomplishments along the way. You can’t wait for others to make things happen for you. Finally, it takes some drive, and it takes a bit of moxie, but it also takes being positive. Having a positive outlook, believing that good things can and do happen is not something that you just stumble upon, it’s a decision—and a decision you need to lean into.

Choosing a life off the beaten path can be terrifying to most but to Mike Taylor it was undeniable. The intrigue of influencing people across the globe was something that could not be ignored and therefore chased. With the outlook that goals are not stumbled upon but chosen, breaking the mould is when you can begin your journey on the winding road to happiness. From turkey basters to toothbrushes, if you put all of your creative energy behind it, anything can be possible. Creativity is emanated from each member and when combined the results are as unique as each member. With a group as diverse in talent as Walk Off the Earth the ability to wow the world isn’t random, it’s inevitable.