Photos by Andrew Tan.
To meet Danny Taro, current moniker Erroneous Monk, I arrived at Black Honey atrociously early, a whole 10 minutes before I could even expect him to arrive. Once there, I realized that as a Peterborough musician, it was quite possible that he’d be running on the timing that seems to pervade the music scene in this town, and so I’d be left sitting awkwardly for an unestimable period.
But this was not to be the case, as just around 11, I overheard a peaceful voice respond to someone’s inquiry that “I’m actually here to get interviewed.”
We were soon introducing ourselves, and my first impression was of a soft demeanoured man with a bright personality. Sure enough, Taro continuously smiled throughout our interview, and frequently broke into self-effacing laughter.
We moved to the back of Black Honey to sit in the soft yellow glow of the table lamp and talk about Taro’s imminent mixtape release.
Coming out “in a week” from the week prior to this being published, the mixtape marks the initial release of Taro’s four part mixtape series. The first part is “Erroneous Autumn,” performed under his stage name, Erroneous Monk – a play on the name of one of Taro’s inspiring forces, Thelonious Monk, the improvisational jazz pianist and composer.
The name comes from his idea of “someone who’s always in error. It’s a mixtape about the learning experience”. Taro also qualifies the mixtape itself as a learning experience and that he will “learn from those errors.”
This week also marks an event that Taro’s planned and will also perform in as Erroneous Monk. Colour Upwards, a local arts collective Taro founded, is hosting back to back shows October 3 and 4, the weekend of Head of the Trent. The shows start at 9pm and are held in the Gordon Best Theatre, situated above The Only Café on Hunter Street.
“It’s a venue that a lot of people, specifically students, haven’t heard of,” said Taro, explaining the impetus of playing there being that “it feels like a new space for people. So it’s a place where we can facilitate our own culture.”
The weekend includes Friendlyness and the Human Rights and Grand Analog, two Toronto-based bands who will headline Friday and Saturday night respectively, in addition to The Token Players, Spanish Dub, Chris Collins, Smalltown Vernacular, Dub Trinity, StatiK, and of course Erroneous Monk himself, with musical genres ranging from hip hop, reggae, turntablism, electronic dance music (EDM), and a little bit of rock and roll.
“It’s nine acts over two days, so it’s like a festival; it’s the first festival I’m doing.”
To contextualize, I then inquired into Taro’s personal life, and he smilingly admitted: “I’m actually a Trent university dropout”. However, he was recently contacted by the university, and “without taking another class I will be graduating in the Spring somehow. So I went from dropout to alumni!
“I also work and live above Karma’s Café, so I spend all my time on Hunter Street,” Taro explained, expressing his love for the street.
In fact, his sense of location figures heavily in his music. “A big part of hip hop is being proud of where you’re from… Everything is local, everything is fresh. Even the raps and the beats,” he said laughing.
In terms of his trajectory as an artist, Taro admits he’s come from a more limited point of view. “I think I started by imitating what I would now consider rap stereotypes, which is just a symptom of growing up in Mississauga,” he remarked, owning up to a past that included the emulation of the ‘gangster’ aesthetic. “I hope all of those songs I’ve made have been burned.”
Now, Taro takes inspiration from his experiences facing adversity and using rap as a medium to channel anger.
“Really it was my friend Vanilla Jon, who plays saxophone, that got me involved in the first band I was in.” The festival, he explained, will actually facilitate a sort of reunion of that band, called Bears Beats, as Vanilla Jon now plays in Token Players and other members are DJs Spanish Dub and StatiK. The final member of the original band will also be present, attending the event as part of the audience. “For us, it is a very meaningful Head of the Trent weekend. Our group is doing amazing things and we get to show off to all our old friends!”
In terms of rap as a genre, Taro explained that he’s more interested in the political value it can offer versus rap as purely entertainment. “But at the same time, I consider deeply what it means to bridge the gap between what I’m saying and the people listening.”
As for his own style, he maintains that it’s not vulgar and that positivity is key: “What I try to do is almost not address things. Rap culture sucks, let’s create culture [instead, show how to] not be oppressive. A lot of our culture is ‘oh, let’s criticize what’s going on,’ like the media attention to pop culture,” Taro explained, citing the media’s tendency to focus on the negative aspects of society.
“If I completely look the other direction, you’re just changing the conversation to something that’s positive. I’m really trying to be the alternative – I think I might drop one curse in the whole mixtape; the language is also positive.”
Taro has also been known to do spoken word in town, and my own curiosity on the distincitions between different artistic forms getting the better of me, I asked about whether there was a link or boundary between spoken word and rap.
“For me there is a distinguishing line between what is rap and what is poetry,” he replied, “Mostly it’s if I perform [a piece] without a beat will people still like it? Some sound good both ways, some are better as a spoken word piece, some need the beat underneath.”
Referring to slams (spoken word poetry competitions), “it’s simply just the format of all styles of poetry pitted against each other. So if I bring a rap, I’ll probably lose, because people in Peterborough are not interested in the style of hip hop or rap. I’m hoping to changes people’s minds about what hip hop is and can be.
“Something I learned at Trent actually from my professor, Neal McLeod in a creative writing class, is that rap has a unique opportunity to say so much more in a song. The word count in a rap song versus [other types of] songs, it’s at least triple. If you can say a lot in a short time, I think that’s where rap has its true value: in getting a message out.”
As I asked generally about rap as a genre, Taro replied, “To me, it is a way to express myself honestly and to release my energies. It’s my release. It prevents me from taking perhaps other actions with my feelings. It keeps me real; it keeps me balanced.”
Making me feel better about my philosophical artsy questions, Taro admitted, “I even kind of address ‘what is art?’ in this mixtape. It’s kind of addressing the place, ‘Peterborough, what you got?’”
Talking about the first mixtape itself, Taro explained some of his various influences: “I do a song called ‘Taro’ – it’s about myself but also my three biggest influences: Nujabes, a Japanese hip hop artist,” who did one of the beats Taro uses on the mixtape; “Bruce Lee, who’s been a positive force in my life with his philosophy of honest expression; and Tupac Shakur” – or 2Pac – “ with his idea of ‘thug life’ as staying true to yourself. Honest expression and thug life, that’s my motto,” he laughed.
In creating “Erroneous Autumn,” “the driving force was to be a leader – an artistic leader – in our community. It’s been just over a year since I started Colour Upwards,” Taro remarked.
As a series, Taro explained that “the mixtapes will change with the seasons…. I won’t say too much about the other ones, but ‘Continuous Winter’ is the next one under a different rap moniker – Continuous Lee.”
The goal of the series in general is to demonstrate Taro’s ability as an MC, with music styles ranging from “mellow hip hop to electronic to heavy hitting gangster shit – politically driven gangster shit,” he said with a smile.
And as for Taro’s future? “The tentative plan is to release the four mixtapes as part of a series. And with the connections I’m making, I’d like to make an album. Honestly, if it went nowhere, I would be happy to live on Hunter Street and keep doing it. But I guess my real dream would be to go to Japan and perform.”
Taro also mentioned a contest he’s doing with Flavour Fashion. All you have to do is hashtag #ErroneousAutumn and follow Danny Taro and Flavour Fashion on instagram or twitter, and you’re entered “to win something sweet.” The contest is underway until Taro reaches his goal of 100 unique hashtags bringing attention to the mixtape. “If I get those hashtags I’ll release the mixtape early!” he added.
Finally, Taro gave me the exclusive opportunity of listening to a demo of one of the songs he’s releasing. Called “Autumn Rain (Colour Upwards Remix)” and produced by Freddie Joachim, the song is an open invitation for Peterborough residents to get creative.
The song itself starts off with a smooth, mellow, almost old-fashioned piano melody, added to with a sweet beat and the lyrics themselves. It flows with elegance and ease, the melody moving with a serene simplicity that becomes even more enjoyable in off-balancing the content of the lyrics. I, for one, am certainly excited for “Erroneous Autumn” and Taro’s upcoming projects.
Tickets for Colour Upwards’ weekend shows are available from The Only cafe and directly from Danny Taro, costing only $10 for one night and $15 for the weekend when purchased in advance, and $15 purchased at the door.