In Greek mythology, Elysium is the heavenly site where gods reached immortality. Homer’s consensus was that the “Elysian Plain” was the point of happiness at the end of the Earth, while in Merriam-Webster terms, the word stands for a “state of bliss or delight.” There were many connotations around the word for U.K.-born The Singularity, Julian Shah-Tayler. Coincidentally, it was also the name of a club in Austin, Texas where the Los Angeles-based artist eventually met the love of his life, which propelled him into writing a storyline of songs on his latest album, Elysium.
“I like to use words and phrases that have ambiguity and many meanings,” Shah-Tayler, whose background is in linguistics and philosophy, tells American Songwriter. And using The Singularity as his stage name was never an accident. “The Singularity was my chosen name for the band because there was ambiguity.”
A running timeline documenting the dissolution of one relationship and the start of a new one, the concept of Elysium centered around all its varied stages. Heaven knows, I tried / Devil knows I tried to fix what had gone before sings Shah-Talyer in “The Devil Knows,” the second of the two opening tracks, including the beginning “End of the Line,” which were both written during the close of his former relationship.
Submerged in just enough denser synth, the remaining tracks are vignettes accentuating newer love in the intoxicating “Melt,” the predatory pulse of “Lupine,” (“the wolf”), and the seductively grooved “All the Good Soldiers.”
“Everything else was written subsequently to celebrate the new relationship developing,” shares Shah-Tayler. “It’s a coherent, cohesive story. I was just coming out of a relationship, which was falling part, and then I met the love of my life. I wrote these songs as a diary in some ways. Whenever I write it is a diary of my emotional life.”
Writing and producing the entirety of Elysium, Shah-Tayler — who also arranged Lana Del Rey’s “Once Upon a Dream,” featured in 2014 film Maleficent—recorded a majority of the album at his Doctor Who-inspired Tardis studio in Los Angeles.
Elysium is also a collective of collaborators, including 82-year-old producer Robert Margouleff. Dubbed the “godfather of electronica,” Margouleff helped introduce the Moog synthesizer into mainstream pop with Stevie Wonder in the ’70s, working on four of his albums, including 1972 releases, Music of My Mind and Talking Book. He also produced Devo’s 1980 hit “Whip It” and worked with artists such as Quincy Jones, Joan Baez, and The Isley Brothers.
A multi-instrumentalist, the bass is where Shah-Tayler derives most of his songs these days, and how many of the tracks on Elysium came together. Typically facing a computer screen, working lyrics out around a riff, he even wrote the more brooding “Earthquakes” using a fretless bass borrowed from Bauhaus and Love and Rockets bassist David J, who also appears on the earlier “The Devil Knows.”
Songs come instinctively for Shah-Tayler with words and phrases fused with real-life stories from his continuous flow of journal entries. “If you want to know anything about me, dial into what I’m currently writing,” he says. “That’s exactly where my head’s at. It’s catharsis. It is my psychologist. When I feel very strongly about something, I’ll write a song to encapsulate and process that emotion. It’s a self-reflection.”
He adds, “I don’t write like Ray Davies or Damon Albarn, or even Paul McCartney, who often look at things from a perspective of observation. It is very self-reflective for me. Nothing I write is anything other than self-directed.”
Though, songs are also subjective. “It’s not for me to impose,” he says of songs. “Once you’ve written it and shared it, everybody has their own perspective. Their perspective is as valid if not more valid than mine.”
Elysium is also the first album where Shah-Taylor wrote about another person, through his relationship that developed over time. “It’s a concept album,” shares Shah-Tayler. “It’s a narrative story. There are some elements in the lyrics that are deliberately recitatives, which drive the narrative a little bit.”
The pop-driven “Secret” on Elysium was a track Shah-Tayler originally wrote 20 years earlier when he was a student in London. Written in his notebook at Cafe Boheme, underneath Soho House, and also co-produced by Margouleff, “Secret” fit the narrative of his life, and Elysium, now.
For Shah-Tayler who also moonlights singing “Moonage Daydream,” often covering the music of David Bowie and Depeche Mode (Strangelove) as a tribute act, there’s no reason to retreat from influences.
“It’s disingenuous to pretend that you’re so fucking amazing and that you have written this perfect piece of genius that you came up with all yourself standing on the shoulders of giants always,” shares Shah-Tayler. “I do try to skirt direct influences, but there’s one exception on the record, the guitar solo at the close of ‘End of the Line’ was deliberately trying to sound like something that might have been on [David Bowie’s] ‘Scary Monsters.’”
He adds, “That was intentional. I’m not going to shy away from it. When somebody says, ‘you remind me of Bowie,’ which happens a lot, I can’t pretend that he’s not been a huge influence on me, so I just accept it and say, ‘well, as long as you like Bowie, then that’s a compliment.’”
Shah-Tayler even admits that he got into philosophy, which he ended up studying at university, after hearing The Cure’s Robert Smith discuss French author and philosopher Albert Camus, who inspired the band’s very first single “Killing an Arab,” which was a lyrical reference to the writer’s 1942 book The Stranger. “So I read that book, and in French,” says Shah-Tayler of Camus’ classic. “And I got deeper into philosophy. I read [Jean-Paul] Sartre. I read Nietzsche, and it influenced me so deeply that I went to university and studied philosophy as a degree because Robert Smith told me to.”
He also learned to speak Spanish after hearing The Pixies’ Come On Pilgrim track, “Vamos,” and says, “I thought it was a fabulous song, and I wanted to find out what he’s saying, so I learned Spanish.”
Music was also his patriarch. Without much of a father figure growing up, Shah-Tayler says John Lennon was like his dad. “I would listen to interviews and his philosophy which was very deep. He was a kind of cynic, but he really believed in love and his way of looking at things influenced me deeply.”
Shah-Tayler adds, “Songwriters have had a deeper influence on me than most of the people around me. It’s kind of weird, but it’s okay because in some ways it has curated a lifestyle choice, like the romance that exists in Bryan Ferry’s music. ‘Girls and Boys’  is just marvelous, and I feel romantically invested in songwriting now because of Bryan Ferry.”
Moving on from Elysium, Shah-Tayler’s next album is a deeper chronicle of love and will feature former David Bowie bassist, Carmine Rojas (“Let’s Dance,” “Modern Love”), and former Morrissey guitarist and co-writer, Alain Whyte, along with other guests.
“The next record has a dark side and a light side,” he says. “There are very happy songs, and there are really sad songs because as any relationship develops, there’s going to be ups and downs. I hope the prevailing message of the record is that you just go through it and experience it. There’s the Buddhist philosophy that says that instead of avoiding sadness and avoiding negativity, just sit with them, and feel them and let them go.”
Photo: John Travis / Courtesy of The Singularity