Walk Off The Earth Continues On In The Memory of Beard Guy Mike Taylor

In late 2018, Walk Off The Earth faced a major and unexpected loss with the sudden death of band member Mike “Beard Guy” Taylor. Mike’s incredible ability behind the keys gave the band a sturdy foundation to soar and create. In the wake of Mike’s passing, and with much difficult consideration, the band decided to move forward and use their latest tour as an opportunity to honour and share the extraordinary legacy Mike left behind.

They perform at Caesars Windsor on Nov. 7 and Centre in the Square in Kitchener on Nov. 8.

We spoke with drummer and percussionist Joel Cassady about the music, the band’s social media vibe and of course Beard Guy.

Once again, you guys are returning to Windsor for another romp at Caesars Windsor and of course, there’s Centre In The Square too. Those shows are always so much fun.
You know it. It’s a beautiful room. We love coming out there. I mean, honestly, any chance to do the home province is an honor for us. We’ve been so fortunate to get a chance to obviously have the global stage available to us and go to the furthest reaches of the Earth here, but all the more reason for us to really cherish our time at home and our chance play to the hometown crowd.

With all that touring this spring and summer that you guys did, you still managed to crank out quite a few YouTube videos. Do you prefer YouTube videos over making actual albums and EPs?
Interesting question. I don’t know. I think it’s just so important for us to have the full kind of multimedia approach and attack happening at all times that each thing is equally important. I mean, we’re under no illusion that we really wouldn’t have this platform that we’ve been able to earn for ourselves here without, of course, that initial kind of big viral YouTube reach back in 2012. Of course, we’ve been able to hold on to a lot of that by continuing to sort of nurture that, right? I mean, we need to keep the YouTube stuff happening. We love doing the covers, we love keeping that world going, but we need to.

We’ve been able to have success with the originals as well, which is a total dream come true for us. It’s kind of a two prong, or even more prong, two, three, four, five prong attack, whatever it is. It’s all really important to us. It’s all really valuable. It’s all really fulfilling to us. It’s more a matter of just making sure we’re working our asses off every day and making sure we’re keeping everyone happy. Some fans of ours are more into the covers than the originals. That’s okay. Some people are more into the originals than the covers. That’s great. Some people love the short film stuff we’re doing or the sort of almost skit-based comedic stuff we’re doing. It’s all good.

I love the Fifth Avenue drum video that you did.
That was just us, just again, just talking about the kind of things that we hadn’t done, or we get a lot of requests, of course, at all times from fans. A lot of folks are into the drum stuff. Just again, based by virtue of us needing to kind of nurture other things that people want to see, we hadn’t really done a whole lot of dedicated drum stuff. The opportunity came up to do a few things and that was on the list and it ended up working out great. The response to that has been great.

I was looking back and I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since the very first YouTube video. That even predates your time with the band.
Almost, yeah. Well, it’s been almost eight years since the big video. The five people, one guitar video took off in 2012 so we’re coming up on about seven years plus since then, I mean, we’re closing in on a decade. The band has been going obviously 10 plus years beyond that, but yeah, since everything kind of went crazy, it’s been getting close to eight years, but yeah, we’re getting there. We’re coming up on the decade.

How much of your life does YouTube and social media consume?
Quite a bit. It’s interesting, it comes in waves, especially the way that when we’re living in this world, and this is obviously a big part of our livelihood and stuff. People ask us all the time, “What are your favorite channels,” and all that stuff. Of course, we have our favorites and all that sort of thing, but I think it’s also important we’ve learned to find that middle as well, to unplug sometimes and really check out stuff that isn’t rooted in social media and YouTube just for that reason, because we do live in it so much when it comes to work. It’s about finding that kind of middle, that work life balance I guess you could say, but make no mistake, it occupies a great deal of our time and our effort and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

As soon as I knew that Old Time Road was going to be a hit, I knew you guys were going to do something with it.
Of course.

I loved the way you guys handled it with the bells. It’s so unique. How do you come up with unique ways to revisit the covers that you choose?
I wish I had the perfect answer for this. It’s so funny when this comes up. Honestly, it’s about, for us anyway, not overthinking it. When we realized that song was taking over the world, we were out there, I just said “There’s really something to this. Let’s try and see what comes naturally here.” Literally, and this has happened a couple of times, opened up the utensil drawer, saw what was in the kitchen, basically went into the garage and grabbed a few boxes of screws and stuff and made a whole beat and got the kind of core to beat there. Then we have these amazing bells that a company called Schulmerich sent to us. They’re these beautiful orchestral bells that we found a way to sort of work into the whole thing and provide the tonality. Honestly, it came together rather quickly. It’s funny how it happens like that, how it just kind of all comes together naturally.

We’ve had a couple of times where we’ve wanted it to go that way. We had to really pause ourselves and sort of re-imagine it or revamp it along the way, but more often than not, things just kind of fall together when you don’t overthink it like that. We’ve got a lot of good luck when it comes to that sort of thing.

I couldn’t believe how big some of those bells were. Oh my God.
We already have so much gear with us on the road. I mean, people are requesting that song and stuff and other things we’ve done with the bells and it’s like people don’t realize our truck we bring with us is jam packed full of all the crazy gear that we try to bring and incorporate into our live show. Maybe one day, maybe if we have the ability to kick it up another notch and bring another truck with us, we’ll bring the bells out, but they’re so heavy. It’s crazy.

It’s great to see you guys still having fun even though it’s probably a really very sobering year for you guys without Mike. It was really nice to see you guys paying tribute to him with his picture on that white mug in Old Town Road.
You nailed it. It’s been incredibly tough to say the absolute least and I think we get a lot of comfort out of realizing that we know that he would want us to carry on in his absence. We hope, we feel indeed that we’re doing enough to bring him with us and to carry him with us. For a while this year we were doing this tribute where we cut together this video of him performing Bohemian Rhapsody, which was a big part of our show in the past couple of years, and allowed the audience to have their moments there. I mean, then we actually came back out. We have video screens on stage with us now, so it actually allows us to run this video and allow people to have that moment with Mike on the screen, and then us to come out and actually join in and perform with the recording of him, alongside him, almost like we’re still able to collaborate with him, which has been a very happy moment. That, and of course writing the original song, Mike’s Song, which is going to be on the new album coming out late October, that was a very cathartic process and sort of a natural thing for us to get in a room and say, “You know what? What’s the best way for us to honor this great man?” Of course, it’s going to be through music, right? That came together pretty quickly and pretty naturally and we’re very proud of that. We hope that we’re doing it now. It’s hard because he was such a great, incredible person and just unbelievable character. I think it’s easy for us to think that we’re not doing enough to carry him with us, but at the same time, a lot of people have made us feel better by saying that all the effort we have made is really touching. Yeah, I just hope we’re doing enough to honor him because he was an amazing guy.

Mike’s Song, it’s very touching. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to write that.
You know what? On the catharsis note, it was tough, of course, but I think it really did allow the four of us to kind of help get through this. It really helped us kind of sit down and really tap into that part of us that was hurting at that time and continues to and really find our ways through via music. I think that as artists, as musicians, we have the ability to do that sometimes. This one was definitely one of the most important that’s ever been available to us.

Being in Walk off the Earth requires the ability to play almost any instrument at any given time, but are there any instruments that you stay away from?
We make sure to say a lot of the time that the whole phrase Jack of all trades, master of none, that sort of epitomizes this group. I mean, people think that we’re like virtuosos at every instrument. We really try to encourage people to realize and actually make their own attempts to pick up certain instruments. There’s a lot to be said for just kind of picking up something and just going for it, just figuring out a part and going for it, which is really how we do it a lot of the time. I’m sort of less strong when it comes to things like brass and woodwinds and that, but then of course, someone like Marshall who actually played brass all through high school, he comes in there. Where certain members weaknesses are in certain areas, someone else is always able to step it up and come through there.

We’ve been pretty lucky when it comes to wanting to play every single instrument in the world and for the most part, being able to, in some way, make that happen, but again, we’re not trying to be experts. We’re just trying to have a good time and sort of help people realize that you can do it too. You can pick up an instrument and just sort of figure it out. Even if you’re playing it the wrong way or you’re not classically trained or formally trained, that’s okay.