By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Pasadena Weekly Executive Editor
Julian Shah-Tayler is well schooled in music.
In cover bands, the South Pasadena musician plays the roles of Depeche Mode’s Alan Wilder, legendary rocker David Bowie and a singer-keyboardist in a Cure tribute band, The Cured Evolution.
But it’s all for a higher purpose: promoting his own music.
“All of these tribute things, it’s so I can have some prominence in the world and release my own stuff,” said Shah-Tayler, who hails from Leeds, England.
“I hope they would hear it and really like it. Depeche Mode fans, they can hear the influence.”
He calls his music the lovechild of Bowie, Prince and The Cure. His latest single, “Darkling Universe,” is set for release on Friday, Oct. 22.
In the meantime, the Depeche Mode cover band Strangelove — for which he appears as “Oscar Wilder,” keyboards, sequencing, percussion, backing vocals and visuals — will compete on “Clash of the Cover Bands,” a new series from Jimmy Fallon. It premiered on E! on Wednesday, Oct. 13.
The show brings together the best cover bands from across the country to cover iconic artists ranging from Aretha Franklin to Ozzy Osbourne and Lady Gaga.
In each of the 10 episodes, two bands of similar musical genre go head to head over the course of two rounds to see which act has the most entertaining cover performance, with a chance to win a cash prize of $10,000.
At the end of the season, one winner will be crowned with a chance to take home a big cash prize of $25,000 and set to appear in studio for a musical performance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
Besides Depeche Mode, artists covered this season include Aretha Franklin, Blink-182, Bon Jovi, Britney Spears, Carrie Underwood, Celine Dion, Cher, Coldplay, Dolly Parton, Elton John, Foo Fighters, Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Lady Gaga, Ozzy Osbourne, Poison, Tim McGraw, Tina Turner and U2.
“Clash of the Cover Bands” is hosted by Stephen “tWitch” Boss with global powerhouse Meghan Trainor, Grammy-nominated powerhouse singer-songwriter Adam Lambert and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Ester Dean serving as celebrity judges.
“It’s going to be fascinating how they cut the interviews,” Shah-Tayler said. “We’ve never done anything of this magnitude before. We’ve done lots of podcast interviews and website interviews. I have in the past. I did a lot of work on various student channels and on the BBC. I did extras work in the U.K. I’ve done some crime reenactment shows.
“I’ve also written the music for movies.”
He called the making of “Clash of the Cover Band” “an interesting week to be on the set.” Generally, he said, he’s on a set as a consulting artist and songwriting.
“This was very different,” Shah-Tayler said. “When you’re the sort of talent, they treat you as talent. When you’re into something like this, it’s different. We don’t have our own trailer. It was during COVID, so it was odd. There were a lot of restrictions. It was a bit strange in that sense.”
Shah-Tayler was not a huge Depeche Mode fan when he joined Strangelove. He researched the English Rock and Roll Hall of Famers shortly thereafter.
“The depth of the catalog is phenomenal,” said Shah-Tayler, who formerly lived in Altadena. “Now they’re one of my favorite bands, obviously.”
During the pandemic, Strangelove stalled, like most musicians. It did not perform for about nine to 10 months.
“Financially, that’s egregious,” Shah-Tayler said. “I’m a music producer. I release my own stuff. I can do that from home. We did a lot of livestreams.”
Strangelove did a pandemic, acoustic version of Depeche Mode’s “Shake the Disease.”
“That went down very, very, very well,” he said. “One of the criticisms that tribute bands get often is they can’t write their own music. They don’t play their instruments.
“We wanted to do something acoustic, with an arrangement that we had arranged with ‘Shake the Disease.’ People were thrilled to see it. It’s rare that Depeche Mode does that kind of a thing. We did our version, our cover, and it was the perfect tribute.”
Shah-Tayler said he has been prolific as of late. He has more than 250,000 plays on one song and 50,000 on another. Considering he does not have a marketing team, those are great numbers.
“I’ll have to change that (the marketing team status) once the E! thing comes out,” he said. “I’m going to try desperately to use it to my advantage. I record every day. That’s all I do.”
He has a long history in music but wants to focus on the here and now. Shah-Tayler is not jaded about the past. He feels “very, very blessed” to be able to make music for a living. He uses it for social causes, too. He co-founded a charity called Art Angeles, with which he teaches music to underprivileged children in Watts.
“I teach them how to write songs and how to play the drums and guitar,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. Then I had my own kids.”
Strangelove has found that LA is a hard market for tribute acts because so many “legitimate” — his word — sidemen from legitimate bands play in cover groups.
“We do see the tribute world as service,” he added. “We take it seriously. We look at it like this. We are huge among Depeche Mode fans, and we connect with Depeche Mode fans.
“It’s a very niche type of music for a very niche type of palate. Anyone in our audience is someone with whom we would get along. They are sophisticated in some ways. They’re very different than a Ted Nugent fan, not to be disparaging of Ted Nugent fans. I’m sure some of great. We have something in common with every Depeche Mode fan. We know we are blessed and thrilled to be involved with these people, all of whom are wonderful, interesting and cool.”