BEN TAYLOR: INEVITABLY GREAT MUSIC
By Paul Freeman [2006 Interview]
It should come as no surprise that Ben Taylor turned out to be a wonderfully gifted singer-songwriter. After all, his parents are Carly Simon and James Taylor. His aunt Kate Taylor and uncles Livingston and Alex have recorded extraordinary albums. And his sister Sally Taylor is a talented performer, as well. But for Ben, pursuing a musical career seemed anything but inevitable.
“I always wanted to hold off,” he says, “because I saw my mom and my dad fighting with their A&R people and complaining about their managers and I didn’t want to have anything to do with all that.
“It wasn’t until my early twenties that I became a songwriter, that I was even brave enough to try it.”
Prior to that, growing up on Martha’s Vineyard, Taylor didn’t have any particular career in mind. “I was just intent on doing something that didn’t involve anybody else telling me what to do.”
So he followed an adventurous path. In lieu of attending high school, Taylor earned credits by working at the Grand Canyon, as a white water guide on the Colorado River, toiling on an organic farm in New Mexico. Then he would write essays on his experiences.
When he finally decided to explore his musical creativity, he didn’t have to look far for guidance. His mother actually wrote a songwriting manual for him. “She was there, giving me incredible rules, like ‘Always start with a good first line’ and ‘Never write anything that’s not true.’ She had all kinds of good stuff to say.”
He joined his father on tour and, from the side of the stage, watched the elder Taylor perform. “My father is an immaculate professional He’s great road dog, maybe the most admirable road dog of all time. He’s been on the road doing it, treating his band well and hooking it up for 35 years. He’s always said things like, ‘Albums are just promotional devices that draw people to your concerts.’ I take my whole business model from him.”
With each project he’s created, Ben Taylor has displayed important artistic growth. His third album, “Another Run Around The Sun,” proved that he was definitely ready to take his place among today’s most compelling singer-songwriters.
We spoke with Taylor as he was releasing his 2006 EP, “Deeper Than Gravity,” that’s available on iTunes. It includes alternate versions of two songs from “Another Run Around The Sun”
“After you finish making a record, you get out and play those songs live a million times and there are things you wish that you could do differently, things about the song you wish you could show people. ‘Deeper Than Gravity’ is an opportunity to play some of those songs really simply, but as they’ve evolved over time.”
The song “Nothing I Can Do” was written for his mother. “I owe her a tremendous debt. I never wrote a song about her until I had one I was pretty proud of.”
“Digest” was inspired by a close friend who was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. “I feel that music, the good music, only comes from the dark side of life and from the cynical nature of people’s personalities. I prefer to hear songs about people’s struggles, rather than about people’s triumphs.
“I have to feel strongly enough about something or moved enough by something to write a song that I deem worthy for people to hear.”
While opening for other artists, Taylor honed some striking cover tunes. Two of them appear on the EP -- a beautiful version of Macy Gray’s “I Try” and a lilting rendition of “You Belong To Me.”
“As you become relatively literate in the language of music, you get your teeth around a song that you particularly like and you play it a number of times until you really understand it. Then you kind of wish it were yours so much, you like to pretend that it was. So you sing it like you mean it.”
The EP was recorded in basic fashion on a computer. “Making albums, you get in the studio and you’ve only got a limited amount of time to say what you want to say, exactly the way you want to say it. So the pressure is incredible. But in the case of ‘Deeper Than Gravity,’ we had an opportunity to just mess around in our living room all night long, recording the songs until I got the takes I wanted.”
Though Ben Taylor is making his own mark in the music world, comparisons to his father inevitably follow him. “I’m always going to be ‘the son of.’ I’m proud of my old man and the work that he does, so any comparisons I get, I’m glad for.”
Taylor continues to mature musically, as evidenced by his 2008 album, “The Legend of Kung Folk [Part 1 (The Killing Bite)]” and 2012’s beautiful “Listening” album.
He’s also glad that, after years of resisting the lure of music, he has now embraced it. “You get on stage in front of people who are singing along to your songs. You know that whatever it is that moved you enough to write that song, they identified with it. They heard what you had to say and liked it enough that they wanted to sing along. I don’t need to ask for anything more.”
Ben Taylor will be touring again in February, 2013. For the latest, visit bentaylormusic.com.