Ben Taylor was tinkering with a song hed written for his 12-year-old twin half-brothers, and having some trouble with the bridge. So he called the father whom the three of them share, and over the phone, he sang what he had so far.
Aw, thats so beautiful! said James Taylor. I wish I had written that for Rufus and Henry.
The result is Oh Brother, the snappy second track on Ben Taylors latest album, Listening. Written to counsel and encourage his young half-brothers, it also became one of Bens most overt homages to his father. Not only does he sing of seeking some of that good old time JT, his inflection on the lyric, You can always call out my name mirrors an almost identical line in James Taylors Youve Got a Friend.
My music is a huge amalgamation of things and influence and styles, but its very much made up of music that my parents made that I heard growing up, said Ben, whose mother is Carly Simon. Its ingrained in me. I have a hard time separating between the two.
Growing up the son of two pop-rock icons hasnt always been easy on Ben, 36. But over the past decade and a half, hes forged a respectable career as a singer-songwriter, with more than a half-dozen albums and EPs. Touring both with his father and his own band, Taylor has cultivated a small but dedicated following. Fans in the north country will be able to hear Taylor in concert July 5 at the Clayton Opera House. He also has a performance scheduled Wednesday at the Westcott Theater in Syracuse.
Taylor whose voice bears an uncanny resemblance to his fathers talked about his childhood, family tension and his changing approach to making music. Here are excerpts.
Do you talk about your parents on stage?
I do. I have a very autobiographical sometimes long, rambling set.
Has there ever been a point where you decided you dont want to talk about it?
Maybe, but I used my very sophisticated system of denial to ignore that. Because I know what I was getting into. I went into the family business knowing who my parents were. And I figured that part of this job is to account for that. It is interesting. Its something that I would wonder about myself if I wasnt me.
You have an early song, I Am the Sun, which took a different approach to how youd be perceived in the public eye.
I started writing that song about the sun because I was in Costa Rica, hanging out, just watching the sun. And I thought, Oh, that is an interesting, ironic metaphor, and I did write the rest of it about my father.
My parents are incredible parents, and its not a mistake that they ended up together for the time that they were together. But nonetheless, I come from a broken family, and as homes go, I think mine was more broken than the average one but it was hard to tell because it was bigger.
My relationship with my father is historically fraught with a good deal of frustration, from feeling like I dont have enough access to him and things like that. And that does come out sometimes in my songs.
Theres a line in your official bio that says youre your own worst critic. How did that end up being part of your official mission statement to the world?
Well, I didnt write it. (laughs) Part of who I am, and part of the musician that I am, is that Ive had an unrealistic example of success set for me, and everything I do, no matter how relatively successful, tends to feel like I could have done it better, or I should have done it better, or if it had been my parents, or if it had been in my parents time, that kind of thing. Id say thats the downside of being Ben Taylor, is examining myself under that microscope all the time. But I dont think its necessarily all bad. I think that a lot of the time it inspires rather than hinders me.
How often do you get to play with your sister Sally?
Every time I get a chance, but not as often as Id like. My sister was stolen by my nephew.
What kind of uncle are you?
A terrible one.
Come on, now.
No. You know what? Here it is: Im an uncle on reserve. I plan never to have children of my own. I plan to spend the rest of my life consuming as little as possible of the resources of the universe allocated to my great-grandchildren. And for the most part its because Im a child myself and never want to stop being (one).
But also, its because I have very little use for human infants until they get 12, 13 years old. They start having interesting conversations and whatnot. I like to wait until they learn the ropes a little bit. I will be an incredible uncle.
I saw where your mom is writing a memoir. Are you bracing to learn some new things about her or even about yourself ?
The relationship I have with my mother, if theres gonna be new information in that book, shes probably going to have to ask me if I remember it.
If my mom wrote a memoir, Id kind of be wondering, How am I going to come across? Youre not thinking about that at all?
Oh, I couldnt care less how I come across. Obviously, because of the long, lasting animosity between my parents, Im protective over my father. I just hope that she doesnt and I imagine she will but I fear that she will inflame old wounds. But I reckon hell never read it .