Singer-songwriter Ben Taylor, son of folk great James Taylor and pop singer Carly Simon, recently unleashed his latest album, Listening, and is set to take the 11-song set on a fall trek that will take him through 40 cities across the U.S. The set effortlessly merges a variety of genres, from folk to soul to country, all brought together by Taylor’s multi-layered vocals and wistful acoustic playing.
Prior to jetting off on his U.S. tour, Taylor -- who was an extremely friendly and enthusiastic interview -- checked in with Gibson.com to talk about the new album, his love for Gibson J-45s and what it was like growing up the son of James Taylor.
Your new album, Listening, unites a variety of styles and sounds, from folk to reggae to urban. What lent to such variety on the release?
I’m a mutt! [Laughs.] I was born and bred and raised and self-educated as a total mutt, as eclectic and diverse as possible. It’s just the way I write songs, the way I dress and sound when I walk and talk and move. I wouldn’t even be able to notice that it was such an eclectic range of production styles and sounds, because like it’s just me.
How did writing and recording this album differ from the process for 2008’s The Legend of Kung Folk - Part 1 (the Killing Bite)?
The most significant, different thing that’s changed is me. I’ve changed quite a bit since then, and I’ve gained experience and seen things. I’m trying to get better at listening -- and that’s where the name of album comes from, Listening -- and I feel I’ve become a better listener, and that puts me in a better position when writing songs.
What subjects did you find yourself writing about on Listening?
Everything! I wrote about everything from motor scooters to heartbreak to politics to songs about my little brothers and family. I guess if there was one theme, it would be family. I’m a family man. I love my family, and I make extended ones wherever I go. And, I don’t really choose the topics I write about so much as they choose me! Something that wants to express itself musically just comes out.
What’s the first music you heard that made you want to start playing the guitar? Your dad’s?
I wanted to do anything I could to be a part of that camaraderie I saw on the stage-- musicians playing together, speaking a secret, subtle language and feeding off each other’s love. I took trombone in school, and then I picked up piano, but it was too big to lug around. [Laughs.] Then, I played the ukulele, and then I wanted more strings, and that’s where you find me today.
What impact did your father have in shaping you into the musician you are today? I mean, you’re your own musician, but I’m sure your father had an influence on you.
For sure! I think the most inspiring thing about my father to me is what an immaculate professional he is. When I first started out, he told me, “This is a blue collar job. You can’t act like a jerk or diva, and you can’t be making commitments you don’t honor.” He also told me to stay away from thinking CDs make money, because they’re just promotional tools to get people to your shows. That was 10 years before the recording industry collapsed. He was a smart business man.
Do you remember the first guitar you ever owned?
Yeah, I do! I was playing my parents’ guitars my first three years, so by the time I bought myself a guitar, I was ready for it to be a good one. I bought a 1963 Gibson Dove. It had a big rosewood back and was a stunning-looking guitar!
What’s your go-to Gibson?
It’s a 1942 or 1945 J-45 original. I’ve never had it on the road. Then, the folks at Gibson were generous enough to make one that’s similar to that original guitar that I can play onstage. I love Gibsons, in general. I love a lot of the custom stuff. The Jackson Browne model guitar is killer!
What makes Gibson guitars special?
Gibson guitars have the right combination of characteristics for the style I use. I like old guitars, and I have a bunch of older Gibson guitars, and they settle in well. Even the new ones are great, though. Gibsons have always had that nice, warm, easy-going sound.
What advice do you have for upcoming guitarists?
The relationship you have with the instrument is really everything. If someone else were to play my Gibson, it wouldn’t be the same guitar. Everyone is different with their instruments, and when it comes to performing, it’s just you and her up there.