For classic-pop purists, the news that the son of rock royalty James Taylor and Carly Simon is performing this weekend might pique their interest in an almost scientific way – can the genes from geniuses align in a musically magical way?
Cut to the chase: Ben Taylor is a serious talent. You can hear his father’s lazy lilt in his singing voice, but he’s also got a more smoky, streetwise tone similar to G. Love, plus a melodic songwriting sense that doesn’t come around often.
Check out his latest album, “Listening,” which displays Taylor’s soothing folk-rock skills – and check out the man himself Sunday night at the fabulous Delano Hotel. He talked to Miami.com about the show, following in his famous parents’ footsteps, and why he took up martial arts.
This will be your first performance in Miami – what have you heard about the city?
I know that if you like to have fun, it’s a good place to be. People are always telling me what an incredible time they have down there. I don’t know many people who live there – usually my friends go down for Art Basel and things like that – so the stories I hear about Miami are probably about Miami under the influence of this sort of foreign invasion that is Art Basel or one of these massive festivals.
But I understand that it’s an extremely international city, which I always like – I like to start with a melting pot. And I hear they’ve got lots of neon flamingos [laughs].
At your show, will we hear mostly new tunes? What can we expect?
You’ll be getting a big mix of a lot of new stuff, probably five or six songs from the new album, a couple of old things and a couple of spur-of-the-moment things that we just decide to work up that night.
So you actually improvise onstage?
Yeah, we do. Recently I’ve been sort of pursuing this very traditional classic acoustic music line, and it’s nice, because I do my folks proud, and I feel like my sense of integrity is validated, etc, etc. But I haven’t been having as much fun onstage as I’m supposed to. You get to taking yourself too seriously as a singer/songwriter sometimes onstage, and that’s a trap, because you’re supposed to be having fun. So what I started doing is, as an antidote to the uptightness, I bought myself some gadgets, some synths, and I learned how to play the piano and program beats. Because if you’re playing a solo acoustic performance at a club, there’s always people who want to listen, and then there are people who want to have conversations. So what I thought I would do is, if there were conspicuously loud people talking during one of my intimate acoustic numbers, I’d send my sound guy with his iPhone to tape a little bit of their conversation, and pass it to me on the phone. And I would improvise a beat that would start with a sample of the conversation they’d been having. And then we’d go nuts for 15 minutes on the synths or the bass and drums just making a dance party out of their rudeness.
When you first started out in music, were you intimidated by your parents’ accomplishments?
Still am [laughs]. Not by them – I find them very un-intimidating. It’s the radically unrealistic example of success in contemporary terms that they’ve set for me that I find intimidating.
Do you get sick of that question?
Never. The fact that people ask me about my parents every time I do an interview, rather than getting stale, I think of it as an opportunity to try to express a little bit more eloquently or clearly how much gratitude I have for them as parents. Because that’s the only thing that matters. You have the music, and that definitely did a lot to shape my ideas about music and whatnot, but they were so supportive. They said anything you want to do you can do, even if it’s this thing.
Do you feel like you inherited more from one of them, or is that impossible to gauge?
It’s probably hard for me to know from being so subjective, but I would say that I’m a pretty good mix of the two of them. I would like to think that I have my father’s work ethic and sense of blue-collar professionalism about the whole thing, and I have my mother’s creativity and open-heartedness.
Did you know early on that’d you’d go into music and follow in their footsteps?
I tried everything else. I got into the family business knowing what it was, but I have to listen to everything that I do under this microscope of the juxtaposition of my parents’ careers. So I went around sampling different things. I was a devout kung-fu student my whole life, so I figured I’d probably start a kung-fu academy somewhere. I never figured I would be doing this nomadic musician thing, but when I got to be in my mid-20s, I said I should probably make a decision about what to dedicate the rest of my life to. And I started examining my heroes, and all of my heroes that weren’t created by Stan Lee or Marvel were all musicians.
Has your mother ever revealed who “You’re So Vain” was written about?
That’s a ridiculous question [laughs]. Because I would get in so much trouble if I even made something up. That’s a family secret – you can’t be talking about that. But we’re gonna be playing that song in Miami.