MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
And now we're going to spend some time with a musician whose voice and name are quite familiar.
(Soundbite of song, "Surround Me")
Mr. BEN TAYLOR (Singer): (Singing) Love surround me with all your reach, now while we're here alone. Now our bodies are ocean and beach, blessings of ways and stone.
NORRIS: That voice belongs to a Taylor, but not the one you might be thinking about.
(Soundbite of song, "Surround Me")
Mr. TAYLOR: (Singing) And now that the tide is finally down, surround me. Surround me.
NORRIS: This is Ben Taylor, son of James Taylor and Carly Simon, and with those genes and it's not surprising that he, too, is a musician. Ben Taylor sat down to talk to us recently. He stopped by WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts, and lucky for us, he brought along his guitar and a member of his band.
He said he used to try hard not to sound like his father, with a rough edge sound he called neo-psychedelic folk funk, but over time, Taylor realized he was more comfortable following in his parents' musical path.
Mr. TAYLOR: I think acceptance has been sort of a long gradual process, and it also, just as time goes by, I'm more comfortable in my skin and sound a little bit more like myself and I sound quite a bit like him.
NORRIS: You know, as an artist, you try so hard to find your own voice. In your case, you find your voice and -
Mr. TAYLOR: And it's somebody else.
NORRIS: Yes. And quite recognizable and beloved by many.
Mr. TAYLOR: And by me, too. I mean, really, what I mean by the acceptance is that really I couldn't be more proud than I am to sound like both of my parents and to be compared to them is only an incredible compliment.
NORRIS: Yeah, I was surprised to hear that you never had formal musical training.
Mr. TAYLOR: I still get confused by the name of these two strings. I know one of them's G and one of them's B but I've never really taken the time to worry too much about it.
NORRIS: So how did you teach yourself or how did you learn music?
Mr. TAYLOR: I just sort of sounded it out, you know. If you sit down with anything, you figure it out eventually. I think it probably took - my learning curve was probably a lot slower because, you know, I was sounding everything out. But I'm glad to know music that way. Because now rather than having to, you know, when I learn somebody else's song, rather than having to say, okay, this is an A, this is a diminished chord, this is this and this is that, I just sort of - I can sort of grasp the feeling of the song and know how to play it.
NORRIS: We just heard your guitar there. You have your guitar in the studio and you actually have some members of the band there in the studio with you. And I understand that you're always writing music. Is there something new that you can share with us?
Mr. TAYLOR: Unfortunately, we were fixing to play this new song, but we didn't bring the capos to play it so I was going to play something old instead. Is that just -
NORRIS: That would be just fine.
Mr. TAYLOR: So this is actually a song that I wrote about my mom. It's called "Nothing I Can Do." I needed to write her a song. She deserves it.
(Soundbite of song, "Nothing I Can Do")
Mr. TAYLOR: (Singing) First morning ever to have seen the sun must have run the other way. Until she found that it was only getting earlier that way. When she spun 180 degrees and beheld the sweet night rising through the trees, she felt too uneasy and she began to smile. Because she had been in darkness for a long, long while and she said there is nothing that I can do but belong to you. Heaven and earth and I find myself singing this song for you. As luck would have it, it just so happens that there's nothing I'd rather do.
And the first lesson ever to have learned this way must have been surprised and all I can say is I'm just glad that I survived. And the first river to have met the sea, I believe it must have sighed, and said all this rambling, I'm glad to finally find you. That after all, I haven't just been wasting my time.
And there is nothing that I can do but belong to you. Heaven and earth and I find myself singing this song for you. As luck would have it, it just so happens that there's nothing I'd rather do. Just so long as you're flying around high, whatever you find out in the sky, don't forget to fall down sometimes, because I'm easy to find. Look around you. It's a good thing that I finally found you.
There is nothing that I can do but belong to you. Heaven and earth and I find myself singing this song for you. As luck would have it, it just so happens that there's nothing I'd rather do.
NORRIS: You wrote this song for your mother and she, as I understand, taught you much of what you know about songwriting. She literally wrote the book in your case.
Mr. TAYLOR: She really did. Because I was hesitant about getting into it. It always made me nervous because I felt like people would expect great things of me, which they did, and I think eventually it was helpful because it made me expect pretty good things of myself, too.
But you know, she could tell I was nervous about it and she was like, have you ever tried to write a song before? And I said no. And she said well, let me just - I'll give you some pointers. And she went back with a little notebook full of paper and she wrote me sort of like a 15-page songwriter's manual, rules that I've generally, for the most part, forgotten and I wish I could find it. And she can't remember what she wrote, either.
NORRIS: You lost it. You don't know where it is?
Mr. TAYLOR: I don't know where it is anymore, I'm afraid to say. It's a horrible thing. But I used it so diligently that it shaped the way that I understand how songs come together so much that I can never really lose it.
NORRIS: The dos and don'ts.
Mr. TAYLOR: The dos and don'ts. And really, really simple things. Like you know, don't use too many perfect rhymes in a row otherwise it's sort of - it bores the ear. And only write what you know, I think was the first - or the first line was always begin with a good opening line. You've got to have - just like starting with a pair of jacks are better to open in poker.
NORRIS: Well, Ben, before we let you go, we'd love to hear some more music and since you've got your band mates in there with you, may I ask for another song?
Mr. TAYLOR: Yeah. The album that we've got out now in the States is called Another Run Around the Sun and this is the title track off the album.
(Soundbite of song, "Another Run Around the Sun")
Mr. TAYLOR: (Singing) When it gets me depressed I find, that it's best with my chest high as I stretch my lungs and express my love, hold my breath and forget my pride, to reflect that the rest of our life so a measure a time. (Unintelligible) exhale my prayer, follow it with my eyes as it fills the air. In the back of my mind, I imagine that you can hear as if you could still be near me, but lately I've been breaking my mind trying my best, but it's taking it's time. Because I've been forced to digest this wasteful emptiness and I'm supposed to laugh as if there's nothing going on.
I know life goes on regardless but nothing's been the same since you've been gone. Another run around the sun, look at the things we've seen and what have we both become? What have we dreamed? Who have we lost? And what have we won? I never could have believed that you wouldn't have finished what we begun. I never dared to imagine you could've been taken away from us. Just lately I've been breaking my mind trying my best but it's taken its time.
Cause I've been forced to digest this wasteful emptiness and I'm supposed to laugh as if there's nothing going on. I know life goes on regardless, nothing's been the same since you've been gone. Since you've been gone, since you've been gone.
Times change and the game plays on and the truth remains but the rules have all gone wrong. Life rises and here we are still looking for the place that we belong. Stronger than habit and fantasy, deeper than gravity, what will be has to be. God planned it, I understand it, I hadn't imagined you'd leave me stranded on this stage in these lights where I am with no right to complain cause it's already more than I'd ever have asked. But without you, the best is yet to pass and now this song is about you.
And I've been forced to digest this wasteful emptiness and I'm supposed to laugh as if there's nothing going on. I know life goes on regardless but nothing's been the same since you've been gone. Since you've been gone, since you've been gone.
NORRIS: Ben Taylor. His CD is called “Another Run Around the Sun,” and his latest release is the EP “Deeper than Gravity.” Ben, thanks so much. And thanks to your band.
Mr. TAYLOR: Thanks a lot.
NORRIS: For more of Ben Taylor's music, go to NPR.org. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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