When your parents are James Taylor and Carly Simon, you could say you’re tailor-made for a career in the arts. Ben Taylor’s songwriting can easily stand on its own though, and his talents are on full display on his latest album, Listening, the followup to 2008’s The Legend Of Kung Folk – Part 1 (the Killing Bite). We chatted with Taylor about lyrics, tweeting, and the writers he most admires, from Mos Def to Burt Bacharach.
How does being the son of two songwriters affect your own songwriting?
It’s hard to separate how my parents have influenced me musically from the way they’ve influenced any of the rest of my character. In short, I probably would have been just as heavily influenced by any artist with who’s catalog I was so intimately familiar… or who had awoken me from pre-adolescent r.e.m. sleep in order to bounce their new choruses off me.
What’s the best advice you ever got from your parents regarding music?
The best lessons, as always, are examples. In spite of any cockamamie parental notations either of them might have had, they always managed to be highly musically professional and gentle with their strong integrity.
What was the first song you wrote? Tell us about it.
I was 21 when I wrote “Surround Me,” about the ocean, on a plane ride home from the dessert. Easiest love song I ever wrote.
When did you start writing songs?
I was 21 when I first starting writing songs, and in many ways, I feel my songwriting was strongest in the beginning. Now that I’ve been at it awhile, my craft is a lot better refined, but you never get a chance to reclaim innocence.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
Aside from Mos Def and Oscar Hammerstein, pretty much nobody other than Cat Stevens, Paul McCartney, Bill Withers, Randy Newman, Raphael Saadiq, Notorious B.I.G., John Forte, David Saw, neither of my parents are really bad in their own right, Stevie Wonder, Burt Bacharach, Black Thought, Gift of Gab, Frank Lesser, George & Ira Gershwin…..other than that, I’d say most of my major heroes are public domain.
What’s your approach to writing lyrics?
I look for the right combinations of words, and then I try to sing them.
What percentage of the songs you write do you finish?
Most of the songs I’ve ever written didn’t finish themselves for years, even after they had been recorded. They may yet hold surprises for me… time will tell.
What sort of things inspire you to write?
The usual: sex, drugs, love, hate, loss, watermelons, umbrellas…
What’s a song on your new album you’re particularly proud of?
There aren’t any songs on this album of which I’m not proud. If I were to consider them from the perspective of another writer, I would probably most wish I had written “Next Time Around” because it sounds like a song that everybody has always known.
What’s a lyric from the album you’re a fan of?
From “Worlds are Made of Paper”
“Worlds are made of paper / and time is only time / nothing lasts forever / cause people change their minds / I do / I do”
Are their any words you love, or hate?
Of all the words I know, the only word I trust is “word” itself. The rest are all “words” for something else.
Is it easier, or harder to write songs, the more you write?
Easier — because life is just fodder for songs, so the more experience, the more ammo.
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
Some songs tickle people — some people, however, aren’t ticklish. That doesn’t mean there aren’t buttons to push. Personally, I like superhero films. Who would have thunk?
Do you ever do any other kinds of writing besides songwriting?
About once ever six months, I force myself (someone else) to tweet.
What do you consider to be the perfect song?
“As” by Stevie Wonder, because “kindness knows no shame.”