Ben Taylor is a celebrity brat. Yes, it’s cool to call him that. It is, after all, how he refers to himself. Taylor’s parents are James Taylor and Carly Simon, two singer-songwriters who hardly need an introduction. But rather than shy away from — or perhaps twerk away — his musical lineage, as many other celeb kids might, Ben Taylor embraces it, even if it’s not always a comfortable fit.
Much of Ben Taylor’s music, up to and including his 2012 record, Listening, evokes reasonable, if predictable, comparisons to that of his parents — especially dear ol’ dad. While he’s proud of and has benefitted from his legacy, he’s careful not to let that looming shadow completely define him. A raft of upcoming projects, including one curious record in particular, reveals there is more to Ben Taylor than simply inheriting the family business.
In advance of his show at the Higher Ground Showcase lounge this Friday, December 13, with local songwriter Caroline Rose, we spoke with Taylor by phone from California.
SEVEN DAYS: You didn’t get involved with music until later in your life, which is surprising, given your famous folks. What took you so long?
BEN TAYLOR: With some rare exceptions, for very young kids to get into a heavy music practice when they’re young enough to excel as young adults, their parents have to really force them into it. And I think the kind of parents who force their kids into that are often not famous musicians themselves. The famous musicians like to try to shelter their kids from the pressure of comparison for as long as possible. And I think that happens a lot with celebrity brats, which is what I refer to my group of second-generation family-business entertainers. So it’s partially that and it’s partially because they’re trepidatious, on account of all of the adoration they see their parents receive.
SD: I can see that being intimidating. A lot of people would have unreasonable expectations.
BT: I think they do. And no one more than me.
SD: Well, that might be a good quality for someone in your position to have.
BT: It’s a good quality to have … sometimes. Being your own worse critic, you can use that to make you ambitious and tireless and have a good work ethic. But if you step too far with it, it can make you neurotic.
SD: At first glance, the title of your last record, Listening, almost seems likes a directive to the listener. But it’s really more about you listening, isn’t it?
BT: Listening is something everyone needs to get better at. I can’t preach to any choir other than my own private, personal choir. And when I do enough talking I get sick of it. But I am definitely the one in question. I’m the one who is having a hard time listening, having a hard time understanding.
It has to do with your style of communication. People have a way of figuring out what it is they’re talking about and then having a preconception of where that conversation is going. And then they use their words to corral it into that place. As a result, people spend a lot of the time thinking about what they’re going to say next, instead of listening to what’s being said. And I certainly do that too much myself. By trying to be clever and have the right thing to say, I actually miss the point.
SD: I think you just described my entire journalistic career.
BT: [Laughs] Rumi said, “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” That’s the best advice I’ve ever heard.
SD: What are you working on now?
BT: A couple of different albums. One of them is, I think, the best Ben Taylor album I’ve ever made. And, like I said, I’m hypercritical of myself, so that means a lot to me. And then I’m doing a side project, an electronic project called Antler Boy, which is an anagram of Ben Taylor. I’m in the midst of making crazy, melt-your-face beats in my spare time.
SD: Whoa. Ben Taylor is an EDM fan?
BT: It’s something I’ve always liked. Most of the concerts I go to are not the kind of music I make. I generally go to see rap shows, I go to see DJs. I like to dance. And when I go to see a show, that’s what I want to do, because I’m a bad listener.
SD: [Laughs] I admit it, I’m surprised.
BT: Well, I did this because I was inspired to get into the family business and I’m so proud of what my parents have done. To be following in their footsteps, there is a certain amount of prestige. It’s a little bit more prude and demure than I’d like it to be sometimes. So I go back and forth between bringing elements of electronic music into the Ben Taylor set and thinking, Oh, God. These people want to hear introspective, philosophical songs, and I’m trying to melt their faces. So I think not to alienate fans of singer-songwriter Ben Taylor, it’s best to let those things join sparingly. As proud as I am to be my parents’ son and of the music I make, the whole singer-songwriter thing can get a little uptight.
SD: Do you think the uptightness surrounding the singer-songwriter thing is maybe why, whenever journalists ask you a question about your parents, they start by apologizing for the question?
BT: [Laughs] Yeah, they always do that. It’s funny. If I know somebody and I’m taking an interest in their lives, I always ask what their parents do. Parents are people’s archetypal examples. So why wouldn’t you ask somebody about their parents? I get the sense that a lot of celebrity brats have chips on their shoulders and don’t want to talk about their parents, so maybe that’s the root of the preemptive apology. But the way I look at is that, if I got into this business thinking I was going to talk to press and not talk about who my parents are, I would have to be smoking something strange.
Ben Taylor with Caroline Rose, Friday, December 13, 8:30 p.m. at the Higher Ground Showcase Lounge in Burlington. $15/18 AA.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Listen Up"