Ben Taylor-Born to Sing

“In the great forest a little elephant is born. His name is Babar. His mother loves him very much. She rocks him to sleep with her trunk, singing softly to him.” – “Babar the Elephant” by Jean de Brunhoff
Ben Taylor is the pride of the elephants. He was once hushed into slumber by graceful elephant lullabies, nestled deep in his great forest home in the big city. Taylor doesn’t hide his legacy. He calls the elephants in the room by name. To us, they are Carly Simon and James Taylor. To him, they are just mom and dad.
“It’s Babar, but I call it Babs, for short,” he jokes. “The best way for me to address it is to challenge myself. There is no right or wrong way to deal with it. The right way is really just being very grateful and respectful in remembering that’s where I came from, and they have inspired me so much. The only real wrong way of dealing with it is if I’m playing a show with 30 people and one of my father’s super fans invites himself backstage and starts telling me about some kick-ass, 100,000 people, sold-out show that my father played in the same town. Then I get frustrated about it, and I take it out on them.”
As the son of two iconic artists, one can’t help but notice the comparisons between the 37-year-old and his famous father. It’s in the eyes, in his voice, and in his style. He is cool knowing that some people might come to his shows just because of his musical lineage, and he remains grateful for the gesture, both professionally and personally. “If I didn’t know my music, and I came to see me, I would probably be coming to do it because of who my folks were. So I don’t get resentful about it at all,” he says. “It’s a nice challenge for me to have to continuously come up with a more genuine way of expressing my thanks to their support of me and in regard to the people that they are.”
Taylor will perform April 4 at Jack Rabbits in support of his newest project, which he hopes to release this summer. The tour is an amalgamation of all facets of his musical personality from the softer, acoustic arrangements to the exploration of his electronic catalog.
“I have been working very hard on this tour. The actual configuration of the show has been changing night by night as the venue dictates,” Taylor says. “It’s sort of a combination of acoustic guitar, singer-songwriter stuff with vocal harmonies, and then I do anywhere from 20 to 60 percent of the set as electronic arrangements with analog synthesizers and turntables and samplers and vocal loopers. So it’s a little more of a production.”
As a songwriter, Taylor writes from life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean his life. “I write what I know but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s autobiographical,” he says. “I think the distinction is that a lot of the time, I write what I think to me is the cleanest, most truthful, honest way to express what I am feeling, but I change it to make it more editorial.” In his song, ‘America,’ Taylor initially set out to write a patriotic love note to his country, but it came off sounding, “too boring because my notions of patriotism are too clouded by historical guilt and ancestral shame, and it turned into a really boring dissertation on white guilt,” he says. “Nobody wants to listen to that shit, so I turned it into a love song about a girl called America.”
Despite his pop culture pedigree, Taylor is more road warrior than show pony, desperately lacking in pretension and exhibiting no traces of what he refers to as the “celebrity brat” syndrome. Those people that take opportunities that they didn’t earn themselves represent the double-edged sword of growing up as the child of famous parents. “That’s what it really comes down to. The only opportunities you deserve are the ones that you earn yourself,” Taylor says. “If you are taking opportunities based on someone else’s merit, the chances are that you don’t have the experience to back it up yet.”
Taylor says he never felt pressured by his upbringing to venture outside the walls that caged him, nor did he feel biologically obligated to find his inner voice. He didn’t write his first song until he was 25, primarily because he had yet to identify how he wanted to spend, “the next 50,000 hours of my professional life, and there was just nothing that deserved that much of my time other than music,” he says.
“The most satisfying element of anything is the creativity that happens as a byproduct. I don’t care if I have to drag myself naked behind a van to go play a show in some town I have never heard of before. If the byproduct is something that gets planted in my head and goes kicking around in there until it works itself out as a song a year later, that’s the only important part.”

About Liza Mitchell