Then Ben Taylor made his Tulsa debut just over two years ago, it was sharing the bill with another, slightly more famous Taylor: his father, James. At the time, the younger Taylor voiced his initial hesitancy to share the stage with his father, but after three albums and two EPs of his own under his belt, as well as a heavy amount of touring, the time was finally right to accept an offer to join James on the road. More than a mere opening act, however, the evening merged the two songwriters, as they shared the stage the entire evening with common band members and bridged a gap between generations.
Although the tour exposed the younger Taylor to a new group of potential fans, the sold-out shows also meant that many of his longtime fans missed the pairing if they weren't quick to act when the tour was announced and tickets went on sale. To music fans and listeners, however, those shows proved to be a profound experience, watching father and son interact and seeing not only the similarities between the two, but how influences changed between the generations.
It's not hard to see the similarities between the two Taylors, as Ben bears the distinct physical features of his father's younger self and a cadence in his lyrics and delivery that connect the two, even if somewhat subliminally. From there, however, Ben Taylor jumps headlong into the future. Yes, he draws from folk, blues and singer-songwriter pop with his own work, but he also mines elements for rock, soul and hip-hop to create a signature that's distinctly his own.
When asked about his influences and how he draws from all corners of the musical map, Taylor stated matter-of-factly, "With music, I've always been very open minded, so I've never had a problem with incorporating new ideas if they work in my mind."
With his latest album, Listening, released last fall, he makes a distinct jump from the folky-pop of 2008's The Legend of Kung-Folk, incorporating more R&B and touches of funk into the mix, along with his signature acoustic melodies.
"When I made Listening, it was another opportunity for me to start over versus building on something I had already put into movement," he said. "This business is really about maintenance of movement and if you don't keep something moving forward, you basically have to start over again."
With four years between records, that put Taylor in a position to start fresh. Of course, the recording process has always taken a long time for Taylor, something he acknowledged.
"For me, it seems like every time I get a chance to put another record together, it's yet another chance to start over," he said. "By the time I get around to starting a new record up until I'm finished and happy with it, it always takes so long; it feels like I'm starting over yet again. I guess it's a combination of professional license and nepotistic neurosis."
Of course, when your parents are James Taylor and Carly Simon, there is always some sort of pressure lingering in the background. Such successful songwriters and performers can set the bar incredibly high.
When asked if that pressure is real and imposed by the fans or merely perceived, Taylor said, "I think it's a very real bar, but it's not a musical bar for me. It's more a level of success, so my frustration is more on the professional level."
With Listening, he expands his sound, taking on more soulful, R&B elements for his most mature album to date, while keeping it pop enough to draw a young audience and still appeal to an older generation of listeners.
When asked about his progress as a songwriter, Taylor shared that "Looking at my music is kind of like looking at photo albums. I can look back at an album from 2005 and see that's what was happening in my life then. Hindsight is 20/20, so you can look back and see this is what was going on then and how it affected my writing, but as far as progress goes, you can't really see it while you're in the middle of it."
With a focus on continuing to move forward and maintaining his momentum, Taylor said his focus on how he approaches new music is changing.
"I'm going to start releasing three- or four- song EPs every year and keep progressing," he shared. "I'm definitely at the end of the album cycle for Listening in America -- although it's not even out in Europe yet. We'll tour through the summer based on this album and probably road test some new material, but I think this is probably the last album cycle like this that I'll have for quite a while."
When asked if that approach was more a sign of the current state of the music business or his creative tendencies, Taylor hedged.
"It's both the evolution of the business side of my career and a response to the creative climate. It really hearkens back to the singles mentality, a little bit, but also the process of making music is less and less difficult now," he said. "Previously, you put out music as a source of revenue. Now, it's more of a promotional tool to get people to come see you live."
Of course, the argument for the album/tour cycle mentality is still there for some, but Taylor believes that's often a matter of management. For him, though, times have changed, and it's all about continuing to connect with the fans.
"As with anything else, it's all about consistency, even with touring," Taylor shared.
Although he's nearing the end of the album cycle for Listening, there are still plenty of fans who haven't heard the new music, which is why he and his band will remain on the road throughout the summer.
Fortunately for Tulsa, Ben Taylor finally returns for his own show at The Vanguard at 222 N. Main St. this Saturday night, May 11. Armed with a catalog of songs that blend soul, pop, folk, rock and touches of hip-hop, it's a show that is perfect for fans of Jack Johnson and James Taylor, alike. And after starting afresh with his latest album, Taylor is set on continuing to move forward and maintain the momentum he has built over the past year.
The show starts at 8pm, and tickets start at $20 and are available at thevanguardtulsa.com or at the door.
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