CAJT-Collectif des Amis de James Taylor
CAJT-Collectif des Amis de James Taylor

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JT INTERVIEW - by Lynn Saxberg for OTTAWA CITIZEN

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SIMPLY JAMES TAYLOR: ENDURING FOLK ARTIST HAS BUILT A MUSICAL COMMUNITY


Songwriting legend James Taylor released Before This World, his first album in 13 years, last summer, but waited until this year to embark on a major North American tour, including a dozen Canadian dates. The Citizen’s Lynn Saxberg spoke to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer about balancing family life with songwriting, recording and performing with his beloved bandmates.

Q: It’s been a while since you tackled such an extensive tour. How come?

A: Aside from random engagements here and there, we haven’t really been on the road since last summer. It’s great to get back together. This break since last August was really (because) my wife and I have 15-year-old twin boys, and the school they’ve been going to only goes through this current year, ninth grade, so we’ve been up to our necks in the process of trying to find where they’re going to go to high school. We knew that was going to be a big deal but that’s now pretty much decided and so I just waited until that process was over to book anything else. It’s great to be back out, have the band back together.

Q: One of your sons, Henry, and his mom (Caroline Smedvig, known as Kim) are on Before This World, the record you put out last year. What led to that collaboration?

A: I often draft Kim, who’s got a beautiful soprano, to help me experiment with vocal parts for records because that’s a big part of my work, figuring out vocal arrangements to some of the songs. And I get her to sing the parts that I can’t, but often she stays on the record. And then we occasionally work together. She’ll be in the band when we do certain kinds of gigs, benefits and one-offs … stuff like that. She’s a really good singer, and she plays piano too. When I met her she was with the Boston Symphony, in the management office. She’s made a career in music, but sort of on the other side of the tracks. And Henry, there was a song about baseball, and a character that I wanted him to sing. It’s a kid who goes to the baseball park with his grandmother. I just buttonholed him and pulled him into the barn where we record, and I had him try it out to sketch in the part for me. He did a great job and we kept it.

Q: It was your first studio album of original songs in more than a decade. What made you decide to get it done?

A: Really, it’s what I do. If anything, it’s my version of publish or perish. I felt like it was way overdue. In that dozen or so years, we released five different recorded projects so I’ve been recording and releasing a lot of stuff and that takes a lot of time. But it has been a long time since I released original stuff, and I knew it was time to get to it.

Q: Were you experiencing writers’ block during that time?

A: I don’t think so. It’s really just competition for the time to finish the songs. The kind of songs that I write, generally I’m always getting ideas and putting them down on a little pocket recorder, or writing lyrical ideas down. But there comes a time when I have to hide myself away and work on finishing songs and putting them together. I found it really hard to get the time to do that. It used to be enough for me to have somewhere near home, but far enough away that I couldn’t hear the phone ringing. I used to be able to just have a little office or a little atelier and just go and write for a few hours a day.

Q: That doesn’t work anymore?

A: Nowadays I’ve got to be much more forceful. I borrowed a friend’s apartment in Newport, Rhode Island, which is about a three hour drive from home, and I would go down there for a week at a time, and that’s the only way I got anything done. These days, I need two days of solitude before I start to write. It’s good to know that for the future because I set up an office in the town a couple of miles away from where we live and I just wasn’t getting anything done. It wasn’t enough time to for me to disengage and to get into my songs. Now that I know what it takes, next time shouldn’t be such a process. I’ll know what to go for.

Q: So there will be a next time?

A: I assume so although what exactly it will be, I don’t know. I don’t think it’ll be 12 years from now. I think it’ll be in the next couple of years. I feel like there are some tours I want to do, with this band that I’m out on the road with now. It’s the main thing really at this end of my musical life. In the past 10-20 years, I’ve been working with this community of players that I’m out on the road with now, and that I recorded my album with. I just feel as though what I’m here to do is write, record and play music, and I’d like to do it with this band.

Q: Your songs lend themselves to solo, acoustic performances, too. What makes it special with the band?

A: It’s interesting because when I play solo, I tend to gravitate to things I did in the beginning because that was before I had a band. But more and more I’m writing stuff that’s meant to be played by this band. That’s been one of the trajectories in my career: going from being someone who expresses themselves very personally to hearing a larger kind of a sound, more players, more complex. As soon as I could afford a band, I started working with other people, and now that I have this ultimate group of players to work with, I really want to use them.

Q: Is it a challenge to divide the set between old songs and new material?

A: I remember going to hear Sarah Vaughan sing. The songs she sang were such departures from what I was used to hearing, and thought of as her songs, I was really frustrated. I think people do come to listen to the songs that they know. I get that sense from the audience, their reaction. But we also like to play stuff that’s fresh and that’s new to us. There are also people who are a repeat audience, see a lot of shows and are deep into my catalogue and want to hear things that they haven’t heard. I listen to those requests, too, so I would say that out of 30 or so songs that we’ll play in a night, a dozen of them will be well known and a handful will be from the new album, and then others will be things that are from the middle distance that the deep fans will know well, and really appreciate.

Q: Your songs have an enduring appeal that spans generations. Do you see that reflected in your audience?

A: Yeah, I definitely see it. The main thing to say is the only way that this band stays together and gets to go out on the road and perform every night and play music together and make a living at it is because the people show up and come to the concerts. The first thing to say is I’m profoundly aware of that and grateful for it. And yes, I have noticed that a lot of people have aged, grown up with me. There are people at my concerts who have been going to James Taylor concerts for a long time.

Q: What’s your secret to keep them coming back?

A: It’s a concert not a show. We don’t have fireballs bursting off the stage and a laser show, and robots slugging it out in the atmosphere. There aren’t crowds of dancers, not a lot of special effects. We don’t have sliding treadmills on the stage or trapdoors that people appear in and out of. It’s basically pretty straightforward. I do think that people come to see the concert for the music, but also to be in their own company. I think that an event around which a community gets together. It’s an ad hoc community but it is a community.

Q: Any thoughts of retirement?

A: Well, you know I’m certainly closer to retirement than I am to my debut. I’m definitely in the latter half of this thing. But there are people I can look at, like Tony Bennett, who soldier on. The point is this: I never really wanted to do anything else. I love this life. And the more time goes by, the more grateful I am to have an audience that supports me, and a community of musicians, beautiful players, who are willing to play my music. So I’ll stick with it as long as I can.


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Some things never change and some things we don't ever want to change. Thankfully, James Taylor hasn't.
Voir le profil de l'utilisateur http://www.james-taylor.asso.fr

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