Baby James grows up

By Colleen Seidel

Benjamin Taylor is on a whole ‘nother level of cool.’ Ignore the fact that his parents, James… Benjamin Taylor is on a whole ‘nother level of cool.’ Ignore the fact that his parents, James Taylor and Carly Simon, are American music icons, and ignore that he’s got legend written all over his musical and genetic pedigree.’ Ignore the fact that he’s a staunch environmentalist, working to reinstate agricultural education in schools and doesn’t own a car. Ignore, even, that he’s covered Snoop’s ‘Sexual Seduction.’ Ignore all that and you’ve still got a hip, soulful musician who grooves on the guitar as if it were first nature and talks with the poeticism of a beat poet who belongs a few generations back. Like I said ‘mdash; the dude is just cool. Taylor’s new album, The Legend of Kung Folk: Part 1 (The Killing Bite), is set for release Sept. 16.’ But for those who can’t wait that long, Taylor will be performing live this weekend at WYEP’s Rock the Block Event. The Pitt News spoke with Taylor on the eve of his latest release about animal behaviors, his famous family, his songwriting approach and his penchant for wild moss. The Pitt News: All right, so your new album’s title is suffixed with the term, ‘the killing bite.” Can you explain its significance for us? Ben Taylor: It’s just an example of a sort of predisposed inherent genetic behavior. It’s a fixed action pattern sequence that all members of the same species perform exactly the same way. The mating dance is same thing.’ All I meant to sort of do with the killing bite ‘mdash; it sounded like a kung fu movie, it sounded theatrical ‘mdash; was remind myself that this is what I was born to do, this is what I feel I was meant to do. TPN: So where did the title ‘Kung Folk’ come from? BT: Folk is something I’ve always sort of struggled to stay away from as a label ‘mdash; the kind of folky middle-aged men with argyle sweaters and pencil mustaches. To work with this distinction was to make it something I could be proud of, kind of like metamorphic folk. To work with it, to give it enough of a kick. TPN: Esther Park of the Miami New Times described your music as ‘hippie turned hip-hop.’ How would you describe your music? BT: As kung folk! It is philosopher’s funk. TPN: We know you’ve covered Snoop, and you’re a fan of artists like Mos Def and MC K-OS. Did you grow up listening to this stuff? BT: I grew up listening to everything. I really did. I grew up just listening. TPN: As far as songwriting goes, how do you approach it? BT: There’s no specific set formula or way that a song comes together. Every song comes together differently. I always say, ‘You don’t write a song until it has to be written.” You don’t write another song because you need another song, you write a song because it’s there and it needs to be written. TPN: Kind of existential of you. What about lyrics? Do you give yourself a time to sit down and specifically write them, or is it like, something hits you and you have to find whatever piece of napkin or toilet paper is lying around to get it down? BT: It just depends. Yes. Yes, to all of the above. It happens that way all the time with all of those different things. You’ll overhear the cab driver say something or you forget about it for 12 years, then it comes and glues itself to something your girlfriend said when she breaks your heart. It’s just a creative jukebox. TPN: It’s fair to say, whether your parents are famous or not, they always have some kind of influence on what you wind up doing. So what about yours? What do they think of what you’re doing now? BT: My parents are such good parents I managed to escape what it means to have such successful parents.’ I just stop at what phenomenal human beings they are. All I did get was get very, very lucky. TPN: Does it still matter to you ‘mdash; did it ever ‘mdash; what your parent’s think? BT: Yeah, of course. It matters tremendously. TPN: We know you’ve played onstage with your mom. What about your dad, have you ever shared the stage with him? BT: Yeah, I’ve played with him. It is an honor and a joy to play with him. TPN: OK, so we read in another interview you did that you said you would be growing wild moss if you weren’t a musician. Is that true? BT: I was kidding about the moss ‘mdash; although I think it would be a great idea because no one ever actually grows wild moss. It’s the coolest, shadiest, nicest plant I can think of … besides ones that aren’t legal. TPN: So then, what would you be doing if you didn’t do music? BT: If I were doing anything else, it would be working to bring local charities together to make better, stronger environments and to bring that curriculum back into the schools. I’ve recently aligned myself with an organization, Island Grown Initiative, that’s putting agriculture into local schools’ curriculum. I think that kids get tricked out of their connection to the planet, their connection to nature, and IGI puts some of it back into the schools. TPN: Was there ever a time when you thought you wouldn’t get into music? BT: I don’t question it anymore, as you do with any career. You wonder if it’s the right thing for yourself.’ But I think I could be happy doing almost anything. I’m just a happy person. TPN: Fair enough. You worked a lot at the outset of getting your music out there the old-fashioned way. What did it feel like when you finally put out your first album? BT: I think it was terrifying. I didn’t have the experience to back up the amount of attention that I had.’ That’s the most important thing with any job, the experience. It just comes with time. TPN: Do you think you’ve gotten better at dealing with the attention? BT: I don’t think that I’ve gotten better or worse at dealing with it. I think I’ve just finally earned the experience to be able to deserve the attention. TPN: There’s a rumor you’re working on a covers album. When will you be done with that? BT: [Laughs.] We’ll be finished with it when we’re told we no longer have time to work on it. TPN: Do you have a dream song you want to cover? BT: Nothing that I haven’t done already, but I think of them all the time. Every day I come up with a new dream song I’d love to cover. What is it for today?’ Here, let me come up with one. OK, it’s that song that goes like this: [sings] ‘Don’t you forget about me, forget about me, no, no, no, no.’ [Editor’s note: that song is the ’80s hit, ‘Don’t You’ by Simple Minds].