Ben Taylor's first concert performance was an all-too-memorable affair, as much as he might like to forget it.
"It was like being outside of myself and watching myself suffer," says the 36-year-old artist with a chuckle. "There was no moment of it that was at all elating or even gratifying while I was onstage."
In short, Taylor was terrified. "It was like OK, I just jumped out of the back of a truck that I didn't realize was going 90 miles an hour," he said.
One of the biggest reasons that first show was so unnerving is Taylor was not the typical fledgling performer developing his talent with relative anonymity.
Taylor's parents — through no real fault of their own — made that impossible. Because when you're the son of celebrity singer-songwriters like James Taylor and Carly Simon, you don't get the option of being an unknown for your first performance. Instead, several hundred people, including a few celebrities and industry folks, showed up to satisfy their curiosity about this new artist with a stellar pedigree.
"I had a tremendous amount of exposure and opportunity before I had done anything to earn it myself," says Taylor. "And that was really the most painful lesson of my career. I think I've stepped through a lot of doors that had been kicked open for me before I was ready to."
Still, Taylor is understandably proud of his lineage. He praises the way his parents raised him and kept him grounded, even though they were both very public figures who had divorced after 11 years of marriage, back when Ben was all of 6 years old.
These days, he's an established artist with four albums and two EPs under his belt. But he still has a perfectionist streak that can slow him down, as evidenced by the gap between 2008's thematically ambitious album, The Legend of Kung Folk Part 1 (The Killing Bite), and its 2012 follow-up Listening.
The latter is an assured effort that includes acoustic-based tunes like the title track and "Worlds Are Made of Paper," neither of which fall that far from his father's music. But there's also the beefier, more soul-accented tune "Oh Brother" and the rambling country touches of "Giulia."
At this point, Taylor is more confident about his songwriting skills. "I have a real overview of a piece I'm working on now, that I never used to have when I was younger," he says. "I'm a lot less precious about my own ideas, and my skin is a little bit thicker in terms of taking other peoples' advice when something doesn't work."
Taylor, who's been touring his new material with a full band, says he's already written most of the songs for Listening's successor. He expects the next album will take a lot less time, and just to make sure, he's planning to bring in an outside producer.
"As much as I might contribute," he says, "I need somebody else with the reins so they can say 'You know what? This is good the way it is. Let's stop.'"