When Ben Taylor was visiting friends in Boulder Colo., he spent a lot of time in the bathroom. He was trying to write a song and needed to find some space to think.
“It was just so peaceful in there,” he said.
The song he wrote during that visit is called Worlds Are Made of Paper, a folk song characterized by a melodious harmony, which appears on his new CD, Listening, to be released on August 14.
Listening is Mr. Taylor’s first album in four years.
“I’ve mostly been holed up in the studio, writing songs and recording songs,” he said. Mr. Taylor records most of his music at Turks and Capos, a studio in North Tisbury.
“At some point you have to grab the best 10 songs and the best 10 versions of those songs,” he said. “It’s easy to catapult next week into next month if you don’t have a deadline.”
The album’s 11 tracks showcase a smooth, soulful voice and sincere, ballad-like songwriting. One track, Next Time Around, even has a bluegrass feel. Though his voice sounds strikingly similar to his father, James, he models his songwriting partly after his mother, Carly Simon, who’s been open with him about her process.
“She writes very much from the heart,” he said. His father, whom he refers to as a “magical leprechaun of a very tall bald man,” is more private about his art.
The inspiration for the songs on Listening varies, but many are autobiographical.
“I don’t even know if I write songs or if they write themselves,” he said. “Sometimes I say something in conversation and it sounds so lyrical that I think, I should make a song out of that. Sometimes I find a melody while riding a bicycle in the woods . . . You take an idea that everybody has had, and then you find a novel way of saying it that’s never been done before.”
Mr. Taylor co-writes about half of his songs with other musicians. “I write with everybody I can,” he said. “It’s a great process to expose yourself to somebody else’s creativity, to have your pattern or rhythm intersect with somebody else’s rhythm.”
His songs feature smooth sounds, sweet harmonies and a catchy beat, with little embellishment. “If what you mean to say is important, you communicate more with quiet than with loudness,” he said.
The music production business has changed over the ten years he’s been performing professionally, he said, and releasing an entire album isn’t as important. These days, people usually purchase music track by track. He’s grateful to be working with an independent label this time, Sun Pedal Recordings, instead of producing his own music, as he has in the past.
Mr. Taylor compares songwriting to Kung Fu, a martial art he practiced for many years.
“There are three levels of learning [in Kung Fu] — seeing it done, practicing it and teaching it. It’s the same with songwriting. You don’t really hear a song until you play it for an audience.” Mr. Taylor embarked on national tour with his band this past week.
The second track on the CD, Oh, Brother, is a song Mr. Taylor wrote for his 11-year old twin brothers, who live in western Massachusetts with his father.
“I started to notice them and wonder about whether their friends thought they were cool,” he said. “I remember myself wondering the same thing at that age. What they’ll find out is that cool is an accident, and anything I tried to do to be cool was un-cool. That’s the easiest way not to be cool.”
The chorus lyrics, sung with a soulful group of background singers, are “Oh, Brother, all you got to know is who you are/and it will be alright.”
Mr. Taylor recorded the song on the way back to the Island from his brothers’ house. “I left their place confounded by nostalgia,” he said. His brothers have not heard the song, he said, because he’s shy about playing his own music in front of his family. Apart from his parents, his father’s siblings Alex, Livingston, Hugh and Kate are all musicians, as well as his sister, Sally Taylor.
“I don’t want my success to be defined by the unrealistic example of my parents,” he said.
Mr. Taylor grew up in New York city, and in West Tisbury. He attended the Vineyard Montessori School for preschool, often showing up to school naked, sporting a cape. He also attended the West Tisbury School for fifth and seventh grades. At age 16 Mr. Taylor quit school and made the Vineyard his home.
“I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” he said. “The lifestyle I have just fits here. It’s a great place to let my momentum settle.”
Mr. Taylor said many organizations like Island Grown Initiative are “in line with my community ideals. I love what’s going on here . . . that everything is autonomous, and there’s no corporate presence.“
But there’s room for improvement in the Island music scene, Mr. Taylor said. “I feel like there’s so much potential for a thriving music community. But there’s a lack of places where local people can play music.”
This summer, with Nectar’s closed, “it’s a great opportunity for the local music community to ramp it up.” He’s looking forward to getting involved in J.B. Blau’s Dreamland music venue proposal for downtown Oak Bluffs.
“It’s the kind of thing that in my parents’ day made it fun to come here. It’s a great opportunity to have local folks play in a venue with high foot traffic.”
Mr. Taylor’s vision is for the Island to become what it once was — a popular place to hear grassroots music.
“People should be saying, ‘this town has a really cool music standard. The local musicianship is off the track.’ That’s my dream for the Island. I want it to be like that.”
Last winter, his mother, Ms. Simon, created a Web site called vineyardmusicall.com to facilitate communication between Island musicians.
“She made me an account, and I really want to start using it.”
As he sets out on his national tour, Mr. Taylor does not have any upcoming concerts scheduled for the Island. In August, though, he will be performing closer to home on the MVY Radio cruise.
“Making a big deal out of myself makes me uncomfortable,” he said. “Playing for an idea bigger than myself is much easier.”