As years and decades pass, James Taylor‘s career carries on. He still tours routinely, roughly 30-40 weeks out of the year. He hasn’t released an album of original work in nearly 13 years – the certified Platinum October Road back in August of 2002 being his last – but he has been in the studio, occupying his time with a covers album, Christmas records, and reuniting with longtime musical partner Carole King for the wildly successful Live at the Troubadour.
There are really only two differences in the way Taylor works now than he did in the past: drug-free (he’s been clean since 1983 after a nearly 20-year addiction to heroin) and, more recently, the manner in which he writes songs.
“It used to be that songs would get squeezed out of me all the time. I just couldn’t hold them back,” Taylor tells Scott Shannon about his early years as a prolific songwriter. “But these days there’s enough other stuff going on all the time that in order to write lyrics I kind of have to take drastic measures.”
In the past, Taylor wrote and recorded whenever the opportunity arose. While The Beatles recorded the White Album over the course of several months in 1968 at Trident Studios in London, Taylor would pop in during breaks to work on his eponymous debut album with legendary producer Peter Asher. McCartney even played bass on “Carolina in My Mind.”
Today, songwriting involves more dedication and work for Taylor.
“What it really takes is an entire week at a time, of empty time, not seeing anyone,” says Taylor. “And after a couple of days of doing nothing, I start to hear lyrics coming through.”
Taylor wrote his 17th studio album, Before This World, isolated in a waterfront apartment in Newport, Rhode Island, armed with nothing more than his guitar, a notebook, and the whims of a new method of songwriting.
“I feel as though I have so little control over the process of writing songs. I don’t so much write the songs, it’s just… I’m the first person to hear them,” adds Taylor. After writing was completed, he headed home to Massachusetts to record Before This World in a barn with his touring band; drummer Steve Gadd and bassist Jimmy Johnson.
James Taylor’s Before This World is out today, June 16th, on Concord Records and is available through iTunes and Amazon. The album’s first single is “Today Today Today.”
James Taylor is the next artist to perform for CBS-FM’s Up Close With A Legend series on June 22nd at City Winery in Manhattan. You can enter to win admission for the closed to the public, intimate performance HERE.
–E.J. Judge/CBS Local