Thirsty interviews Benjamin Taylor

 - By Eliot Fearey

September 2, 2008

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On September 16th, Ben Taylor will release his third album The Legend of Kung Folk, Part I: The Killing Bite. A native of Martha’s Vineyard, the musician has crafted a compilation of songs that speak to an island sensibility. With lyrics such as, “There are a million fish in the sea, but I love you only” and melodies that mix both synthetic and acoustic sounds, he has created the perfect antidote to the beach read—the beach listen. It’s the kind of music that you can really float around in. It’s easy, it’s chill, it’s relaxed.

Being somewhat elusive, Taylor is reluctant to define his music in any definite terms. He describes his writing process as being intuitive and has a follow your nose sort of attitude. That being said, he is happy to talk about his mentality and approach. Having studied Kung Fu for a number of years, he has adopted elements of the practice, careful study and hard work, into his music. With this album he is presenting the idea of Kung Folk, a combination of eastern ideals and musical development. The Killing Bite is definitely worth a listen.

Thirsty: I love the idea of Kung Folk, that you’ve incorporated your love of music with your love of Kung Fu. How do you approach the Legend?

Ben Taylor: The idea with Kung Fu is to work spiritually, to extend myself. When I think about Kung Folk, I’m thinking about integrating all my systems—nervous, intellectual and physical.

Thirsty: You’ve described you style as Neo-Psychedelic-Folk-Funk, how does this relate to Kung Folk?

Ben Taylor: I don’t know that Kung Folk is necessarily neo-psychedelic or that it is necessarily funk, I guess it may be both of those things. But, Kung Folk is more directly related to my musical influences. It’s about growth and getting to know myself.

Thirsty: When you say getting to know yourself?

Ben Taylor: Well, to become a musician, you first have to grow and build yourself. Then, you have to explore and get to know yourself. It’s only then that you get comfortable. It’s an experience.

Thirsty: It sounds like you’ve come into your own with The Killing Bite.

Ben Taylor: Whoever knows what that is; I think we are constantly coming into our own.

Thirsty: I’ve read that you never had formal musical training.

Ben Taylor: I have a pretty good understanding of music, but I keep telling myself I am going to sit down one of these years and study it. Just so that I can connect the dots. I don’t have an intellectual understanding, but I think that’s good. Sometimes my fontal lobe can contaminate things.

Thirsty: Do you think of the album as a book of poetry or as a novel?

Ben Taylor: No, this is a collection of short stories.

Thirsty: Stories that capture the last couple of years?

Ben Taylor: Not necessarily. I don’t know, it’s more like a collection of short stories that have taken place and are part of the Legend. But, the album takes place in the present tense.

Thirsty: I like that the album is a balance between an acoustic sound and one that is more synthetic.

Ben Taylor: You could say that it is balanced, or you could say that it is a little bit all over the place. That’s just who I am.

Thirsty: What are your golden rules for writing a song? Do you have any?

Ben Taylor: I don’t have any rules. I don’t think that there are rules when you write songs. It’s nice to write things that you can actually identify with because then you have something meaningful, as opposed to just a catchy song. But, sometimes what you want is just a catchy song, especially if you are aiming to be successful in the music business. Sometimes what you want is not to try to aim to be impactful and deep, what you want to aim for is just sort of accessible and simple. There's no kind of bad song, you probably write the song because you believe it. You've got to believe in whatever it is that you're saying. You've got to believe it because otherwise it just sounds phony.

Thirsty: Now when you listen to the album, what’s your favorite part?

Ben Taylor: Wilderness, because there is so much stuff on it. Jamie Cullum came and played my mom’s piano (Carly Simon) while I was recording at her house. The piano is very out of tune, so I couldn’t use it as he had played it. So, I distorted the piano sound and put it all over the track. There is just so much cool stuff on there; I love all the little details.


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