Nobody does it better

So what if Carly Simon and James Taylor are mom and pop? If you want total control over your career there's only one solution. Be your own boss.

Charles Donovan
Friday 16 August 2013 06:17

The good fortune of being born to that Seventies golden couple, James Taylor and Carly Simon would, it's tempting to imagine, make the music industry not only an inevitable career choice, but an easy one to boot. During the late Nineties, record companies feverishly signed anyone with a familiar surname. Among the beneficiaries fast-tracking their way to major label stardom, were Adam Cohen, Jakob Dylan, Rufus Wainwright, Emma Townshend, Sean Lennon and Chris Stills. Sally Taylor, though, has pursued her own tougher musical path. Her second album, Apt #6S, is, like her first, self-published and available only at gigs and via her website.

"I think the conventional music business has become very corrupt," Taylor says. "It's completely mechanical. But music's an interpretation of life; there's no equation for it."

Taylor's career has evolved through chance and accident rather than extravagant media campaigns or guileful packaging. After a degree in medical anthropology at Brown University, Rhode Island, she followed her heart to Telluride, Colorado, to move in with her then-boyfriend.

"I knew as soon as I'd arrived that it wasn't going to work," she says. "But something in my guts told me to stay."

Keen to preserve the songs she'd written, Taylor borrowed a friend's recording equipment, and made what became her first album, Tomboy Bride, an intimate folk-rock concoction, with jazz leanings. "It wasn't meant to be an album," she insists, "but when I started playing shows around town, people wanted something to buy."

Despite Taylor's easygoing demeanour and fierce intelligence, both of which contradict the notion that children of the famous are either grotesquely spoilt or mixed up, I find it hard not to wonder if she doesn't harbour secret desires for fame, or guiltily wish for hit singles and MTV rotation.

"That's not appealing whatsoever!" she says. "If fame happens to you, that's one thing, but if it's your goal you obviously don't feel good about yourself. I'm not knocking the huge artists. I look at Alanis Morisette and think she's fabulous. But I don't look at her and think I wish I was doing that."

Taylor has declined every major label deal she's been offered. Instead, she tours the US in the manner of an old-fashioned troubadour, undertaking 200 shows a year, accompanied by a small band and her own acoustic guitar.

"I don't want to delegate responsibility for my career," she says. "My parents can see I'm doing it my way, and they're proud of me. This way is difficult and time-consuming, and you have to make every decision yourself. But on the upside I know what's going on at every level, every day."

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By pursuing music at grass roots level, Taylor has managed to avoid the unfavourable comparisons usually drawn by critics when assessing the efforts of celebrity offspring. But being seen as Carly Simon Jnr does have its benefits. "A lot of people come to my shows out of curiosity, which I'm grateful for. For the first three songs, a lot of the audience is trying to figure out how much my higher register sounds like my mom, and my lower like my pop. But then they start to enjoy the music for itself."

Truthfully, she sounds a little (and only a little) like both of her parents - capable of summoning the strident raunch of her mother's voice, while also evincing her father's honeyed tones - but there is no deliberate mimicry of either parent.

Another tool in Taylor's quest for independence is the internet, which has allowed her to leapfrog corporate culture and interact directly with her audience. Visitors can read her Road Diaries and she also uses the site to correspond personally with fans: "I think the internet provides a place for those who don't want music that's already been decoded, regulated and given media approval."

Taylor plans to spend the rest of the year touring in support of Apt #6S, and hopes to perform in the UK early next year. The new album is named after the Upper West Side apartment where she grew up. The title works on more than one level, though. "As a child, I'd hear my mother say "Apartment #6S" but I thought she was saying "Apartment Success". I thought that was the name of where we lived. Anyway, Apt also means appropriate, fitting, suitable. I thought that was funny, because appropriate success is exactly where I feel I'm living. It may not be someone else's idea of success, but it's my own, funky, appropriate success!"

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