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James Taylor still evolving after all these years

Singer-songwriter says he wants to be in moment during tour
/ Source: The Associated Press

It’s been more than 30 years since James Taylor released his self-titled debut solo album, but his songs still resonate with millions of fans — and plenty still support the folky singer-songwriter every time he goes out on the road.

Taylor will launch a 30-city tour over the course of 11 weeks this summer beginning June 17 at the Meadows Amphitheater in Hartford, Conn. Taylor also returns to his roots with a July 4 performance at Tanglewood, near where he grew up in western Massachusetts.

AP: What does your set list look like for this tour?

Taylor: Right now its got a certain percentage of favorites — some of them we’ll work up in different ways. And probably (songs) that we didn’t do last tour. A couple of them will be things I seem to do every time I go out (and) a couple of cover tunes that I’ve been wanting to do. The set usually builds itself around some solo stuff, some smaller work and we build up to where everyone’s wailing.

AP: How do you think you’ve changed the most since you released your debut album in 1968?

Taylor: I think that over time you just kind of refine it — a person’s music evolves over time. My music comes from a dozen different directions, there are a number of different roads that I’ve traveled on that people have laid down before me. I have a (definitive) guitar style. That’s the context I operate in harmonically and musically that contains everything in which my music happens. I think it’s all sort of an evolution on all fronts.

AP: What are your thoughts when you go back and listen to your earlier material?

Taylor: I was in a restaurant today and they were playing some old record (of mine). I can’t concentrate on a conversation when I hear it. I can’t help but listen to it and pick it a part. Musicians listen to their own work in a much different way than most people; you’re always thinking of alternatives and different potentials. It doesn’t present itself as the complete fact. It feels like a version of itself.

AP: What are you hoping the vibe will be for this tour?

Taylor: Be in the moment. You want to be prepared but you don’t want to come at it locked into an idea of what it is. The idea is to be as open as possible. The way I want to see it, you want to be on the surface of yourself. And that kind of being in the moment, that’s the thrill of it.

AP: How do you warm up before a show?

Taylor: It’s physical work and you have to be ready for it. I practice my guitar and I exercise my voice. Particularly when we’re working up to a tour. I start doing exercises everyday. I’ve gotten in the habit, it’s sort of an addiction, physical exercise.

AP: You are the kind of artist that is guaranteed to have an audience whenever you tour. How does that make you feel?

Taylor: I never take it for granted. At the beginning of a tour, I’m hoping for the best. Live performance is as real as it gets in this business. It can be a very ephemeral and subjective kind of a business, but when you play music live you’re there, hopefully the audience is there, it’s happening in real time. It’s undeniable. I don’t take it too seriously. We’re there to have a good time, but I find myself more grateful as time goes by.

AP: You’re playing near your hometown in July — what is that experience like for you?

Taylor: I lived in Western Mass. I’m playing in Tanglewood. That’s always interesting because the people you see everyday are (saying), “I’m looking forward to the show.” This is home base for me both in my life and also in my day-to-day actual life and also in my professional and artistic (life), this is where most of my roots are now. And it’s always had a connection — “Sweet Baby James,” “Belfast to Boston.” It’s the landscape that’s inside my head.