Going Live with Liv
Livingston Taylor may get asked on a daily basis about his more famous brother James, but he's certainly found footing outside of that family tree. In folk circles, the soft-spoken Liv was one of the first acts signed to Capricorn Records in 1970 after being discovered by producer/critic Jon Landau (who later managed Bruce Springsteen) and went on to a deal with Epic Records. Along the way he's also collaborated with his brother and longtime friend Carly Simon (who was once married to James), plus hosted the nationally syndicated radio program "This Week's Music." He also teaches a class on performing at the Berklee College of Music and is an artist in residency at Harvard. And all along, he's never been shy about spirituality, incorporating messages of faith into his mainstream music. His latest disc (and first in nine years), There You Are Again, provides his most overt gospel leanings to date, and features some familiar names in both Christian and secular music. During a phone call from the Harvard campus, he shares his convictions, the inspirations behind his new songs, and that famous circle of family and friends.
How did this record come together, especially after such a lengthy hiatus?
Liv Taylor I had moved into Harvard University to live as an artist in residence, in one of the dorms basically. I came into that environment and just started writing. Different things would show up, so I wrote as it showed up. I am not so flexible or versatile that I can start writing a song and then don't want to write it anymore. When it shows up, I have to write it down! This record took on an overall spiritual theme, which is not unusual for my music nor is it given my age. I'm 55 and I wrote the record over last two years.
That accounts for two years, but what about the other seven in between albums?
Taylor I spent a lot of that time refilling the well, teaching myself, exploring songwriting and studying the great detail of the great songwriters—Rodgers & Hammerstein, Gershwin, Cole Porter. I got all their sheet music and read through it, which was an adventure and re-exploration of great writing. I also needed to teach myself to play piano better. Eventually that came to this record. It took a year and a half to make, and it was a huge project. Many of the songs I recorded and re-recorded; some of them I recorded three times. I knew it was going to take its own time, and it was ready when it was ready.
What was the motivation behind "Step By Step" (featuring the New Day Jubilee Gospel Choir and an arrangement by Andrae Crouch)?
Taylor I was lecturing high school students, which couldn't have been further way from the world where I came from. I was racking my brain as to how to get through to them and looked throughout the room to find a group of white students and then a core of African-American students all sitting together. I started talking about music as if they were ready to be in the music business. I told them before they got rich and famous, they'd have to be creative and take one step at a time towards it. I asked them, "Are you ready to take it step by step?" So with that desire to find a way to communicate across the broad gulf of age and culture, I created the song's main character—someone who loved getting in and out of trouble. I had to be careful not to get him into such terrible straits that redemption wouldn't be possible, so I set it up as kid who got drunk and was driving a stolen car. I figured I could get him out of that trouble, and it would be a wonderful opportunity to share lines like "Satan has no weapon, no arrow, knife, or sword that'll take away the love of Jesus Christ the Lord."