Aidin Vaziri | Nearly 50 years since breaking out with “Fire and Rain,” James Taylor remains as popular as ever. The five-time Grammy winner was the recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor last year; scored his first ever No. 1 album with his most recent release, 2015’s “Before This World”; and is spending the summer performing with Bonnie Raitt at baseball stadiums, including a date at AT&T Park in San Francisco on July 29. Taylor, 69, spoke to us from his family home in Massachusetts.
Q: Your music is so quiet and intimate. How does it work in a baseball stadium?
A: It’s surprising. You can do a concert in a ball field as long as you’re ready for it. It’s great to be able to take the big band out on the road and offer the range of musical experience that affords you. It’s a musical evening. We stage it and plan it very carefully. We work on it. We pay a lot of attention to the sound and how it’s lit and how it’s staged. It’s sort of a big deal to have that large a group of people to give you four hours of their time. It doesn’t happen without the audience.
Q: You stopped recording for 13 years before you released “Before This World.” Did it feel good to come back and score a No. 1 album?
A: I think that album coming out and No. 1 in its first week, that was the record company doing their job for once. There are enough of my audiences there that it could have happened with any of the prior releases had the record company been paying any attention at all. I also think the album is good work. I never trusted the explosive, hold-on-to-your-hat rush of success. I think I felt around 1975 or so that I reached a plateau where I felt as though I was comfortable working and I could finally let the dust settle and do my job. Part of it is just keeping at it and really knowing what’s what. I often write songs about the tug-of-war about home life and family and being on the road.
Q: It’s something you always struggled with. Did you feel like it was the right call to hit pause on your career and spend time with your family this time around?
A: Not to be divorced from my children’s mother is a new and wonderful experience. Divorce is so common that we lost sight of the fact that it really is a tragedy for kids. It’s commonplace and very frequent, but a really bad experience for kids to have to go through. I have my regrets like anyone. Essentially, we only go forward. The clock only moves in one direction. You just have to do your best at the current moment.
Q: You have teen twins living at home. What kind of music do you hear around the house?
A: It’s usually coming over the tiniest speaker, so it’s hard to say what they’re listening to. It’s all over the map. They’re listening to soundtracks, symphonic pieces, funk, rhythm and blues, the Beatles and Stan Getz. That’s the way it was with me.
Q: Has the current state of politics hit you on a spiritual level?
A: It really has. It’s hard for me. To see that good work that (President Barack) Obama had to struggle to get anything done with the unprecedented amount of opposition in a rude and combative climate — to see everybody there just working to dismantle it all, it feels like nothing is being planned for. It doesn’t have any consideration of the future. It’s an awful message to send.