Together, the Taylors, Sally and James, build a Consenses at Mass MoCA

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NORTH ADAMS — With their Sunday concert at Mass MoCA, James and Sally Taylor are aiming to bring spectators onto a musical family's couch.

"It will probably be a lot like experiencing what it's like to watch musicians relate to one another in a familiar way, which I think is just, 'OK, well, let's sit in the living room. OK, well, there's a guitar. OK, what comes out when somebody picks it up,'" Sally Taylor told The Eagle during a telephone interview. "I think it's a lot more of an informal vibe with this, probably a lot of poking fun at one another. And it's as much about the music as it is about the relational aspect of the coming together."

That informality extends to the show's structure; as of Monday, Taylor said that she and her father were still working on its details.

"We're going to meet up the day before and figure it all out," the singer-songwriter said.

Taylor could offer a sketch, though. She was planning to open the show with some solo songs before playing tunes with her collaborators, The Larson Brothers. Her father would subsequently take the stage, perhaps inviting some musicians to join him. Some father-daughter duo work would close out the 3 p.m. performance benefiting the North Adams museum's arts education programs.

"We've certainly sat in on each other's shows, but I don't think we've ever done a split bill, so this will be a first, in a way," the 44-year-old Taylor said.

"It's been a while since Sally and I shared the stage and made music together," her father wrote in an emailed statement. "It is something I've always loved."

Taylor — the folk titan, Tanglewood fixture and Berkshires homeowner — wrote that his daughter's "dedication" to Mass MoCA is "the primary motivation behind this concert," noting that her "Come to Your Senses: Art to See, Smell, Hear, Taste and Touch" exhibition is currently on display at the museum. Featuring paintings of "joy" and "fear" by a group of northern Berkshire fifth-graders as well as professional musicians' responses to those pieces, the Kidspace show is an extension of Taylor's Consenses project that involves different types of artists using each other's work as inspiration.

"Consenses is a game of telephone for the senses because I've always felt as though words were only partially helpful in getting across the nuances of our individual perspectives, that so much more could be expressed if multiple mediums were used in order to express ourselves," she said.

To celebrate the exhibit's June opening, Taylor and friends played some tunes. Her mother, music legend Carly Simon, was also scheduled to perform but broke her hip in the days leading up to the show.

"That was a huge bummer. She's still in a lot of pain. She really, really regrets not having been able to make it up to that," Taylor said.

Her father, who wrote that he shares his daughter's affinity for Mass MoCA, wasn't available to play at the opening.

"We're like, 'Well, let's just find another time,'" his daughter recalled.

A child of musical royalty, Taylor sonically emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s with a series of solo records: "Tomboy Bride," "Apt. #6S" and "Shotgun." The middle album alluded to a New York City apartment in which she was raised, but the indie rocker spent much of her youth with her brother, Ben, in Martha's Vineyard, where her mother still resides. The couple split in 1983. They didn't give her music lessons.

"When it came to learning how to play guitar, neither of my parents taught me how to do it, and I think that that was probably intentional because I do believe songwriting has to come — if you're meant to write music, you have to find out your own process," she said.

The method she discovered more closely resembles her father's. While her mother writes lyrics first and then finds music for those words, Taylor and her father work on chord progressions and the melody before tackling any verses. She said that her father has long referred to being a musician as a "blue-collar job."

"That, to me, was really helpful in recognizing that it's not about being this celebrity character but rather about really hard work," Taylor said.

Her artistic efforts have recently been tied to Consenses.

"It's a curriculum now, too, so I work with kids all the time. I try to help them see through each other's perspectives and make them feel equal and valid to one another," she said of the project's scope beyond the Berkshires.

Taylor lives in Cambridge, with her husband and son. She visits her father in the Berkshires on occasion, often participating in meditation excursions in the area.

"It's really become a place of rest and relaxation and re-centering for me," she said.

Performing with her famous father raises the usual questions about being a celebrity child, a role that feels a bit different at this point in her life.

"It's funny to go from being the center of your experience to being on the outskirts or the sidelines of somebody else's experience. What I mean by that is, I've got a husband and a son and a flying squirrel and my own little life here, and I do Consenses, and that fulfills me," she said. " ... And suddenly, I'm also this person with this very well-known and musical family, [and] the way that I participate in that is to be non-central and just to the stage-left of my own experience."

She is comfortable allowing these two experiences to coexist in the same manner she thinks about her parents as being both celebrities and parents.

"We're full of a universe of identities," she said, "and maybe that's part of what Consenses is: It's allowing the different versions to exist and be equal and valid without being exclusive."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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