As his career in music approaches 50 years, James Taylor names an unusual inspiration for his songs: boredom. Starting today, he plans a self-imposed recess from the road and dedicate the rest of this year to composing and recording his first album of new material since 2002.
"It's funny to say, but you actually have to be bored in order to write," Taylor tells Rolling Stone, just hours after playing President Obama's inauguration in Washington D.C. "So I'm looking forward to some empty time in front of me to really focus on the music again. That's what I'm meant to do."
His performance of "America the Beautiful" – coupled with some brief "surprise" anchoring duty with NBC's Brian Williams following Obama's address – will likely be Taylor's last public appearance until he completes the follow-up to October Road, his last record with Sony. (He's currently not signed to a label).
Boredom has eluded Taylor over the past decade, which he has largely dedicated to playing political events. He made 40 appearances in support of President Obama's re-election, including a spot at the Democratic National Convention last September in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"It's like an abbreviation of the entire country, in a way, to be in North Carolina," he says of the state in which his parents, both civil-rights activists, raised him. Just four months before Charlotte hosted the DNC, voters approved a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The swing-state support that helped elect Obama in 2008 had receded by last November, and Republican lawmakers there are now pushing to enact a law requiring voters to prove identification at the polls. "It is two very different places," Taylor says. "It's a very forward-leaning, progressive state, and at the same time a sort of impractically hidebound and digging-its-heels-in state as well."
Taylor, who turns 65 in March, has contributed more than $78,000 to various Democratic causes and political action committees over the past two years. "I like so much about this president, I have a good deal of faith in him," Taylor says. "As a democracy we are constantly inventing our own future. Democracy is just as strong as the citizens' participation in it, and we need somehow to try to make it accessible to more people."
Taylor says he has voted in every election, with one exception: In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam war, when the 20-year-old musician was in England recording his first album. It included "Carolina In My Mind."