James Taylor Reflects on 'Intense' Year, Grammy Nod & Says He's 'Gonna Miss' President Obama

Eric Ogden
James Taylor photographed by Eric Ogden at The DiMenna Center in New York City on May 13, 2015. 

James Taylor had a fruitful -- and busy -- year. He scored his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with Before This World, toured around the world, was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and tallied another Grammy Award nomination.

The five-time Grammy winner (who is also a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Billboard Century Award) called in to the Billboard Pop Shop Podcast to discuss his latest honors and to reflect on 2015. Listen to his chat, below, starting at the 34:00 mark.

“I’ve been pretty much flat out [working] since January,” Taylor says of his jam-packed 2015. “It’s been a very intense period of work. A lot of touring, we’ve been to Europe twice. I’ve been to Japan. It’s basically been full tilt for a couple of years. It was a great period of time; the touring, the recording… It has its own pace. It’s like trying to jump out of a moving car. It’s going just a little bit faster than you can run but you gotta come up with what it requires. It’s been a hell of a couple years.”

Taylor wrapped a U.S. tour in August, but has further U.S. dates lined up in 2016 -- including performances at Carnegie Hall in New York and shows at Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston. Before then, Taylor will be seen performing on TV during CBS’ broadcast of the Kennedy Center Honors (Dec. 29) and on PBS' In Performance at the White House (Jan. 8).

Speaking of the White House, Taylor was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama on Nov. 24. It’s the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

“I don’t know how to adequately describe it,” Taylor says of the award. “It completely took me by surprise. I got to readjust my entire self-image here. It’s a huge honor, really. I was just blown away by it.”

Obama introduced Taylor at the ceremony by saying “I’m proud to call this next honoree a friend.” The feeling is mutual, as Taylor says that “it makes a surprising amount of difference to me who the country has chosen to represent it, and in the case of Barack Obama, it just makes me feel good about being an American. … In my opinion, he is a wonderful president and a great leader. I’m gonna miss him.”

Taylor also received another honor recently: a Grammy Award nomination for Before This World. The set garnered a nod for best pop vocal album on Dec. 7. Taylor calls the nomination as “an important acknowledgement of what is without a doubt a team effort,” citing the album’s producer and engineer, Dave O’Donnell. (The latter received a Grammy nomination for his work on the album, for best engineered album, non-classical).

Before This World marked Taylor’s first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, following decades of success and multiple top 10 albums. (In fact, he had 11 top 10 efforts previous to Before This World.)

“It’s more gratifying than I would’ve thought,” Taylor says regarding his first No. 1. Though, he adds, “Generally speaking, I think people have too much of a tendency to turn art into a competitive sport; to compare one thing to another and say 'this is the best, this is the second best, these are the top 10' -- I think that’s not necessary with art. Either it moves you or it doesn’t. At the same time, we worked really, really hard on this album.

“I also feel as though the record company, Concord Records, did an excellent job of lining it up and promoting it and announcing it and releasing it. … Debuting at No. 1 is proof of that. It’s an acknowledgment of what they did. It was a great thing to have happen.”