I make music mostly because I feel so inspired by other people who make or have made music. It is not enough for me to simply listen and enjoy. I need to dive in and mix it up myself.
I have been a music-based individual for as long as I can remember. I took pots and pans on the school bus in kindergarten for me and my little buddies to bang on. That didn’t last long. But then I got a set of Sesame Street music toys, which were far more appropriate for bus rides. I still have the tambourine, by the way. That didn’t last long, either. Bus driver just wants to hear his oldies and get the kids to school without too much of a racket, man. I get it now.
Then I found a kind of crappy nylon-string acoustic guitar in the basement and I struck gold. It only had three strings for a while. Until it had two. And then one. But eventually, people with the means to purchase new strings decided I was skilled and enthusiastic enough to justify outfitting my instrument with new ones. Brother Mark taught me to tune the thing, finally, and I was off. I didn’t feel like I had a choice, actually.
I got pretty good at playing that guitar. To me, I was just copying the people who inspired me. Just trying to mimic what I heard on the radio, on Sister Stacey’s records and the Led Zeppelin cassettes I was getting into as I began to grow my glorious mullet. I continued developing my own musical taste and I acquired better instruments. I got into bands. I became “the guitar guy.” I even started to develop my own approach and style. I started singing along with myself, too.
But all I’ve ever done was try to be like the people who inspire me. It’s as true today as it has ever been.
As I get into my little hiatus (more on that here) from working madly on my music career, I am taking time to regard my influences and inspirations. I am identifying artists that seem to resonate with me now. They give me direction and a way forward. They give me reasons to keep trying to improve my craft. They offer guidance in terms of how I should present myself visually and how I might want to dress for the stage. They suggest methods of recording and producing works.
Let me tell you about the artists who are inspiring me now.
Antonia, an amazing woman I met in Albuquerque through the mindfulness community, writes and performs music as “Alonerly.” You know, kind of like “alone,” “lone,” “loner,” “lonely” and all that? She uses an upright bass, a beat machine and a looper. She’s got this really cool self-contained setup that includes one of those neat vintage-looking microphones.
I invited Antonia to perform as Alonerly for a recent singer/songwriter showcase I hosted. This was the first time I really saw her perform in person and I was slammed with inspiration. For Alonerly, it’s not about writing some songs and then performing those songs; it’s about an entire comprehensive artistic vision. Her songs are great and they are performed in a unique, compelling manner that involves a well-considered sonic palette. It’s a whole vibe. Plus she just looks really fucking cool on stage, which is a supremely underrated characteristic.
I want to be a lot more like Alonerly! I want to look cool on stage and have that look tie in perfectly with what I’m doing musically. I want to incorporate other instruments and sonic elements. I want my individual songs to all tie nicely to a cohesive artistic whole. So that’s what I’m going to try to do.
Talking Heads/David Byrne
Every once in a while when I want to get a good workout, I turn on Stop Making Sense, the 1984 Jonathan Demme-directed Talking Heads concert film, and try to dance along with David Byrne, which is impossible. But it feels so damn good.
Anyway, I am feeling particularly inspired by Talking Heads and their frontperson David Byrne these days. The whole cohesive, artistic thing that I wrote about regarding Alonerly applies. But so does the sheer energy and enthusiasm. The devotion to the groove. All that kind of stuff. Especially now that I am considering how to incorporate other people into what I’m doing.
I also watched a recent David Byrne performance from his American Utopia tour. Mr. Byrne is a little fuller figured and his hair is a lot whiter. But he is still unmistakably David Byrne, which is a great thing. This performance was extraordinarily inspiring to me. No amps, speakers, drum kits or any other of the trappings or ballasts that can weigh down a performance. Just life and music and joy. Dancing. Energy. And, of course, great songs. I love how his new songs fit so nicely alongside the classics. I love how he has employed such a diverse group of individuals in his band. And all of it serves the music.
They did a parody of Stop Making Sense on the IFC show Documentary Now a couple of years ago and it is just about perfect. Bill Hader and Fred Armisen are comedy people who truly understand music. They also understand all the things that go with the music, as well as the personalities involved in certain types of rock-and-roll outfits. The name of their fictional mockumentary band is "Test Pattern." I’d like to use that for something, possibly a set of demo recordings. That might be cool.
Anyway, I love comedy. I love how comedy can actually add depth and perspective to the thing it is being comedic about. That’s what Test Pattern has done for Talking Heads, to me. And I want to make sure I never stop trying to incorporate humor into what I do, musically.
I am reminded that the best compliment I can possibly receive is, “I can’t tell if you’re being serious or not.” Goddamn, I love hearing that!
This guy might be the key to the whole musical transformation I’m trying to accomplish. I have loved his music since seeing one of his videos on MTV2 back in the late 90s probably around the time he died. Grace has been one of my favorite albums for about two decades now. He is an angelic and incomparable artist. Yeah, a little pretentious, but I’ll give him a break for that on account of the artistic excellence and the fact that he died so tragically.
I’ve been listening a lot to the Live at Sin-é “Legacy Edition” recording a lot lately, which is great inspiration for someone who performs alone with a guitar. Just a guy and a guitar, but it doesn’t sound at all like what I think of (and probably what you think of) when considering a guy and a guitar. Passion. Emotion. Focus on the moment. Presence. Reverb. Electricity. All that kind of stuff. Goose bumps nearly every single time.
I’ve long assumed that Jeff Buckley territory is too dangerous for me to tread, but I am starting to think differently. I’ve been working on a cover of Jeff Buckley’s cover of Jevetta Steele’s “Calling You” recently, and I think I can pull it off. I’m learning “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over,” too. I’m thinking about doing a version of “Everybody Here Wants You.” But I’m also thinking about how I can do my own stuff differently. Start using some different chords. Be even more compelling with dynamics. Be unafraid of using my voice. Be vulnerable. Be in command. Be unafraid to embarrass myself.
Jeff Buckley has been a big influence on me for a long time in terms of guitar playing. Now I’m planning to use the whole Jeff Buckley for inspiration. I think it’s going to go okay.
This person is not, to my knowledge, a musician. He is a professional basketball player for the Portland Trailblazers. The other night, he hit a crazy shot at the end of a crazy game to advance his team to the next round of the playoffs and send the Oklahoma City Thunder home for the summer. Watch the video below. I wanna do something like that, but with music. And I hope I have the presence of mind to look directly into the camera after I do it. Damn.
And Many More!
I know I’m probably forgetting a bunch of people right now. But these individuals are killing it for me at the moment, and I am excited to see how their influence will drive me forward in the coming days, weeks and months. Good times!
What or who is inspiring you these days? I wanna know, so leave me a comment or something. Thanks!