July 2012 Newsletter
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Let The Right One(s) In
There is a school of thought that primarily judges artistic merit with the yardstick of originality. The artist is a divining rod of pure innovation--a lone wolf forging blindingly original works of no obvious precedent, a summer squall that wreaks havoc out of an unblemished blue sky. By way of example let us consider Bob Dylan, circa 1965. Another mindset assumes that all artists are primarily the sum of their predecessors' influence. Examples of this would include every male singer/songwriter from the 1970's hailed as "the Next Dylan."
I suspect that many people assume artists are shooting for membership in the first club, seeking to minimize or downplay their "influences." At best, some will cop to this sort of influence as a passive process, where whatever they listened to at the time their hormones first started to rage just happened to subconsciously seep into their musical DNA. There is some truth to this notion...there is part of me that cannot wash the Cheap Trick and Guns N' Roses I listened to in junior high off my hands. But sometimes the process of influence is more nuanced than that, with artists actively seeking out the imprint of those earlier artists (or peers) whose work they love and respect.
I have found myself engaged in a sort of "conscious influence" in recent years. When I started out writing songs, everything was new. It wasn't hard to feel I was conquering novel artistic territory...when you don't know much, everything seems like a revelation. As time has passed, however, I have found it more difficult to be truly inspired. Those bolts out of the blue are fewer and farther between, and if I want to write more than a couple songs a year I have to try and grease the wheels any way I can.
Sometimes this process can be pretty methodical, like my habit of immersing myself in the works of a particular artist when I'm passing through their home terrain (e.g. Bill Morrissey in backwoods NH, Tom Petty in FL, Townes in TX, etc.). Other times it can be as simple as going back to listen to a record I used to love with older, um, I mean, more experienced ears. I have also seen influence exert itself through the tastes of the next generation, a process which started a good decade earlier than I anticipated. My son Owen is a Beatles freak, and in my efforts to satiate his desire to devour everything they did, I have found the Fab Four subtly influencing how I think about melody and architecture in my newer songs.
The bottom line is that influences are not meant parroted, but neither do I see much point in avoiding them for originality's sake. I love that Owen seeks out the sugar rush of Beatles pop perfection, and am trying to inject some of that musical sucrose into my wholesome folk music. I would gladly sell my soul to Tom Petty for one of those catchy-as-hell songs that seem to launch into a stratospheric chorus, but, in fact, feature the same chord progression repeating throughout the entire tune (see: "Free Falling"). Being an artist is not a sentence to solitary confinement. You are what you eat, and you make music based on the other music you are exposed to. Sometimes it's not about avoiding influences, but about letting the right ones in.
"DELIVERED" (RE)DELIVERED: My 2008 release was a personal watershed...it was my first record with a producer other than Lorne Entress, who guided me for my first 5 cds. It was the last record in a nearly 10-year relationship with my label Signature Sounds. It was also out of print for most of this year, as I had sold out of all the copies I had. Despite the uncertainty of the medium's future, I am proud to announce that "Delivered" is once again back in print, and you can buy physical copies of the cd on my website or at shows, in addition to downloading it digitally.
MP3 of the MONTH: Sometimes, you can't choose your influences...they choose you. I did come of age in the 80's, so that means everything from "The Safety Dance" to "Where The Streets Have No Name." This month's track is a cover of the Don Henley classic "Boys of Summer." It's available free for the month of July on my Bandcamp page.
Sat July 21 - Stuyvesant Town Concerts on the Oval, New York NY - 3 pm
"Shows?" I should say the "the show," because this is it for the month, folks. But oh what a show it will be. First of all, it's FREE, so it doesn't even have to be this good, but I'll be sharing the bill with roots rock femme fatales Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers and Eilen Jewell. Come on down but get there early or you'll miss me, I play first.
ON THE HORIZON:
Aug 19 - Philadelphia Folk Festival, Schwenksville PA
Sep 20 - The Ark, Ann Arbor MI **opening for & accompanying Lori McKenna
Sep 21 - Six String Concerts, Columbus OH**
Sep 22 - SPACE, Evanston IL**
Sep 27 - House Concert, Houston TX
Sep 28 - Rock Room Concerts, Austin TX