Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Musical Influences

Does music influence your writing? How so? Do you listen to music while you write? And, if so, what kind of music? What groups?

To answer these questions for myself, I never listen to music while actually writing fiction, although I do sometimes while writing non-fiction or miscellania like emails and reports. The reason is that fictional prose has its own music to me, and listening to outside music interferes with the inner music that I need to feel to get into the proper rhythm. Non-fiction is more about the facts than about the music, and hearing outside music doesn't bother me as much.

However, music has definetely influenced me. Listening to powerful music often makes me want to write, and sometimes whole visual scenes will pop into my head from hearing a snatch of song or a particular lyric. I've identified at least two cases in my writing where particular lyrics had influence on a title or the very phrasing of a sentence or paragraph (they're are probably many more), and for years I've been trying to write poetry that would have the power of U2's lyrics for "Bullet the Blue Sky."

As for the type of music that influences me, well there's classical, such as Holst's "The Planets" or much of Bach, there's hard rock, such as Z. Z. Top, and AC DC, and there's metal, such as Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, White Zombie. Metal has been by far the biggest influence. It was the metal bands who really began to sing about things other than girls and sex and drugs. And much of it was very dark and surreal. And the heavy lyrics were accompanied by a driving musical thunder that opened your very chest to the power.

At the moment, my band of choice is Rammstein, a German heavy metal band that only rarely sings in English. Last night, on the recommendation of several folks, I bought the Wolfmother CD, which is a band out of Australia. Wolfmother is pretty interesting because their songs are so filled with clearly identifiable musical influences, most of which, fortunately, I like. The primary sound of Wolfmother is a combination of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, but I picked up clear elements of Styx, Led Zepplin, The Yardbirds, and The Doors. I even heard some Jethro Tull and a fragment of the Clash. Fascinating, and they have a site on Myspace where you can go and listen to a few of their songs if you're considering them.


Steve Malley said...

One of the first things I had to give up when I decided to actually start and finish novels was any fussiness about writing environment. I write where and when I can (and wherever I can smell the Muse hiding in the brush), and to whatever's playing on the stereo or TV.

The stories in my head just play louder.

That said, music does have a big impact on my work. I give my characters appropriate songs to listen to, and work scraps of lyric into their narrative.

Right now I've got a villain who thinks good music stopped with Skynnard and Fogerty, one hero into punk and hardcore stuff (she likes Rammstein too), and another who insists on listening to crap like My Chemical Romance. *sigh*

When it's me on the stereo: blues, lots of blues. Also, Johnny Cash, 70's funk, 70's country, Disturbed and assorted punk, in that order.

Oh, and POISON DOOR is from a Sisters of Mercy song. And the new WiP will be titled after Nick Cave. Either Abbatoir Blues or Stagger Lee.

Erik Donald France said...

Excellent post. How music relates to writing and other endeavors is endlessly fascinating. It's also key to the success or failure of many a movie, the soundtrack choices. I don't have any rules re: mixing writing and music, but often I do like to write in relative silence. There's usually some kind of soundtrack in my head, though -- hopefully this in not a sign of dementia :->

Music without vocals is usually less distracting than loud vocals, though, when writing/reading/thinking.

Sidney said...

I'm like you - very little music while writing fiction, these days at least. I listened to it more in the past. Tangerine Dream oddly always put me in a good place for writing scarier things. They have an album based on William Blake poems that I always find kind of fabulous.

For non-fiction writing including at work, I put the iPod on shuffle and take it as it comes.

Stewart Sternberg (half of L.P. Styles) said...

I love talking about music and writing. I enjoy considering how different music influences our mood or theme when creating.

Alice Cooper has always been my muse. Dr. John is in a corner, whispering to me. Here, on my shoulder, it's B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and the Cream.

Michelle's Spell said...

I have to listen to music to write, oddly enough. Right at this very moment, it's Hendrix. Usually I stick to Miles Davis in the mornings. But as for influences, the list could go on forever. Velvet Underground, John Lee Hooker, the Gourds, Violent Femmes, Dwight Yoakum, Johnny Cash, Marvin Gaye, Janis Joplin, damn near everything under the sun. Good question -- I think if I didn't have music, I couldn't write. I don't like quiet when I'm trying to think. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve, Eric, Sid, I did most of my early "serious" writing in the basement lab at the University of Arkansas while I was in grad school, and it was as quiet as an empty church. Maybe that's where I came to crave quiet.

Stewart, Michelle, I wonder if part of it might be too that I grew up in the country, where it wasn't necessarily quiet but where you didn't have a lot of human made sounds. Music helps me if I'm thinking in general but if I'm really trying to reason something out I find it distracts me at those moments.

As for influences mentioned here. Johnny Cash for sure. Alice Cooper too. Other than that, Metallica, Motorhead, Wasp, Motley Crue, Deep Purple, Slayer, Saxon.... The list goes on.

Thanks all for posting.

Danny Tagalog said...

If I need to write I turn the music on, but it soon competes with my thoughts and I can't continue.

Wghen revising for exams I used Kraftwerk - it helped me concentrate, but for anything creative, solitude and quietness is what I need.

Dave Hardy said...

Interesting choice of music. The mix of Holst and heavy metal makes me think you’d like Laibach very much. They’re a Slovenian Industrial/Heavy Metal/Disco/Conceptual Art unit. They mix totalitarian imagery with Euro-pop (an obvious choice, when you think about it). They are quite good, my four-year old used to ask to hear them all the time.

I can write informal stuff with music playing. It’s a lot harder with formal essays or fiction. Sometimes if an instrumental piece of music complements the mood I’m trying to create it can help. But if it has words they get mixed up with what I’m writing. Let’s just say it’s next to impossible to write a furious battle scene while listening to Nick Drake. The Five Little Duckies is completely out too.