A wise man said there is nothing new under the sun. This truth still stands, although when seen in the context of creative pursuits, it becomes a bit tricky. Artists do create entirely new work, but creative direction and style rarely exist in a vacuum- more often than not, they come about through countless external influences. We choose some of these influences, others simply exist with and without our awareness or approval. The idea of influences is an intriguing one; I’ve been asked the question enough times that it’s time to give credit where due.
I’ll start with the piano. In 2006, I had to learn lots of songs with Gordon Mote’s piano parts. Gordon is a ridiculously brilliant player; his note choices are unexpected and perfect. His perspective- especially on slower songs- has stayed with me, and makes me better. Another such influence is Lesley Barber. Her work evokes. Listen to the soundtrack for the film Mansfield Park, specifically the piano parts and the interplay between piano and orchestra. Incredible. I also like Lesley because she’s not afraid to use unconventional sounds or move between genres. While on the subject of soundtracks, one of my absolute favorites is the soundtrack to the 2007 theatre release of Pride And Prejudice. It’s classic, whimsical, ambient, beautiful, and certainly an influence.
I’ve had the pleasure of doing several records with Jill Phillips and Andy Gullahorn, and I’ve walked away the better for it. Andy approaches guitar in a unique way. Over time, perhaps from doubling his parts or hearing them so many times, I’ve translated a few of his methods over to my world. If only I could write songs like him… he’s a genius, at least compared to some. Jacquire King is another such person- every time I work with him, my knowledge (and therefore my ability) increases. His influence lies less in piano playing but more in overall approach; he makes everything so much more musical.
Radiohead. I know- everyone says Radiohead is an influence. I don’t care. Go and listen to Kid A again. LET it influence you. While you’re at it, listen to Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser”. More great edits, programming, arrangements, and parts. Now go and listen to “In Rainbows”. Need I say more?
What about programming and track building? Imogen Heap: Near-perfect electronic pop from an insane talent. Jon Hopkins: You know his work from Coldplays’ “Viva”… record, but his “Insides” project is full of tracks that are brilliant. “Geogaddi” from Boards Of Canada was one of my first experiences with ambient music. It’s a classic, and a great inspiration for synth sounds. Moby’s “Hotel/Ambient” was a favorite from first listen; it’s a prime example of how simple can be right. Other artists that shape me: Guy Sigsworth, Telefon Tel Aviv, Hammock, BT, John Powell, Miike Snow and Milosh.
This list is by no means exhaustive or ordered. I could write for hours about music I love, and arguably, influence exists where love does. Each time I stand up to create, the influences vary. Therein lies the mystery: influences aren’t ideas we copy, they are concepts we assimilate. Those concepts merge and mingle, and the collective result is what sets you apart. It may even push you to do something new.