This week, I thought it made sense to discuss influences. I’m just beginning this process, so looking at where I’ve come from seems to makes sense.
My issue with this is that I’m not entirely sure how to separate what I like and what actually influences me. I could list a few bands right off the bat that I like, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that all of them will influence how I work. Bearing that in mind, I’d like to talk about two bands, one that made me think about making music and one that actually drove me to make music.
The first band that really pushed me was Oingo Boingo. They started off as a performance art group in 1972 (Fronted by Danny Elfman and his brother Richard), but the music that really got me going was released in the 80s. At this point they were performing in a kind of ska/new wave/punk style, and they had a high-energy performance style that I still envy now.
They were one of the first bands that made me pay attention to their lyrics – while many of their songs are arguably quite abstract, much of their catalogue (Only A Lad in particular) has a political, semi-anarchic bent that I found really exciting when I first found them, and it still sits strong with me today.
You can see (Hear?) Elfmans fingerprints all over the music, but as you work your way down their catalogue into the 90s they get a little more orchestral and his signature dark, brooding style starts to show a lot more. They cover a wide range of musical styles and tones, and the ambition and depth of their work is something I’d love to achieve in my work.
The main band that influenced me to work on MOWM, on the other hand, is They Might Be Giants. I am a newcomer to their music (I saw them live in January of this year, but that was the first time I had heard them really) but I really like their attitude towards their work, which I’ll explain in just a second.
The band consists of two Johns (Flansburgh and Linnell), two Dans (Miller and Weinkauf) and Marty Beller on the drums. To try and explain roughly what genre they are is a challenge and a half – they’ve done lots of different songs in lots of different genres, and I’m really not sure how to categorise them. I suppose the closest you’d get is rock, but even then they experiment so much and so often that it’s hard to pin them down. To be honest, I tend to just peg them as A Good Band.
They have a wide variety of musical instruments under their belt, including but not limited to piano, guitar, drums, accordion, harmonica, stylophone, kaoss pad, flex-a-tone and a giant stick. Literally a giant stick. It was called The Stick, and John Linnell hated it.
What draws me to TMBG is their experimental style, both in their musical and lyrical style but also their approach to audience interaction. Again in the 80s, TMBG started up a project called Dial-A-Song. The two Johns recorded songs onto an answering machine and people would call up to hear what their music – and occasionally accidentally leave a message afterwards, as documented in the song ‘Untitled’, which consists of a confused woman discussing the song she just heard. (She credits the band as Who Might Be Giants, and her friend on the other line is equally as confused).
Dial-A-Song was revived in 2015, this time consisting of a weekly song and Youtube video from the band. The completed album was released last summer. Dial-A-Song was also referenced at the gig I saw in January – in the words of John Flansburgh ‘We wrote one song a week for a year. Do not try to write one song a week for a year!’
(I bore this in mind when I considered starting songwriting, so my intention was never to write one song a week… I started thinking maybe doing one song every three weeks or so, but even that is probably just a little bit ridiculous. Instead I’m going to pace myself and just try stuff out until something sticks.)
Overall, I think the coolest thing about TMBG is that they don’t set out to make one specific thing or to please everyone, or even one group of people. They seem to kind of just go with what they’re interested in and what they think sounds good, and they never restrain themselves to one particular thing. There’s no dumbing down with what they’re trying to say or do, either. If there is an abstract concept, it’s allowed to sit where it wants to and the listener can make of it what they will. It’s very strong and unapologetic, and overall they’re just really damn cool.
This week has just been a ramble about bands that make me want to make music, but I’m hoping to get my songwriting hat on in the next week or so. Come back next week and check it out!