Question #4: The 4AD label + being a non-musician + discovery
Hello – I’m answering some of your questions as we countdown the final days of the Kickstarter for To touch the milky way. As I write this, there are 188 backers and we're 82% to the $12,000 goal.
Sean from Scotland asks: The bands and sounds from the 4AD record label's roster in the mid-to-late 80s would seem to be an influence on the actual sound of BlackTape. But, I'd be interested to know what other influences - musically, lyrically and artistically - inform your work and have these changed over the years? And, have there been muses that you have chased?!?
Hi Sean. First off let me tell everyone that Sean has backed many of my Kickstarters, so much so that when I think of Scotland, I think of Sean! (though now that I’m almost finished with the recent season of Dr Who, right after Sean I think of Peter Capaldi. Off topic, I know….)
Sean, you’re right that in the mid-80s, I listened to a lot of 4AD. When I moved to California in 1986, pretty much all I played was The Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance and Pieter Nooten (with some Dif Juz, the Cure, David Sylvian, Tones on Tail and Brian Eno thrown in as well.) But suffice to say, lots and lots of 4AD, which I think you can hear on Mesmerized by the Sirens, while I think you can hear more ambient-Eno-influence on The Rope’s B-side. I also remember listening to Victorialand a lot, while working on Ashes in the brittle air. I think 4AD influenced the mood of my music, though not necessarily the stylings, as those bands were definitely more accomplished musicians than I was.
That’s something I’ve had to work on over the years. I am a songwriter, but I don't really consider myself "a musician." This has led to insecurity, anxiety, a feeling of “imposter syndrome.”
(Impostor syndrome - also known as impostor phenomenon, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience - is a psychological pattern in which people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud.")
Years ago, I read this in an article about Brian Eno:
This brings up the famous ''I'm not a musician" quote from early in his career, which confounds fans and critics alike to this day. It seems like a conceit turned inside out, inasmuch as I've got almost a dozen albums of his music sitting here. "Again," he almost sighs, "I don't say it much anymore, but I said it when I said it because there was such an implicit and tacit belief that virtuosity was the sine qua non of music and there was no other way of approaching it. And that seemed to be so transparently false in terms of rock music in particular. I thought that it was well worth saying…. so strictly speaking I'm a non-musician. None of my skills are manual, they're not to do with manipulation in that sense, they're more to do with ingenuity, I suppose."
I agree with Eno. I make music that sounds good to me, not out of virtuosity, or even from any knowledge of musical theory. I make what I want to hear. I have the ability to do this. When I was downplaying my skills one day recently, a friend said, “that’s what they call talent.” And I thought, “Hmm? That's a positive spin on this. Interesting. I should try that.”
As far as what influences my work, on the music side it’s a desire to create the music I want to hear. On the artistic/conceptual side, it’s influenced by what is interesting to me in the moment. I process those ideas through the perspective of characters and relationships. On this and the previous album, I’ve been writing exclusively in the first person. It helps me be more honest, and less grandiose, I think.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about time, and the time we have left. The question always is, “Am I doing what I want to be doing with the time I have remaining?” This has definitely influenced the lyrics on To touch the milky way. I’ve been reading a lot of James Hollis, he's a Jungian therapist who asks similar questions. Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life is a sample title from Hollis. I'm addressing these questions in the lyrics in so far as a lot of these characters have hit the wall, they’ve gone as far as they can on the path they are on, and they have to redefine who they are, redefine and reinvent meaning in what they are doing and what they want out of their life.
These ideas are really relevant to people my age (early 50s) who might be listening to my music. Honestly, it’s relevant to everyone. If you can get a jump on it when you're in your 20s or 30s and start following your own path, rather than the path society has set you on, you will find yourself happier in the long run. I mean, it’s certainly risky to strike out on your own path. But the rewards are there.
I put out my first Black Tape For A Blue Girl album in 1986, I’ve been running the Projekt label as my only source of income since 1991. It’s risky, for sure. But I haven’t had a boss to answer to in a very long time, which feels pretty good.
I’m not saying, “Quit your job right now and follow your dreams.” But perhaps spend a few hours a week isolating what your dreams are, and then begin moving in that direction. I recommend caution, but not stagnation.
Finally, you asked, “And, have there been muses that you have chased?!?” I think the muse is discovery. Stepping into the studio and discovering new songs that I want to hear, and discovering the stories I want to tell. Keeping it fresh and finding new things that interest me. This is why my new album is always my favorite, and I vaguely remember what the old albums were like. It’s about creating in the moment, and enjoying the people and experiences that are around me now.
I was doing a radio interview a few weeks back; the DJ was about to play the song, "we return" off the rope, and he asked me to say a bit about it. That song is about connection, finding others who are in a similar situation and going through the same sorrow and pain, and using that connection as a way to start to reach out from the suffering. I guess I'm still doing that: writing stories about situations I'm in - and maybe you're in - and hopefully that brings us closer together.
Thanks for your question.