Margaret Hair: Why do you sound like that?
February 29, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Ask any member of any rock band scheduled to play in a local bar who his influences are, and you’re bound to get some variation of the same answer:
“Oh, the classic stuff. Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin. But every show is unpredictable, because we also draw on funk, jazz, reggae, country and blues. Really, we’re unlike any other band you will ever see, ever. And we are awesome.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something similar to that – and honestly, I’d rather not think about it.
The real problem with that quote or any variation of it is that it’s not true. Just because you like Hendrix, or because you own “American Beauty” or because you’ve heard Parliament and generally think it’s groovy – doesn’t mean you sound like any of those things. Knowing that something exists in your musical subconscious and actually letting it affect your writing are different animals.
For any of these bands to sound different – which they do, for the most part – they have to have a different definition of “influence.” To try to find out what that definition is, 4 Points will have an occasional new feature: “Source List.”
The idea is to give a musician, artist, author or any other arts figure ample time to come up with 10 things that have had an impact on their art, and then ask for succinct justifications for those choices.
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In the narrowest terms, that means a band member listing his 10 favorite bands, and almost undoubtedly including at least one of the names already mentioned. Which is fine, because who doesn’t like Led Zeppelin?
It gets interesting when musicians think about it enough to realize that songwriting often is affected by things that are not related to music. I’ve had bands tell me they draw on old Westerns and Flannery O’Connor, peanut butter sandwiches and the record store clerk who rang up their first copy of “At Folsom Prison.” All of those things make perfect sense.
Even those who stick to listing living, breathing people – and not albums, movies or venues – from their own art form will come up with different reasons for it. I doubt more than one jam rock guitarist will say he’s inspired by Widespread Panic for its innovative business model, as Absylom Rising’s Heath Mahan did in this week’s “Source List” (see page 4).
If all the bands that play in Steamboat make the same top 10 lists with the same reasons for each choice, then they’re all the same band. And that would be massively depressing.
But I don’t think that will happen.