On the Influences behind Wine Dark Sea
It can take a while before an artist finds their center of balance. Until they do, they might crawl up on the shoulders of the giants they love. Even Bob Dylan was Woody Guthrie till he could stand in his own sinister boots. The Stones just wanted to be the best blues band in England. And who could have foreseen what the Beatles would become from their bubblegum beginnings?
When an artist is finally flying on their own power, when they no longer need that safety net of imitation, the idea of influences becomes much subtler. To ask a fully formed artist about their influences is a tricky, intimate question. At its heart, we’re asking, “Who do you love so deeply that you can’t imagine who you would be without them?”
I’m sure a lot of artists are unable to reasonably answer. It’s like asking somebody about sex – how can you kiss and tell with the muses? Besides, I believe many artists are blissfully unaware of their influences. And that’s proper. Creation is a mystery. It’s a transmutation, a confluence of energies. It is Magic and Power.
Where did Elvis come from? Where did the Pixies come from? Where the fuck did James Brown come from? Do you really want to know?
(There’s a reason the goddess Diana killed that guy who saw her naked: the gods were Busy.)
There are some things you can say and other things are useless to say.
I will be walking down the street or fast asleep, riding the subway or mopping the floor, and a song comes and harrasses me, asserts itself into being. There’s nothing I can do about it but go scratch it down. I might have had plans. I might have had a date. The song doesn’t care. It’s impossible for me to describe that process.
Songwriting is utterly mysterious. But here’s one thing I can tell you about “influences” – it takes them a while to cook.
I loved the feeling of Nina Simone’s large, live ensembles for more than a decade before I found related elements arising in my work. Only after my song “Out on the Wine Dark Sea” was composed, arranged, and recorded was I able to perceive the action of her influence. I arrived at that creative synthesis through the osmotic power of love, not by the superficial process of copying. Not only was I not copying, I was consciously surprised to find her imprint in my work.
If my music has any resemblance to hers, it is through feeling and not mimicry. And, honestly, it doesn’t mean a thing to me if no one else feels the comparison. The significance is personal.
This is what I mean when I say that the question about influences is an intimate subject. I’m only expressing this because I was asked to write about it. Otherwise, this is the kind of conversation that stays in the bedroom, which is where I keep my piano.