I’ve heard and read a lot of different theories about the relationship between writing and music. Some people say they write better when listening to specific songs or styles, while others (myself included) need general silence to concentrate on the job at hand, and build the scene in their head.
But even then, there are various ways that music informs my writing, and there are specific albums and tracks that have helped spark my imagination.
Of course, it’s not just the music itself in such cases, it’s often the situation you were in when you found it, where you were in life, in your creative process, etc. For me, there are some albums that always awaken a level of recognition, which trigger something in my mind, and can often help kick-start my imagination.
Here are four albums which do that for me – you’ll no doubt have your own list of inspirations, but if you’re looking for a new source, these may be worth a listen.
- “Mezzanine” by Massive Attack
Okay, so most of my picks are going to be a little older because – well, I’m old. “Mezzanine” was released in 1998, and it’s the perfect mix of musical creativity and mood-setting pieces, which, for me, is a great combination. I wouldn’t say Mezzanine has inspired so much of my writing directly, but it helps open up my mind by showcasing what can be done with subtle shifts and changes, and what art – even in a more popular form like music – can be. For me, Mezzanine reminds me that you can do different things, you can adapt different styles and you can make them your own, and that attention to detail is the difference between ‘good’ and ‘great’.
- “OK Computer” by Radiohead
I imagine almost every late-nineties teen would have some recollection of “OK Computer”, the genius of the album simply can’t be overlooked. And while it’s not for everyone, much like Mezzanine, OK Computer showcases the depths of creativity within an established art form, looking at pop music from an entirely different angle. I think what really inspires me the most about both albums is that they’re so different, that a group of creative people have got together and just let themselves go, thrown everything out there and moulded it into something amazing. It’s the fine-tuning, the editing, the refinements that make OK Computer so special – which, in a writing sense, comes back to editing, and polishing your experimentation to capture the mood of your work.
- “Untrue” by Burial
And speaking of mood, nothing sets the scene better than Burial’s ‘Untrue’. Burial – a one-man band from the UK (in fact, all of these picks are from the UK – wonder what that says about me?) – records his tracks in the dead of night, and he has an uncanny knack for capturing the feel of those moments when the rest of the world is asleep. Again, this is not a direct influence on my writing, I don’t think, but it’s another album that opens my creative thinking and leaves me pondering the stories I want to tell.
- “A Grand Don’t Come for Free” by The Streets
And then there’s The Streets. Mike Skinner, who is himself, ‘The Streets’ came to prominence with his first album ‘Original Pirate Material’, but it was his second, ‘A Grand Don’t Come For Free’ which both made, and in many ways, destroyed him. A Grand Don’t Come for Free is a concept album – it tells the story, track-by-track, of Skinner’s developing relationship, eventual end, and hints at what’s to come next. The great thing about this album is that it showcases just how powerful and resonant a simple story can be. Skinner’s tale is entirely relatable, it’s run of the mill stuff that almost everyone has experienced. The album shows that you don’t need an elaborate plotline or a complex idea for it to be powerful.
As noted, everyone will have their own musical touchpoints, but these ones speak to me, and always help me get my mind moving if I need.