I’ve always love picking out an artist’s influences in their music. With some artists it’s easy to pick out. Some are tough. For any new act, people want to know the influences. “What do they sound like?” Quick comparisons help people get it, “Exile-era Stones.”
I think anyone that has seen me perform or listened to my music figured out some of my influences. I wear them on my sleeve. Influences play into Pale Monsters’ sound. They always do.
There are ton of acts I thought of when writing these songs. This post lists artists that for sure played in both for Pale Monsters, but also for me. Maybe I'll follow up on this post with other influences as well. It’s tough to draw the line at one spot.
Like everyone I have my favorite Bowie moments: Ziggy Stardust, Heroes, Low and Scary Monsters. His work has incredible depth and range, and his music ages so well. He is such an amazing songwriter, but also such an incredible singer. My favorite Bowie song is Heroes. So beautiful and emotive. That link leads to the official video of the shortened version of the song, but the full song is where it’s at. The payoff is huge. And the patience to hang back for so long vocally. It’s beyond bold, it’s brilliant.
Radiohead have been one of my favorite bands for the past 20 years. OK Computer changed my expectations for what an album could be. They have incredible depth and dexterity. Their orchestrations and arrangements are amazing. One of the best shows I ever saw was Radiohead live at Suffolk Downs in 2001. They were untouchable at the time and really still are. I could never pick just one song, but if I had to it would be Airbag.
I try to avoid the Pixies, since I have been compared to them so many times, but they’re in my DNA. They were so original, yet so simple - a surreal perversion on surf rock and the Beatles. They are one of the best bands ever. Charles Thompson plays a perverted John Lennon to Kim Deal’s angelic Paul McCartney. This one is surprisingly easy given my love of the Pixies. Debaser is an anthem of awesome. It also changed my life.
Her voice has the weight of the world in it, and it fills the room. Every song she sings you hear that weight. When I changed my singing style I often think of Nina Simone and other deep voiced singers. I try to sing with my whole self now, just like she did. If I Want a Little Sugar In My Bowl doesn't move you, I don't know what will.
The National are one of my favorite acts of the last 10 years. The more I listen, the more it connects. Matt Berninger is another singer that puts his whole body into every word. Maybe it’s a sign of my age, but I connect with Berninger’s lyrics. They hit hard. The National is often simultaneously knocked and lauded as being a "grower." I guess it’s fitting that I hated Fake Empire when it was released, but now it's my favorite National song.
They changed everything. It’s hard not to love the Beatles. Like Bowie or Radiohead they could do what they wanted, but they did it all first and often better. When I lived in LA, I was having trouble writing songs, and I couldn’t sing for a few months. I spent a couple months teaching myself Beatles songs until it spurred a pretty amazing creative spurt. They’re magic. I’m a Lennon guy. I was having trouble picking my favorite Beatles song, and then I remembered. Obviously, it’s Don’t Let Me Down. That. Fucking. Song.
Dylan is maybe the premier American artist, the elder statesman of rock and roll. That stretch from Free Wheelin' Bob Dylan through Blood on the Tracks is unreal. Confession: I wrote the equivalent of a senior thesis on Bob Dylan. I've been into him forever at this point. I can never plug Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues enough, but there are so many more. He's forgotten more great songs than most of us could dream of writing.
The Talking Heads
Another band I can’t escape. Seeing Stop Making Sense was formative for me. It showed me that live performance could be an artform in itself. But the songs, so many great songs with so many different sounds. David Byrne is a madman genius. With the Talking Heads it’s always Naive Melody (This Must Be the Place), the live version from Stop Making Sense. It stops me in my tracks.
Great Prince songs are parties, or at least what you wish parties were like. His sound is so uniquely his, and when it’s on, it’s amazing. His musicianship is maybe second to none? I’ve tried to hit those high notes, they’re tough. I don’t even try to play the guitar solos; he was the best. The craziest thing is that the unique sound and amazing musicianship is still secondary to the amazing songs. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Little Red Corvette is pop perfection. The levels this song works on cannot be understated. I'm still processing his passing. It's crazy.
Some of his songs are cheesy, but his voice is amazing. He was also a better performer than almost any act out there (sans James Brown). He started it all. Sun Recordings is a tutorial in being awesome. Heartbreak Hotel hits all the right spots. It's one of the hits, it's a great tune, and the vocals kill. When he gets close to that mic, it hits so hard.
He’s a filmmaker, but an amazing artist and huge influence. His films are dark, yet rooted in the complexity of real life. He understands our existential longing, or at least as well as anyone can. His films are simultaneously sad and beautiful, the way we experience things. I think my favorite Ingmar Bergman film was Fanny and Alexander. It peppers a family portrait with surreal scenes from the point of view of a child, but there's more. This scene I've linked to is my favorite. Dark, surreal and human.
Let’s differentiate the filmmaker here. Lynch’s films (and television) put you in another place. Things don’t come easy, nor should they. He’s like an obsession once you start to get into it. Most people that know me know that I love Twin Peaks, but it’s flawed. While the first sixteen episodes are one of the best shows ever, the next ten are terrible. My favorite Lynch film is Inland Empire, and since we’re talking music, here is a scene with a gaggle of prostitutes singing “Do the Locomotion.”
James Joyce was a lunatic genius. Similar to Ingmar Bergman, the National, the Talking Heads and Bowie Joyce turned mundane everyday life into something profound. The epic journey is in everyday life. With this lead in I can’t recommend Joyce’s Ulysses enough. It’s a bear, but well worth it. Pale Monsters has a song based on his short story The Dead.
Nabokov is a master with words. Lolita is his most well known. A compelling, compassionate and human depiction of a pedafile. It’s brilliant. But that’s not that one that gets me most. Pale Fire is one of the coolest works of art I’ve ever encountered. It's a novel written by someone who absolutely loves to write. I thought about naming the band Pale Fire, but we went with another literary reference instead.
The Ones I Missed Here
There’s a lot more I could have listed: Bruce Springsteen, D’Angelo, Fugazi, Philip Roth, Pavement, The Clash, Miles Davis, The Replacements, Sam Cooke, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, James Brown, Animal Collective, Tom Waits, St. Vincent, LCD Soundsystem, The Kinks, The Beach Boys, Bjork, and so many more, but I wanted to start with something.