I put out a call for all you wonderful folks to clue me into what keeps you moving down this trail we call making music. Where does you inspiration come from? Why did you pick up an instrument in the first place? This is the first of our new Tuesday Feature "Digging Up Your Roots", which may not always be that same question but some formulation of where you came from and where you are heading. The fine folks below answered the first call...you all inspire me. So thank you!
Liz Frame (Liz Frame and the Kickers): I started making music at a
very early age (9) and got serious about it at 14, when I first picked
up the guitar. I was immediately hooked on the songwriting process, and
loved how it made me feel -- like I had something to say! I was a loner
anyway, so there was no better way to spend my time than by writing.
today, I do what most songwriters do -- listen -- to other people's
music, to conversations on the street, to my own muse. All of it
inspires me to write, which I do pretty consistently. It's what I was
born to do.
Dann Russo: I saw your post and it's a
great question. When my dad was in college at NYU he opened for Bob
Dylan at one of those Bleeker St clubs. I'm not even 100% if that
actually happened or if i have told the story so much that even he
believes it now, but it is entirely within the realm of possibility.
He wrote songs and there was always music on in the house. I grew up
singing CSN and Simon and Garfunkel harmonies and never really stopped.
Now that I have my own songs and guitars, it is the greatest thrill when
he says "Wow. That's really good." (Bob Dylan or no). And now, most of my songs
come from being able to reflect seriously and honestly on my life so far
- I'd say that Bruce Springsteen and Frank Turner have definitely had
an influence on me, but so have people like Tom Bianchi and Tim Riordan
who constantly push me to be better.
Russell Turnquist (Rusted Bucket): I started making music because I loved it and
connected with it deeply, even as a small kid and finally my parents got
me into some instruments - come middle school, I had formed a band with
some friends and we were performing live and I wrote my first song. I often write songs
as a way to process life for me, or for someone I have great empathy
for; it is a very powerful tool in that regard. It might come from
simple observations or direct first hand exposure, but regardless, the
inspiration comes from an emotive place. And for whatever reason, I
usually start with words and then work on sounds...
Matt Robert: I started making music
pretty early on, because it was a first love very early. A lot of my
childhood memories center on music - specific works and specific
moments. Bike riding in my neighborhood with my other elementary school
friends screaming lyrics to "Behind Blues Eyes" and other cuts from
Who's Next; bringing Jethro Tull's Aqualung into fourth grade music
class. Recording Hendrix and Neil Young tunes with my first bandmates in
I draw inspiration anywhere I can find it: thoughts triggered by TV ads
and bad shows, actual moments from my life, and from another rich
source: books. At least three of my songs are drawn from books I've
read: "Wild Wind Blowing," "Ballad of Hortense and Clyde," and "The
Allysen Callery: What was the reason you
started making music? "My dad died & I took his guitar & ran away
from home. where do you draw inspiration from now for songs? I use a
lot of the formula of the British Isles tunes I was raised on , plus
looking back into some of the older artists I was not exposed to until
later with the internet - such as Anne Briggs & Nick Drake."
Pete Mancini (Butcher's Blind): I was fortunate enough to
grow up in a very musical household, so I started making music at an
early age. My first instrument was a cheap harmonica, a gift from my
mother. I started figuring out songs like 'Grand Old Flag' just for
fun. We always had great music playing around the house: Frankie Valli,
The Beatles, Eric Clapton. We have a beautiful slightly out-of-tune
piano my grandfather built when he worked for Hardman and Peck, and my
mom would occasionally play some showtunes. It filled the entire house
with a beautiful shakey sound. Eventually I took piano and violin
lessons, but I was far too young to dedicate myself to a difficult
instrument at that time. I bought a guitar after I saw Jack White play
Seven Nation Army/Death Letter at the VMA's, and that was the instrument
that finally stuck with me. I started writing songs after hearing
Wilco's 'Theologians' back in 2005. Hearing that right song at the
right time can be a powerful, life changing experience. The reason I
started playing music is the same reason I play music today: for fun.
It's easy to lose sight of that sometimes, but at the end of the day you
have to remember why you started in the first place.
Today, I draw inspiration from many different places. Music, books,
conversation. A song can come from anywhere, the whole trick is being
able to recognize it, jot it all down and bring it to life. It's a
skill that gets better the more you do it, like any other. As Jeff
Tweedy says on Wilco's Being There:
"There is no sunken treasure, rumored to be.
Wrapped inside my ribs in a sea black with ink."
Music and songwriting is not some mythical, magical process. Anyone can
do it. Go buy an instrument, and play music. It's fun.
Patrick Decoste: I heard joe satriani's "always with me, always
with you". It hit me like a ton of bricks and literally changed my life
(I could tell you the date, time of day, weather, etc. of when I heard
it). That song made me realize how powerful music is and I try to
garner that same feeling for myself and the listener when writing. Where do you draw inspiration from now for songs? Everywhere. Whether
it's a life experience (ie my song "saudade" is about losing my
grandfather) or experiences of others (ie my song "love in misery" is
about a strained relationship knowing in order to feel sadness, you need
to have loved). Because my music is instrumental, I can draw from
anywhere and hope the listener builds their own story/experience from
I always have loved music and had sung in various contexts (bands,
college a capella, karaoke bars, showers) for ages, but it took me a
pretty long time to start writing songs. I learned a little guitar and
eventually, after listening to so many bleeding heart songs for my whole
life, I figured I might as well try to write one of my own. (I was
probably going through a breakup.) It wasn't very good, but I was lucky
enough to find a community of creative folks in which I could develop as
a writer, and that was a huge factor in me keeping at it.
Where do you draw inspiration from now for songs?
Now I get a lot of inspiration externally -- often from stories I read
about real people who are very different from me. If something hits me
particularly hard or in a particular way, I'll write about it. This is
my way of trying to understand the person or situation, to try to figure
out why people do the things they do, what it says about the human
condition, and what it means for the rest of us. Sometimes I feel a
little like a scavenger picking at the bones of other people's
tragedies, but that's still less frightening than delving into my own
personal human condition (which I also do from time to time). (photo cred: Matt Clowney)
Todd Nickerson (6 East): I started
playing guitar because I had an appreciation for music, it took me
someplace else, a place that I liked. I think I continued guitar because
it offered a life long challenge and I always had some nervous energy
and the guitar answered the call. The songwriting came along later
influenced by Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, and classic country by
the likes of Merle, Waylon, and Willie. Today inspiration for new songs
generally comes from life experiences, lessons learned along the
journey, struggles to heartbreak to successes to overcoming difficult