Hello friends and fellow music-lovers,
I am often asked about my influences, and always do my best to answer thoughtfully. I’m honored that anyone cares enough about who I listen to to ask. I see this as an opportunity to send more ears to the music of my closest influences and friends. For example: Sam Moss, Trevor Wilson, John Lilly, Terry Klein, Alison May, Letitia VanSant, and Alexa Rose are all artists I have performed or written with, and believe in.
If asked specifically about my favorite country songwriters, I often mention Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, John Prine, and Hank Williams– All of which should be fairly obvious. Chuck Berry should be on that list too, but I don’t mention him often because I don’t feel like arguing over whether or not his style was country or rock. It was both, and he was a talented, hardworking genius. I understand that celebrating Chuck has become increasingly problematic (as is the case with so many artists). Read more about that here, here, and in his own words, here.
What I rarely mention, is the influence of literature and poetry in my songwriting. It takes a while to explain, and I don’t think much about it during interviews because I’m too busy trying to field questions honestly without saying something stupid. That said, it’s time I give a few writers their due.
Colleen Barry is a contemporary poet whose book “Sunburn/Freezer Burn” I read daily. Her work is stunning.
E. E. Cummings showed me just how far one’s imagination could take a poem- I started reading his work when I was 11 or 12.
J. D. Salinger was also a big influence. I was an eager reader during my pre-teen years, and “Catcher in the Rye” made me feel understood, and inspired me to take writing seriously as my own form of expression.
Wayne Hoffmann-Ogier taught literature at my college. He told me once “Your writing is not good enough.” Then suggested I read “The Elements of Style” by Strunk & White. I’m glad Wayne was straight with me about this. I learned a lot.
Tom Robbins was my first introduction to crass, masculine writing. Dave Eggers served as a nice contrast to this- a little more anxiety, pain, realism. T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Edward Abbey– all staples of my early literary diet. Then it was on to Rumi, Hemingway, Vonnegut, Twain, and Shakespeare.
You may have noticed that there are more men on this list than women. Although I wish my consumption was more evenly split, I find that I often relate more towards male narratives. Perhaps that will shift over time.
Dan Reeder, David Byrne, Howlin Wolf, Willie Nelson, Missy Elliot, Fela Kuti, Dolly Parton, Little Walter, Merle Haggard, John Cage, Tony Rice, Glenn Branca, Tom Waits, Eazy-E, The Notorious B.I.G., and J Dilla have all influenced the way I use and organize sound. Their music has also taught me worlds about “message,” and distilling one’s artistic voice. This list doesn’t even include the producers, engineers, and accompanists who worked on those records and helped craft such influential sounds.
I hope this list helps you find more art to love. I hope finding more art to love inspires you to make your own- write a song, write a poem, write a book, whatever moves you. I hope people will someday list you and your irreplaceable work as one of their influences- Thanks again for asking about mine.