Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Fight To Create


 

During my daily walk through Melbourne’s CBD, I am often reminded of something the author of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, once said in response to an overly-nasty critic: ‘It’s easy to attack and destroy an act of creation. It’s a lot more difficult to perform one.’


While passing by artists of all descriptions– street performers, puppeteers and musicians, to name but a few – I also inevitably witness the general public’s many reactions to these performers, which can often range from heartwarmingly positive to vocally dismissive. Yet, for those of us with an active interest in the creative process, it’s hard not to appreciate the time and effort that has been taken to perfect these crafts.


Having myself dabbled in certain art-related activities in my time (with varying degrees of success), I often wonder about the experiences of the creatively-minded souls that populate the city sidewalks, as well as those who prefer to chase their artistic dreams in less public forums. Do these artists fall victim to the same creative funks that I have sometimes struggled with? And how exactly do they keep inspired, especially in the face of uncertainty and self-doubt?


Over the years, these questions have mostly remained unanswered, due to the fact that I have never really bothered to ask. Lately, however, the urge to discuss such matters has risen, along with my own desire to take my creative endeavours a little more seriously. So, with a novel-sized list of questions at the ready, I decide to contact a few emerging artists from different corners of Melbourne’s creative community in order to better understand how they themselves deal with their struggles, disappointments, and – one would hope – triumphs.


One of the first people I touch base with isSunset Blush, a Queensland-bred, Melbourne-based solo musician who has been performing and recording across the city for over a decade. I am not only interested in what his own unique experiences have been during his time in Melbourne, but also how they compare to the younger artists I have organised to speak with afterwards.


When I eventually hear back via a late night email, there is one particular statement within the body of the email that immediately stands out: ‘Like in any job or industry, there are bad and good aspects. People come and go. It’s just up to us how we deal with it and how we adapt. Life isn’t always chocolates and marshmallows.’


I initially take this rather levelheaded viewpoint to be indicative of Sunset’s many years on the scene. However, less than a week after receiving his email, I am forced to reconsider this while catching up withLlewelyn Crist and Sean Coop, a couple of musicians who, despite being significantly younger than Sunset, seem to whole-heartedly share his mature outlook.





Their individual stories – particularly the ones revolving around their earliest days playing in their respective hometowns – contain examples of struggle and disappointment, yet are delivered in a way that is surprisingly upbeat.


‘I don’t know if they were hard scenes to crack,’ Llewelyn tells me over some beers. ‘It’s just that in my experience of auditioning for bands, there just wasn’t much going. There were bands who were looking for members for such a long time. It felt like such a tiny community that it’s hard for any of these band’s to just get started.’


Llewelyn’s thoughts on his hometown, which, coincidentally, also happens to be my hometown too, raises a valid question. Exactly how important is location when it comes to an artist’s ongoing development?


My query is answered only a few short hours later; via an email from another artist I have made contact with, Melbourne-based author Hannah Crawford. Hannah has just recently published her first novel – a violent fantasy by the name of Moment Rock – and believes, whole-heartedly, that Melbourne’s creative energy is largely responsible for her own progress as a writer





'There are a lot of meet-up groups to get involved in and so many events,’ she mentions before delving a little further into her own history.

‘I grew up in country towns in Tasmania and Victoria where their idea of art was a photograph of the local footy game on the front page of the newspaper. Poster bombing, arts festivals and pushing boundaries are still alien concepts in those communities, all these years later. Living in a city like Melbourne, where you can turn the corner and there’s a festival or [you can] share a train with Iron Man on the way to a comic convention, is invaluable for a writer.’

I can’t help but agree with her there. From my own perspective, it has been difficult to ignore the increase in motivation I have personally felt since arriving in Melbourne a little over a year ago. Still, my own change of scenery – as necessary as it was – didn’t suddenly make the realities of everyday living evaporate into the ether. There were still many other roadblocks that could potentially hinder any kind of creative progression on my part, the main one undoubtedly being that annoying little time-waster known aswork.


Further into her email, Hannah mentions her own work-related dilemmas that have, in the past, often suffocated her mind into a creative drought. Yet, to her credit, she has somehow managed to flip it around in her favour. ‘It’s also these jobs that have influenced a lot of my writing. I’ve had thirteen jobs in twenty working years and the characters and stories from all those years, even from the most dismal and mind-numbing jobs, are a seemingly endless source for my writing.’


Another artist who knows this pain all too well is Jessica Wegmann, a Melbourne-based photographer/graphic designer who, like Hannah, acknowledges that her work/art balance is far from ideal. That said, she seems somewhat optimistic that this will not always be the case. ‘Ideally I’d like to slowly cut out my normal everyday job hours down and keep working creatively, little bits of work here and there for photography and graphic design,’ she admits, before adding, ‘You need to always keep on moving if you don’t want to lose your passion.’


This ‘need to keep moving’ is a fact that most artists know all too well. And, in an age where lying around and waiting for some record executive or literary agent to come and discover you is no longer a realistic option, the best way to move forward with your artistic ambitions is by taking the reins and handling every aspect of the creative process yourself.

Not surprisingly, this D.I.Y attitude is something that every artist I speak with, possesses. For author Hannah, who had initially considered a few different avenues prior to the release of Moment Rock, the correct path only became clear to her the deeper she delved into the process. ‘I only sent out a few enquiries, one to an agent and three to traditional publishers. When I was sending the last one I think I’d already decided to go indie and do all the work myself.’


Llewlyn and Sean also found themselves taking a similar approach with their band, Mr. Wolf, which is possibly the reason they have managed to achieve so much during their eight short months together.

‘I go to venues and scope out bands within our genre,’ Llewelyn mentions to me after I bring up their upcoming gig at iconic Melbourne venue The Tote. ‘It’s good to know where you’ll be able to start. We’ve started doing open mike nights, and that’s… I mean, no one’s there, but it’s just a really good chance to play live. That experience is important.’


On the recording front, the guys have also impressively managed to release their first demo, the pleasingly-titled Schmuck. This leads me to enquire about a part of the artistic process I am admittedly rather hazy on – the all-important art of self-promotion, and, beyond this, the role social media plays in such promotion.





‘I don’t think that social media actually works as well as everyone says it does,’ Sean admits to me, with little hesitation.

Llewelyn agrees, adding, ‘If you’re small, no one’s going to give a crap about you. I mean, you might get a like from your mum…’


Their somewhat blasé attitudes are a good reminder that, beyond the cosy confines of Facebook and Twitter, there are numerous other options to take into consideration when it comes to promoting your own work.


Hannah, too, has found other online options to be far more effective. ‘Right now my favourite marketing tool is conducting giveaways on sites such as Goodreads. It’s a great way to get people reading your work.’


Still, not everyone is completely ready to give social media the old heave ho. From a photography perspective, Jessica has found Facebook to be not only a great way of getting her work seen, but also a place where she is able to obtain some valuable feedback, both positive and negative.


Sunset, on the other hand, still counts himself as an active member of the ever-popular Twitter-verse, though he is well aware of the dangers of over-promoting yourself. ‘Try not to come across as too annoying, or you will get ignored.’


With so much focus placed on the creation and promotion of current projects, I begin to wonder how the hell any of these highly motivated individuals find the time to give any kind of thought to their future creative plans. When I bring this up during our various chats, it is made abundantly clear that each artist knows full well the importance of looking ahead, and that doing so is essential in keeping their own creative fires burning.


For Llewelyn and Sean, it is all about taking baby steps, with their primary areas of focus being the organisation of further gigs and, eventually, the recording of their first Mr. Wolf EP. The one thing that isn’t exactly high on their list of priorities – at least at this stage – is the need for recognition.


‘If you’re wanting to do it to be recognised, then it will be hard,’ Llewelyn says to me towards the tail end of our interview. ‘If you’re doing it because it’s what you like doing, and do it regardless of whether you get paid or not… just wanting to do it for the sake of doing it, then you’re going to find your life a lot easier.’


It is refreshing to hear such words come from the mouth of a musician as young as Llewelyn. Ironically, it will probably be this very attitude that will one day see his band gain the type of recognition he cares so little for at this point.


Jessica, meanwhile, is currently in the process of organising additional shoots and projects for later in the year. ‘I have a few people lining up for my next project that is in the works called …With Love, and I always have friends randomly messaging me saying they found this cool location and that I should shoot there, or people telling me I should work with a certain person who would be great for a project…’


On the writing front, Hannah’s short-term plans are equally inspiring. Outside of the on-going focus on her blog Brilliant Lucidity, there are also plans to participate in National Novel Writing Month later in the year. In addition to this, she will be releasing a collection of short stories titled Silent Fireworks, writing another as-yet-untitled second novel and working on a sequel to Moment Rock that is scheduled for the first half of 2016.

This level of ambition, along with the way she closes out her email to me, leaves an undeniably large impression. Explaining her idea of success, she says, ‘I’ve had all kinds of answers to this question over the years. Health, family, friends and love have all made appearances and they will always be a part of what I consider to be a successful life. Being able to make a living at writing, at something that to me has so many commonalities with breathing, seems an apt definition… at least for today.’


*


A week or so after these art-related interactions, it suddenly dawns on me just how many of my questions to them held negative connotations – What have the struggles been? How do you keep doing it? How do you find the time? Yet despite this, the eventual responses were resoundingly positive.


The reason is simple: Jessica, Hannah, Llewelyn, Sean, and Sunset have never really forgotten the all-important golden rule that following your dreams should be, above all else, fun. Taking this into consideration, it would probably have been in my best interests to simply ask if they still enjoyed what they were doing, as opposed to trying to gain a deeper understanding of their individual processes via my insanely long-winded questions. Sure, it would likely have resulted in a much shorter article, but it would also have more accurately illustrated the fact that an artist taking pleasure in what he or she does is the most important thing. Everything else merely exists as background noise.

This fact alone is something I myself have been guilty of forgetting at times, though after speaking with these artists, I am doubtful I will fall into the same trap again. For me, hearing about their experiences serves as a necessary reminder of the importance of enjoying the long and often challenging fight to create. After all, if you’re not having any kind of fun throughout the process, then really, what’s the point of even trying?

*

Hannah Crawford Links:

Moment Rock is now available via Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UDV0K2O
Hannah’s blog, Brilliant Lucidity:
https://brilliantlucidity.wordpress.com/
Goodreads:
https://www.goodreads.com/HMCrawford

Mr. Wolf Links:

Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mr-Wolf/1583156205301783

Schmuck Demo: http://mrwolf1.bandcamp.com/releases

Jessica Wegmann links:

Jesster.artdesign:https://www.facebook.com/jesster.artdesign

Sunset Blush links:

iTunes:https://itunes.apple.com/au/artist/sunset-blush/id499619702

YouTube:www.youtube.com/user/purplesmurf327

 

 



The Death of Genre

 

A little while back, a number of publications prematurely jumped on a bandwagon I couldn’t for the life of me get behind – the so-called ‘death of the guitar in popular music’. It felt short-sighted and false; a piss-poor attempt by unimaginative writers to predict a future based solely on what was hot in the charts that week.

Thankfully, it wasn’t long before these ‘guitar eulogies’ clogging up the blog-o-sphere were rightfully dismantled by smarter writers willing to tell it like it really was. Not only were their arguments spot on, they also unintentionally revealed something exciting about our current musical landscape I hadn’t really given much thought to. In truth, no music genre, whether guitar-based or otherwise, is in the slightest bit of danger. On the contrary, audiences are now more willing than ever to step outside of their genre-based comfort zones to embrace wider selections of music. This is a welcome relief for music nerds like myself, who have for far too long now been negatively judged by our wider-spanning, somewhat schizophrenic musical interests.

A couple of years back, a metal-loving buddy of mine made a rather disparaging comment about the state of my record collection, failing to understand how anyone could possibly have Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Martha Wainwright and Mastodon positioned side-by-side on the same shelf. Flashing forward to the present, things are now very different. This same friend (who shall remain nameless in such a public forum) is no longer averse to mixing things up himself, sometimes taking in a little Joanna Newson between Cannibal Corpse records. Oh, how time distorts things.




So what exactly has changed in the past few years that has led to the evolving attitudes of the music-loving masses? It’s hard not to consider social media playing at least some role in all this. Think about it – we are now subjected to so much content while scrolling through our news feeds that coming across links to tour announcements, reviews, album streams and interviews is damn near unavoidable. With a simple click of a mouse, new music can be discovered in seconds, and soon enough artists that at one time may not have even been on our radars have found their way into our ever-expanding music collections.

This encouraging shift in our listening habits has also been reflected in the line ups offered up by some of our biggest annual music events. While it’s no secret that forward-thinking festivals like St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival have always delivered healthy doses of diversity, this year’s instalment- which included the likes of Caribou, St. Vincent, Perfect Pussy, Dune Rats, FKA Twigs, and Royal Blood, to name but a few – may have been their most compelling yet.

National radio station Triple J is another fine example of how far we’ve come as an audience. Compare, if you will, the annual Hottest 100 Countdown of today to the very same list a decade ago. Back then, it was primarily rock acts such as Wolfmother, Foo Fighters, The White Stripes and End of Fashion filling out the highest positions. While there is nothing innately wrong with these bands (Dave Grohl and Jack White are practically Gods in my eyes), they obviously fall within similar musical genres. Today, however, we are seeing a multitude of styles infiltrating the very same countdown, with artists as diverse as Lorde, Arctic Monkeys, Daft Punk and Vance Joy all making appearances in the top spots.

Based on the albums that have connected with listeners so far this year, it doesn’t seem as though this trend is likely to change anytime soon. The first four months alone has seen artists and bands as varied as Kendrick Lamar, Gang of Youths, Viet Cong, Courtney Barnett, Alabama Shakes, Blur and Father John Misty all releasing albums to huge acclaim. While each is quite different stylistically, they all share one important thing in common: quality tunes that have instantly found their audiences; and in many cases shared audiences.



Once again, what all of this illustrates rather clearly is just how off the mark anyone proclaiming the death of any genre in 2015 actually is. Perhaps those harbouring such negative, backward-thinking viewpoints may find it beneficial to remove their ears from commercial radio stations blasting the same five songs ad nauseam, and instead pay some attention to what is going on beyond that generic-sounding world.

Music-wise, we are more spoilt for choice than we have ever been. As a result, people are listening to music for the right reasons, and not just because – as was the case during my gloomy high school years – a band or artist is ‘cool’ or ‘in’. What matters now is how a certain piece of music connects with you personally, regardless of whether or not it happens to be classed as EDM, hip hop, folk, blues, punk, post punk, new wave, no wave or metal.

Most importantly, my record collection has never looked better. Hell, I think it’s safe to say even my metal-loving buddy would now agree with me there.