Interviews, Reviews, and Artistic Evolution

I had a fun radio interview with Kris Steinnes this afternoon!  You can catch it here if you like.

Also new today:  Here’s a lovely new review of my WONDERS album from Kirtap the Bard.

Thinky thoughts about reviews and evolving your art under the cut.  Read on if you like.

Some of the best reviews of Wonders and of my MISCHIEF album have said something along these lines: don’t listen to this one first if you’re a new fan.  And it’s got me thinking a lot about how I present my art, and what I could do differently.

One of my goals with Wonders was to make it a very accessible work.  I challenged myself to write simple songs for the project.  I thought this would be good for the fans of the novel that inspired the album, since many of that novel’s fans are quite young.  I wanted little kids, and their parents, too, to be able to sing along with almost everything on Wonders with ease.  Why, then, would a reviewer say that new fans should look up my earlier work, instead of diving into this album?

Mischief is an album of which I’m still very proud, almost four years out from its release.  Come to that, I’m proud of every album I’ve created.  But Mischief, I think, represents some of my best songwriting.  I’ve had fans tell me that they use Mischief as a first recommendation for people who’ve not yet heard my music, and that it has a 100% success rate, in their experience of getting other people hooked on what they hear.  Why, then, would a reviewer tell people not to first seek out the songs on that album, songs like “Cheshire Kitten” and “Ravens in the Library”?

The truth is that I can never predict what someone else will hear in my music, nor would I.  I do what I do in part because finding out what other people think of it has been really rewarding and fun.  One friend speculated that reviewers who’ve known me since my first album can’t write about my newer work without overlaying their love of the way I sounded ten years ago.  Those same reviewers would no doubt be supportive of my growth as an artist.

Why, then, when you’re giving a positive review of my latest work, would you tell people not to seek it out immediately?  To try something else of mine first?  I’m not upset about this, just intrigued.

I want my albums to be accessible to everyone: fans that have been with me since the start, fans that like what they hear but haven’t been obsessively following what I do, and fans who just heard me for the first time a couple of days ago.  So it worries me a little when everything I put out over a period of years has people saying things like “don’t listen to this one first.”  Am I doing something wrong, here?  I don’t think that I am.

The bottom line?  Art’s got to evolve.  We as artists have to evolve with it, or what’s the point?  I’m no David Bowie, masterfully reforming my entire artistic being with each new release, but I do reserve the right to wear a plethora of different costumes, and sing with a host of different voices.

We also have to be true to ourselves, as artists.  There are plenty of pitfalls with associated with that, but I am committed to do my best not to step in them.  Those of us who live and work as storytellers and artists, those blessed to be a translating mirror for the world and the people around us, that which inspires us, have a duty to make the art that burns us up inside, to hone it to sharpness, and then to let it fly.  I’m honor-bound to some day be able to look back and be proud of the number of albums that once lived in my head, and which eventually ended up outside my head where other people could hear and enjoy them.  This means I have to listen to what my muse is telling me, more often than I listen to voices, internal or external, who want me to be something different.  Or someone I’m not.

All of these thinky thoughts have brought me back around to where I started: really looking forward to what everyone will find in the sounds of the blues-influenced album I’m working on now.  As I did with Wonders and with the Ember Days film score last year, I’ll be tackling things I’ve not done before.  Part of the reward of putting new music out for people to experience, is getting to hear the stories of those people’s experiences swimming around in your creation.  Finding out the ways in which your internal landscape of a song resembles and differs from what others hear, feel, and see when they consent to take your hand for the space of a few minutes, and hear your story.

Thanks to all those reviewers who’ve made me think. 🙂