There comes a moment when you are a performing musician that someone will inevitably ask you the dreaded question “so, who are your influences?”.
Now, this is a perfectly acceptable route of enquiry from the listener/fan/journalist because they want to get a better sense of who you are, what style of music you play and where your music is coming from. The answer(s) you give will help them understand more about why you arrived at the sound and style that you have chosen, strengthen the connection between them and you and also (maybe) enrich their musical portfolio of acts to seek out and enjoy. Consequently, this is also good for you as an artist. Many a friend and fan I have made from this question after several pints of Guinness and drunken recitals of lesser-known Metallica album tracks.
When you start out on the journey of beginning a new band, this is the main question that new members ask. Along with “do you have a car?” and “after how many pints will you fall over on stage?” The influences of the individual musicians will ultimately determine the collective sound of the band.
The problems of how you go about answering this question are huge and create a potential mine field of unwanted misconceptions. Personally, I grew up listening to a massive eclectic mix of traditional jazz, blues, rock, metal, pop and dance but if I tell an eagerly awaiting fan that my voice was sculpted by singing loudly along to Andy Bell from Erasure and my guitar playing is modelled on James Hetfield then the best response I can hope for is a raised eyebrow and confusion. Too many influences given is like too many ingredients – I love corned beef but wouldn’t put it in a Victoria Sponge Cake.
On the other hand, if you don’t have enough influences, you seem uneducated and narrow minded. Our ex-keyboard player was obsessed with Muse and made no excuses to the fact that he had no real interest in any other acts. It was therefore unsurprising that the only contributions he made to the band were space-warping synth parts and ultra-soprano dog whistle backing vocals. (Note: never trust anyone who doesn’t like The Beatles).
When I was 23 I was in a rock band in Brighton. We all loved exactly the same musicians and tried to create something interesting. We wanted to be soul/grunge. As if Neil Young and Marvin Gaye had joined Nirvana. So we wrote a ton of songs and spent a crap load of time and effort making it happen. After several months we were excited with the results and started gigging, keen to reap the praise for our obviously plentiful genius. After our first gig, an overly hairy middle aged biker approached me and said that he had enjoyed our show as it had reminded him of Nickleback. Other comparisons from subsequent gigs were: INXS, Pink Floyd(?) and Motörhead. So the lessons learned there were; it doesn’t always sound like it does in your head and soul/grunge doesn’t work.
The members of my current band have a wide range of tastes and musical backgrounds from metal to drum & bass. We are all from different parts of the world and are varying ages from 23 to 45. So what do we tell people when they ask what our influences are? How do we craft a suitable list that: A) reflects the music we play without being too obvious, B) intrigues the person asking into expanding their musical catalogue, and C) doesn’t make us look like incompetent twats?
Unfortunately, it is quite obvious that I have no idea. Just turn your amp up until you can’t hear them anymore.