Inspiration is a funny thing. Sometimes, you really have to work to find it; to tease out that motivation to write one more line, to add the next brush-stroke, to find the next series of notes. And yet at other times, the stream of creativity will not so much flow as it will flood, crashing over you in an uncontrollable wave, where the hours race by as chapters, riffs, and colours all come together in ways as natural and effortless as breathing.
Yet there are things that can help tap in to that feeling and unleash it, and here, I present five records that – for me – help me feel inspired, creative, and most of all, enthusiastic about creating something new. My main focus will be on writing, because that is where my creativity most often lies, but I think the ideas and feelings I talk about can be applied to any form of art. And, of course, this list is in no way intended to be definitive – instead, I hope it encourages you to think about what inspires you, what makes you want to write, or draw, or dance; and to hopefully find something that makes you want to create, and then to act on those impulses. Enjoy!
SubRosa – No Help for the Mighty Ones
SubRosa are probably my favourite band, but No Help for the Mighty Ones isn’t my favourite of their albums – that would be More Constant Than the Gods. But No Help… is the one that inspires me the most to create something of my own. Whilst all their albums are heavy in half-hidden folklore and symbolism, No Help… is the album where I feel the songs both carry the most narrative (leaving aside For This We Fought…, given that it’s directly based upon the novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin); but also leave enough unwritten and hinted at for the listener to fill in the gaps themselves. The opening lines are bleak, painting a world steeped in death and darkness – “Heads on spikes, symbols on skulls / Give me a reason to go on” – and the album builds upon this as it goes on, but only ever tells part of the story.
Those gaps that SubRosa leave are yearning to be filled in, to have a multi-novel series built around the skeleton provided, to have the stories of these nameless people told. The world that SubRosa build with their music is begging to be explored, and that pull has never felt stronger than on No Help for the Mighty Ones. Take this as inspiration to build your own world; or to carve your niche within one that already exists.
Earth – The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull
The journey of Earth is one of change. The drone pioneers reinvented themselves post-reformation as a band of peace – still with volume, but whereas the works of the initial incarnation of the band were studies in crawling, all-consuming heaviness, albums such as The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull are about spaciousness and a sense of zen-like calm. It is an album for encouraging reflection, for knowing one’s self, for accepting your flaws – and there is something incredibly inspiring about that. Creativity and inspiration does not have to always stem from a rush of ideas and fevered energy; it can be found in those quiet times, where you have space to think, and plan, and grow.
That is one part of what makes The Bees… so inspiring. The other aspect is that the album shows that it is possible to totally change direction and still be a success; to stop creating for several years, and to then start doing so again in different, equally successful ways. It is OK to have times where you are not creating. Time away does not mean you will forget your skills and talents; or that your audience will forget you. Stepping back can be healthy and good; and it does not spell the end of your creativity. Indeed, it may lead to you trying things in a new way, and reinventing your art.
U.S Christmas (USX) – The Valley Path
It would be impossible for me to compile a list such as this and exclude The Valley Path, the final (to date) album by psychedelic/post-metal/folk band U.S Christmas (USX). A single song that stretches to almost forty minutes, The Valley Path is heavy with psychedelic, progressive (and prog) auras, building up slowly from its spacious (and spacey) opening to soul-searing, string-led climaxes, heavy with emotion and the promise of meaning. It is a song that not only requires attention, but commands it.
On a personal note though, this album demands inclusion. Many years ago, it inspired a weekend of almost non-stop creativity that may have directly led to nothing, but indirectly lit a spark in me to create something of my own, which ultimately led to this site existing. I imagine most people of a creative mindset have something similar – an record, or book, or painting they can go back to which reminds them exactly of that feeling, of going “that – I want to do that” and taking up their pen/brush/whatever. Let this album remind you of that initial source of inspiration, and of the importance of returning to it at times when you feel tired, disheartened, and spent.
Vile Creature – A Pessimistic Doomsayer
The importance of A Pessimistic Doomsayer by angry queer gloom cult Vile Creature isn’t so much in the music itself – though the single, almost 18 minute long track on the EP is excellent. What is inspiring about A Pessimistic Doomsayer is the concept of the EP, about finding refuge in works of fiction when you feel cast out and separate from the world around you (as evidenced by the mantra of “This world has no safe space for me”). This record reminds me that constructing works of fiction should serve a purpose.
Now, expressing yourself creatively is a wonderful purpose in its own right. Taking your hurt and pain, or your enthusiasm and ideas, and crafting something new out of that is, on the whole, inherently good. But things are different if you intend your work to be consumed (by which I mean read, viewed, listened to, or any other form of interaction) by others, especially if money enters in to the equation. This is an especially important point in modern mainstream fantasy and sci-fi. The genres are awash with dystopian worlds, mostly typically in the form of cyberpunk and authoritarian sci-fi, or pseduo-realistic fantasy inspired by Game of Thrones. This has led to a normalisation (and perhaps even an expectation) of fictional worlds where rape and violence (especially against women) is common; and, in “realistic” fantasy, of constructing imagined worlds which are dominated by stereotypical masculine white males. It is as if it is easier for writers, video game designers, and TV producers to imagine worlds where aliens, elves and dwarves are taken for granted; but the idea of a woman, or person of colour (or someone who is disabled; or identify as non-binary; or don’t conform to heterosexual expectations – and so on and so on) in a position of power or defying convention is unthinkable.
Now, if you want to construct worlds like that – whatever. That’s your choice, and I won’t stop you. But far more exciting to me is imagining worlds which do not mirror the power hierarchies of our world; where “medieval fantasy” does not inherently mean images of an imagined white Europe; where violence is not the first (or only) answer; where homophobia, sexism, racism, transphobia, and so on are all considered “the norm”. A Pessimistic Doomsayer inspires me to want to create art that makes people feel better, that offers a respite from the horrors of everyday life – that offers a safe, welcoming space for those who might not have one.
It’s interesting also that Vile Creature’s new album is built upon a work of fiction the duo have created themselves, and looks to be one of the best albums of 2018.
Planes Mistaken For Stars – Fuck With Fire
In contrast to the albums discussed above, Fuck With Fire by Planes Mistaken For Stars is short, loud, and fast. Its whiskey-drenched post-hardcore sits at the point where Motorhead meets Rites of Spring, and is perfect for when you need motivation, fast. There’s a real vitality and sense of urgency to this record, which (largely) races by at incredible, reckless speed. Yet more than this, Fuck With Fire possesses a sense of poetry in its lyrics (as all Planes Mistaken For Stars records do), that speak of a desire to learn from past hurts, and to make the most of the time we have available.
Put bluntly, we will all die one day. The question is, how do we spend our time alive, and what will we leave behind us when we are gone. Generally speaking, we don’t like to think about death – about how it can creep up on us without warning, how one day we are here, and the next we are not. If there is something you want to do, why are you waiting? We all have responsibilities, but once those are taken care of, what is more important than reaching for our dreams, for fulfilling our desires, for living the way we want to live? If you have ideas for a novel, a painting, to pick up your guitar or flute or keyboard or whatever and make something – why not do it? That’s what this album says to me. Or, as the band put it on ‘End Me In Richmond’ – “This is your document / It’s your last dance / So fuck your standing still”, a song that pretty much changed my life.
Of course, all of these are only intended as ideas, and may do nothing for your creativity; but hopefully the article serves its purpose, in getting you to think about what inspires you, and to go to those records (or books, or pictures, and so on) and to create something yourself. Or maybe you’ll just listen to some awesome records, which is also a fine outcome. Either way, I hope you got something out of this.