I get asked a lot in introductions and interviews, "What inspires you?" I tend to start off with answers to what they're really asking, "How do you stay relevant?" and I name off design blogs, Twitter handles, and local gallery-bars that I infrequently frequent. However, I find I most often get my visual inspiration from music.
As a teenager, my first life aspiration was to be (stay) in the theater. Through high school and college, I starred in musicals like Once Upon a Mattress, Little Shop of Horrors, Grease, and Into the Woods. Musical theater creates the raw emotion of face-to-face performance and amps up the volume with a fully orchestrated (sometimes omnipresent) soundtrack. Shows like The Last Five Years, Fun House, Les Miserables, Company, The Book of Mormon, and Sunday in the Park with George have been go-to's in this first decade of design. I find the music of these shows creates a safety net for me, opening up my brain to receive new ideas, no matter how foreign they may seem to me. Safety is a large part of my emotional requirement foundation. Designing something new usually doesn't mix well with watching a new movie or tv show, or listening to something I don't already know the lyrics to. It's limiting, but it works.
I am inspired by emotional moments, and rarely a medium expresses true emotion to me better than musical theater.
The dichotomy between what must be done and what else is being ignored in that time? The dichotomy of thinking, speaking, and living in design and the sudden drop off when transitioning to living back in the real world? Whew.
On days I need to heads-down focus, there's really only one album that gets me there. It's NSFW, but in the world of headphones, no problem. A long, immaculate mashup that pairs Black Sabbath with Ludacris, Simon and Garfunkle with Lil Jon, Eric Clapton with B.O.B., Wiz Khalifa with John Lennon, and more? Yeah. It's intense. And perfect. Here's the whole album. Girl Talk's All Day. (All day, indeed.)
I made an observation this year that the art that most profoundly affects me all has one thing in common — its subject, creator, or message seems to feel the pain I have once felt before. Returning to the idea of musicals (which I am prone to do incessantly) The Origin of Love from Hedwig and the Angry Inch observes:
I could tell by your expression
that the pain down in your soul
was the same as the one down in mine.
That's the pain
that cuts a straight line
down through the heart.
And we call it love.
In my teens, I obsessively clung to singer-songwriters. With longstanding love affairs with Jim Croce, James Taylor, Don McLean, Kris Kristofferson, and Merle Haggard, in 2005, I found a contemporary obsession in the South Dakota based "desert rock" band The Spill Canvas. After (finally) finding their debut album Sunsets and Car Crashes in the Haight Asbury Tower Records in 2005, my true connection with writing poetry began. One of my earliest journals is full of Spill creator Nick's words, and I spent a lot of time crafting my emotional responses to life's occurrences in a similar fashion to the way he did. And I think the reason is because he, more than any artist, seemed to have this Hedwig-esque understanding of what was happening, despite our ages, geography, and circumstances being much, much different. Many years, miles, and albums later, I am so proud and honored to call Nick my friend. And I hope our short, disparate conversations have adequately let him know that his years of distant support through just creating his art have offered me more comfort, inspiration, and perseverance than any other artist, visual or otherwise. In essence, I have never found an artist to impact me more profoundly than he, and I continue to find a safe, profound, and deeply moving message in his music.
This song resonates with a time in my life I had to make a difficult decision about myself. When taken literally, the song is quite sad. But I find strength in remembering this specific moment and deciding to become something greater than the circumstances that were attempting to narrate my life for me. Thank you, Nick. For this and everything else.
Other albums and artists I use for inspiration are below. My music tends to change with my moods, and I like to cater my input to my output sometimes. I would apologize for the absolute absurdity of this collection, but honestly, I'm not at all sorry.
I leave you with these. Choose wisely, enjoy, and come back for more.