Unexpected Influences: An Inside Look

By Jacob Eckert

In the modern era of creating music, there is a far wider source of influences than ever before for artists to draw from, with access to the bodies of work by past musicians facilitated by the enormous musical library available on the internet and of course a continuously-growing amount of rock music being created every day. As a result, one could claim that music has become more derivative than ever, simply drawing off the innovations of the past and lacking any real originality.

However, from another viewpoint, this has simply widened the sonic scope of modern music, with large amounts of distinct and often obscure influences being woven together to create a sound both grounded in the past and forward-looking.

Tame ImpalaLonerism
Lonerism is one of those records that expertly achieves a blending of past influences to create an undeniably new sound. The record undoubtedly has a very vintage feel to it, but the band also enters some new territory with their sound. Their mix of the indie sound and the 60s psych vibe have made them very successful, both critically and commercially.

One definite influence on Lonerism is the percussion sound pioneered by electronic/psych innovators Silver Apples. Kevin Parker must have been listening to Silver Apples songs such as “Oscillations” and “Program” constantly and on repeat when recording the drum parts for his band’s songs. The somewhat free-form and heavily-progressive nature of the drums on Silver Apples’ two classic records are echoed heavily in both of Tame Impala’s soon-to-be classic records, and further electronic elements from the band in songs such as “I Have Known Love” may very well have served as influences for tracks on the more electronically-grounded Lonerism such as “Music to Walk Home By”.

However, despite the fact that Silver Apples were a pioneering electronic psych group that certainly influenced Lonerism’s sound, many of Lonerism’s quirky electronic elements can perhaps be more accurately traced back to Todd Rundgren’s classic 1973 record, A Wizard, A True Star. This record, Todd Rundgren’s finest hour, features a great deal of playful, eccentric electronic sounds in tracks such as “Flamingo” and “Does Anybody Love You?” that can be seen as clear predecessors to Tame Impala’s sound on tracks like “Endors Toi” (particularly the part where it explodes from its opening at about the 30-second mark) and the background keyboard part throughout “Keep on Lying.”

There are countless other influences on Lonerism, and the band is able to seamlessly pull together these disparate sounds to form a coherent, innovative whole.

Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues
Fleet Foxes is clearly a group that sounds like they love the folk and folk-rock music of the 60s and 70s, but on their newest album, Helplessness Blues, they take these past influences and add a more progressive element to their songwriting. This makes their album perhaps a bit more forward-thinking than the sources from which they draw their inspiration.

However, there are several folk bands and musicians that had a slightly progressive sound of their own and likely served as inspiration for the great tracks by Fleet Foxes. One artist whose sound is heavily reflected in the Foxes’ current sound is country musician John D. Loudermilk, particularly on his album The Open Mind of John D. Loudermilk. Although this album is more playful and less serious than Fleet Foxes’ records, some of its tracks sound remarkably similar to the sound that Fleet Foxes would revisit some 30 years later. To hear a very striking example of some influence that may have been grabbed by Fleet Foxes from this record, check out the track “Nassau Town,” a song whose gentle guitar strumming and beautiful vocal harmony highly resemble the sound on Fleet Foxes’ newest offering.

A more recent artist that has remained undeservedly obscure is Bill Fox. He may very well have assisted in Fleet Foxes’ creative process. His 1998 masterpiece Shelter from the Smoke is a beautifully crafted, very lo-fi offering in the singer-songwriter/folk-rock vein. Listening to tracks on this record such as “Appalachian Death Rant” (which itself sounds like it could easily be a Fleet Foxes song title someday) and “Let in the Sun” — though this track may be a bit more indie pop than the Fleet Foxes — sound like tracks that the Foxes may have been listening to quite often while creating their great folk records.

Of course, Fleet Foxes has many more evident influences, such as Neil Young and The Band, but as for influences drawn from a more obscure source, Bill Fox and John D. Loudermilk seem like strong potential candidates.

Dirty ProjectorsSwing Lo Magellan
Despite, on the surface, belonging to the indie pop genre, Dirty Projectors have a great deal of similarity to several of the great 70s progressive rock groups. Their sound is absolutely unique, taking progressive song structures and beats and inserting a layer of very innovative, soulful vocal performances. Nevertheless, some of the tricks that this band pulls off with their brilliant instrumentation can certainly be traced back to equally-groundbreaking progressive groups that came before them.

Perhaps one of the closest links that can be drawn between Dirty Projectors and the 70s prog scene is with the group Gentle Giant. Taking into account the fact that both bands use very off-kilter rhythms and quirky instrumentation, it is quite likely that David Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors is a big fan of Gentle Giant. Tracks like “The House the Street the Room” by Gentle Giant are great demonstrations of the band’s tendency to frequently allow their sound to explore many new areas within the span of a single song, a tactic used by Dirty Projectors as well.

Gentle Giant also uses vocals with enormous pitch ranges much like the Dirty Projectors. To see the similarities in the vocals between the two groups, just check out “About to Die” off Dirty Projector’s new record and “Experience” by Gentle Giant. In any case, Dirty Projectors may take the new ground covered by Gentle Giant’s instrumentation and vocal parts, but they inject a level of soul and indie pop into their music that makes it fantastically unique and highly original.

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