One question I've tried to avoid asking musicians I get to chat with is, "Who are your musical influences?"
It's trite. And if you really love music, you can figure out the answer to this question at least eight out of ten times.
But the biggest reason I don't ask is because I know the answer will sometimes be dishonest. And the reason it will be dishonest is because most of them will forget or fail to mention their earliest musical influences: the cartoons and kids' TV shows they grew up watching.
My kids are musicians and grew up in the '90s. They were certainly influenced by artists with high cool factors, like Sublime and Liz Phair. But I was there and I can tell you, if anyone ever asks them, they'd better include Barney the Dinosaur among their influences.
The Purple One was staple TV in our household for a couple of years. If you're aware of the big guy but never watched the show, it's chock full of singing. Mostly stuff like "The Wheels on the Bus" and possibly the most annoying song ever penned, "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt."
Those songs were the earliest instances of rhythm and tempo my kids paid attention to. More importantly, they were examples of songs that stayed in your head, usually long after you wanted them to. If you want to build an audience as a grown-up musician, that's a pretty good model for a song.
I figured I'd ask some musicians -- locals and out-of-towners -- if they cared to admit they were first influenced by Bear in the Big Blue House and not Kurt Cobain. Did they want to share something more truthful than saying "My music was inspired by the esoteric wisdom of Smashing Pumpkins?" We all know the first thing most '90s kids sang was the Pokemon theme.
"That took some serious thinking, I even had to ask my mom," laughs James McDowell, Jr., guitarist and vocalist for locals Decathect. His band is writing new music to debut in the fall, around the first anniversary of last year's EP No Respawn.
"I'd have to say Scooby-Doo," McDowell continues. "Various bands or musicians would appear in episodes, if I'm remembering correctly, and I remember specifically being more into those episodes as a kid. It makes sense, considering my love for the darker side of life, music and general goofiness."
"Honestly, I used to love some of the artists that came on All That," figures Jesse Moya, the lead man for New Mexico's Desert Ratts who lists Jim Croce as his main musical influence. "That was my first introduction to hip-hop when I was younger, and I think we need more of that now. I mean every generation has its flaws, but to me there is something wrong with an eight-year-old singing the lyrics to 'You a Stupid Hoe.'"
Casper Allen is a talented singer songwriter who tours and writes incessantly. You may have read about him here before. He's touring with New Orleans' Thistle! and they'll be sharing a bill with Pittsburgh artists Driftwood Shotgun at Eastside Social Center this Friday night.
"I discovered Daria sometime right after I hit puberty," Allen says. "Through reruns on 'teen-oriented' TV networks, I developed a passionate apathy in regards to everything and a passion for moody, smart and apathetic chicks. And I think most of the material I write about is directly tied to moody, smart and apathetic chicks. Thanks, Daria!"
Story continues on the next page.
"Always thought this rooster got down," says Skatastrophics' frontman Billy Munoz, who shared a video clip of the song "Not in Nottingham" from the 1973 Disney film, Robin Hood.
Munoz is a man of few words, but he's long on cool. If you've never caught him live, his band opens for The Slackers this Monday April 7 at Scout Bar. Go check him out and see how his inspiration -- Roger Miller's Alan-a Dale -- influenced his soulful sound.
Christi Mikles sings and plays a mean musical saw for different groups in and around Fort Collins, Colo. She lists Sesame Street songs like "Mahna, Mahna" and "People in Your Neighborhood" as some of the earliest music she dug, along with tunes from Captain Kangaroo and Romper Room.
She actually was one of the Romper Room kids for a week or so, Mikles adds. That helped her prep for a later turn on TV's Star Search.
"I did, in fact, try out for Star Search when I was in primary school," she says. "I sang some Christian song called 'Emily' that my music teacher chose. The lyrics I remember are 'On a wire, balancing your dreams, hoping ends will meet their means, but you feel alone/ Uninspired, well does it help you to know that I believe in you? You're an angel waiting for wings, Emily.'"
Scoops Martin of the Baton Rouge-based Scissor Dicks says, "Every time the mail lady comes I sing the mail song from Blue's Clues."
Brew Breaux, meanwhile, leads ragtime vagabonds Thistle!, who recently Bandcamped a bunch of bawdy old standards, songs like "Shave 'Em Dry" and "Rotten Cocksucker's Ball." Quite a departure from Weinerville, a puppet show that ran in the early 1990s on Nickelodeon.
"I remember being told that I would always go around singing the 'I'm Boney, I'm Boney, leave me aloney' bit," he says. "I remember a lot of Muppet Babies, and I was really into Digimon, whenever that was a new thing."
Breaux remembers being kicked out of piano lessons at age six, didn't really like music until junior high and would make mixtapes of The Casualties and Dr. Demento songs. If there was any indication he'd wind up playing standards like "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," it was this:
"I'm told that I enjoyed singing that song that goes, 'It's alright to be itty bitty in a big ol' town or an itty bitty city/ Might as well laugh, might as well smile, life goes on for an itty bitty while,'" he admits.
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