The definition of music has varied throughout the years, along with its supposed purpose. Is it a mere source of entertainment, or something much deeper? Our relationship with music spans back centuries and centuries. The earliest poetry is believed to have been recited or sung, used as a way of remembering oral history, genealogy, and law. Poetry is frequently described as being closely related to musical traditions, and the earliest poetry exists in the form of hymns, tying it to religion also. This begs the question, are the ties still as strong and evident as they were then?
Atwood Magazine recently spoke to Stevie Appleby, frontman for five-piece indie-rock band Little Green Cars. In this interview, Appleby talked us through his thoughts on this matter, providing us with a personal insight into the impact music has had on his own life and on the band. “I’m not sure really if there exists a link between poetry and music anymore. There’s a certain admittance in poetry that seems to go against a ‘rock and roll’ frame of mind. So much of what is taught through music these days is this attitude of ‘ I don’t care’, where I think poetry says ‘ wait a second, I do care…a lot,” Appleby explains. March 2016 saw the release of Little Green Cars’ second album, Ephemara. Its name, taken from a poem by Irish poet W.B Yeats, means anything that is not not meant to be preserved, but short-lived.
I’m not sure really if there exists a link between poetry and music anymore.
Following this theme of poetry, on each night of their tour, Appleby would take a break from playing to recite one of his own poems for Little Green Cars’ audience. It offered a moment of reflection and a pause of thought for those gathered, almost slowing down time to listen close. “The poem? Well, I’m not a great public speaker, I’m more of just an awkward blob of dandruff and anxiety so stage talk has always been hard for me. With the poem, I wanted to write something that I could recite that also had some meaning to it. Something I really believed in. To me it seemed more meaningful than just this robotic stage ‘banter’ between songs. I’m a mumbler too, so I’ve been working on my diction.“ This kind of bond with an audience is one of the main things keeping live performances alive. The intimacy and passion displayed on stage are just as important as lyrics and melody. A good album always sounds even better live.
Another key feature of Little Green Cars’ performances are the frequent attempts at breaking down the barrier between audience and performers. “I’d like to think that when people see us on stage that they could just as easily see themselves up there, because in a way it is them up there.” During an encore, the band would often conclude the show with an acoustic performance of “The John Wayne” in the heart of their audience. If that means moving people from seats and risking a possible injury from awkwardness, so be it. “When you’re singing the song, you’re dealing with all the emotions that you’ve written about all over again and you can see other people dealing with them too and that really helps. You’re all dealing with it together and I know that sounds cheesy, but that’s just how I’ve felt at times. I’d like to think that somehow we can give back what the audience has given us.“ While most people would often cringe at the thought of audience participation, there’s no denying the soul-soaring joy that comes with a good sing-song.
I think that beauty is the beast
It’s in my head while I can’t sleep
It’s everything I want to be
Makes me happy
And when I’m walking down the street
All of the people that I see
I think they’re all looking at me
Makes me happy
Watch: “The John Wayne” (acoustic) – Little Green Cars
As a band, Little Green Cars were never ones to shy from emotion; each of their albums featuring intimate laments to love, loss and grief. Such beautiful lyrics and emotional understanding originated from a collection of the band’s own personal experiences, “They [songs] are taken from personal experience, but I’ve realised that most personal experience is actually universally shared.” Once again, Appleby specifies the band’s crucial connection towards their audience and listeners through music. “There’s this piece of classical music called Fauré: Requiem. I remember my dad taking me to see it while we were writing the second album, and he told me how they guy who wrote it, Mr. Fauré, I guess, had written it for his own fathers funeral because he didn’t like the normal religious music that was all fire and brimstone. That really struck me. How this guy had made this beautiful world out of such grief. It’s something I aspire to do.“
In terms of writing, Appleby spoke to us about his personal process, along with the creative identity of Little Green Cars as a whole. Their unique and truly indescribable sound is like no other and, surprisingly, has been present in the band’s music from the beginning. “To say it [their sound] came naturally wouldn’t really be true because it was a lot of hard work, but to say it’s a lot of hard work would go against the parts that came naturally. I guess the sound came out of somewhere in between.” This further proves the idea that creativity of any kind has no set process or formula that can be taught in a classroom, or through YouTube. Comparing this to Appleby’s own creative process, the answer is no different, “I would try and let my subconscious take the wheel. I would sing the first thing that came to my head and then ask’ why did I sing that, what’s going on in my head right now and why?’ A song is a sort of investigation, or a one on one therapy session with myself. If it rhymes then I know I’m on the right track…” Spontaneity seems to be a core aspect of creation; being ready with a pen at any moment when inspiration could strike.
Like many artists, Little Green Cars take a lot of inspiration from childhood and adolescent experiences. It’s evident from their music that religion played quite a leading role in the early stages of their lives. Note the religious references in songs like The Factory and the overall, gospel and hymn-like sound of Little Green Cars. As one of the band’s leading lyricists, Appleby discusses its origin, “I went to a catholic school and I had to go to mass every Thursday and for someone with the attention span of a psychotic puppy, that’s an awful lot of time to think, and that’s an awful lot of thinking to do surrounded by various bits and bobs of religious iconography. I guess some of it seeped in.’, Appleby reminisces, ‘But it [religion] brings people comfort and to me, there’s some similarities there between it and music. I try to avoid actually going to mass now out of fear of bursting into flames…” This close-tie between music and religion is quite common and despite how much we’ve changed since poems were sung, religion is still featuring in our musical culture.
Upon listening to Ephemara, one might begin to notice a recurring theme of escapism. This idea of fearing banality and losing yourself to a world of one’s own features in all our lives, whether it be through a hazy daydream, a few hours with your headphones in, or simply delving into a good book. Little Green Cars have harnessed this idea and knotted it through the various themes of Ephemara. “Ha, when it comes to escapism I’m Harold Houdini!’, Appleby jokes, ‘Writing songs isn’t exactly the healthiest way of dealing with things, so sometimes escape is necessary. It’s a small mercy. Like I said before, it’s something I do quite a lot and I do it well, so it inevitably permeates into the work, but I feel I should but a disclaimer here: you can’t escape you.“
Watch: “Easier Day” – Little Green Cars
Ephemara isn’t the only literary reference in the music of Little Green Cars. Many of their songs are frequently inspired by, or even named after the greats in literature; Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Clair De Lune, etc… “I left school at an early age so in an attempt to try and educate myself I spent a lot of time reading books. I’m dyslexic so for a long time books were the enemy. They just made me feel stupid. So I made an effort to become a bookworm.“ Books and other writings can often be categorised as outlets for escapism. They enable you to delve into a fictional world for a while, tying in with the many other themes of Ephemara and Appleby’s lyrics. “I felt I had something to prove and now books are a very important part of my life. They allowed me to see the world through a number of perspectives and were also an escape. It’s strange, after leaving school at 17 and having nothing but freedom, I found myself having to escape more and more often.”
In the end, we asked Stevie Appleby, what his personal take on the state of the music industry was. Are songs still considered as modern poetry? Does music still hold the same comforting and healing powers it once did? Most importantly, have we strayed from lyrically-powerful songs in exchange for something quick and catchy that scoops up the most downloads and in turn, losing music as a means of creative expression entirely?
“I can’t tell you how much I would just like to say ‘no comment’ to this question and kind of just let it answer itself, but I won’t. I’ll tell you what I think, but keep in mind, I’ve found over the years that, quite often, what I think is wrong. I feel that some music nowadays treats me as if I’m stupid. As if I’m this over-simplistic animal that just wants to be rich and have sex. I’m pretty sick of it and I think a lot of people are getting sick of it too, but there’s a whole world of music out there. If you’re looking for more heart-felt stuff, it’s easy to find. Maybe some day soon, there will be some sort of revolution and people will say, ‘Hey, maybe I do want to be rich and have sex….but here’s why and here’s what it means’. But, like I said, I could be dead wrong.“
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cover: Little Green Cars © 2017