Cat Stevens/Yusuf – Peace Train

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What’s Your Background Music?

The creative process is often a solitary affair, wherein the creator must form a bubble around themselves, delve inward, and then tangle with their demons. While musicians have an obvious soundtrack to the creative process—I mean, their act of creation is to make that soundtrack—us less-than-musical creatives, if we desire background music, will have to look toward the work of others.

Writers, painters, woodworkers, mathematicians, jewelry makers, and more; we all tap into the same process.  For me, as a storyteller, my soundtrack operates on a scene by scene basis. Sometimes, the best soundtrack is simply the world outside my window, and I’ll use the sounds of the breeze, passing cars and voices on the street to create my world.

But at the same time, when I begin delving deeper into the storyline, I always create a musical soundtrack for every book I write: a list of songs, put together, that capture the tone of my work.  These soundtracks can get quite long, as I do a lot of writing, but I’ll give a few examples.

Art by Shelley C

Art by Shelley C

For The Cage Legacy, my soundtrack was suitably dark, angry and tragic, as would befit the story of a serial killer’s teenage son. There was a lot of Clint Mansell.  Some Smashing Pumpkins, as well. As Ethan is the kind of brooding 2000s-era high school millennial that nostalgically listens to 90s grunge, some of that made its way on there.

One piece in particular that I kept coming back to was Peter Gabriel’s dark, moody take on Arcade Fire’s song, “My Body is a Cage.”  Unsurprisingly, the whole “cage” thing in the title was definitely what led me to the song, but even today, it captures a certain emotion that always takes me right back into Ethan’s story.


Now, this brings us to Pale Highway, which possesses a different tone altogether.

Whereas The Cage Legacy was about adolescence, Pale Highway is about an older man nearing the end of a long life. Pale Highway is a contemplative character study of this brilliant man losing himself to an unbeatable disease, while racing against the clock to do one last good thing for the world before his dementia claims him.

For Pale Highway’s soundtrack, the music that I kept coming back to was the work of The Album Leaf, an ambient post-rock project by Jimmy Lavalle. There’s something so unique about the Album Leaf’s sound that totally captures the tone I envisioned in my head when crafting Pale Highway.  The two albums that most influenced me were 2001’s One Day I’ll be On Time and 2006’s Into the Blue Again; in order to fully appreciate both albums, both should be listened to in their entirety, where every track builds upon the last.  For the purpose of this post, however, these are the parts that had the most impact on me:

Naturally, as I write this post I’m listening to “Gust of…,” sipping on some coffee and enjoying the view of life outside my window.  Autumn is just starting to whisper clues about its arrival, but that beaming summer sun looks to be holding strong for at least another few weeks.

So, that’s me.  What about you guys?  When you’re working on your various creative projects, whatever they may be, what sort of soundtrack do you have?