ome time ago I was sitting on a bus with a token playlist of songs that had influenced my life in some way or another. Being somewhat refreshed, I started thinking of all the times that these songs had become significant and thought, wouldn’t it be an excellent idea to delve into other people’s ‘Life Record Boxes’.
Today is the turn of Matthew Rawlings of Friends In America. You can find out more about their music here: friendsinamericamusic.bandcamp.com
The Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls
When I was about five years old, my second home was in front of my grandparents’ television. I was watching the film Flight of the Navigator when The Beach Boys Surfin’ USA. I ended up dancing in my pyjamas while my granddad sipped Skol and laughed. I was in love. So why isn’t this pick The Beach Boys? Well, as a surprise, my grandparents bought me a cassette of what they thought was the band I wouldn’t shut up about. Turns out they’d actually bought me The Pet Shop Boys Discography – Complete Singles Collection. So, being grateful but a little disappointed, I listened to nothing but that album for months trying to like it. It worked.
Simon & Garfunkel – Keep the Customer Satisfied
This song reminds me of my father driving me to the local leisure centre to learn how to swim shortly after my parents got divorced. My father and older brother always had a great deal in common (sport mainly) which I was clueless about, so those drives back and forth singing along to Simon and Garfunkel were like our own wonderfully lame club. I will always cherish those memories, and am eternally grateful for being introduced to an act that completely shaped how I view pop music, the importance of lyrics and my undying love of reverb.
John Travolta – Sandy (Grease OST)
Long before I ever started writing songs or playing in bands, I acted in school plays and community theatre. That’s what I wanted to do. So much so that I actually applied and was accepted to a number of university acting and theatre programmes before I had a change of heart. Whenever I did any audition, I would sing ‘Sandy (Stranded at the Drive-in)’ because it is next to impossible not to feel like a wounded badass when you’re belting out that song. It’s just wonderful. Quality musicals – excluding Disney – are a dying breed these days (unless you count those karaoke musicals where they just sing old pop songs and piss glitter in your face…which I don’t). It’s a damn shame.
Blink 182 – Every Time I Look For You
The reason I started playing bass guitar when I was 13 is because I wanted to be Mark Hoppus. The reason I went on to learn guitar when I was 15 was because I wanted to be Tom DeLonge. As far as bands go, Blink 182 will always be up there as probably the most influential band for me. Not because of how their music influences my own (which it doesn’t), but because they opened up such wide fields of influence for me. They got me to learn two instruments by ear (I didn’t want lessons because that didn’t seem cool), and these guys were telling me to check out Fugazi, Built to Spill and The Cure before the internet or my friends were. In every sense, they were a gateway band for where I am now.
Idlewild – Idea Track
If you’re in your mid to late twenties, grew up in Scotland and are reading this, odds are you love Idlewild to. I got 100 Broken Windows by trading a burned copy of Papa Roach’s Infest and The Crow on VHS to my friend John when I was 14. I’d heard his sister playing ‘Idea Track’ on repeat in the next room, and I’d caught the video for ‘These Wooden Ideas’ on MTV2 and knew I needed this album in my sexless, chains-on-my-baggy-jeans life. There are a few of those bands from your youth that don’t age at all for you, and it’s nothing to do with nostalgia. It’s just timeless. Idlewild are that band for me. Also, Deftones.
Radiohead – Where I End and You Begin
A girl I really wanted to hold hands with in high school told me she liked Radiohead, so I bought her Hail to the Thief, thinking it would win her heart. She said she liked it, before going off to meet her new boyfriend. As I listened to the copy I’d bought myself (so we could talk about it, maybe pick out a song and have that be “our song”) I thought to myself “I wonder if this is how every guy falls in love with Radiohead?” I like to think so. They’re the most consistently great thing I’ve had in my life since.
Elliott Smith – King’s Crossing
As I was finishing school and getting ready for university, From a Basement on the Hill came out. It was released a year after Smith’s death and marked the first record I’d ever heard by him in full (not including the soundtrack to Good Will Hunting). It felt like the scales had been lifted from my eyes. Here was this sweet and anxious voice bridging the gap between The Beatles and the new wave of emotive rock bands of the late 90s/early 00s with lyrics so perfect they seemed impossible. He was a singer/songwriter who wasn’t afraid to get mad, play dirty, to go electric, toy with ambience and echoes and light a fire under the apathetic even when he was one of them. I will always love that man for his sincerity and his unknowable heart.
Pedro the Lion – Magazine
This song, and David Bazan’s (singer/guitarist of PTL) entire discography is interesting because it’s like one sustained break up over many years, but Bazan literally broke off his relationship with God. The early bliss of ignorance, the bitter years of stubbornness and finally the turbulent break up are all catalogued in his music. As someone who was a fair-weather Christian as a child (I wanted there to be a heaven because it seemed like a wonderful idea), to being a teenage agnostic (out of pure fear of dying) to an adult accepting atheism, Bazan’s lyrics offer a textured and nuanced discussion of fear, faith and being alive rarely captured or attempted in music. My favourite lyricist who’s still making music to this day.
There Will Be Fireworks – Headlights
One of the boots up my ass to make me start taking the making of music seriously on a personal level was when my cherished friend and bacon aficionado David Weaver showed me TWBF debut album with the pitch “You love this band. You haven’t heard them yet, but deep down you love them”. At a time when Scottish music seemed to be stuck at a fork in the road somewhere between wanting to be the next Biffy Clyro and wanting to be the next NME haircut band, these guys made a raw, shatteringly sincere album that tipped its hat to Neutral Milk Hotel, Explosions in the Sky and blended it together with incendiary emotion that floored me on the first listen. I thought “These guys give a shit about every part of the song, not just riffs or hooks. They care about the spaces between”. A year after hearing the album, I formed Friends in America.
Taylor Swift – Enchanted
I wish, more than anything, I had thought up the lyric “Please don’t be in love with someone else. Please don’t have somebody waiting on you”. It’s utterly perfect. I listen to Taylor Swift more than pretty much anyone these days because, like all great pop music, it speaks universally while maintaining a personality all of its own. The personality she exudes, the specific inflections and lyrical references she makes all make you feel a kinship with where she’s at in any given song. I have more admiration for Taylor Swift than I do for just about anyone making their way in music right now. She’s a star, and I’ll follow her wherever she goes.