Listening to Music to Write Books by Adam Gnade So it’s winter and it’s horrible outside and I’m writing a new book that’s keeping me out of the cold. It’s consuming work, which feels good, but because of the workload, I need tools that help me along. Some of those are secrets and I won’t say anything about them. (You’ve got to keep some of your magic tricks to yourself or else they stop being both magic and tricks.) What I want to talk about here is rhythm. This new book is really upbeat, violent, and rowdy. To keep the pace and energy going, I need a good steady sense of rhythm, and I get it by playing records while I work (which is kind of like listening to a click track when you’re recording a guitar part.) Music with prominent lyrics doesn’t work, unless the lyrics are incomprehensible (e.g. hardcore, noise, foreign language music) and/or sparse (see Yume Bitsu below). And there’s got to be some variety to match the variance of the human experience (if you’re writing about the human experience.) The best thing, I’ve decided, is to have a few good records in your quiver, records that you know well enough to match rhythm to story. Here’s what I’m working with right now. 1. Yume Bitsu Golden Vessyl of Sound (K Records) I usually stick with the first side of the first record on this double 12”. Later on it dips into some strange chaotic waters, but the first side is slow and steady and works well for dialog chapters and any internal or introspective stuff. There are vocals, but they’re hazy and opaque and stretched out into these long vaporous chants and drones. One downside is that while the space jam stuff fits the mood of the place I’m in (winter in Portland) it doesn’t fit the story I need to tell. Besides the very appropriate seagull samples (new age!), if I need something like Yume that feels more like the place I’m writing (San Diego) I go with: 2. The Album Leaf In an Off White Room (Troubleman Unlimited) This one sounds like San Diego, or at least the San Diego I’m writing, which is all dusky late-afternoons, dust bunnies on maple hardwood floors, and blushing crimson sunsets over Golden Hill. It’s a 10”, which ends quick, so if that doesn’t go the distance I’ll use… 3. The Album Leaf One Day I’ll Be on Time (Tiger Style) While not my top Album Leaf pick, this one’s a workhorse double-12” and serves the same purpose. Because I’ve had this forever, I know it front to back and I know which sides work for which stories. This one’s perfect for writing mellow chapters full of dusty sunlight coming through plastic window blinds, rosy half-asleep mornings, and big sighs of resolution after nasty drama and existential horror. Speaking of which… 4. Ornette Coleman Double Quartet Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (Atlantic) This freaky 12” is my hero when I need to divine some murderous danger, reckless fun, and/or general disobedience. 5. Dave Brubeck Jazz Impressions of New York (Columbia) This was released in 1964 as the soundtrack to a TV series called Mr. Broadway, which I’ve never seen. Melody and improvisation. Big swarming, bustling city vibe. Very 1950s American. Good muscle for straight long-haul work when you need to sit down, grit your teeth, and tap out a 10-page chapter of linear physical action. Good for describing places too—if that place happens to be downtown San Diego at night when all the bars have let out and fog is rolling in over Harbor Island. I know nothing about jazz and I know less about Dave Brubeck. I don’t even know how this record came to me, but it did, and I’m happy with that.