Ben Lovett on creativity

Asheville-based musician, composer, filmmaker and producer Ben Lovett (not the Mumford & Sons band member of the same name) recently launched the four-EP series, Lovers & Friends. It came about when he was introduced to 12 songwriters in Los Angeles, and during a series of blind-date-type meet-ups, composed songs with each of those strangers-turned-collaborators. Follow the series at youtube.com/user/LoversLabel.

Here, Lovett talks about creating art, where ideas come from, and how to not be held back by fear or uncertainty.

Lovett in a still from his music video for

Lovett in a still from his music video for “HEARTATTACK.”

A fundamental part of my philosophy is to never let the fear of not know what I’m doing prevent me from trying.

The first thing I really ever did was make music for these guys’ movie in college, when I was a freshman or sophomore. I had no idea what I was doing. I was like, “I don’t know anything about writing music for a movie,” and they were like, “Well, we don’t know anything about making one.” I was like, “OK, awesome.”

That whole experience was so encouraging and rewarding that it multiplied into all these other things I’ve done. If you were to find a common thread, it’s [that] I charged into them inexperienced and without any idea of what I was doing. But if you’re too preoccupied with looking cool, you’re going to miss out on a lot of stuff. If you’re trapped in the fear of coming across looking stupid or untalented, you’re really not even allowing access to all the other parts of yourself … that you need to create art.

You’ve got to learn that even your most embarrassing moments are not going to kill you. In fact, sometimes they give you a really good story. On a long time line, that’s all you’re looking for — as many good stories as you can find.

If you knew were [ideas] came from, you’d go there more often and just stand at the door. It’s almost like you accidentally tune into that frequency. You have these moments where it’s coming in, but it’s coming in a little hazy you’re just off the dial of it. You’re constantly trying to figure out which way you need to lean or turn to get it to come in clearer.

Every songwriter and writer and artist has had these moments where it’s just, bam! Bolt of lightning. All of a sudden this whole thing comes through you in one spell. You don’t know why or where, but it’s so profound and it’s so real. You only ever feel the slightest bit, if any, responsible for it. You become addicted and you’re waiting around, trying to do anything you can to get it to come back.

There’s no more sort of religious experience, for me, when you go from nothing to a song that now exists. It will outlive you and it’s a companion for the rest of your life. It makes you feel lucky to be alive and to be in touch with that, [as if] you were tapped [to] have that luck that day.

I feel more like I’m just waving around my butterfly net most of the time. Every now and then you’re like, “A butterfly! Oh my god!” You can only really ever get better at building your net or waving it around. You don’t really know how to make the butterfly fly into any better.

So you want to be an artist.

From a 2009 interview of Asheville-based painter Barbara Fisher by Constance Humphries:

What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?

• Experiment a lot, follow your instincts.

DSCF3771• Let go of thinking you know what you’re doing.

• Start over again (if you’re just out of school).

• Set regular studio hours and show up.

• Work hard and listen to your inner voice.

• Don’t compare yourself to other artists.

• Talk to artists you admire.

• Don’t whine, it’s not an easy career path.

Watching YouTube videos while eating lunch

VocalistThere’s a thing about a singing voice, the way it tells a different story that the speaking voice. Different from actions, different from looks. You can hear a song from another room, you can hear a song that you wouldn’t normally like, you can hear a song that doesn’t necessarily work. But if the singer is reeling the gold light in through his lungs and casting it out again, a fleet thread invisible in the air, then little else matters.

The vocal is the thing that shapes a lyric. Words are wet clay, you can carve them with a pen or with a voice. You can belt them out of your guts or whisper them from the narrows between your eyes. There is no space that the sound doesn’t fill.

Every song is an incantation, chanting some magic into being, somewhere. Even the bad songs access the power of words and tones, vowels rolled like sea-tumbled stones; consents cutting quick and painless. The hurt doesn’t comes from the slicing, the blade laid to tender skin. The best songs crack the hardest hearts with the softest current. It’s the fissure that lets the light in — the swirl of saltwater stinging a fresh wound, the sudden squinting brightness of day in a place kept dark forever.

Flash fiction: Structural soul

Photo from The Blaze

Photo from The Blaze

It took a long time to understand the men who creaked around particular edifices. One drank coffee outside the Flat Iron building, one cleaned the windows of the former Bon Marché, one cuddled a bottle on the curb under the bridge leading out of town.

None of them were young, but they didn’t age. The white of their beards dulled a bit from time and the elements, but they continued with their tasks. One window at a time, one cup of coffee after another. The man with the coffee sat at a café table in his tweed jacket and trilby, looking ready for a chess match or a heated discussion on European politics. No one engaged him, but he kept sitting, kept waiting.

And the man under the bridge. How long could he sit, in and out of seasons and through the years, nursing a malt liquor tall boy and a black eye? It seemed, on alternating days, sad and angering that he sat there, battered and drunk for all to see. But he was resolute in his duty, a troll at the underpass demanding a toll of spare change to buy the next bottle. Even in his soiled jacket, long since stripped of its royal blue color, there was something honorable in his charge. Who among us never takes a sick day or a vacation, or at the very least leaves our post for a long lunch?

The window washer kept at it, too, though he grumbled while he worked. He also took smoke breaks, further yellowing his stubby fingers and his long white beard with nicotine. He might have looked like Santa Clause once. Though he’d gone bald on top, the rest of his hair was snowy white and fell to his shoulders in soft ripples. His cheeks were round, his nose like a cherry, but summer or winter, rain or shine, he faced the day in a white t-shirt and faded jeans. There was no known Santa iteration who washed windows or wore an undershirt from a plastic-wrapped three-pack.

None of the men were what they appeared. Nor did they even necessarily appear at all — not to most people. They blended in or were completely invisible, bottle and dirty jacket just two more pieces of trash left under the bridge. Tweed trilby the perfect camouflage for Autumn’s decent on an outdoor café. White beard just another puff of smoke, a wisp of low-hanging cloud moving through rain-soaked city streets.

The buildings groaned and settled, more than a hundred years already weighed on their foundations. Old bones sang with ache and quieted again, roots of steel and brick sunk deeper below asphalt and concrete to drink from the mineral-rich middle earth. Rooftops were watered and sun-baked and blanketed by snow to sleep another month or six.

The edifices call their souls back from the sidewalks, back into the depths of boiler rooms and basements, back into the dark places where buildings dream the visions collected by their human spirits. Their consciousnesses and pulses embodied in the forms of men who look, upon closer inspection, like the structures they inhabit.

Even the bridge, open on three sides to the wind, has a deep heart where deck meets truss and shadow is never dimmed by daylight. There, the troll waits out the storm, bottle clutched tight to chest, already home while the outside traffic rushes on forever to get there.