Something Old, Something New: Past Influences in Present Bands

How some sonic influencers have shaped the sounds of Alvvays, Mac DeMarco, Beach House, and more

Musicians are constantly reaching to the past for inspiration. Though many have difficulty nailing a sound that is distinctively their own, others apply their talents with ease, creating art that transcends the works of yesteryear, offering up something brilliantly new.

Here are some obvious (or not-so obvious) artists that have grasped the concept.
 

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN / THE WAR ON DRUGS

There’s an indefinable sound to The Boss’s early records, particularly Born to Run. If Springsteen, the man, was relatable to the working class, Born to Run proved relatable to everyone else. It was genuine and catchy, and backed by a stellar group of musicians. TWOD’s Adam Granduciel who, like Springsteen, possesses a similarly gruff and unaffected voice, also happens to craft poignant and upbeat sad songs about everyday life.


 

EX HEX / THE RUNAWAYS

Ex Hex, a trio of sophisticated riot-grrls in vibrant colours, sing about mistaking Mr. Wrong for Mr. Right at every turn. Alternatively, the pugnacious, black leather-clad Runaways prowl for Mr. Right Now, culminating in an unruly spree of spilled beer and smeared lipstick. Visuals aside, both bands have a firm handle on the well-crafted 3-minute cheeky punk-pop song concept. Despite the thirty-five year age gap between the Runaways’ dissolution and Ex Hex’s formation, the same commanding level of girl power lives on.


*Bonus points for the ode to Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains
 

COCTEAU TWINS / BEACH HOUSE

It is nearly impossible to sing along to a Cocteau Twins’ song. Victoria Legrande, however, ensures that her words are at least mildly audible and at the forefront of each Beach House track, cascading languidly over Alex Scally’s hazy guitar. While the Baltimore-based duo is hardly the first act to seek inspiration from the noisy, shoegazing era, their albums are certainly some of the best efforts. Legrande has gone public with her praise for the Scottish trio, and while nobody delivers a hazed-out, gauzy harmony like Elizabeth Fraser, sometimes you just can’t help but sit up and take notice of the ladies who try.


 

TEENAGE FANCLUB / ALVVAYS

Alvvays, fronted by Molly Rankin – a descendant of Canadian East Coast folk royalty – may not seem like an immediate choice for a comparison to the 90s Britpop outfit. However, both manage to ooze undeniable coolness with their jangly pop sound, churning out wistful songs about growing pains, insolent boys (or girls), and other melancholy memories of rose-coloured times.
   


 

ARTHUR RUSSELL / MAC DEMARCO

Arthur Russell was ahead of his time. An avant-garde orchestral experimentalist-cum-underground-disco pioneer, with a penchant for outré collaborations with the likes of David Byrne and Bootsy Collins, the New York based artist also possessed a preternatural talent for writing devastatingly sad love songs. Mac DeMarco claims to have been directly inspired by Russell when writing his 2012 album 2. Both feature simple songs with simple melodies about simple things. Some are unabashedly lovely (Russell), some are pointedly obscure (DeMarco), but both are written with fearless abandon.