Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The soundtrack to a story

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If I had to estimate, I’d say music has probably been one of my biggest influences, accounting for about 60% of the formation of my identity.

I took my first fashion cues from bands’ promo shots, let lyrics shape my perspectives and decisions (no matter naïve that may have been at the time), found my earliest heroes in musicians, and built some of my favourite first experiences around all-ages shows.

But when it comes to my writing, music holds a tenuous place. Not because its influence doesn’t run as deep into my words as it does in so many other aspects of my life, but because there are a lot of songs – too many songs – that will destroy my concentration.

When I listen to music, I focus on the words. Then I get distracted by how a heavy guitar will burst through a break, or how backing vocals create a mournful, velvet wall.

I still like to listen to full albums, too, and when I do, I want to pay attention. I don’t see listening to music as something you passively, as if all I’m doing is putting on a little background noise. When I like an album, I’ll listen to it for weeks.

So there are a lot of records in my collection that don’t get played when I’m at home, writing. But there are some that do. And those ones are the exceptions to the rule, the ones that seem to actually help the writing rather than distract from it.

Here are the Top 4 albums you'll find playing on my stereo when I'm writing at home:

1. Rhea’s Obsession, “Initiation”

When this album debuted in the ‘90s, Rhea’s Obsession were frequently referenced as Toronto’s answer to Dead Can Dance, and are remembered as such to this day. “Initiation” is a dense album. Put it on and Sue Hutton’s vocals crash like waves. Listening to this is like being under a spell. It sets a mood that’s perfect for working on darker or more introspective pieces.

2. Cocteau Twins, “Treasure”

Another album that is ruled by a woman’s beautiful voice. “Treasure” makes me think of ghosts, forests at night, and autumn weather, all things that make recurring appearances in my writing.

3. The Cure, “Wish”

In 1998, this album changed my life, particularly with one song, “Doing the Unstuck.” Back then, it helped my 16-year-old self to realize that life is too short to let yourself stay in a bad situation. Today, this album continues to inspire me to push myself to do what’s important to me. What more would you need to keep you focused on writing?

4. Bauhaus, “The Sky’s Gone Out”

I first liked this album because it was a good blend of decent songs and weird sounds. I’ve listened to it so many times that I barely even notice the words anymore, but whenever I pause from my writing and tune back in, “The Sky’s Gone Out” is the perfect reminder that pushing boundaries can lead to very, very good things.

What do you like to listen to when you’re writing?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Liz Worth 2011

Liz Worth is the Toronto-based author of Amphetamine Heart (Guernica Editions, 2011), Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977-1981 (Bongo Beat/ECW, 2011) and Eleven: Eleven (Trainwreck Press, 2008), a shot of surreal punk fiction.

Go to Liz Worth 2011’s Author Page