Under the Influence | Group Listening

Under the Influence | Group Listening

What is crucial to the formation of an artist? Influence may take many shapes and forms, both conscious and unconscious, but its role in the creation of great work is undeniable if also – at times – elusive.  Wales Arts Review takes a deep dive into the role of influence in conversations with artists of many ilks. From musicians to writers to directors to painters, and much more in between, we hear more about the influences that have shaped some of Wales’ most important and upcoming artists. 

Here, we hear from Group Listening’s Paul Jones and Stephen Baboo on the music which has made them who they are today.

On early years…

[JONES] Radio was a big thing growing up. Especially early morning radio. I’d be woken up most days by the sound of my parents’ radio alarm clock – I was in the next room, and it would sound pretty loud to me. There’d be a lot of hits from the sixties and seventies being played on stations such as Swansea Sound and Radio Wales. DJ’s such as Owen Money would play a lot of garage bands and sixties Welsh pop – bands such as Badfinger and Amen Corner figuring heavily in the play rotation. Going round to my grandparents, they would also have the radio on most of the day – I distinctly remember hearing Oscar Peterson, probably on Radio 3.

[BABOO] We used to listen to Squeeze’s greatest hits in the car as a family, I remember studying the sleeve notes and then getting car sick (I’m still not a good passenger). I still love Squeeze today and their music transports me back to those early family car journeys. 

On pursuing music…

[JONES] As someone who started off playing music from a very young age – I must have been about 4 or 5 when I first started making things up on the piano or organ – I don’t think I could pinpoint an exact time when I made a decision to pursue it as such. I started playing in DIY bands and things in my teens, and then I started getting more into improvised music and Jazz in my late teens; so around that time I became more serious about studying and writing music. 

[BABOO] I’ve pursued music for as long as I can remember. I had a job as a paper boy and used to ride around on my bike making up songs. I was big into Queen at the time so they were quite dramatic. Annoying at 7am I’m sure. 

On formative albums…

[JONES] A very formative album for me was The Beatles’ White Album. I had it on an old scratchy LP, and as a teenager me and my mates would get together and listen to it. We’d have a drink and smoke a doob – a listening party! I must have listened to that record hundreds of times. On a creative level it helped me appreciate that there could be a multitude of styles and musical formats co-existing and working together as one body of work. That sort of heterogeneous approach to music making is something that has stuck with me.

[BABOO] I’m guessing the albums that had the biggest impact on me were the records I heard when I was 16 or 17. Elliott Smith, Gorky’s. They were my bands. I had found them. They were my constant companions whether taking the bus, falling asleep or eating my dinner. I had a Sony Discman and used to take it everywhere. 

On influences today…

[JONES] I think I am influenced by the people around me, those that I am working or collaborating with more so than any one artist in particular. Whether that’s me and Steve bouncing ideas off of one another, or when we recorded a Group Listening EP with Cate Le Bon and we were all working on interpreting Cate’s songs in a different light, or when I am creating piano parts for another artist’s record – H. Hawkline for example. I think if you are open to the ideas and tastes of those people you are working with, it can open up your own thinking and stretch your imagination in interesting ways. When I was a young musician I was very lucky that I got to study and work with the pianist and composer Keith Tippett, I learned a great deal about being creatively open and trusting your own instincts from him.

[BABOO] It’s tough to say which artists have influenced me – there’s too many to mention. People around me, family, travel. This week I have been obsessively listening to the Cassandra Jenkins album ‘An overview on Phenomenal Nature’. I love it and find it very inspirational. 

On the idea of “influence”…

[JONES] I think you are constantly influenced by music, art and other things around you – but rather than directly or head on, many of these influences are oblique and diffused over a wide area.  Influences can manifest as insights or approaches to a process. I am something of an amateur carpenter and restorer, and I have learnt a number of transferable skills through these pursuits. It teaches you a fair amount of patience and the need to be flexible as things progress – the techniques you used at the beginning are not necessarily the ones that you need to employ at the end. You are forced to innovate and adapt as the project progresses, all the while trying not to lose sight of the overall arch of the plan. And it’s a totally analogue real-world process; wood, glue, metal, physical labour. When it’s time to embark on a musical idea, it’s pulling in your thinking from working in a different discipline.

[BABOO] I’m a lot more open these days and try and take inspiration from anything and everything. I don’t like sitting still.