20 Brilliant Musicians on Why They Make Music


Here at Flavorwire, we’re constantly fascinated by the creative process and what drives people to be artists. In the past, we’ve looked into musicians discussing their songwriting process, and we’re similarly interested in what drives people to start creating in the first place. We’ve delved around and come up with a selection of quotes from our favorite musicians about how they got started on music, why it is they do what they do, and/or what they’re hoping to achieve with the creation of their art. The results await after the jump, and we think they’re both revealing and fascinating. Do let us know if you have any others to share.

Tom Waits

“My kids are starting to notice I’m a little different from the other dads. ‘Why don’t you have a straight job like everyone else?’ they asked me the other day.

I told them this story: ‘In the forest, there was a crooked tree and a straight tree. Every day, the straight tree would say to the crooked tree, “Look at me… I’m tall, and I’m straight, and I’m handsome. Look at you… you’re all crooked and bent over. No one wants to look at you.” And they grew up in that forest together.

And then one day the loggers came, and they saw the crooked tree and the straight tree, and they said, “Just cut the straight trees and leave the rest.” So the loggers turned all the straight trees into lumber and toothpicks and paper. And the crooked tree is still there, growing stronger and stranger every day.'”


David Bowie

“I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very puny as a human. I thought, ‘Fuck that. I want to be a superhuman.'”


Kim Gordon

“I just happened to start playing music for the conceptual ideas.”


Leonard Cohen

“It seems like the height of folly to decide to solve your economic problems by becoming a singer. But I’d always played guitar, and I’d always sung. And I’d played in a country-western band, in Montreal… I came down to New York, and I didn’t have very much success in getting the ear of anyone. I visited some agents and they’d say, ‘Turn around, kid… let’s have a look at you. Aren’t you a little too old for this game?’ I was 32 at the time. I think I was eating very little; I was about 116 pounds…and going to all the clubs, and listening and playing and writing. Just the ordinary cliche of a young writer in New York.”


Tori Amos

“Some people are afraid of what they might find if they try to analyze themselves too much, but you have to crawl into your wounds to discover where your fears are. Once the bleeding starts, the cleansing can begin.”

Jarvis Cocker

“If somebody told me in 1981 that it would take 13 years to get recognized, I would have been horrified. I guess it was self-belief that kept it going all the time, because for a long time nobody else seemed to like it. But we thought we were doing something that was worth doing, so we kept doing it and hoped that the world would come round to our way of thinking.”


Alabama Shakes

“We got together and played music for fun. We’re not hipsters, we’re not scenesters, we’re not trying to be cool. We’re not trying to be anything. We’re just writing songs, and I’m glad people like them.” – Brittany Howard (from an interview with the author)

John Cale

“I saw my future as a living composer rather than as a cataloguer of the dead.”


Michael Gira

“[Music] was a kind of sado-masochism. I would take the things that were painful to me and elevate them and, through the mantra of music, make them into a release.”



“My number one goal is to have a cultural impact, and I think you can be a pop star who also makes really experimental and forward-thinking music. [That] is the goal right now, anyway. My long term dream is to be like Timbaland; I don’t necessarily want to be a performer in the long run. The thing I want to do the most is create pop stars, and if I become a pop star myself, I feel like I will learn everything there is to know about making more of them. Plus, it’s fun and I get lots of free stuff and spend all my time writing songs, which is pretty fucking sick.”


Patti Smith

“These things were in my mind from the first moment I entered the vocal booth: The gratitude I had for rock and roll as it pulled me through a difficult adolescence. The joy I experienced when I danced. The moral power I gleaned in taking responsibility for one’s action.”


Jason Pierce, Spiritualized and Spacemen 3

“Making music has probably kept me alive… all I know is I feel so alive when I’m out there playing (live) and that makes me want to keep going more than anything else.”


Sonic Boom

“I think a composer is literally an antenna to take in feelings, emotions etc and analyze, re-synthesize and then broadcast out to other humans. We felt we were making music (in the mid ’80s) for a sector of society including ourselves who seemed uncatered for. We could only imagine that there were other people out there wanting something more than what was currently on offer and in the realm which interested us. Luckily, we slowly seemed to find the other alienated types seeking something special from the music in their lives — i.e. not aural wallpaper as music is sometimes used.”


Manic Street Preachers

“We started at a time when rock’n’roll was dead over here. The UK was in the grip of dance, rap, and the acid house thing. All that Manchester sound stuff that sounded so contrived… The only real rock’n’roll was coming out of America. We were consciously reacting against all that. Our friends laughed at us because they said there was no audience for us. But we felt we had to do something to bring back rock’n’roll, so that’s how the Manic Street Preachers came about.” – Richey Edwards


Kevin Barnes

“There was a weird, almost fascist state of mind in the Elephant 6 collective, at least from my perspective. There were sort of these rules to keep it analog, keep it ’60s and ’70s. There are sort of unspoken rules in a weird way and I was so influenced by those guys. They weren’t dictating these things, but that’s what they were into and I was so smitten. But I wanted to branch out. I wanted to do different things. I felt a bit nervous, you know, about drum programming and using MIDI instruments because those were definitely off limits within that clique. Or at least no one did it and it was not respected. You had to actually be able to physically be able to do it. Then I realized that was holding me back and I really wanted to explore this other kind of music.”


King Krule

“I’m trying to create a collection of stories — the U.F.O.W.A.V.E. songs are all stories. I haven’t really taken direct lyrical influence from other songwriters, but my dad bought me a book of W.H. Auden’s poems when I was younger, and the imagery really interested me.”

Nick Cave

“I kind of came in through the back door. I was always something of an imposter, I guess, because I couldn’t really play music or sing very well and it was some years before I was able to do anything that was worthwhile musically. I did music because I failed art school. If I hadn’t failed art school I probably would have carried on and been a moderately successful painter.”


Mark Lanegan

“I sort of fell into [music]. When I started, it was different singing into a microphone in front of people than it was in my bedroom, singing along with records. It took me a while to get comfortable with it, but only about ten years! If I could have sounded like anybody, it would have been Chris Newman from Napalm Beach. But I soon realized that I really couldn’t sound like anybody but myself.”


Bob Dylan

“Songs, to me, were more important than just light entertainment. They were my preceptor and guide into some altered consciousness of reality. Some different republic, some liberated republic… whatever the case, it wasn’t that I was anti-popular culture or anything and I had no ambition to stir things up. I just thought of mainstream culture as lame as hell and a big trick. It was like the unbroken sea of frost that lay outside the window and you had to have awkward footgear to walk with.”


Bob Dylan, again

“What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.”