Responding in Song: An Interview with The Autumn Film’s Dann Stockton

In Musicians on May 3, 2011 at 1:47 pm

The conversation between creative mediums ebbs and flows. A poem replies to a painting, a song accompanies the visual imagery of a film, and a short story answers an opera. I recently interviewed Dann Stockton from the Boulder, Colorado based band, The Autumn Film, about the influence of literature on their song writing. The Autumn Film is comprised of Tifah Phillips, Dann Stockton, & Reid Phillips. The band formed in 2006 and their most recent full length album is The Ship and the Sea (http://theshipandthesea.com) which was released in 2010. Download their music at http://theautumnfilm.com/ and follow The Autumn Film on Twitter @theautumnfilm.

The following is an interview via an e-mail exchange from April 2011 between Dann Stockton and Crystal Hadidian

First, tell me about the band name. How did you pick that?

This is a funny story, actually. We were playing at a conference in the Rocky Mountains, and we had been going under the moniker ‘Tifah’ when we first started playing because Tifah had been singing by herself for a couple of years. We all wanted to be an “official” band, which required an actual band name. At the conference, we planned a day to spend as long as it took coming up with a good name and locking ourselves in our room until we came up with something we could all agree on. After 2-3 hours, we came up with “The Autumn Film” because, a)we liked how it sounded b) ‘Autumn’ is a season of change and inevitably loss, which is what a lot of our lyrics talk about, and  ‘Film’ is an artistic way to tell a story which we strive to do with our music. And c) The domain was available.

How has reading affected your creation of music and lyrics?

Reading sparks my imagination. Often I’ll try and put myself into the shoes of a character I’m reading about. Sometimes the imagery I get from reading helps set me in a creative direction that I can run with.

What are you currently reading?

I just recently finished reading (again) George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Lauren Hillenbrand’s, Unbroken. I love them both. Unbroken was especially fascinating and just an incredible story. Seabiscuit is on my short list to read next.

What book has been most influential in your song writing and approach to music?

I’d have to say C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Specifically in the Magician’s Nephew where Narnia is being sung into creation by Aslan. We are all  completely awestruck with the imagery of that scene. We make music, and it’s inherently creative, and we just love the idea of tying creation and melody together.

Are there any specific books that have influenced or inspired specific songs?

The one that immediately comes to mind is called The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. We haven’t released the song yet, but it’s a song about self-sacrifice and giving all of yourself to another person. That idea is powerful to the three of us, and I’d say it’s come up multiple times in our songs. We’re hoping to release this song and 7 others in the Summer of 2011.

Does this song explicitly refer to the Silverstein text in title or lyric, or only indirectly respond to the ideas?

I would say that its only responding to the idea that Silverstein laid out. The title is still tentative, but definitely inspired by what is talked about in his poem. We tried to step into both characters and write from the tree’s perspective.

Do you see the song as a re-iteration or re-telling of the book or a response beginning a conversation?

I think it’s our own take on the universal theme of self-sacrifice. Our highest hope is that it would spark conversation and compel people to relate to it, and think about themselves and their loved ones.

When did your song “Roll over me” air on One Tree Hill? Although I wouldn’t compare anything on T.V. to literature, it is a type of currently popular storytelling. What are your thoughts on how songs accompany or strengthen the narrative in that medium?

“Roll Over Me” aired in November, 2010 on One Tree Hill. We are actually really humbled and thankful that a music supervisor decided to pair our music to their narrative. I think in a lot of ways music enhances the story being told on screen. Matching the general feeling of a particular song to a story that’s already in progress – within the medium of TV, that likely has a lot of back story – is a tough job. I love when someone does that well. Television, just like any other medium, can be used to move people and tell a worthwhile story.

How do you view the relationship between popular music and contemporary literature?

It’s unfortunate, but I feel like it’s almost non-existent. There are still a few great songwriters who are influenced by great literature, but in general, popular music has taken a completely independent journey that I would be surprised to find is in any way influenced by any type of literature.

Do you have any other thoughts regarding the intersection of music and literature?

I wish there was more of it. There is increasingly more and more meaningless music which is disappointing because there’s such a vast array of wonderful literary thinkers from which an endless amount of inspiration could be cultivated, if artists were more willing to acknowledge it.


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