Eras of Influence: An Introduction to the Artists that Define My Musical Journey

If you’re a regular listener of our podcast, you’ve heard PopMatters’ Evan Sawdey speak about his concept of the “Imperial Period.” Essentially, the idea is that all great artists have a specific period of time in which they are not only creating their best art, but are also holding their greatest level of influence and general popularity. It’s a fun exercise to map out the imperial period of our favorite artists, but at some point during the doldrums of 2020, I began expanding the concept in a more personal direction.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve obviously developed a longer tail of musical interests. Music that was precious to me at one point in time now feels like eons ago. But nevertheless, my passion and interest in new music has followed me along. When looking back, I can define specific periods of my life by one central artist. Not that I listened exclusively to this artist, but that their music and influence rippled out in such a way that a specific sound or sentiment provided a sort of emotional arc to that stretch of my life.

And that brings us this inherently dumb exercise. What else are you supposed to do when you can’t leave the house?

Starting current day, I worked my way backward to dissect chunks of my life that feel tied to a specific artist. For example, when I think of the past five years, I can’t separate my interests and experience from Halsey. Her music, her art, her personality, her sound serve as the epicenter of influence for this period of my life, From there, my other main interests splinter out from that point. It’s not a math equation, but it’s definitely a real feeling that I can define when I close my eyes and think about how my mood moves me from song to song and artist to artist.

I’ve broken down the years of my life into chunks that can be defined by an artist, along with “honorable mentions” that serve as a kind of a second tier. The early years of my life have no central artist, because I was simply exploring music through the interests of my mom and eventually my friends. My first personal “era” began in 1997, which we’ll examine in full in a later installment.

For now, we’ll begin with the early years, which set the table for my own personal exploration. Many thanks to my mom, whose love of music (and sharing the music she loved) undoubtedly molded me into the person I am today in so many ways. So, without further ado, here goes nothing!

The 1980s: Michael Jackson, Genesis, Queen

My first memory of listening and enjoying music involves a cassette tape of Knee Deep in the Hoopla by Starship (formerly Jefferson Starship, formerly Jefferson Airplane). According to my mom, she purchased the tape after I continually showed interest in the singles “We Built This City” and “Sara” when they played on the radio. I remember playing the tape on a Walkman that my mom and I shared, rewinding to listen to “We Built This City” again and again. If I close my eyes, I can still almost feel the scratchy, puffy headphones over my ears and the gentle hum of the Walkman in my hands.

Those early years of my life were solely influenced by the music that my mom played. And she played music a LOT. In the house, in the car, on a boombox while we lounged in the backyard. The albums I remember the most are Bad by Michael Jackson, Invisible Touch by Genesis, and Queen’s Greatest Hits album. I remember how she used to play “We Will Rock You”, “We Are the Champions” and “Another One Bites the Dust” as she drove me to tee-ball games.

In those early days of my life, I stayed at the home of a babysitter while my parents went to work. The woman whose home I stayed at had a teenage daughter. She would burst through the door each afternoon, drop her backpack on the floor, hop into a recliner, and turn the television to MTV. It was there that I saw the video for the aforementioned “We Built This City”, Jackson’s “Bad”, and his sister Janet’s “Rhythm Nation” and Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up”. 

I soaked up every line and every note like a sponge. There was no going back and no alternative. Music wasn’t just going to be background noise in my journey through life. It was going to be an obsession.

Next, I’ll examine how the 90s helped me spread my wings and discover music I could call my own.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Tigers Jaw Finally End the Wait

I sit at the feet of Tigers Jaw, waiting patiently for the day they decide to toss an album into my eager, outstretched palms. Brianna Collins looks down at me in disgust; it has been three years of this waiting game. I Won’t Care How You Remember Me comes out on March 5th, so I will sit at the gates of the Tigers Jaw kingdom for two more months, hungrily feasting on each single and promotional photo they leave for me, the lowliest of listeners.

This is absolutely my most anticipated album of the year, and I’m glad that it’s a guaranteed release because I can’t take any more disappointment. I often insert my pipe dream albums in the most anticipated segment of the year, and it almost always ends up backfiring on me, so I’ve tried to stop. Tigers Jaw is one of the few bands that make my pipe dreams come true — a solid album every time. They have production god Will Yip on their side and that has always been to their absolute benefit.

Dramatic monologue aside, you obviously all saw this coming. I’ve seen Tigers Jaw play several shows and with each performance my love for their infectious pop rock grows. Each album is better than the last, and Spin (2017) has remained in my frequent listening pile since release day. Hopefully the latter half of 2021 will allow me to see them play the new tracks live, but who can even have any hope at this point? You can watch the videos for “Cat’s Cradle” and “Lemon Mouth” now, and the third single, “Hesitation” dropped on January 7th.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Lorde Travels to New Heights

Here is my biggest secret-not-a-secret of the past three years: I need Lorde to come back and grace us with another electro pop masterpiece. She was robbed of her Album of the Year by Bruno Mars (I wanted to jump through the TV and pull a Kanye, not gonna lie) after 2017’s Melodrama, and we have waited with bated breath to see what she would do next. 

She announced in November that she was releasing a book, Going South, a travel journal inspired by her trip to Antarctica in 2019, and one can’t help but wonder when a new album will follow. It sold out before I could even look at the preorder page, but I intend to pick it up when I can.

The proceeds for the book are going to fund a scholarship. I didn’t fully appreciate what we had in Lorde when Pure Heroine came out; I figured she would be another one-album-pop-star, but her music truly transcends genre, and I now consider her music timeless.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Weezer Become Kings of Rock

It can be tough being a Weezer fan sometimes. While they have some of the best rock albums of all time, there is a considerable amount that are not as good (looking at you, Black Album). However, the imminent release of Van Weezer and the rescheduled Hell Mega Tour with Green Day and Fall Out Boy seems like a ripe time for the return of the glory days of Weezer’s guitar-heavy rock music.

Despite the clear inspiration of Van Halen on their sleeves, the singles released from Van Weezer offer a haunting return to the glorious “rock god” status of past albums. Lead single “The End of the Game” somehow uses a Van Halen-esque opening guitar riff to call back to the sound of past Weezer albums like The Green Album and Maladroit. 

If the rest of the album can maintain the energy and writing of the singles released so far, Van Weezer may be the best album the band has released in years. Weezer take a lot of big swings in their career, and while not all of them land, it’s always worth seeing what they’re doing. When one of their swings is purely to rile their fanbase into a moshing frenzy, it’s a moment that demands that fans remember just how high Weezer tower over the genre.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and is staring deep into the eyes of a pinecone owl.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Travis Scott Blasts Off

It’s crazy to think that we’re over two years separated from Astroworld, the album that transformed Travis Scott from a rapper on the fringe of the zeitgeist to one of the biggest and most exciting voices in hip hop. It’s an album that somehow still feels underrated, despite its influence and omnipresence as a new summer staple. Scott has seized the opportunity to transform from musician to cultural icon. Did that McDonald’s thing actually happen? Yes, it did.

We do have an idea of what comes next, we just don’t know the exact time it will arrive. Scott announced Utopia last October, which has already seen singles in the form of “Highest in the Room” and “Franchise” featuring M.I.A. and Young Thug – one of the most unsung tracks of 2020. We can expect that Scott will bring the house down with Utopia, but what are we to expect in terms of tone? Astroworld dazzled in its theme park presentation and could easily exist as a standalone effort in that regard. Could Utopia trend darker?

We’ll have to wait to see, but hopefully not too long. Although we’re just in the beginning of the cold winter season, we’ll soon be looking for some spring and summer soundtracks when we’re all hopefully be able to, like, go outside and do things again. And when it happens, I can’t wait to play Travis Scott at full blast.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Panic! At the Disco Claim the Dancefloor

It’s been almost three years since Panic! At the Disco released the absolutely stellar Pray For The Wicked, but Brendon Urie isn’t one to sit idle for too long. Coming off the high of what is arguably Panic’s best record, it’s hard to imagine that anything can top Pray For The Wicked. 

Fortunately though, Brendon Urie is full of surprises. Having brought Panic! back from the brink of collapse, expanded the band’s sound in unimaginable ways and lifted the group to become one of the world’s biggest acts over the last decade, he isn’t one to take lightly. With each album carrying a distinct and unique persona and sound, it’s hard not to be excited for whatever comes next.

Panic! At the Disco is a band that universally delivers in a way that almost no other musical act can. Whatever Urie has planned for the band’s seventh album, it’s destined to once again push the band’s boundaries and force other pop acts to up their game just to keep up.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and sneezed, then his cat sneezed, then he sneezed again. A sign of the end times or just exceptional timing between man and beast? The answer, is yes.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Julien Baker Brings Healing

Phoebe Bridgers gave me my album of 2020, so her friend Julien Baker has some shoes to fill with Little Oblivions, slated for February 26th. Her gentle instrumentation and grating lyricism in the first single, “Faith Healer” is a great first taste of what we can expect from her third studio album. She plays almost every instrument this time around and I’m interested in hearing her perspective with a richer sound.

Having recently been thrown into an unexpected time of loss, I’m excited for the balm I know Julien’s album will be. Her juxtaposition of religion and reality has always been grounding and a good reminder that it will get better, whatever “better” ends up meaning.

Her music, while deeply personal for her, has been a great source of what I think of as “responsible escapism” — the idea that leaning into media and art that that highlights our emotional state is paramount to healing.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2021: AFI Step Out of the Shadows

After a decade of almost yearly releases of some type, it would be reasonable to expect AFI’s Davey Havok and Jade Puget to run out of ideas at some point. However, since it has been two years since AFI’s last new music, the duo’s main band was due for a release. With the arrival of the new year, the band have already released a statement that new music was on the way.

With the four year mark approaching since the release of AFI’s last album proper, AFI (The Blood Album), the group has taken one of the longest breaks between record releases since 2009, with only 2018’s stellar The Missing Man EP tiding fans over in the meantime. However, Havok has expanded his songwriting considerably since The Blood Album, having released Dreamcar’s debut album and two Blaqk Audio albums in the meantime.

Each new album over the last decade has somehow managed to expand AFI’s sound while simultaneously reverberating the dark punk aesthetic that launched the group into cult superstars. But with each new album carrying the air of a unique style and theme, the time between albums has given the band ample time to deliver once again.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and just ate what can only be described as “too much ghost pepper queso.”….. or not enough?

Most Anticipated of 2021: Underoath Provide Another Fix

Tampa, Florida, rock act Underoath didn’t let 2020 slow them down. Booked to support Slipknot on a massive summer tour that went up in smoke, the band launched a weekly Twitch show breaking down their catalogue track-by-track with a constant stream of guests. But it all led up to the big announcement: A live streamed concert event held over three nights called Underoath: Observatory. And it was incredible.

Not only did Underoath use the expertly executed Observatory series to set the bar for the litany of live-streamed concerts that came after, it turned out to be pretty profitable according to an article published by Forbes in July. While the Observatory series certainly won’t mark the end of Underoath’s time on the road, it opened a new door of possibilities for what it might look like for fans to experience their favorite band.

But throughout the band’s fascinating summer adventures, there was an undercurrent that there was more to come. Given that five of the six band members all still reside in the Florida area, it’s probably safe to presume that some collaboration and writing took place in 2020. Following Underoath’s successful comeback album, Erase Me, coupled with the tour opportunities that followed, now is certainly the time to strike while the iron is still hot.

If 2020 offered longtime fans of the band to re-experience Underoath’s old albums and classic material, 2021 could very well present us with something new. Whether you enjoyed the sonic evolution found on Erase Me or not, the band’s trajectory has always been one of exploration and change. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for another dose.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Most Anticipated of 2021: Kacey Musgraves Shines Bright

We’re coming up on two years since the release of Golden Hour, the country pop masterpiece from Kacey Musgraves. Met with acclaim from almost every angle, Golden Hour was an album whose warmth and hope was a much needed respite at the time. Honestly, its tone would have felt out of place in 2020, and I only recently returned it in the past month as we prepare to (hopefully) come up for air in the coming spring.

And if the chips fall right, 2021 could be the perfect time for a follow up. Fans were treated to a very vague but straightforward tease last August when Musgraves chose to entertain a fan’s questioning on Twitter:

Since the release of Golden Hour, Musgraves has not only become a welcome voice for progress on every platform she graces, but has become an unexpected feature guest across tracks by everyone from The Flaming Lips to Troye Sivan. Once an outsider amidst the curmudgeonly country crowd, Musgraves has not only won over many a country music gatekeeper, but has become one of the most exciting voices in all of pop.

So what comes next? 2021 will be interesting in its artistic output from every angle, to say the least, but the world is Musgraves’ oyster at this point. Will she dive deeper into the disco influence that peeked through the cracks on Golden Hour? Return to her more traditional country roots that were displayed on her early work? Something else entirely? Time will tell. And we can’t wait to find out.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.