This is a really interesting one, isn’t it? Challenging your established sound. It raised it’s head in a recent debate on Song By Toad and it’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since.
Let us assume that your in a band, you prodce and album, it doesn’t have to be your debut, that establishes your popularity and is therefore being used as a guage for your established sound. As the dust settles, it’s time to sit down and write the follow up record. This album is going to be extremenly important as it will either cement and increase your popularity or be the beginning of the end. So what do you do? Do you stick with the sound that has brought you the success in the first place or do you challenge it. Change it? Play with it? Distort it? Destroy it? Is there even a right answer to this question? If I’m honest, I’m not sure that there is. Some people will want more of the same, whatever it is that made them love the band in the first place. Some people will want to hear an artist challenging themselves constantly. Some people really won’t have an opinion one way or the other. And if we’re perfectly honest, how many artists can you name who have ever, let alone consistently, challenged their established sound? And more interestingly, who has done it successfully? I think you could count the list on two hands. Off the top of my head I’m thinking: Radiohead, Blur, Tom Waits, Wilco………….see, that’s as far as I can get, and thats just my music collection.
I genuinely think it’s a difficult one. Take Midlake for example. How can you realistically expect a band to change their sound after only one successful album. Surely that is a massive, massive gamble? Surely it’s something their record company would not encourage? Let us not forget that Wilco got dropped by Reprise for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Even the most subtle of changes in direction can result in a bad taste in the mouth of those who loved you for what you were. But if you take the case of Fionn Regan. His debut did well, but not amazingly so. He’s perhaps still not massively “established”. On his new record he does challenge his sound, with positive results. So does that mean it actually has to do with popularity? Do bands who don’t have huge success have more flexibilty to challenge themselves creatively? I think there is an element of truth in that for sure. In fact, I’d argue that it is the “popularity” if a band that makes it more likely that the established sound will not change. Or at least one of the reasons.
I am fascinated by this. I genuinely am. The last thing I want is for a band to produce the same record over and over again. At the same time. If it’s good. It’s good. Right? Like I said, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to this, but I do think as an established act you have to have a right pair of balls on you and a very understanding record label to be able to really challenge your established sound. Thoughts?