Mndsgn, Nosaj Thing, and Szjerdene share what they do when a creative block slows their flow.
One of the many joys of interviewing musicians is that, for the majority of the time, you get to ask them questions that plague your own brain — a dilemma that rises as you’re trying to sleep, or a subject your mind drifts to when you’re most unaware. This self indulgence, coupled with the occasional deep connection you establish through a mutual love for the creative process, is perhaps one of the most satisfying experiences between two minds. That’s why, I always try to include this question into interviews with artists: what do you do when you hit a block?
Sometimes you’re faced with quite mundane answers, like “I just leave it for a few days,” but often producers have their own ways of dispersing the ominous, grey brain fog that descends upon most of us from time to time. For some, acid, weed, or other kinds of “mind opening” rituals are summoned. For others, pushing through head first, armed with determination, or more frequently, a fear of failure, drives them out of the rut. Looking through the musicians I have been fortunate enough to talk to, here are some of the best tips to offer any music makers out there in need of some inspiration.
Mndsgn looks for balance and alignment.
“I try to just be fluid with it, you know. I’ve learnt not to get so frustrated when I have a creative bust, cause it’s gonna happen. A block is just telling me to take a step back, maybe tend to other things in my life. Then, maybe it will align and I’ll be able to finish the song.
I’ll listen to some records, or just surround myself with good company—there’s a lot of inspiration in the world, you know, even if I just go out on the roof and sit there. I feel like it’s all about balance and focus, and as long as you’re there you can do whatever you want. When there’s a creative block, I feel like there’s something in my mind that’s hindering me from letting it fall all out. Maybe I just need to eat, or maybe I just need to sleep. I’ve kind of stopped being so desperate—it’s gonna come out if you just let it go, you don’t have to rush the process. Making music or expressing yourself should be fun, and it should be natural, it shouldn’t be this thing where you’re like ‘Ah, I gotta get this out,’ like, thinking about deadlines.”
Nosaj Thing listens to top 40.
“Whenever I get a block I just don’t do music, I just do something else, like, go for a walk, I’ll try to exercise, read a book. Sometimes I’ll take a break from music for like a month or two, just not even think about it, not even listen to music. I’ll only listen to music that’s on the radio, like, top 40, and just try to enjoy things. ‘Cause when you’re too obsessed with something and it gets all over your head, you can’t even think and you just gotta’ reset.
If there’s a song or a new idea that I made, and if I really like it, I’ll just like keep it away for a while, like, I don’t want to ruin it for myself, you know what I mean? I’ll just throw it there and when I’m ready, when I’m 100% focused I’ll be like, alright, I’m ready to tackle this now.”
Szjerdene listens to and observes others around her.
“I literally just came out of the longest block, since I finished the tour with Bonobo. I was kind of just figuring out what I wanted to do, and in that time I guess my creativity wavered a bit because I had so many logistic things I had to put in place, like, was I going to release songs that were existent? Did I have to write new songs? Should I be taking a break right now because I had just been working for the last two years on one project? I just wasn’t able to write.
I think creatively I’m in a place where I can write and start ideas [now], but when I’m feeling like I can’t, I just don’t, you know. No deadlines are more important than my sanity, so I don’t stress myself out—it will come, I just got to wait, allow it to move freely. Music is pretty much everything to me, but it’s not like magic you can’t just conjure it up. When it appears, you have to respect it as well.
I find listening and learning about other people helps. I’m quite an observer, I like looking at how people interact, how people face obstacles, and problem solve. I’m really interested in other people’s stories because I know my life, but what other people are doing sometimes is way more interesting to me as a source of material, and just relief and release from my world a bit. So yeah, just listening, looking and observing from a different perspective than my own.”
Words: Grace Wang