Twitter Facebook Tumblr Pinterest Instagram

« older | Main Largehearted Boy Page | newer »

July 13, 2021

Matt Bell's Playlist for His Novel "Appleseed"

Appleseed by Matt Bell

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Matt Bell's novel is as ambitious as it is rewarding, an outstanding book from one of our most talented storytellers.

The Los Angeles Review of Books wrote of the book:

"Appleseed plays on the dystopian climate disaster genre, deftly weaving threads from Greek mythology, magical realism, and America’s settler-colonial folklore to create the parallel universe its characters inhabit. ... Unpredictable to the last page, Appleseed ties these disparate narratives together with a rich network of symbolism and sharp prose."

In his words, here is Matt Bell's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Appleseed:

My novel Appleseed is an epic environmental thriller set across a thousand years of past, near-present, and future, beginning in 1799 and ending more than seven hundred years after our own time. There isn't a lot of music from any era in the novel itself, so what I've gathered here aren't songs directly related to the book, but rather some of the ones I listened to most often while writing it. I've picked just eleven songs here, but I could have listed a hundred. I listen to music more or less nonstop while I'm writing: I can't imagine how I'd keep myself at the desk without an endless input of good music, and I'm so grateful to all the musicians who sustained me while I was writing this novel.

"Death is the Road to Awe" by Clint Mansell

Movie soundtracks have always made for good writing music, and Clint Mansell's soundtrack for The Fountain has been one I've returned to time and again since it came out. (I'm fairly sure it's already on another playlist I've written for Largehearted Boy, and maybe more than one.) This time out, I know The Fountain was a more direct influence on the novel, in part by offering one way to structure a story across three timelines, in part because its imagery and soundtrack were so deeply embedded in my own imagination. I wouldn't have written the book I wrote without the movie, and I wouldn't love the movie so much without this soundtrack, especially this track, which is maybe my favorite piece of instrumental music.

"Willow" by Tindersticks, ft. Robert Pattinson

Late in the writing of my second draft, my brain started feeling emptied of imagery: I was having trouble picturing anything in the scenes I was writing. So I started watching a lot more movies, trying to fill my head back up with all kinds of historical and science-fictional images. One of my favorite movies from that period of intense watching was Claire Denis' High Life, a movie all the better for its soundtrack composed by Stuart A. Staples of the Tindersticks. The entire score is haunting and moving, but this track voiced by the movie's star Robert Pattinson is a standout.

"Fever Dreams" by Emma Ruth Rundle

There may be no album I listened to more while I was writing Appleseed than Emma Ruth Rundle's On Dark Horses, even though it didn't come out until I was halfway through the book. More days than not, I'd put the album on as soon as I sat down; many of those days, I didn't shut it off until I got back up, finished for the day. "Fevers Dreams," the album's opener, now works on me like a hypnotic suggestion: the second I hear Rundle sing, "Fear, a feeling, is it real? So nostalgic too, it just puts the dark on you," I want to get writing.

"Horns Arising" by Black Mountain

It was hard to pick a specific Black Mountain song to include, as I've been writing to their albums for years. But this is one of my favorites off Destroyer, which came out while I was writing Appleseed, and a song I remember being especially good live, when I saw them play a tiny basement club here in Phoenix not long after I finished the book. I suppose it's also a good fit thematically, since the protagonists of two of my timelines have horns of their own, at least some of the time…

"Hiraeth" by Teeth of the Sea

Teeth of the Sea is another band I know I've written about for Largehearted Boy before: I listened to their album Your Mercury constantly while writing my first novel, and their album Wraith became one of the major soundtracks of my penning the last third of this latest one. Wraith came out two weeks before I headed to the Vermont Studio Center for a one-week gig as a visiting writer, where I had to give a reading and taught a class but otherwise had nothing to do but write. In the week I was there, I wrote 25,000 words of the last act of Appleseed, and many many of those words were written with Wraith playing in the background. When I left Vermont, I could get back into the productive headspace of that place by playing this song, which meant it joined some of the others above in being able to immediately get me in the mood to write.

"Idiot Heart" by Sunset Rubdown

Spencer Krug has been one of my favorite songwriters since Wolf Parade's first album. I go through obsessive phases with each album he writes, obsessions I can easily fall back into at any time. On that same trip to Vermont where I listened to so much of Teeth of the Sea's Wraith, Sunset Rubdown's Dragonslayer reentered my daily rotation, especially for "Idiot Heart," one of my favorite songs Krug has written. It's a grin-inducing song, as smart as it is danceable, and it's become something I frequently put on when I need to recharge my energy for the next push.

"Timefighter" by Lucy Dacus

Lucy Dacus's Historian is another album that's always being played in my office, but when I put it on start it not from the beginning but from "Timefighter," the seventh track. I love the dynamic of this song, the insistence of the underlying groove, the perfect chorus delivered in Dacus's unmistakeable croon: "And I fight time / It won in a landslide / I'm just as good as anybody / I'm just as bad as anybody"—and the way the rest of the band crashes in after the first time she sings those lines. Sometimes writing to music with lyrics is distracting for writers; but writing to great lyrics can also remind you of what your own sentences might be capable of, if you push.

"The Ship Song" by Nick Cave

Speaking of good lyrics! It's a rare writing week when Nick Cave doesn't get played in the office, in part because his music is as dramatic and cinematic as any of the movie scores I love. In 2017, the 45-song best-of compilation Lovely Creatures came out and immediately became a fixture on my stereo: at three hours and forty-eight minutes, it's an album that's exactly as long as a really good day of writing might be for me. As with the Dacus though, I don't usually start at the beginning: "The Ship Song" is a frequent first pick. It's such a haunting love song, inexhaustibly producing in me the kind of big emotion Cave excels at delivering.

"Discovery" by Anna von Hausswolff

Another haunting, mysterious, and almost mythologically dramatic listen. I don't know enough about this sort of instrument to say much of my own about this, but Anna von Hausswolf recorded the album using the Swedish city of Piteå's Acusticum Pipe Organ, which Pitchfork described as being "equipped with 9,000 pipes, built-in percussion (including vibraphone and glockenspiel), recording/looping tools, and nefarious sounds produced by submerging the pipes halfway underwater." It's a magical-sounding instrument employed to make an incredibly evocative album, one I never get tired of writing alongside.

"Breathe" by Signpost

I found this song (and the album Trails, on which it appears) thanks to Signpost producing the soundtrack for Salomon Running's Youtube videos, which I used to watch all the time for their landscape videography and as inspiration for my own trail runs. I loved Signpost's music when it was featured in the videos, and started listening to it at the desk while I wrote, which ended up creating a nicely circular bit of transference: I first heard their music because I was a runner, and then I listened to them while I wrote a novel partly about a character who frequently runs across the 19th-century Midwestern landscape, a character who I probably imagined running my novel's wild woods because running in the Arizona desert was one of the ways I personally experience the natural spaces around me.

"Young Enough" by Charly Bliss

Maybe this song's the true outlier on this list! But Charly Bliss's second record came out as I was doing starting the last months of rewrites on Appleseed before turning it to my agent, and quickly became something I listened to it constantly for its unbeatable anthemic energy, pump-up music that kept me at the desk pushing through revision after revision. Very few albums are so much fun end to end as this one, while also being as smart and moving. We saw the band play at the Rebel Lounge, one of our favorite venues here in Phoenix, right as I was finishing the book, and it was a blast of good feeling that I know helped carry me through the hard work at the end.

Matt Bell is the author of the novels Scrapper and In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, as well as the short story collection A Tree or a Person or a Wall, a non-fiction book about the classic video game Baldur's Gate II, and several other titles. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Tin House, Conjunctions, Fairy Tale Review, American Short Fiction, and many other publications. A native of Michigan, he teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.

If you appreciate the work that goes into Largehearted Boy, please consider making a donation.