We’re happy to introduce this new feature to our readers. “My 10 Favorite” gives artists and musicians a chance to share some of the music (or art) that has inspired them on their creative journey. Each feature will also include a Spotify playlist, so be sure to follow us.
Following-up last July’s Spoken Word EP, Dallas-based singer/songwriter Alex McArtor gives us Heart Talk, Vol. 1. The five-song EP (the first installment of a pair of planned releases) puts on display McArtor’s talents as a singer and a songwriter. As a young woman navigating love and loss, the strength of these songs belie her age. The fact that she’s 17 years old shouldn’t matter, but it’s worth noting because of the sophistication of her lyrics and arrangements. Certainly, there has been a gluttony of heartbroken, young songwriters who grabbed an acoustic guitar to help release the pain of unrequited love. The quality of those songs vary, but McArtor stands out among them with an apparent lack of naivete backed by articulate and lucid storytelling. Musically, a broad landscape is traversed. Dance-y tracks bleed into alternative rock with a thread of classic rock tying it all together. But, these are merely reference points for a sound that is both raw and inspired.
The songs on Heart Talk are dynamic, carried by McArtor’s powerful and potent singing voice. Indeed, the first thing that gives instant credibility to her music is the strength of her voice. But, as the music alternates between delicate and plaintive to soaring and confident, it’s clear that her future in music is boundless.
We asked Alex to run down the songs that have influenced her the most in her journey as a songwriter and an individual. After listening to Heart Talk, you will immediately understand how artists as diverse as Gram Parsons, Suicide, and The Stooges form the foundation to her music. Not to suggest Heart Talk is generically all over the place. In fact, it’s all quite cohesive. Acoustic guitars (“East Coast”) and pianos (“Loving Is The Way) don’t stand out against the other, more electronically driven tracks (“Speed Into Air”), but make perfect sense in the context of the EP as a whole. That’s a strength that McArtor uses to her advantage in this collection of songs. Rather than pigeonholing herself into a single category, she stretches out to embrace all the sounds that have fed her vision.
While I appreciate all kinds of music, I was really into alternative bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain and artists like Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Led Zeppelin. I’m also really into film — that’s a passion of mine — so sometimes I’ll write songs over photographs or scenes from movies, like Trainspotting, Velvet Goldmine, Garden State and My Own Private Idaho. It helps me see my music come alive.
I have many favorite songs, but here’s a list of songs that have impacted or held a time in my life.
– Alex McArtor
Gram Parsons – Brass Buttons
Gram Parsons is probably one of my favorite artists of all time and “GP” and “Grievous Angel” are my two favorite albums of his solo work. He has many great songs, like “She,” “Love Hurts,” and “A Song For You.” But, “Brass Buttons” is my favorite song. I just have very fond memories of this song. I went to boarding school in New Hampshire and the winters were so bitterly cold. So, even when an inch of Spring started to show her face, everybody was just so excited to get outside. I had so much energy built up that I would go on the longest walks…sometimes even skipping class. There was this bridge back in the woods that I would visit to get away, listen to music, and contemplate life. I would dangle my feet over the edge and just hang out. I even accidentally cut my hand with an army knife one time trying to carve my name into that bridge. “Brass Buttons” was the song I would always listen to on that bridge. It just felt so right. Something about it was perfect and youthful for where I was in my life and what I was looking at…it felt like it was just me and the song. Sometimes, I feel like I’m always moving. I’m not usually in the same space for a long time. I have a lot of memories of the people and places that I used to know. I hope that I am remembered by the people who matter. For some reason, I felt like Gram was singing to me, as if I was someone he used to know.
“Her words still dance inside my head/Her comb still lies beside my bed/And the sun comes up without her/It just doesn’t know she’s gone/Ooh, but I remember everything she said”
Chris Isaak – Wicked Games
I grew up with my parents playing a lot of Chris Isaak around the house, a lot of “Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing” was sung. I think Chris Isaak has one of the sexiest voices alive and “Wicked Games” is just so flipping captivating. From the moment you hear that little cry in the guitar, you can just see these hands pulling you in. It dances with you and doesn’t let you go. You become the character. You become it’s lover. I wish I wrote that song, man! Connecting auditory to visual is what I hope and want to do, and he did it so well. It’s almost haunting how much power this song holds. That it can so easily just pick you up and hold you in the palm of its hand. I see a lot of things through the lens of film as if it is happening in a movie, which is a strange delusion/imagination that I have I guess…but, I hear this song and I see the characters and I feel them. It’s hard to describe, but the lyrics, the voice, the music…it’s just perfect. You become the character.
“What a wicked game you played to make me feel this way/What a wicked thing to do to let me dream of you/What a wicked thing to say you never felt this way/What a wicked thing to do to make me dream of you”
The Stooges – Gimme Danger “Iggy’s Mix”
The Stooges are one of my favorite bands, and Iggy Pop as a whole, is one of my biggest idols. Iggy has one of my favorite voices. I mean, I blast my ears out to that shit! I love how dirty and gritty the lyrics are and how loud and messy the noise is. The way he performs is just disgustingly beautiful! He makes you feel as if you’re watching or listening to something you shouldn’t be. He makes you want to crawl on the floor and destroy everything in sight. I mean, what else do you need in a song?
‘’Yeah, they’re gonna feel my hand/Said die a little later, why no, little stranger?/Hurry on and feel my hand’’
The Velvet Underground – Heroin
I’d say that The Velvet Underground is one of the first bands that made me feel like, “oh this, this is what I want to do!” My 8th grade year, this was my jam! I went from being a kid thinking she was on top of the world to having the rug pulled out from under her. It was a total fall from grace moment for me because I had to move away to a new city and school against my will. I became a loner because I didn’t want to conform to the pretentious BS around me. So, their music really helped me at that rough time to escape and fantasize. You know the books, The Magic Tree House or Narnia? That’s how this song and their music made me feel. The song transported me into a different time and place and I escaped by feeling as if I lived another life through their music. I would be in math class or in the lunch room and put my earphones in, close my eyes, and disappear from it all. Which explains my very poor math skills now and probably why I had no friends that year. For real though, lyrics like “Away from the big city/Where a man cannot be free/Of all the evils in this town/And of himself and those around” inspired me and showed me the power of words.
New Order – Your Silent Face
I don’t know how to explain it, but when I hear this song, I feel a cool breeze. I know I might sound a little whack by saying this stuff, but I swear on my life whenever I play this song, I feel a cold dash of wind hit my face. The song takes me back to riding my bike around town with my best friend, racing through the empty streets after midnight, screaming at the top of our lungs, and watching the lights in people’s houses turn on. Like total jackasses. It also reminds me of that scene in The Perks of Being a Wallflower when Emma Watson stands through the sunroof as the car drives fast and Bowie’s “Heroes” plays. She opens her arms out wide and the feeling of freedom and surrendering to what’s around you fills the screen and captivates you. It reminds me of this song. It’s almost as if they created silence through noise.
“Sound formed in a vacuum/May seem a waste of time/It’s always been just the same/No hearing or breathing/No movement no lyrics/Just nothing”
INXS – Don’t Change
I really dig INXS. They were just so sexy and cool. “Don’t Change” is one of my top songs of theirs. I’m a big “’80’s alternative girl” and this song just embodies so much of what was good during that time. It just makes you want to dance and makes you feel as if you have no strings attached. Many late nights with my buddies were spent listening to this song and just hanging back and having a good time. It’s kind of like a “Heroes” by Bowie or a “Age of Consent” by New Order song. It just moves you forward like you’re in the fast lane, time is moving slow, yet you are dancing and rolling around on the floor. You know what I mean?
“Resolution of happiness/Things have been dark for too long”
Heart – Crazy On You
I look up to Ann and Nancy Wilson a whole lot, because they hold their own. They ran with the guys in a time when it was really hard to do that and be taken seriously as straight rock and roll. I have a couple of reasons for loving “Crazy on You.” First, because it’s the background music for one of my favorite kiss scenes in all film history – when Kirsten Dunst runs back to the car and kisses Josh Hartnett in The Virgin Suicides. Two, it makes me feel like a badass woman walking into the room and turning heads. When I hear this song, I want to make other women feel that way about themselves, too. Like they are, “freaking Aphrodite!” All girls should have that ego once in a while.
“My love is the evening breeze touching your skin/The gentle sweet singing of leaves in the wind/The whisper that calls after you in the night/And kisses your ear in the early light”
David Bowie – Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide
I remember the exact moment I heard this song! I was in the shower and listening to my “Bowie playlist.” Right after “Life on Mars,” which is also one of my favorite songs of all time, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide” played. I had never heard it before and the moment I heard the line “time takes a cigarette and puts it in your mouth,” I was like “holy shit!” I ran out of the shower with a soapy mountain on my head, grabbed my journal, and I wrote all of the lyrics out. I felt like this is the holy grail. Straight genius! It made me feel so understood. It really took me back five steps. It made me see how important music is to me and is going to be for me in my life. It ingrained in my head and heart that I will and can do this. No matter how hard it gets or how much I have to sacrifice. I just really felt in that moment that this is my calling. I felt like he gets me.
Suicide – Surrender
When I think about being in love or times I’ve felt drawn to a person, I think of this song. I just see myself skipping in a field of daisies with a “Fabio type” spinning me around and angels singing in the background like in the “Beauty School Dropout” scene in Grease. It’s just a really beautiful song. It is one of those songs that you can make it what you want. It could be sad or it could be beautiful. It’s another one of those songs that connects auditory to visual for me. I like it when I become a character just by listening to a song. It’s a simple song, not a lot of lyrics, just a feeling.
“When you take me/Or when you may/(I’ll fall for you) I’ll fall for you”
The Smiths – I Know It’s Over
The Smiths are funny. Morrissey is such a drama queen. I like it. “How Soon is Now,” “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” – great lyrics. It kind of annoys me that they say a lot of what I want to say, but just don’t know how to verbalize it yet. I’ve realized I listen to a lot of what some people would call or label as “sad songs,” but it’s not because I’m sad. I’m actually a pretty happy person. They just calm me. I like the whole happy sad concept. The Cure does a good job of doing that as well. I like the bittersweet.
“I know it’s over/And it never really began/But in my heart, it was so real/And you even spoke to me, and said: “If you’re so funny, then why are you on your own tonight?/And if you’re so clever, then why are you on your own tonight?/If you’re so very entertaining, then why are you on your own tonight?/If you’re so very good-looking, why do you sleep alone tonight?”
Fleetwood Mac – Gypsy
I know I was just supposed to do ten songs, but I’m quite indecisive at times and forgot about “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac. It’s a strange thing, but whenever something significant happens in my life, this song plays. After a bad break up, this song just happens to pop on the radio. I feel low or lost, this song happens to play. I feel free and happy, like I’ve just accomplished something, this song plays. It’s like the universe’s way of telling me “breathe girl, life is good, you’re good, there’s no reason not to smile.” It also reminds me of a very close friend of mine from school. We would play this song, sing at the top of our lungs, and then go run amok. Which made it all the more special to me, because I saw how much it touched her just as much as it touched me. It’s a “travelers song,” or at least that’s how I interpret it to be – or bring it into my own life. Something about being someone, that person you used to know, or a memory that impacted or touched someone’s life. Something that passes you by, shows you a good time, and then just keeps on its way. I like that about certain songs. There’s an independence about it that I find so beautiful.
“To the gypsy/That remains/Her face says freedom/With a little fear/I have no fear/I have only love”