Their favourite books: A chat with cherished Melbourne musicians about what they love to read

Their favourite books: A chat with cherished Melbourne musicians about what they love to read

Leah Senior - Photo by Jamie Wziekonski
Words by Elsie Lange

Some titles to add to your reading list.

It’s always fascinating to find out what great lyricists love to read in their downtime, before bed or on the train, waiting for a coffee or a pint. For Patti Smith, it was Jack Kerouac and Sylvia Plath, and for Leonard Cohen, it was Hermann Hesse.

We asked some of the city’s most cherished musicians to tell us about the books that mean most to them and how those books have influenced their music.

Keep up with the latest music interviews, news and reviews here.

Leah Senior

What is your favourite book?

One of my favourite more recent discoveries has been the short stories of Lucia Berlin. There are two posthumous collections of her work, Manual for Cleaning Women and Evening in Paradise. Her writing is fragmented and electric.

As you dive deeper into the pages, you begin to see a life appearing, characters come and go and you get a real sense that this woman is drawing heavily on her own experience, blurring the lines between fiction and autobiography.

These two collections are a tapestry, snapshots of a chaotic life pulsing with restless energy and weaving together stories of addiction, friendship, relationships with jazz musicians and artists, motherhood, and a succession of low-paying jobs.

Why do you love it?

In her memoirs, Lucia describes becoming intoxicated by the smell of flowers as a child, “I would lie on the grass beneath the lilac tree and breath until I became giddy”. She mentions reading that the scent of flowers was much more intense back then, their perfume now diluted by hybridization.

Reading her stories is like getting a whiff of that scent. Lucia’s world is rich with experience, brimming with possibility, failure, and singular incident.

Her writing is vivid and clear and her personal tone is bewitching. You can’t help but wonder where reality ends and fiction begins.

Has this book influenced your songwriting?

Probably not directly, but I always get a kick out of reading about the lives of strong-willed, fearless, artistic women. In this way, Helen Garner’s published diaries also recently made a big impression on me.

I have come back to see the value in writing more autobiographically and openly myself and women like Lucia Berlin illuminate the way forward. She reminds me that there is a technicolour world out there and there are so many ways that you can go.

Photo by Jamie Wziekonski

June Jones

What is your favourite book?

I don’t think I have a single favourite book, but one of my all-time favourites is Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher.

Why do you love it?

I love it because it does a great job of explaining the cultural, social, and economic factors that have led us to feel incapable of imagining a realistic alternative to the system of capitalism.

Has this book influenced your songwriting?

This book influenced much of the songwriting on my album Leafcutter as it gave me an understanding of how nostalgia as a cultural force can function to strengthen the grip that capitalism has on our collective imagination and, in turn, encouraged me to push myself to challenge some of the nostalgic impulses within my own songwriting process.

Photo by Jess Brohier

Alice Skye

What is your favourite book?

Common People by Tony Birch.

Why do you love it?

I love short stories! I love getting to know characters in a seemingly understated way, if that makes sense. Tony Birch is such an incredible writer and although the subject matter or situations might not be ‘easy’ to read, the way it’s written feels conversational and easy to follow – which I love.

My attention span isn’t always great, so I love books where you can slip into whatever world you’re being taken to and feel with the characters you get to know along the way.

Other books I love for the same reason are Firekeeper’s Daughter (Angeline Boulley) and My Sister the Serial Killer (Oyinkan Braithwaite).

Has this book influenced your songwriting?

The more I read, the more inspired I feel about writing. I love thinking about how people use words. I like how big things can be put pretty simply. Relating to or empathising with characters that face difficult emotions or situations.

Sometimes it’s nice when something so consuming IRL can be put in front of you neatly by someone else. It’s my favourite thing about songwriters as well. Big, broad, complex, messy but you can read it on the page or hold it in your head.

Adam Smith (Pinch Points)

What is your favourite book?

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (it’s technically four books in two volumes, but it was written as a singular thing and I reckon is best treated that way). Science fantasy set in the far future, where the Sun (and ‘Urth’) are dying.

Why do you love it?

I tend to re-read books a lot, mostly because I’m lazy. But while The Book of the New Sun comes off as a pretty standard ‘Orphan-Becomes-the-King’ kind of story, it dawns on you slowly that the narrator isn’t being honest with you (or himself).

Each re-read shows you things you missed last time, and the fact the narrator basically thinks he’s the Messiah complicates it a lot; there’s this constant sense that you’re missing something. Seriously slippery writing.

Has this book influenced your songwriting?

Not yet, but once Pinch Points have done a two-year world tour, been feted by the press, and left the country for tax purposes, I think I could trick the band into doing a concept album. If I can get them to read it.

Photo by Chelsea King

Want to get your hands on some of these titles? Check out our list of Melbourne’s best independent bookstores