by Joshua Heinrich
Let’s face it. We all get older. We all change. Whether we’re “older & wiser” or still holding onto that youthful sense of wonderment, it’s a force we can’t really stop. Even if we could stop physical aging, mental & emotional aging is pretty much beyond the realm of science, as it, arguably, should be. As an artist, one particular predicament brought about by age is looking back at your life & body of work, wondering if you’re ever going to top your last release or find that place you were in when you recorded your first album.
It’s, perhaps, even harder to shake if you’re following up a successful release or single with record label or fan pressure behind you. Worries over career longevity or income can play into your artistic output. Some artists feel the need to “superficially” reinvent themselves to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump or due to criticism that all of their albums sound the same but not as good as their first, which is sort of an easy criticism to make when comparing something you’re hearing for the first time to something you’ve heard before. At other times, artists feel the need to rehash their previous work because some fans didn’t take to something new or different. In fact, very successful artists may find it easy to put out a fan-pleasing album every 3 or 4 years, tour a bit, & then go off & enjoy the money.
Really, though, the fact is that all of these positions & perceptions are artistically limiting & can lead to lowered productivity & less interesting output. If you’re always chasing after or reacting to the past, it’s easy to lose sight of the present or future. Freeing yourself from the need to “recreate past successes” can be a very liberating experience. Granted, there are certain risks involved, & you have to be willing to put yourself out there. If you do take that leap, however, following your artistic whims & regarding each work as important, without qualitative comparisons to your past work, you can create new work that stands on its own merits & is worthwhile in its own right rather than overshadowed by something that can’t be recreated.
It’s easy to look back on the work you did when you had that classic youthful naivety & a fresh outlook & feel you were tapping into something that you no longer can. However, if you leave yourself open & pay attention, you can tap into it in new ways or tap into new ideas & energies. Art & life are both progressive, ever-changing forces. Those energies & inspirations are no longer the same, just as you aren’t the same person you were ten years ago. At one time, you may have been in inner turmoil, trying to figure out who you were or where you fit in, & your music grew out of that. As we grow older, we often become more comfortable with ourselves, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore other ideas, drawing from & sharing your own philosophies & trying to understand the world around you or your own experiences.
Maybe those themes are at the heart of the argument. Maybe feeling like your best work is behind you is just an extension of the timeless turmoil of growing older, of feeling your best days & experiences are behind you, of longing for that piece of yourself that’s lost somewhere in the past. Maybe it’s just a piece of the existential midlife crisis puzzle. There are definitely certain elements that are out of your control, like your voice changing or losing range as you age. It happens. However, another part of growing older & continuing to be artistically relevant is accepting who & where you are & not being afraid to put that out there, just as you did when you were younger & in a different place.
From the fan side of things, the fact is, there will always be people who liked your earlier material more than your new material. You should take that as a testament to the validity of your earlier work rather than a criticism of your newer work, even if it sometimes blatantly comes off that way. It may even be that they, themselves, have grown up & your earlier work reminds them of an earlier version of their own lives or struck them profoundly at a state of perception they’ve long since moved past. There will also be people who just discovered your music through your new single or album, people who have been impacted by your new work. In fact, some of them might not even like your earlier material. In a world of internet polls, it’s easy to boil your work down to a list of fan favorites. In the real world, however, things are a lot less one dimensional. Some people’s least favorite albums are other people’s favorites. Everything you do as an artist has the possibility of touching different people in different ways.
The bottom line is that, yes, it’s easy to get wrapped up in feeling like your best work is behind you or comparing everything you do to what you’ve done in the past, whether you felt there was something special about that work or someone or something else has led you to that idea. There’s also nothing wrong in celebrating past glories & being proud & satisfied with your past work. However, as an artist, I’ve found that one of the best things you can do is move beyond that & regard each project as its own entity with its own inspirations, triumphs, & flaws. Let yourself be free & follow the path, wherever it takes you, instead of trying to repave it to circle around to somewhere you’ve already been but can only truly visit through memories, past creations, & the ripples they created in your life & the lives of those around you. Let each work be its own entity, look to the present & future & create new ripples.
QRD interviews with Joshua Heinrich:
Guitarist interview with Joshua Heinrich of fornever (June 2012)
Record Label Owner interview with Joshua Heinrich of Autumnal Release (March 2013)