In recognition of National Book Lovers Day, which is celebrated annually on Aug. 9, the Alchemical Records team connected with bibliophiles from the D.C. area and beyond to discuss music inspired by literature and their all-time favorite reads.
Music is a dynamic form of storytelling, so the intersection of literature and music should come as no surprise. Some of the biggest contemporary artists of our time have penned songs inspired by novels. From David Bowie (“1984,” George Orwell), to Kate Bush (“Wuthering Heights,” Emily Brontë), to Common ft. Jill Scott (“8 Minutes to Sunrise,” Chinua Achebe), to Coldplay (“Major Minus,” Cormac McCarthy), the interconnectedness of the platforms is unmistakable.
Kyle Burk / Co-Owner of Capitol Hill Books / D.C.-Based Musician, The Failed Poets
During the height of the pandemic when most business were forced to close, Kyle Burk, co-owner of D.C.-based Capitol Hill Books, found purpose by extending his love of literature into music. It was in his bookstore that alternative rock band, The Failed Poets, was born organically. Death of the Novel, a five-song collection by The Failed Poets, released in January 2022. Fans of The Strokes and Guided by Voices will identify with the album, which was recorded in Capitol Hill Books and mixed by Ivakota.
“Every song on Death of the Novel was inspired by books in one way or another,” said Burk, noting that as co-owner of Capitol Hill Books, “books are pretty much my life.” “The song “Long Shot” is about our best friend Matt Wixon–one of the other owners of the bookstore–who died way too young. He was a huge fan of mystery novels, Edgar Allan Poe, and long shot bets. He was also one of the funniest and kindest people I’ve ever known. The song is an attempt to capture him as he was when we first met around 15 years ago.”
When asked for his favorite book of all time, Burk replied, “My instinct is always to recoil from the ‘favorite of all time’ question, but since people ask so often, I’ve developed a ready answer — ‘Moby Dick’ by Herman Melville.”
“One of the things that stands out is just how singular this novel is. I can’t think of anything else like it. It takes on big themes like religion, duty, friendship, revenge, imperialism, sexual identity, and much more, in a way that is still hilarious and relevant even 170 years later. And the prose itself is free and wild in a way that feels ecstatic and intoxicating. Every time I read it again, I can’t escape the impression that Melville tapped into a sort of genius that just spilled out of him when he wrote this book.”
For readers who want to tap into Melville via a brief encounter, “Benito Cereno,” an action-packed novella which captures a slave revolt, is a hidden gem. Burk cites Melville’s shorter work as “highly underrated.”
Husam / D.C.-Based Alternative Rock Singer-Songwriter and Composer
D.C.-based Syrian-American artist Husam creates hauntingly beautiful, cinematic soundscapes that chronicle his lived experiences, including his journey to reclaim his self-worth after an abusive upbringing, in a way that resonates with wide audiences. Effortlessly blending alternative rock, lyrical hip-hop, speakeasy jazz, film music, and what he describes as “some Arab magic,” Husam is a rising artist whose compelling sound stands out with distinction in the midst of the saturated market. Check out Husam’s recent singles to experience for yourself: “Harm’s Way,” “Chosen One,” “Hummus on the Beach,” and “Make It.”
In celebration of Book Lovers Day, Husam shared his 2020 track, “Big Brother,” which was inspired by George Orwell’s “1984” but a non-traditional way. The hip-hop-influenced song creatively recasts the Big Brother character as a protagonist who serves as comfort for those in need. “Instead of the dystopian theme, the song’s ‘Big Brother’ is more of a benevolent being, watchful over you and is always there for you, like a real big brother,” Husam explained.
“Tell me what you need / If you’re in a dark place, you better tell me what you need,” Husam sings in the bridge of “Big Brother” backed by flowing piano and atmospheric pads. Based on the traditional interpretation of Big Brother as a villain, Husam’s reimagining of the character suggests that the song was written from a place of deep struggle and void, where even the slightest tender touch feels comforting.
One of Husam’s favorite books of all time is “Naked” by Grammy Award-nominated humorist David Sedaris. “I have never read a book that made me cackle out loud until I read this,” he shared. “It is an absolute joy to read. He is a brilliant storyteller; I couldn’t put the book down.” Indeed, the best-selling collection of essays published in 1997 runs on mania and eccentricity, leaving no stone unturned and allowing readers to see something of their own selves within the larger-than-life characters.
Angela Sclafani / New York City-Based Songwriter, Performer, and Theatre-Maker
Award-winning and highly decorated independent folk-pop artist Angela Sclafani is making quite a name for herself. Recently named a 2022 Woman to Watch on Broadway by the Broadway Women’s Fund, the multi-faceted creative has always found her center among intersections. The two-time first-place winner of the Great American Songwriting Contest’s adult contemporary category has released three EPs of original music in addition to EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, a collection of reimagined Stevie Nicks’ covers, and she’s just getting started.
Sclafani’s latest single, “Bell Jar,” pays homage to renowned poet and writer Sylvia Plath, fitting released on February 11, the anniversary of Plath’s tragic death. Sclafani notes that the song was inspired by both Sylvia Plath’s novel, “The Bell Jar,” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.”
“The lyrics use literary imagery to encourage the listener to ‘shatter’ the conventions that hold them down – be it family, lover, or state of mind,” she explained. “When writing this song, I thought about female characters that are trapped within their own lives like Esther Greenwood and the woman in Gilman’s story. I imagined myself pulling up to their respective ‘prisons,’ throwing their bags in the trunk, and driving them toward freedom.”
As Alchemical Records contributing writer Charlie Maybee notes, Angela Sclafani’s empathetic handling of the literature’s weighty subject matter results in a song that tempers tragedy with a glimmer of hope. “I know the tragic stories of these well-loved protagonists so well – if only I could act as their advocate, interrupt the plot, and give them a chance at a new ending,” Sclafani reflected. While the past is already written, Sclafani’s “Bell Jar” offers a reassuring message to individuals suffering from mental illness and any other forces that attempt to hold them back: you are not alone.
Stay tuned for Angela Sclafani’s forthcoming debut full-length album in fall 2022 by indie record label Pitch & Prose.
Alicia Blue / Nashville-Based Singer-Songwriter
Nashville-based and Los Angeles-born folk-pop artist Alicia Blue began her creative career as a poet. During difficult times, Blue has always found solace in written expression as a way to process her growth and healing journey, citing authors Jack Kerouac and Joan Didion, as well as songwriters Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen as muses.
On July 15, Alicia Blue released her latest EP, Inner Child Work, which draws from her eclectic influences, spanning folk, dreamy indie rock, pop, and 90s alternative rock. The mature, introspective collection is the result of Blue’s collaboration with producer Lincoln Parish, formerly of Cage The Elephant.
In a recent interview with Alchemical Records President Daniel Warren-Hill, Blue shared, “Each song on Inner Child Work is really just about the difficulty of navigating this life and not having all the proper tools to live it in the most successful way. And by successful, I mean the most healthy way.” With its exploration of Blue’s personal experiences against the backdrop of the universal theme of finding one’s place, the album is both timely and magnetic.
If she were stranded on a desert island, Alicia Blue notes that her must-have book would be “Feeling the Shoulder of the Lion: Poetry and Teaching Stories of Rumi.” “Rumi was fascinating,” she explained. “It’s kind of a dark mysterious flavor. He’s super radical. He was a [13th] century poet — it was a long time ago, but it just fascinates me how relevant the poems are today. I could almost say that the way Woodie Guthrie, how you can learn life from him, that’s how Rumi is. It’s poetic, radical advice for life.”
What are you reading this Book Lovers Day? Any books Alchemical Records audiences should add to their lists? Let us know in the comments below.
Maryland-based singer-songwriter Cynthia Gross seeks to inspire an awakening to all we are and all we can become. With a passion for language in all of its forms and more than a decade of experience as a professional ghostwriter, she is a light seeker who understands the power of each individual’s voice to create positive, meaningful change.
As the leader of nineties pop rockers 4 Non Blondes Linda Perry broke down barriers in the male dominates music business and created one of the decade’s most catchy songs: “What’s Up?” Perry released one stellar album with the band before going out on her own.
Recent Articles Indie pop rock artist Andy Martin has released an uplifting rock track called “At Least You’re Trying” – the opener to his debut
Recent Articles Self-made lyricist, composer, and producer august at night is celebrating the platform-wide release of his third single, “Skinny Dipping.” The track follows his