Steven Camden’s novel ‘Tape’ (review here) is heavily laced with musical references which is unsurprising given how much music has influenced his career. It’s provided inspiration for his writing as well as providing the soundtrack to his life.
In the novel ‘Tape’ lead character Ryan sets about making up a ‘mixtape’ of music which he plans to give to Ameliah. In an era where music is predominantly digital the art of the mixtape has been somewhat lost on today’s generation. I myself remember spending hours preparing tapes for friends and, more commonly, girlfriends. As a shy teenager I liked the idea of the music doing the talking instead of me.
After reading ‘Tape’ I approached Steven and asked him what he would put on his mixtape. The tracks the he has selected are those that he played heavily during the writing of ‘Tape’ and that have been influential in his life and career to date. And although it doesn’t quite have the same aesthetic quality (not to mention painstakingly neat handwriting on the inlay card) there is a Spotify playlist embedded in this article which will allow you to listen to the songs whilst you read why they are so important to Steven.
St. Etienne – Only love can break your heart
This song was playing as I arrived at a Halloween party I went to when I was fifteen. The drums thumping as I walked in feeling like Fonzey and it turned out to be the first amazing night of my life. One of those nights when you feel like you’re speaking to people without even opening your mouth and it seems you’re gliding rather than walking. It all felt like a film and I remember walking home on my own and singing this song, giving it the Gene Kelly swinging round lamp posts.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard it since and not wanted to go out dancing. That kind of romantic coolness was in my mind as I wrote TAPE and I hope anyone who reads it gets a sense of that.
Souls of Mischief – 93’ til Infinity
This track just sums me up at a time when I was falling completely in love with hip-hop. That sense that I’d found the music that felt most like ‘mine’ and the importance of drums and rhyming. I tried to pour the sense of that into Ryan and the book is set at the start of the summer holidays, because that was always the most hopeful time for me.
My older cousin and his friends used to break dance on flattened cardboard boxes outside his house and us younger ones would wait until they’d all gone inside, then have a go ourselves. I was rubbish.
When I first started writing rhymes and playing with words I remember my cousin gave a me a taped copy of this album and the title track was my favourite. I regularly blast this when the flat is empty and throw some of my amateur shapes on the living room floor, then I catch myself in the mirror and stick to rhyming along to words I’m pretty sure are etched into my brain.
The Stone Roses – Shoot You Down
This one is all about timing. I went to stay with my uncle and aunt for a weekend and slept on their sofa. I couldn’t sleep, so I started looking through their music collection and found a cassette tape with lemons on the cover and splattered paint and liked the name of the band so I plugged in their headphones and put it on, and completely fell in love. It sounded to me like guitar music influenced by hip-hop and Ian Brown’s voice and lyrics just made perfect sense.
I remember thinking how special it felt to have found a band this way and that it was supposed to happen. The ideas of ‘fate’ and ‘the universe’ and trusting that things would work out for the best were very important to me when I was thirteen and still are to this day.
The Cardigans – Carnival (acoustic)
This is another one from University and was a b-side to a single I’d bought a while before and never played. One night I was up late talking with a girl I properly fancied, trying to play it cool and she saw the single and put it on as we were still talking and then this track came on and we stopped and looked at each other and it felt like somebody was sound tracking the moment perfectly and it’s been one of my favourites ever since.
Toots & The Maytals – Funky Kingston
This one is all about the relationship I had with my nan. Because my parents worked far from where we lived, my grandparents were a massive presence in my upbringing up until the age of 11. I used to hear this song coming from downstairs and I remember thinking about how sound moves through walls and floors and water and doors and how no matter what music it was, it always made me picture what was happening in the other room.
Ameliah’s relationship with her nan in TAPE is based on the dynamic between me and my nan. The arc of their relationship in the book is me trying to get them to the point of comfort, respect and love that I felt existed between me and my nan. I wanted Ameliah to have that.
Aesop Rock – Zero Dark Thirty
I love words. More specifically I love playing with words, and even more specifically, I love when wordplay, craft and the musicality of speech patterns all combine to communicate something that feels like it’s got you and you can’t fully explain why.
Aesop Rock is brilliant. I still listen to music of his from over ten years ago and find new things in his lyrics and the marriage of those lyrics with the musical production. I love that feeling of lying in bed when everyone else is asleep and hearing something in a song and telling myself that only I have discovered that, that I’m connected to the person who made this music in a really simple yet magical way.
In my own, smaller version of that, I really hope that what I write gives anyone that feeling.
James Brown – Super Bad
TAPE is about a lot of things for me, and one of them is parenthood. I’m a father and I spend a lot of time thinking about how things get passed along through generations. Some of them are good and some bad, but they all carry weight. Something that makes me very happy, is the importance of music to both our children and how it feels like music is central to our lives. Words, lyrics and sentiment are important to me, but sometimes it’s just about a feeling and letting the music take you wherever it wants.
The main characters in TAPE all have this connection to music and the rhythm of the story and dance between the present and the past is, in my head at least, kind of musical and writing it felt like juggling the balance of the two worlds, whilst also showing how connected both of them were.
Broadcast – Tender Buttons
I listen to music mostly on the move these days. Journeys between meetings or walking around supermarket aisles trying to choose healthy food, are all sound tracked by whatever is in my Walkman. This album gets played a lot and this song always seems to play while I’m sitting on the train opposite someone who looks interesting.
It’s become my perfect song for people watching in the busy city. I’ve always been a watcher of people, not just grown ups, but everyone and I think that the details you take in all filter through to anything you write, especially when you’re creating characters.
Ameliah is a watcher of people in the story. The kind of person who will watch rather than speak, until she is ready to. I’ve become more like that as I’ve got older, but when I was younger I remember always wanting to be more like that, instead of running my mouth off which I invariably did.
Mos Def – Next Universe
This song makes me want to jump out of my own skin and break stuff. In a good way. It’s the beat. The specific snare sound and the groove of Mos Def riding it like some kind of genius jockey. The build up to when the beat drops gives me shivers every single time I hear it. That feeling of being that moved by a song is essential to both Ryan and Ameliah in TAPE and is the first point of connection between them and myself.
Basically, every now and then it’s important to shock out, and no matter how, where or when you do it, you should try and do it at least once a day. I do. And the days where I don’t get the chance are much greyer.
This is one of my top shock out tunes and while I was writing the book I often pictured Ryan and Ameliah, and anyone else from the story who was up for it, all shocking out to this, upstairs on a bus, like wild gorillas going to a party.
Adem – Statued
This song has sorted me out many times. The space and the time and the words, but mostly the feeling of it. It’s a song for journeys. For staring out of the window and trying to make sense of stuff.
Strange as it might sound, I’ve never been a big talker when it comes to personal stuff directly. I’ve never really been someone who goes to somebody else for advice, or confides doubts or fears and stuff. These days I have someone I could tell anything to, but before I found her, I would work things out through music. And it works.
By the time the right song finishes, you’ve either figured something out, made a decision, or at the very least, gained a slight sense of perspective on what’s going on and in some way things are better.
Both Ryan and Ameliah have things to deal with that can feel quite isolating, even from people close to them, and this song would make me remember what that’s like.