An Interview with David Usher

David Usher wears many hats: the frontman for Moist, successful solo artist, public speaker, business man and now the author of the book Let The Elephants Run, which is a look at creativity and how to make that a part of your life no matter what you do.

David Usher - Let the Elephants Run

AJoMT contributor Larry Lootsteen had a chance to speak with David.

Larry: When you were in the highs of the initial success of Moist, did you know then there was something else down the road for you?  Has that always been a part of you?

David: Well, I’ve always had lots of interests.  Back at that time I was very focused on music, so I’d have to say not really.

Larry: When did you first start public speaking on creativity?

David: I’ve only been doing that for the last 3 or 4 years.

Larry: Who was your audience back at the beginning?

David: It’s been mainly focused on business groups.

Larry: What got  you involved with this idea?

David: The process of creativity has always fascinated me.  And as the world has changed, businesses have been slow to realize that they need creativity to thrive in this new environment.

Larry: Who do you think can most benefit from the practical usage of the ideas in your book?

David:  I think almost anyone can make use of the tools and techniques that I lay out.  We all have ideas but few of us are good at taking those ideas and taking them to their full potential.

Larry: For me, I’m pretty good at getting smaller creative tasks done.  I like to write.  I write poetry.  I write about music.  Years ago I started a book and I find that the complications of life take me away from the bigger things I’d like to accomplish.  I don’t think that is uncommon for people.  Do you think your book can help people with that?

David: Everyone has that problem when it comes to ‘finishing’.  Taking an idea and then doing the hard work to get it from concept to actual finished product is difficult and time consuming.  And yes, so many times you get so far and something else comes into your line of sight and it’s hard to get back to it.

Larry: One of the subjects that struck me on the book was your discussion on the education system and what it is structured towards.  Can you explain a little of that and the impacts on creativity?

David:  Schools today are designed for repetitive tasks.  School is supposed to prepare you for life but things have changed so much, with computers and the internet, which no longer delivers on that goal.

Larry: I know for my kids and so many youth today, they leave high school with a lack of direction, just feeling lost with so many options but little in the way of knowing.

David: That’s just it.  For me I was lucky enough to find an alternative public school for my kids that really focus on creativity.  Letting them take an idea and seeing where it goes.

Larry: Is there any consideration for tackling that for you?  Taking on the system that supports those limits?  Would that be something you could see pursuing changing?

David: Ha!  That’s a huge task. I don’t think I could do that alone

Larry: [Laughs] Yes.

David: Now maybe you and I could work on that! [Laughs]

Larry: Let’s do that!

Larry: How do you find balance with all these pursuits?  Web business, consulting, music, family.  How do you resolve the conflicts that must frequently arise between your passions?

David:  It is difficult.  Of course I’m lucky to have a lot of people I work with.  I can’t and don’t try to do it alone.

Larry: Where does all this go from here?  Do you have any upcoming projects you can share?  Are there more books inside you you’d like to get out?

David:  I do have a number of projects on the go, all in different phases.  Some will be made public soon, others are not that far along.  I have two book outlines ready as well.  I just have to decide whether to pull the trigger on them.

Larry: One of your business ventures is web related.  Was there something specific about the web both from a creative platform as well as a business perspective that fascinated you?

David:  The internet is really a game-changer.  Computers have become such an integral part of our lives that it is really changing how we do everything.  Adapting to this second machine age is critical for business and creativity is required to find new ways to address those changes.  I find this incredibly interesting.

Larry: As a musician, have you found your work outside of music has coloured your songwriting in any way?

David: It has but mostly in recognizing the structure behind the creativity it requires to make music.  Understanding it helps knowing what you need to do.

Larry: Your latest Moist album, Glory Under Dangerous Skies, felt very much to me like a warning about technology and conflict.  From a personal perspective, was that your intent?

David:  It was.  We are dealing with machines every day and so much of what they do are things we really don’t understand.  There’s a danger in that.  I think it is critical to understand what is happening and how we can be at risk from it.  As well things like climate are going to continue to have a huge impact on our lives.

Larry: There seems to me a vein of hope within that.  Is that something conscious for you when writing or do you feel that is just part of who you are and it winds its way into everything you write?

David:  I would say it is conscious.  Without hope we just give up and that is a dark way to think and live.

Larry:  Absolutely.  Throwing your hands up accomplishes nothing.

David: Exactly.  I feel there is always ways to improve things, fix things.  Sometimes that feels overwhelming but we need to work together to tackles these big issues.

Larry: In your book you discuss how you use the creative process you define when you are writing music.  Have you ever considered writing music ABOUT the creative process?  Exploring the process through music?

David: Well, I use music as part of my presentations to illustrate creativity.  Not writing songs but as an example.  The process is a little bit dry to try and write songs about!

Larry: One of the reasons I asked that was that perhaps doing something like that for children and perhaps bring that into schools to help break the mold in some way.

David:  The thing is, kids don’t need that.  They are naturally creative and instinctively know how to create.

Larry:  Maybe for the administrators then!

Larry:  One of the most fascinating areas of your book for me was the discussion around the purely personal pursuit of creativity versus the idea of then putting it out into the world.  Could you talk a bit about what that means to you?

David: That brings to mind a couple of different areas of the book.  Are you talking about how ideas need to be kept close during their nurturing stage?  That it is not always a good idea to let your ideas out into the world too early because they will be surely knocked down before they get developed.  I think it is critical that you nurture the idea along yourself until naturally evolves to a stage where you need to share it, get input and adjust.  Doing that too early or too late tends to kill ideas before they get anywhere.

Larry: That was what I was asking about, yes.  It’s something that makes perfect sense to me.

Larry: What about collaborations (another big subject in your book)?  Is there anyone you’d like work with musically?

David: LEONARD COHEN!  I’ve always  wanted to work with him though I doubt I will ever get a chance.  Can you help me with that? [Laughs]

Larry: What about outside of music.  Are there specific people who you’d like to work with?

David:  The fact is I’m very lucky to be working with a great group of collaborators.  I find it very important to surround myself with people who are smarter than me on the subjects I find most interesting.

Larry: Yes, It’s a great way to learn.  We can’t know everything about everything that interests us.

David:  It is.  I am not an expert so having people who are helps direct energy and focus on a given project.

Larry: Are there tour dates coming for Moist in 2015?

David:  We have a number of festivals lined up for this year.  Big crowd events.

Larry:  Will you be doing more outside that?

David:  Most likely but we are only in the planning stages.

Larry:  Would you be looking at mostly Canada or will you be getting out into the world?

David:  We’ll likely hit Europe as well at some point.

Larry: Do you foresee more solo music ahead?

David:  It’s funny you should ask.  I finally picked up my guitar and started writing in recent weeks.  It sits in the corner, gathering dust, waiting and I finally got around to picking it up.  It feels good to get back to that after I’ve been away from it for a while.  When we worked on the last Moist album, it came together very quickly.  It was a lot of hard work and hours but it really happened quite naturally.

David’s book Let The Elephants Run s available at most major retailers and e-retailers.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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