Great Sober Music Offers Powerful Inspiration
Nine Inch Nails frontman and the creative mind behind the band’s music, Trent Reznor had plenty of problems with substances throughout his career. His drummer committed suicide because he wasn’t able to kick heroin and Reznor himself developed problems during his tour for the album “Downward Spiral,” appropriately entitled Self-Destruct. He completed rehab in 1999 but relapsed, and ended up nearly dying from an overdose in 2001. He went through an extensive rehabilitation period, finally getting sober after his overdose scare and returning to music in 2005. The Nine Inch Nails album “With Teeth” was his first sober album, and since then, both his main band and his side project How to Destroy Angels have released well-received albums. Reznor won an Academy Award for his work on the soundtrack of the film “The Social Network” in 2011. His early music was more chaotic and industrial, but touches of synth-pop and a generally mellowed-out musical direction in his later work make for more relaxing listening.
Jon Wurster isn’t as well-known as Reznor, but he’s played drums in indie-rock bands including Superchunk and the Mountain Goats. In addition to his regular bands, he’s also played and recorded with artists such as Katy Perry and Ben Gibbard. He got sober at age 42, crediting the book The Easy Way to Stop Drinking by Allen Carr for helping him. He didn’t hit “rock bottom” or alienate his friends and family, but instead casts his sobriety as a rational decision made out of maturity and the desire to meet the physical demands of his touring schedule.
He commented in an interview, “In terms of drumming, I think not drinking has given me way more stamina. There was this weird buzz I would get when I first stopped, when I’d first get onstage completely sober, and that was a kind of high in a way. It was like a high of achievement…. When we opened up for Foo Fighters last summer at all these big outdoor venues and, like, hockey arenas up to 30,000 people, knowing you could do it all without having to get drunk just to get out there -- it kind of builds your confidence.”
Sia Furler’s songs have made more than $25 million since she got sober, but most of her money has come from hits she’s written for other artists. She got started on the Adelaide jazz circuit before moving to London and starting a promising career in the early 2000s. Eventually, she begun to dislike fame, and after starting to struggle with depression and panic attacks, she turned to alcohol and prescription drugs. In 2010, she went into recovery and took a break from performing.
The sobriety evidently benefited Sia, who quickly became a well-known songwriter, composing hits for artists such as Eminem, Beyonce, Britney Spears and Rihanna, sometimes writing entire songs in a matter of minutes. Her success as a songwriter has inspired her to take to performing again, and she released a new solo album this June under the name Sia.
Northern Arms is a new band, but has been referred to by Philadelphia Magazine as the city’s “most compelling” act. They’re a 10-piece band, and brainchild of singer-songwriter Keith Richard Pierce and his friend Eric Bandel. The two met when they were dating the same woman, but eventually became friends as Bandel became interested in Pierce’s songwriting. After initial attempts to make music together, they realized their self-destructive natures were holding them back. Both resolved to get sober, and, after returning to Philadelphia free from addiction, formed the 10-piece band with the aim of celebrating their love of gospel, blues and Americana. The resulting tracks are fairly grim and haunting, taking inspiration from artists such as Nick Cave, but are endearing enough to make Northern Arms a sober band to keep your eye on. They’ve released a self-titled debut album you can listen to for free on Spotify.
Although it seems like a lot of musicians are dependent on substances, these artists show how great music really comes from sobriety rather than inebriation. Brilliant musicians can still write excellent songs while battling with addiction, but sobriety helps you achieve the clarity of thought, the impeccable coordination and the split-second timing you need to be a legendary musician. Listening to an album or song composed post-recovery by any of these artists is a reminder of what you can still achieve in your own life if you work hard and get sober.