Today, musician, Kienan Dietrich, stops by to talk about his creative process. Kienan has been active in Atlanta bands for quite a while, and around the time I was in the indie duo, Pocket the Moon, he was in a band called Ravens and Wolves with a couple of friends of mine. Now, he plays guitar in the goth cabaret rock band, Sarah and the Safe Word, who were a part of the Vans Warped Tour in 2017 and were recently featured in the last season of the CW show, The Originals. I’ve really loved seeing all of the amazing things they’re up to!
So, here you go, everyone! An interview with Kienan Dietrich!
What is your main form of creative expression?
I’m primarily a musician. I write songs, I play guitar and bass in several bands, I sing, and I produce other artists. Occasionally, I also write articles for independent music publications like Georgia Local Spotlight. I also like to write jokes and may try stand-up comedy one day.
Do you work as an artist/creative full-time or do you have a different day job?
I have a full-time day job, although I also teach guitar, vocals, and songwriting part-time at Ken Stanton. I also regularly play gigs around Georgia and tour occasionally with my bands, so I do make some money from my art. Part of my day job involves content creation, so it utilizes some of my creativity.
How long have you been creating music?
I’ve been writing songs since as long as I can remember, even if I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing until I was about 8 years old. I’ve been composing semi-seriously since I was 12 and learned guitar—that is, I didn’t have clear intentions on what to do with those songs, but I was crafting them as actual works with titles. By the time I was 16 I’d figured out that I wanted to be a songwriter in a band and it took off from there. I’ve since branched out into other forms of composition including musicals and soundtracks, but it all started very early on.
How do you find the time to be creative after your day job?
I have to make the time. While I’m at work I’m managing things like booking, song/album drafts, rehearsal scheduling—anything that doesn’t directly involve creating music that’s still necessary. I get very little sleep. I schedule days during the weekend to write and compose, and I write in my head while at work then keep a recording of anything decent on my phone. It usually requires very little socializing after work.
Do you engage in any additional creative hobbies?
Not really. All my non-musical hobbies involve enjoying art that others have created like TV shows, concerts I’m not playing, music my friends have written, and reading short stories or non-fiction essays. I’m a huge fan of history and supernatural folklore. But those interests are consumptive rather than creative. There are certainly hobbies I’d like to try when I could find the time, but at this point, the idea of doing anything for fun just sounds exhausting. So much of my creative energy is focused on a clear direction that I can’t even imagine being creative just for myself to enjoy. It’s an unusual feeling that I don’t like.
Who are some other artists and creatives that inspire you to create?
I used to be a huge fan of Billy Corgan’s creative process. I enjoyed his music a lot and strongly disliked his personality, which has only gotten worse in recent years, but I used to read a lot of articles about him and columns he’d written himself about songwriting and being in a band. Even with his recent output, I’d still say his advice drives me to create music. Recently, I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from stand-up comedians, John Mulaney being a good example. Comedians distill pretty abstract concepts into pointed commentary that contains a solid message. It’s the essence of songwriting in a slightly different form. Musically I’ve always been a fan of the classical composers in that it was their job to constantly craft new music with much fewer resources than I have. Classical symphonic form comes off as stiff nowadays, but the melodic ideas guys like Haydn had to create essentially off the top of their head are very inspirational. Someone who exemplifies what I strive to be is Donald Glover. He’s a writer/comedian/actor, and also puts out amazing music as Childish Gambino. His work ranges from irreverent to extremely pointed and political. Huge inspiration.
Why do you create?
When I was younger I created to get away, full-stop. Music was escapist for me, which is probably why I gravitated toward musicians that created fantasy worlds rather than straightforward writers like country or folk musicians. As I grew up, I was less fearful of engaging directly with my life and other people, but there’s still a part of me that wants to generate other worlds for people to escape into. I also had and still have difficulty communicating my emotions due to severe emotional abuse I suffered as a child, so music helps me to communicate ideas non-verbally—I’ve always had an easier time writing music than writing lyrics to go with it.
What advice do you have for other creatives?
The cynic in me always wants to say, “Run away. Save yourself now.” It’s arduous, suffocating, difficult, and sometimes you can feel like there’s no reward. But I also know that the creative drive isn’t something you can shut off. It’s not something you can just cut out of yourself or ignore, so I would sincerely say to ignore advice that warns about having a fallback. There are some creatives who are obsessed with the idea of the starving artist like it’s a romantic ideal, but that’s nonsense. Always have a fallback. Sometimes you have to take risks, and of course there will be challenges, but don’t get locked into this concept that if you don’t give it your absolute all, or if you’re working to keep the lights on, that you’re somehow less of an artist.
What are you working on right now?
I just got finished with a solo concert that featured an orchestra. Composing for instruments like bassoon, trumpet, and alto flute was a fun challenge. I’m constantly working on my own songs, and I’m developing material concepts for a new Sarah & the Safe Word full-length—we actually go into the studio in a couple weeks to finish one last song for our new EP—and co-writing with Beth Ballinger for a new Bystander Effect record. I’m also developing a musical right now with a couple co-writers and talking to some local Atlanta acts about producing a few new songs for them.
Where can people find you and your work?
Thanks so much for allowing me to pick your brain, Kienan! I completely agree with you about how artists who have to work a day job to keep the lights on should not feel like they’re anything less than artists.