Divide and rule with the genre benders

Most artists find success by carving out a niche in one medium. Others won't be pigeonholed so easily. By Andrew G Marshall

Is it a book, is a it CD, a music video, a film, a website or a postcard? No, it's Luke Sutherland. With the media breaking down into ever more niche markets, it is harder for new artists to achieve mainstream success; however, if they can work a variety of different media there is more chance of being heard. Sutherland, 28, is a prime example, considering himself both a musician and a writer. His band, Long Fin Killie, is a cult success, with John Peel placing one of its tracks in his top 10 favourite songs of the year. Now he has written Jelly Roll, a muscular novel about men in crisis set against the backdrop of a jazz band touring Scotland. The book is scheduled to become a film next year.

"I've been writing for longer than I've been playing," Sutherland says. "I was in bands from the age of 18 and sending stories to magazines, but the music took off first. I started writing Jelly Roll in 1990 but had to put it away until Long Fin Killie had a van accident touring Sweden. I was thrown out of a window and broke a collarbone and shoulder blade and had a partially collapsed lung. Recuperating last year, I finished the novel."

"Books and music help each other along. I'm surprised that more of this has not happened. The only other person I know of who has had both out at the same time is Nick Cave. Although I always felt I had stories to tell, I could never find the voice. Until, on my way to a lecture as a student, I went into the university bookshop and flicked through a short story by Janice Galloway, a Scottish writer, and the language blew me away. When I listen to songs, I lock into the sound of the music, not the lyrics, and reading this book I found myself responding to the rhythm of the words rather than the story. It was a quietly life-affirming moment."

Sutherland is difficult to categorise. "I'm adopted, my parents were white, and I have Afro-American ancestry. I was born in London, moved to Humberside and then to the Orkney Islands. I've also lived on the Borders and then Perthshire. I don't feel I belong anywhere, but I get a kick out of that."

Another artist making waves on more than one front is Jamie Di Salvio, who started as a film-maker and DJ but now, as Bran Van 3000, has a Top 40 single, "Drinking in LA", and is touring Europe with Massive Attack. "While others are virtuoso musicians because of a particular love for the cello, I do music as a way of exploring my creativity," says Di Salvio. "All my media have a common denominator; they are all attempts at getting to know myself better. In many ways the different areas complement each other; the songs I have written are narrative based because I have been working on film scripts. I'm also playing with notions for a graphic novel."

Di Salvio decided to take the plunge into music during a stint in New York, where he was directing a jazz video: "It gave me $10,000 in cash and I hopped on the subway down to 42nd Street and bought some studio equipment." The result is the CD Glee, whose style ranges from trip hop to ZZ Top: "I impose no walls on media and none on musical genres either." Jamie Di Salvio, who is the same age as Sutherland, believes his generation does not recognise boundaries: "If I'd been around in the Fifties I'd never have been able to make a record. I'm not a singer or a player, so I wouldn't have performed in night-clubs and an A&R person would not have signed me, so technology has allowed me to make a record. There are people who have done great things by focusing on one thing their whole life and finally painting the Sistine Chapel, or whatever their medium, but my medium is all media."

It is easy to forget how we used to pigeonhole creative people. When Jane Asher wrote her first cake book no one was interested. "In those days actresses did not write; it was not the done thing," says Asher. "Nobody liked my ideas - they thought there were plenty of cake books. It was a real struggle to get it published; it took seven or eight attempts. How things have changed - actresses are always being asked to write something because they know a name will sell." Jane Asher is now a novelist too. Her second, The Question, is a well-plotted story of betrayal and revenge.

When Sutherland is asked whether he wants to be both a musician and a writer, he makes a face. "I have an instinctive reaction against someone being known for one thing and branching out into something else, with the assumption that the something else will be of less artistic merit - not a first choice." He is honest enough to admit that he can be prejudiced against other multi-talented artists "It's good as long as the quality is maintained. I must admit when I hear that a comedian like David Baddiel has written a book, I'm guilty of thinking they are just trying to make more money."

As a consumer, Jamie Di Salvio does not care about the background of the performers: "William S Burroughs was not a musician but I like his records, and there are moments now where non-musicians are starting to reach your heart with their records. I have the wild card. Although other people have studied jazz standards at Berkeley, where is the song that is getting my soul?"

Although the costs of creating might have been brought down by new technology, marketing budgets have needed to rise dramatically in order to attract our attention. So it makes sense to find artists who can succeed across different media and spread the costs. Sutherland's book carries an ad for his new music project, Bows, and the record company is promoting the book on its website. "Excellence itself does not necessarily find an audience. Things which help get a book out to a wider public are increasingly important," says John Sadler, publisher of Anchor Books, Transworld's new literary publishing list. However he believes Sutherland is unique: "Lyrics are a short event and to go from that to a narrative book is a huge jump. Although technical barriers to film and music have been swept away - the equipment is accessible and easy to use - writing a book is the same as it was 100 years ago."

Jelly Roll is being hyped as having more sex than A White Merc with Fins, more drugs than Trainspotting and more rock'n'roll than The Commitments. With the children of the multimedia age reaching adulthood, Sutherland could well be the vanguard of a new wave of artists who simply defy categorisation. The trend will be accentuated when the new breed of Ultra-Super bookstores arrives here from the US. They stock not just books, but CDs, CD-Roms and tie-in theme merchandise from films and videos - along with food and coffee. So soon we'll be able to buy the latest products from Luke Sutherland and Bran Van 2000 under one roof, while refreshing ourselves with one of Jane Asher's cakes.

`Jelly Roll' by Luke Sutherland is published by Anchor at pounds 6.99, and his musical project, Bows, releases its CD in the autumn. `The Question' by Jane Asher is published by HarperCollins at pounds 16.99. Bran Van 3000's CD, `Glee', is out on 15 June on Capitol

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced