Why Isolation Matters so Much to the Creative Process

“Being alone is very important. That’s when you’re actually able to see you for you.”
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Everyone has a fear of being lonely, but isolation can be an invaluable tool for creatives. The creep of loneliness should not be confused with the importance of being alone with your thoughts. There is no better way to understand who you are than by spending time cut off from the outside world. Alone time is critical for self-awareness and growth. Silence and time spent on the self are two unique ingredients for making moving, noteworthy music. Superstar producer Pi’erre Bourne (Playboi Cart, Young Thug, 21 Savage) and Tokyo-by-way-of-Atlanta rapper-producer Levi Watson know this well.

“Going to Japan recently to work on music, I was very far from home, far from anyone I know, and far from my own culture,” Bourne tells me over the phone. His recent trip to Japan was the most isolated Bourne had ever been in his life, but as he explains his journey, it becomes evident the music is all the better for his travels. “It was cool! I went out there to work, and get the job done,” he adds. “I guess [the isolation] was necessary.” Even still, Bourne doesn’t cite isolation as universally necessary to create great work. It is, however, essential to honing in his focus.

Funnily enough, Watson also went to Japan to isolate himself and work on music. In May 2018, the formerly Atlanta-based artist moved to Tokyo to pursue his creative endeavors. It was the most alone he had ever been. 

“I don’t know anyone in this area,” Watson admits. “Everyone I know is closer to central Tokyo, and I’m on the outskirts. There was a four-day period where I didn’t leave the house at all. I was in my living room for four days. That was weird for me because I come from a family where somebody is always in the house. My mind went to a lot of places. It forced me to look deeper and within.”

Levi Watson’s newest project, Daydreaming As The World Ends, is an audio journey through the mind of a shut-in person. Recorded in a small flat in Tokyo, Watson brings to life the rattling feeling of being entirely, cripplingly alone. The album was meant to be a soundtrack to a series of lonely scenes, featuring just one person and a landscape backdrop; something quiet and haunting all at once. There’s a comfort to his music, though. As if Watson came to understand and respect isolation as a natural part of the artist’s process.

“I think isolation is good for [the music] being a total reflection of you,” Watson says. “With this short album,  I wanted it to be a real reflection of myself. So it worked out that isolation was the best way to make it.”

Bourne, fresh off the release of his Interscope debut The Life of Pi'erre 4, had a similar experience in Japan. While some of the music he made overseas remains unreleased, Bourne assures me it boasts a more calculated quality. “[Japan] gave me a different outlook on certain things and sounds,” he explains. “It enhanced [my music] in a way. I was able to see more, and my mind was working more. I [now] have a better approach for [my music] to be received by the world.”

While Bourne describes his time alone in Japan as damn near nourishing, remarking on the vastness of the culture and the pleasantness of the people, Watson’s experience has several dark undertones.

“You feel like you’re… Not to say you feel like you’re just another number, but I look at myself like an obstacle out here. I look at myself as something to get around. That’s how I feel like people here look at people that [they] don’t know. That can kinda compound on already being by yourself. There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. I’m the type of person where I do enjoy my alone time, but out here it hit a point where I was actually lonely.” —Levi Watson

Even in this darkness, Watson attests that he needed isolation to create great work. Space for separation, he tells me, is the best way to grow as an artist, and to learn about the self. Being isolated is just in his nature. To this point, Bourne agrees: “Complete isolation would be great, but it all depends on who it is. Some people can’t be alone, and some people can. I’m used to being by myself. I can be in the studio by myself. I know how to record myself, engineer, produce the song, and write. I can be isolated. I’m not a dependent person. I’ll be just fine.”

Both artists warn against the dangers of being too isolated, though. And why striking a balance is crucial. Bourne notes it’s essential to go outside and live life. He wisely alludes to the necessity for creatives to experience life to reproduce it in their work so it may be resonant. Neither artist sounds too keen on painting isolation as a romantic ideal. Though Watson admits to there being a level of creative freedom in working alone, isolation sounds more like a personal preference than the product of a storm of artistic endeavor.

“Some people just work well with others,” Watson says. Bourne echoes his sentiment: “It’s all up to the artist. Some artists like company.” 

There are no airs to their answers, either. As creatives speaking on the creative process, they make isolation sound like one tool in the vast kit of an artist. It’s a refreshing take, especially considering how we as fans love to dream of the process as an extreme thing, with our favorite artists losing days and weeks of their lives in the studio. But as it turns out, it’s just regular.

Bourne's process is simple: He grabs food, gets to the studio, creates his best work, and he leaves. “That’s my motto: Make some good music, and go home,” he says. Working alone allows Bourne a higher level of focus, but even he has tricks for replicating an isolated environment when there are people around him.

“If you’re thinking about [music] yourself and you have all these conversations behind you, it can kinda distract your thought process,” he explains. “Some people can’t zone out, but for me, I turn the music up some more.”

“I don’t think isolation’s something to be feared,” Watson concludes. “You don’t have to spend these long periods being alone. It could be a day to yourself. It gives you an accurate picture of yourself when you can’t bounce your ideas of yourself off someone else. It gives you a true view of yourself, and for anybody that’s trying to improve themselves or understand themselves more, being alone is important. That’s when you’re actually able to see you for you. You can build from there.”

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