All Work and No Playlist: Crystal Thornburg-Homcy

What helps you create? Whether it’s writing, drawing, shooting or even whittling, for so many of us, music makes the world go round. In fact, we couldn’t imagine working without it. Fascinated by how other creative souls get stuff done, we decided to unpick this causal connection by speaking to different creators about their practice, process and how music fuels their fire.

By: Jon Denham,   4 minutes

Surfer and director Crystal Thornburg-Homcy travels the world as an ambassador for Patagonia and environmental campaigner. Working in partnership with her husband, cinematographer Dave Homcy, her films Beyond the Surface and Sliding into the Light break the surf-film mould, seeking and sharing personal and political stories against the backdrop of the ocean.

We asked Crystal to outline the soundtrack to her creative day, and she let us in on the tunes that power the Hawaii-based Homcy household…


It’s the start of your creative working day. What do you do first? 

The first thing I do in the morning is make coffee. I don’t talk until I’ve had my morning cup. As it’s brewing I turn on some morning tunes such as Nick Drake, Ravi Shankar, Paul Simon, Lila Downs, Vetiver or Any Classic Hawaiian. We have a amethyst crystal covered heating mat called the “Bio Mat” that I lay on to warm up and wake up with my coffee while doing some light yum yoga while checking emails and news. These days I have to multitask before our daughter wakes up!

At what point in your day do you turn to music? 

In the morning I normally put on music right away or just after coffee to get my day going. Music for me sets the tone of the moment, almost like a soundtrack to a film. I catch myself changing songs, albums and artist maybe too much. My four year old daughter is more of a music critic than I am and really voices her opinion about music even starting at a young age. “This song is burning” or “too slow” or even “I don’t like his voice” she would state. She would even skip songs.  Music for us is very play oriented. We dance, sing and play in the kitchen while making breakfast and getting ready for preschool to classic rock, African jazz or samba for an example but not limited to.

Where does the work happen?

We have indoor-outdoor patio that overlooks our garden and backyard. It’s a great work space for me as I relax on the couch and watch birds in the yard and swaying palm trees. I can use my laptop or phone for work there, with our portable speakers to play music.  If it’s a bigger project I’d be in our office space connected to hard drives and cables but next to our Bose speaker system.

Is music an important part of your creative process? 

Music has always been a big part of my life. My dad used to quiz me on the way to school with songs that would pop up on the radio. He would count down and even offer big money for the more obscure tracks.

Growing up as an only child I think music was my sibling. I’d be in my room for hours painting, listening to mixed tapes on my boom box. I didn’t have anyone to talk to since my mom worked nights and my dad worked at night in his home office. I had music and art to entertain me. I felt every content, don’t get me wrong, I loved it most of the time.

How do you listen? 

Now I listen to music on speakers out loud at home or in the car to share the love of music with our daughter. We have a collection of Vinyl and CDs but got rid of most of our tapes.

Do you have different types of music you listen to, to achieve different results?

I definitely have a different array or genre depending on the mood or situation I’m in. I like to listen to more acoustic folk music, even slack key and sometimes abstract mid tempo dance music like trip-hop or acid jazz when I’m trying to concentrate. When I need to get the body moving I like to listen to more samba, Daft Punk, Talking Heads, Eurythmics, Madonna and ’80s or ’90s dance or hip hop just to name a few.

Is the music you listen to for work different from the music you listen to recreationally?

I think it all depends on my mood and the project not so much the difference between recreation and work. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a normal 9-to-5 job, I work from home. If the film project that I’m working on has a certain mood that I’m looking for I will look into different genres and narrow in on different songs for the mood or vibe I want to capture. It definitely depends if I am working on a project looking for a specific song or if it’s just something to make dinner to with a glass of wine.

What one song or album can you rely on to get your synapses firing? 

I would definitely have to say Pink Floyd’s Darkside of the Moon album on vinyl.

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