People always ask me how I stay involved with activities outside of my being a full-time musician. More and more I've become aware that having a broad range of interests has really informed how I make music and how I evolve my creative processes. It's important for me to experiment with other disciplines, things that involve hand-eye coordination, balance or anything to switch gears. For example, I love rock climbing and working out in general. I've always been into physical comedy as well (um, literally). I love building sets or making costumes and jewelry. The fact is, I feel exploring those kinds of activities really add to my songwriting and actually helps me be a better instrumentalist.
Rock climbing keeps me really focused on the task at hand. It challenges my body to focus on not falling and it's about overcoming fear, too. I like to push myself a little further and of course not beat myself up if I can't climb what seems to be the impossible because I might just get a little further next time. I aim to continually develop the muscle memory in my fingers because I want to be a better musician. I often think "I will eventually be able to play this song, I will be able to master this if I just play slowly and practice." That's how I learned how to play the harp and the tenorion. It's also how I learned how to sew, make puppets and do short stop motion films.
But like everyone, I run into blocks and it can be incredibly frustrating. Thankfully there are ways around it if I push just a little bit more or wait till the next day after stepping away and resetting. The great thing about these hobbies and activities is that they are so different from one another. It's like taking a break from one task only to apply the same approach or method to a different form.
This is not to say that it's all about being entirely disciplined or always being in control. Sometimes, confronting a block means just letting go of the frustration. Ultimately, I wanted to write music that sparked a release (in me and the listeners), whether that was in having the blues amid an emotional situation or wanting to rip up a dance floor. Screaming cries into a pillow or dancing with your friends on a summer night doesn't necessarily take skill. These things start with an urge. An urge that you see through by collecting all that energy and choosing the moment to just throw it out into the world. That's just as much a form of working out a block as any.
I've also benefited from meeting extremely talented people who have a high regard for collaborating. This might mean jamming it out with other musicians or messing around with spontaneous video production. These interactions are super inspiring because of the wide variety of personalities and talent being contributed. I guess this same regard for variation applies to the genres I fuse into my own music -- from soul to electronic, acoustic ballads to pop. I live to mix it up and collaboration is a sure fire way to discover possibilities you'd otherwise miss if you did everything solo.
My second album Escapology is rooted in soul music. I just hope people identify with it as feel-good music. The connection to the sadder songs is part of that too since connectivity and finding meaning can feel so good. It's sort of a reassurance that you're not alone (and even if you are alone, a song can be like your shadow). Lyrically, each song on the album acts as a slice of life from a specific time -- my memoirs. After writing them, I actually took a lot of time away from the lyrics before moving into an arrangement phase because I was working on other projects and I ran into some funding issues. So when the time came to record them, I approached the songs with an objective mind and that gave the songs a sense of resolution. The distance was healthy. Working on this album took a lot of focus and a lot of letting go, equally.
I can't say for sure that I have an actual process when it comes to songwriting. It often takes on a life of its own. When I hit a block, I simply make the choice to try other things because fortunately there are so many (too many!) ways around it if we're resourceful enough. Having one creative process can work for a lot of people, but I've come to treat each project as a creative organism.
Maylee Todd's "Baby's Got It" is one of five songs nominated for the 2013 SOCAN Songwriting Prize, honouring the best independent music by Canadian songwriters as voted by the public. Once voting closes on July 3rd, $5,000 prizes are awarded to the winning songwriters as well as a $3000 gift certificate from Roland and a Les Paul Studio guitar with Min-ETune from Gibson. All eligible voters are entered into a random draw for an iPad and Roland headphones, and recipients are announced after voting ends.
Follow Maylee Todd on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mayleetodd