Maylee Todd made her solo debut in 2010 with the album Choose Your Own Adventure. CYOA affirmed her status as a performer prepared to take risks. Her latest release, Escapology, takes her distinctive grooves further by combining neo-soul, R&B, funk and electronic sounds. Escapology — defined as “the practice of escaping from restraints or other traps” — is a fitting title. Todd’s grandfather was an escape artist, and within her own music and style Todd has clearly inherited his penchant for eliminating restraints, particularly those in the genre defining realm.
A multi-faceted artist – song writing, design, performance art, to name a few – she stands out among singers whose careers are now built on ever morphing images and outrageous dress. Sly humour bubbling beneath the beauty and the style further distinguishes Todd from pop contemporaries.
Ø Your first solo album, Choose Your Own Adventure, came out in 2010, and the sophomore album,Escapology, this April. Is it simpler to be a solo artist compared to being part of a collaborative group (Todd was a member of The Bicycles, Henri Fabergé and the Adorables, and Woodhands)?
Being a soloist and working in a group setting have different aspects to them. I enjoy both. I do really love collaborating with a wide range of creative people because, as artists with such different ways of exploring and expressing, they bring so much more to the table. But there are times that I love working alone because I have the creative freedom to explore ideas without the influence of others. As a songwriter I enjoy writing, playing instruments and arranging. All of it. Naturally I would work as a soloist first and then ask people if they would like to collaborate.
Ø When do you know a song or album is ready for the world?
You know, I never really know when a song or album is done. At some point you need to walk away from the project. I think when it gets to the point where you become too neurotic about the project and you are obsessing about little things that in the end don’t really matter, you need to step away from the project. It becomes fear based and you don’t move to the next step because of your neuroses.
Ø You have rocked everything from shorn blond hair, avant-garde headpieces to animal costumes on stage, and are known for being fearless in your music and style. Have you ever worn (or been suggested) a costume or outfit that was too outrageous even for you?
Probably not. My sister made me a costume that looked like a huge vagina. Yes, I wore it. Yes, I loved it. And yes, my mom wants one too.
Ø Your sense of humour and playfulness comes through in much of your work. Who do you find funny? Who makes you laugh?
My roommate Inessa Frantowski makes me laugh every day! And I grew up with Kids in the Hall, SCTV, and of course Christopher Guest films.
Ø “Baby’s Got It” is a fantastic video (and song). Was that video as fun to make as it looks?
“Baby’s Got It” was so much fun to make. There were multiple shoot days, over the course of weeks, which turned into months, where we spent so much time hanging out with other artists, finding new zones, meeting new people and experimenting with new ideas. The concepts in the video somehow complete me. So when I watch back on the video I think of those people we ran into, the challenges, the laughs, all of it — I get this great sense of connectivity to the process.
Ø You were recently nominated for a SOCAN Song Writing Prize, what does that mean to you as an independent artist and songwriter?
It’s nice to feel appreciated for all my efforts. Being an independent artist is obviously not the easiest, so it’s really nice to feel recognized.
Ø You have named the singer Betty Davis as an influence. Over the past few years she has re-emerged into the musical consciousness (thanks to Light in the Attic Records). How did you discover her music? How has it influenced your artistic style?
I heard of Betty Davis through Andrew Scott. He bought me the “They Say I’m Different” album and I immediately fell in love! I really dig her style, her sensibilities and her subject matter. She’s incredible! Her confidence was a major influence to me. A beautiful strong sassy lady that could write and sing whatever she felt and wanted. What a beautiful freedom.
Ø If you could collaborate with any jazz artist — past or present — who would it be? And why?
Past and present, Patrice Rushen all the way! She’s super talented as a piano player, arranger, singer and great song writer.
Ø Any hints for fans — and newcomers — about your upcoming TD Toronto Jazz Festival performance?
Hint – bring your dancing shoes! There’s a chance you might wanna get’er goin’!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chaka V. is a writer, journalist and the creator of The Winehouse Mag.