MAYLEE TODD ACTS OUT
A voice that is the sound of
the city bursting open for the season: sweet like birdsong, limpid like a
nylon-stringed guitar in the park, silky like dappled sun through the urban
That’s the sound of Maylee Todd floating out from your hi-fi, and if
there’s any justice in the universe, her just-released debut “Choose Your Own
Adventure” will be high on the play count of many an iPod this summer.
album was recorded a year ago, but Maylee took time to prepare her music – and
her life – for a proper launch, hooking up with eclectic locals Do Right! Music
to get her tropicalia-drenched, funky jazz/R&B hybrid message out into the
Meet Maylee Todd: writer,
harpist, singer, badass dancer, personal trainer, daughter of an Elvis-impersonator.
Raised on Elvis and Gilberto Gil; a self-taught multi-instrumentalist who
recently picked up the Paraguayan harp. Not content to restrict her energies to
one form, she’s started her own aerobics mini-cult, gigged as a mascot in a
Burlington Sobeys and covered “For What It’s Worth” in a Telus commercial.
I purposely put this all out
of my mind when I meet her on a crystalline afternoon near Christie Pitts. But
there is no dividing up a multi-faceted artist like Maylee. For years she was
one of the rotating cast of Henri
Fabergé and the Adorables, along with The Bicycles’ Dana Snell and Andy Scott,
Woodhands’ Dan Werb and Laura Barrett. When I ask what led to her writing her
own material post-Adorables she responds emphatically: “Comedy school!”
The sudden dissolution of the
band when Fletcher moved away motivated Maylee to turn back to her own songs.
She had new ideas, along with material that had been percolating and
shape-shifting for years. But it was her background in comedy that gave her the
courage to go for it.
“I think everyone should try
standup at least once,” she says. “It’s totally terrifying – and awesome.” She
had a year of comedy training at Humber after a stint in musical theatre.
was a perfect way to learn the writing process, the idea of work: that you have
to write and re-write. It made me very aware of what I was doing.”
picked up a technique that she uses to this day: eavesdropping. After being
instructed to go to restaurants alone, listen and take notes, she noticed that
people’s storytelling changed with the realization they were being overheard: They began to ham things up.
Hamming it up has served
Maylee well. If you ever wondered what Feist would sound like if she just busted loose and let herself freak out, take a listen to her track “Aerobics in Space” Better yet, watch the video for “Summer Sounds,” a concept video
Maylee designed and shot with former comedy classmate Jared Sales. She explains, deadpan:
“Zombies take over the Earth.
I have to build a spaceship quickly and get the hell out. Then I got to another
planet and the Aliens take a bite out of my head and I too am an alien.” That the video is sexy and dreamy,
lusciously art-directed and deliciously funky, she forgets to mention.
Others have noticed. Esthero
left a gushing comment when it was posted online. An early attendee of the
Adorables’ Embassy gigs in Toronto, praise from the now-LA based singer led to
an opening slot for Esthero at Lee’s Palace this Sunday. If that seems fast, know that
Maylee’s constellation of collaborators and admirers thinks it’s a long time
“Music is just a small outlet for her creativity,” says John Kong,
founder of Do Right!, later that week. Just returned from her NXNE show, where
she rocked a look he describes as “Astro-Boy Mr. T with a splash of Star Trek,”
Kong is visibly awed by her productivity, musically and otherwise.
phone her, she's busy editing some video, making a costume, or recording vocals
for her musician friends.”
During a visit to her
apartment later, Maylee shows me some stuffed “creatures” she’s sewn, propping
them next to the live pet crab that hangs out in her living room. “These are
Pegwees!” she exclaims, which is also the title of a song on her album. I ask her to
“You know that idea of having
a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other? Pegwees sit on your shoulder
and just yell ‘Go! Go! Go!’”
If that's so, surely Maylee Todd is Pegwee