INTERVIEW: Todd Apfel
Hi Todd, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Thank you so much for your interest in my music and your questions. I am always grateful when people are interested in the how and why I create the way I create. I will go through your list of questions and answer them in order.
Can you talk to us more about your single “Reflections”? Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?
I think that it would be easier for me to handle the first 2 questions with one answer. The song “Reflections” was inspired by a few situations that occurred over the past year. The first one being that my mother unexpectedly passed away. The second being, that at some point in almost everyone’s life we come to grips with the fact that we are not immortal, for me that really hit home last year. Especially, with the passing of my mom and also a few other friends of mine last year. I always try to write songs that either tell a story or convey a message, “Reflections” falls into the convey a message category. The message I was trying to achieve was that we are not immortal and someday, before want to admit it we will probably face the big guy upstairs and have to answer for what we did in life. I didn’t want to get overly religious, but wanted to let people know that there’s no time like the present to reflect on their lives and make whatever changes are necessary for when that fateful day comes.
Any plans to release a video for this or any other track?
I would definitely like to release a video for “Reflections” and maybe each of the other songs on the album. I would like to see how the album is received by the reviewers and also I’m still trying to figure out just what the video would be like for “Reflections”.
Why naming the album after this track in particular?
There are a couple of reasons for going with Reflections for the name of the album. The first one is that when I originally started on the album, I had envisioned it to be a full blown album and not an EP. I had a full albums worth of material recorded and the majority of the songs were sort of that told different stories that to me fit the theme of reflecting upon things – example is a song that isn’t included but is an up tempo song about why farmers stay in that industry (the title of that song is “Right Where I Belong”). It was Rhonda that convinced me that we should start out with an EP instead of a full blown 11 track album. The decision wasn’t based upon the quality of material but more so that an EP was the best way for her to get me exposure. We kept the name Reflections (at least in my mind) because I still think it makes a statement not only about that song, but also because it (the EP) reflects my wide style/genre range.
How was the recording and writing process?
The recording and writing process for me is very unique, I have the luxury of having a complete home turned into a full blown studio. It’s very rare that I will sit down and say I want to write a song about a certain topic with a certain sound or melody. I keep a small notebook with me at all times so if I see something in my day to day life or think of something that I think is either a great line to a song or a topic to a song I write it down. When I get home, I transfer those notes to my computer where I have probably a million (at least it seems like that many) files of ideas and lyrics. At the same time I make it a point to get into my studio at least twice a day (early morning and early afternoon) and try to tinker around with new sounds, riffs, melodies, etc.. It is usually during these sessions that if a melody/riff sounds like it might fit into a lyric or idea I have in my file, I will then stick to that particular idea/melody, etc.. and work solely on that until it becomes a song. If for whatever reason I can’t put something roughly together within a few day, I’ll then add that particular piece of music to my song idea files in my computer (just like with my lyric lines/ideas. Of course that’s not an exact formula of how my creative process works, but it’s a fairly good example. I’ve got lots of ideas and riffs locked away in my head and computer so I can honestly say that right now I’m not at a loss for creating new material.
How has your previous musical background have influence this album?
The only thing that I can say about how my previous musical background has influenced me now is along this line. I’m constantly trying to improve my writing and playing abilities. Although it may not happen, I do try to make each song better than the one before. I have to think/hope that each musician evolves somewhat around that theory. When I started writing music for my first band (many eon’s ago – lol), I was happy just to put a catchy riff together with some sort of lyrics that rhyme. Since then I’ve evolved into learning and creating more intricate riffs/rhythms/melodies that hopefully are still catchy and incorporate them into songs that are now stories. In regard to lyrics, once I have a phrase/line that I want to build a song around, I start by writing a story line around what I feel the song is going to be about. Then I literally spend hours, sometimes days finding words that rhyme or fit into the story (song). By the time I’m ready to put a song together lyrically, I’ve got about 15-20 pages of notes and lines that I then find the best fits. Even though I fell that I have finally evolved from the 20 year old slap words that rhyme together song writer into someone that I’m truly proud of what I write, I always will feel that I have room to improve. For me writing songs is a never ending learning process.
On another tangent to answering the same question, my early days in bands were in what were then considered Hard Rock Bands, by today’s standards the music we played then are just Rock… Just like me, music has evolved, but I still have that rocker in me, although through age I’ve become more of a Country aficionado, but then again, today’s country blurs the lines between Rock and Country (maybe that’s why I can identify with it so well – lol). When I’m on stage, I still would love to rip into a set of AC/DC, REO, Cheap Trick, songs… maybe that’s why I use AC/DC and Led Zeppelin songs when I do my song check? lol Seriously though, to me music is music, I hate genre’s and ever since I can remember playing, I learn or write songs to what I want to hear, or what mood I’m in at the time, not to what a particular genre is.
Has Wisconsin and its music scene have influence your sound in any way?
I wouldn’t label it so much as Wisconsin, but more Midwest. In my lifetime there have been some exceptional bands from the midwest that have left their mark on me…. Cheap Trick, REO, Styx (early days), Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Head East, the list is endless… These are bands I grew up listening to, learning their songs and I’m proud to say that in 1986 my band had the great opportunity to open for Cheap Trick on their summer Midwest Tour. That experience was invaluable and definitely left not only a musical mark but a personal mark on how to present myself professionally. They were and are still a class act in my opinion.
What life struggles get to influence the songs on the record?
What life struggles influenced my songs on the album? Besides the death of my mother, I wouldn’t put it so much as struggles, but rather I like to write about the day to day occurrences that happen in my life. In going through just the songs that are on the album… “A Beach And You” was written when my girlfriend (now my wife) went on vacation to visit my parents in South Texas last year. We left -10 degree temperatures and arrived to 80 degree temps. During the visit we went out to South Padre Island and the time on the beach was so great.. which basically involved tequila, beach and my lovely lady. When we returned back to the bitter cold of Iowa in February, the first thing I did was sit down and write the song. “Comin’ Home To You” was written when I had to spend a summer weekend away from my girlfriend to play a small festival. All I could think about that whole weekend was how I wanted to get back and enjoy a weekend with her instead. “Reflections”, I already explained. “Hot Summer Love” was a product of me wanting to write a song about living in a small Midwest town and enjoying love in the summertime. There was really no special event or influence about that song, except for putting in references of things that both my wife and I enjoy doing in the summer. “Coloring Outside The Lines” was written on purpose to let people know that I’m not one dimensional in my song writing. It evolved from things that I’ve learned through life, especially back to my youth and college days. My dad always instilled in me to “think outside the box”, a couple of my professors in college pushed me further in that direction. So I’ve always been a person who doesn’t live life in black and white… I strive to be a bit different (in a good way) than the average person. If you want to make a lasting impression on someone… you have to be a bit odd. So the song was a culmination of me
wanting to express to people that I’m not one dimensional music wise and also it’s an expression of how I live my life.
What have been the PROs and CONs of being a DIY artist?
Pro’s and Con’s of being a DYI artist… I love this one…I’ll start off with what I think is the only con and that is no one in the industry really takes you seriously. I’m not signed with a label so I must not be good, that’s the feeling I get when I talk to people. A great example is that there is a local Country Radio Station in the town next to us… they won’t play my music because I’m not a signed artist.. I can understand that from a Major Market station.. but a station that serves rural Iowa??? The funny thing is that there are some major artists songs that this station won’t play either because the royalty scale is too high for them to play the song… Here I sit not wanting a royalty for them to play my music and they won’t. Now on to the Pro’s… way too many to mention them all but here’s a good list. I enjoy the freedom of going into my studio whenever I want and working on whatever I want at my pace. Now I know that many other DYI artists don’t have that luxury, but I’m lucky enough to do so. I don’t have to practice, practice, practice a song I’ve written so that when I pay to use a studio I’m not wasting money doing track after track. I can sit and work on different riffs/melodies to go with lyrics or vice versa. I also enjoy the fact that I can pick and choose the Venues to play. Would I love to be playing to packed houses in arenas and stadiums? You bet.. but I also love going to the local Senior Center and playing to a packed room of 30 people. It really amazes me how much they enjoy the music I write. I also believe that if I were rich and famous I wouldn’t be able to walk the streets of my town (50 population), or visit with local farmers to come up with ideas for my next song.. I really connect with the simple lifestyle. I think I’ve given you enough of why I enjoy who I am and why I love doing what I do… with the frustrations of not being recognized for what I do.
Any plans to hit the road?
Plans to hit the road?? Well my motorhome is always ready for a road trip! Yes I’d love to hit the road and hopefully this album will be the springboard to getting me into venues (no matter what their size) outside of middle Iowa. I know the answer is somewhat vague, but truthfully it all depends on how well the album is received. I’m truly grateful for Rhonda and how she believes in me.
What else is happening next in Todd Apfel’s world?
What is happening next in my life? Well I’m already working on new music (besides the 20 or so other songs that are already completed). I’m one who is constantly writing new material. I’m hoping that besides people listening, liking and buying my music that I can find an established star who would like to record some of what I write. As mentioned above I’m also hoping that this album with allow me to tour not only the Midwest but hopefully the rest of the country (or world). Of course my main goal is that I will be able to entertain people and give them happiness through my music for years to come, for me it’s not the fame I seek and although fortune would alway be nice… it’s the mark you leave on those who you encounter in life that matters to me.
Once again thanks so much for your interest and questions. I hope that I haven’t bored you and I’ve given you some insight as to what makes me tick!