INTERVIEW: Michael Todd
Hi Michael, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Very well! Just got back from a three month tour in France and Portugal. Now I’m just getting geared up for opening for national acts in the casino circuit and festival season. Practice practice practice.
Can you talk to us more about your single “The Cave”?
Sure! I love this song. I started writing it on a guided tour of Carlsbad Caverns. I think it’s about the the sense of wonder and adventure that is supposed to come with exploring nature. The tour guide told us we were supposed to find a more “authentic sense of ourselves,” as we went deeper into the cave, but these prepackaged ticketed adventures are all prescribed, and can be bought for five bucks! The guardrails keep us safe from going off on our own, and everybody gets the same experience! There’s no more real adventure, I thought; the guardrails keep us safe, and the rivers are all dammed up. I think it confines us in our personal relationships as well.
Some of us long for real adventure. That’s what this song is trying to get lament.
Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?
When I went to Carlsbad, after the long, single-file line down into the belly of the cave, I longed for something authentic. I walked out into the uncharted brush outside the cave and told my friends I’d be back in a couple hours. They were in disbelief that I needed a sense of adventure, that I had just gone on one. Out in the brush, unmapped and vast, I started humming this melody and wrote most of the lyrics on that part of the experience.
Any plans to release a video for the single?
Yes. I’ve been gathering found footage from old American exploration adventures from the 50’s. This is the era when traveling by car and advertising began targeting families to come “taste the real America”. I find that kind of footage very fitting for this album. I’ll be releasing it soon.
The single comes off your new album Crashland – what’s the story behind the title?
A crashlanding is something unexpected that falls from the sky into your backyard. You didn’t ask of it, you didn’t deserve it, it just happened to you. It might be the only kind of experience that shocks us into a true awakening. It’s a surprise, an unfortunate propinquity, the unexpected consequences of something out of our control that begins to wake us up. In my case, the tragic drowning of my nephew a month after I was married derailed all my plans for my life. My marriage devolved, my band broke up. It sent me into creating more meaningful tunes, more personal words, as I sought more meaningful and fewer interactions, and my life has been richer for it. Thanks for the Crashlanding, LIFE!
How was the recording and writing process?
The writing came from my travels., I was searching for the inauthentic experiences that had previously derailed my attempts to live a truly individual, rugged life. I also searched for images and experiences that brought me closer to that sense of wonder I was trying to capture. I wrote the songs over a three month period, from traveling across the country, to New York, to New Mexico, and on my first tour in France. There’s nothing like finding authenticity in your voice more than putting yourself in a place where you don’t speak the language.
Recording was a four day whirlwind with late nights and early mornings. I ate lots of broccoli and drank lots of coffee. Maybe a tempo or two is too fast!
How has your previous background have influence this new solo project?
I feel like this album is the summation of so much of my time and travels, my disappointment with the plastic, two-dimensional experiences of American life, the ever-present capitalistic target on our backs to rob of us of our spirits, and the desire to continue to seek awe and wonderment in this enormous, mysterious world. It’s all crammed in there, in 30 tight little minutes.
What have you learned from those experiences?
A few things- the easy response: that time is better spent looking at the sky than cheering in bars at loud music and sporting events. But I must confess it’s difficult to even have a few moments of original experiences anymore! It feels like you have to swim upstream your whole life to shake off society’s expectations of the roles we play in relationships, the things we have to own, even the beliefs and traditions we uphold. It’s still a wild world out there, and we have to struggle to listen to it!
What role does Oklahoma plays a role in your music?
I think the stripped-down folk sound that I captured in this record is a tribute to my home state, where the sky is so enormous and the weather must be paid attention to. It’s wild in Oklahoma; we admire our beautiful sky at the same time we’re fighting it in our cowering of tornadoes, in our digging for oil and natural gas. We are at war with our nature here in Oklahoma: tornadoes, earthquakes, the fear that we’re poisoning our water table… we love our land, and we’re destroying it at the same time. The cover of the album is a series of oil derricks, spewing oil into the sky and evaporating. That simultaneous celebration and exploitation of nature that helps our society and drains our land is the constant give-and-take of living in somewhere like Oklahoma, and central to the themes of the album.
What other cities get to inspire the songs on this album?
New York City, Paris, Carlsbad, New Mexico; Indianapolis, Baltimore, Maryland; Homer, Alaska… its honestly a summation of all the places I’ve lived or spent a significant time. I’m a troubadour. A wanderer and a wonderer. I can’t stop.
Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics on this record?
It’s my world vision… I write every day. Sooner or later they add up to another album. I collect the ideas and record constantly. When I hit a group of songs that feels like they belong together, I put them in a collection, connect the dots, and make adjustments in the lyrics so they feel like a whole.
Any plans to hit the road?
I just got back from a French tour, and I’ll be going to New Mexico at the end of the month to hit some venues. It’s festival season now, so there are lots of opportunities to open for national acts and people are hungry for music outdoors.
What else is happening next in Michael Todd’s world?
I just released two children’s albums “Jaminalz Jamz A-Z” about weird animals from around the world. It debuted on iTunes as #12 and #18 in the children’s charts. That’s pretty cool! I’ve also just released “Stomping Ground” as well, a rip-roaring country album about the party life and friendships.
This month I’ll be opening for Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, BJ Thomas and Less Greenwood. I can’t express enough how honored I am to be chosen for these kinds of performers, who I admire so much, and who paved the way for music to be focused on stories and emotions, instead of just toe-tapping good times (which we also gotta have!)
My life is about music right now. I try to take time to look at the trees and sit by a river to get recentered. We live in a fast society. I try to slow it down.