Maia Sharp Interview

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

In addition to the Marquee preview in this week's paper, I promised an interview with Maia Sharp, the very cool songwriter coming to Little Brother's Sunday, April 17.

I'm a man of my word. You'll find much awesomeness after the jump. Enjoy.

Last year, I saw you at Nighttown, a small indoor jazz club in Cleveland, and you played the 2006 Upper Arlington Arts Festival. Now you're playing Little Brother's. You're either really easy to book or really hard to book.

You know, there's not really a pattern. I don't feel like I'm always gonna get a better sound system in a restaurant or a club or in a theater or in an opera house. I mean, we're playing just about every type of venue you could imagine.

I was actually very pleasantly surprised at the sound at the arts festival, beause the outdoor thing is usually a prety tough code to crack. A lot of sound guys can't figure that one out. But he did, and it was a lot of fun for us, and I think the sound was pretty good out front. It's harder to pin down how many people you're playing for at those things because people are kinda walking around. You might be reaching a thousand people, but only making eye contact with about 300.

When you write a song that has a personal side and a history to it, like "Standing Out in a Crowd," is it weird to have someone like Trisha Yearwood cover it and make it her own?

It's purely an honor, and I don't have any kind of odd feelings like someone has stolen my story. I love it. It's pure compliment when somebody records one of my songs. And we tried to write it in a way where it wouldn't have to be a height issue. It could be anything. It could be you just felt like an outcast, which I think a lot of people can relate to - whether it's weight, or you feel like a nerd or you're just in the wrong school or whatever. There's always something where you feel like you're on the outside looking in.

So [Yearwood] could relate to one of those things. Maybe it wasn't the height, though she is like 5'8" or 5'9". You know, whatever she saw in that and whatever her audience sees in that and is drawn to, I'm all for it...Whatever it means to you, that's what it means.

Obviously, it's an honor to have people like Edwin McCain and Bonnie Raitt pick up one of your songs. On the other hand, are there songs that you want to keep close and to yourself?

I put songs aside that I want put on my project, but I never hoard them or say that someone else can't record them. In fact, "The Bet I Made" was slated to be on my last record, Fine Upstanding Citizen, and then the Bonnie Raitt email came through that said, "I'd really like to put this on my album, and if it hasn't already been recorded, if it can be helped, I'd like to be the first one to record it." She was extremely sweet about it. She wasn't like, "I have to be the first." She's an unbelievably great human being.

So I pulled it from my record. I can always put it on the next record, and the opportunity to hear Bonnie Raitt sing one of my tunes was so huge that it was really a very easy choice. She ended up putting three of mine on that record, and it just made my year. I would never get in the way of that.

When you're writing, do you tailor stuff for specific people or do you put songs out there and see what happens?

Anytime I'm writing for a specific artist is when I'm writing with that artist. Edwin [McCain] and I wrote the four songs that we had together on his album - those were him and I. And his guitar player Pete Riley was in on a few of those, too. When I'm writing with him, I'm thinking about is this something that he would sing or I would just ask him, "Tell me what you think."

I've tried [writing for specific artists] a few times. You know, I hear Faith Hill's looking for songs or Cher's looking for songs, so I'm gonna try and write something for them. That has never worked out. Writing by assignment has never worked for me. When an artist cuts a song of mine that I didn't write with them, it's just one that they feel some kind of an attachment to. And I could never have guessed that.

Eve & the Red Delicious was one of my favorite records of 2006, and one of the reasons I liked it so much was its efficiency. Your previous work had much more instrumentation. Was the stripped-down sound a conscious decision when you went to record?

That was on purpose. Probably the last three tours before we went in and made Eve we had gone out just the two of us, Darren [Embry] and I. And we were having so much fun with it live.

We were gonna be going back to a lot of the same markets that we had been to for Fine Upstanding Citizen, and I wanted to have a new product first of all to offer up when we went back to the same cities. And secondly, I wanted to offer something that the audience could get live that was more like what they just heard. So this is us making a version that was more representative of our live show but wasn't recorded live.

In my opinion, the metaphors you use hit so much harder when the songs are left bare.

And I gotta say, live, it's much easier to do that. You know, physically now, I can do like eight shows in a row without a break because I'm not singing over a drummer. I'm not having to sing over some big rock atmosphere. Which is fun, too, I love doing that. But I can kind of go longer, we can finesse the vocals a little bit more, Darren can hear me better, I can hear him better. It's more of an intimate approach that's been very fun for us.