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Published: 2012/09/25
by Brian Robbins

Maia Sharp: No Need to Change The Ending

Maia Sharp took a bit of a gamble on her latest album: for the first time in her 15-year recording career, the talented singer/songwriter acted as her own producer. The resulting Change The Ending shows that not only does Sharp have chops, smarts, and good ears – she’s blessed with the sort of perspective and objectiveness that one needs to oversee their own work in the studio.

Change The Ending is loaded with Sharp’s trademark ear-snagging melodies and smart wordplay, performed with the help of some very talented friends. (The title tune is a classic example of Maiaisms: a failed romance is looked upon as “a beautiful story – if you change the ending.”) The bottom line is not only has Sharp succeeded as a self-producer – she may have just cut the best album of her career to date.

We caught up with Maia at a recent gig at Longfellow Square in Portland, ME. She was kind enough to spend a goodly chunk of her time between soundcheck and the show discussing the separation of artist and producer; those aforementioned talented friends; and her inner jazzster.

BR: Sometimes you worry me … you write so eloquently about heartbreak.

(laughs) No, no – I get to get it all out in the songs so I don’t have to live it. (laughter) I’m actually way happier than that.

Well, that’s what I hoped. (laughter) Let’s talk about producing the new album yourself – there has to be both good and bad sides to that.

Yes – you’re right on. The best part is just being able to take a chance on something wacky … and maybe taking a longer walk to find it, you know? To get it wrong a few times before getting it right. I might have hesitated to take those walks if there was somebody else at the helm – or even if I was just sharing it. I’ve co-produced a couple of records and I think I subconsciously felt a responsibility to keep things moving with somebody else.

So on this one there were things that I took the time to do that I might not have otherwise.

Like?

Like … we did two completely different versions of the title cut, for instance. We’re offering the alternate version as a bonus track on iTunes: if you buy the whole album, you get the other version of “Change The Ending”, as well.

I really like to encourage people to get the whole thing … to me it feels like one animal.

Oh, I agree. I still think about albums – about records – with the song that has to be the first song on the first side or the first song on the second side …

Me too. And hopefully, the person who made the album was thinking about it as a whole experience: wanting the audience to sit down and listen all the way to the last song. And there will be a kind of curve to that; I’ll hear what the artist was feeling.

I was surprised when we walked in during soundcheck and saw just you and Linda on stage. Change The Ending is all full-band songs, but the two of you were definitely getting it done up there.

Thank you. I’m really hooked on the duo right now – hooked on the space of it. Plus, Linda’s so versatile and accomplished as a player; so song-oriented. She’s never “Look at me – look at me!” It’s never about her chops. It’s about how she can serve the song.

You’ve seen what Linda has down at her feet, right? The big pedal board? She’s constantly working that – and tweaking it to fit the room.

At some point in every show you’re going to hear something and be wondering, “How is that happening?” (laughs)

I love my friends who play the bass and drums, but this is where I’m at right now.

I think the last time we saw you in Maine was in Freeport – you, Linda, and David J. Carpenter on upright bass.

Yeah, that was a really fun tour. Dave’s such a musical player – plus you get the percussion out of the bass and the third harmony, you know?

Actually, another reason for the duo is that when you add the upright bass, the logistics of the tour change in, like, six ways. (laughter) You now need a car that’s three times bigger; you’re now flying something that’s overweight, over-length, oversized … it’s different.

But I really love just doing the duo thing right now. Even when I’m back in town – in L.A. – where there isn’t any traveling to do, I still like the duo. You can just push it and pull it and follow each other … it’s just the two of you.

You did some writing with your dad [Randy Sharp] on the album.

Yes – we wrote the newest song on the record together: “I See Cecelia”. I was using an old Fender Rhodes that I’d
traded my Gretsch with him for.

Oooh …

(laughs) Yeah – it was a reissue hollowbody Gretsch. It looked great, but I couldn’t get it to speak for me. My dad wanted to do all these things to it and we traded. He loves working on things like that. His Rhodes is the real deal: it’s from the 70s; it’s falling apart; and there are probably a couple of spiders living in it. (laughter) But it’s great.

You’ve written with him before, haven’t you?

Uh-huh. We wrote a song called “A Home”, which was on my record Fine Upstanding Citizen. The Dixie Chicks recorded it, too. That was our big family victory. (laughter)

When the two of you write together is there an obvious division of duties?

Actually, Dad is probably the least defined writing partner that I have. Maybe it’s because I learned so much from him, you know? We’ll hand it back and forth: I’ll do some of the music and then jump in on the lyric; and he does the same thing. I think the key is that nobody’s afraid to say something stupid. We’re not worrying about that.

The core group for much of Change The Ending is yourself, Linda, David on bass, and Matt Chamberlain on drums. Where do I know Matt’s name from?

Oh, Matt’s played on a ton of stuff … Fiona Apple, The Wallflowers … he’s been all over the place. Matt’s a hell of a drummer – really musical; huge ears. He made the music part of the sessions very easy and smooth.

And, yeah: pretty much any band project I have going on now, I hire Dave and Linda. We’ve gotten to the point where you just kind of give a look and they know what I mean … and I know what they mean.

Bonnie Raitt was on board for a couple of tunes …

Yeah!

And you’ll be touring with her this fall.

That’s right: we’re doing a few shows in Florida, Alabama, and Nashville together in October.

Bonnie and her band have that same sort of thing I was talking about with Linda and David. If something goes wrong, it’s just a facial expression – everybody is on the same page.

Formation flying.

Exactly. And I’m not always in the lead; maybe we realize that Linda’s onto something and we’re all going to follow her, you know?

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