Friday, November 25, 2011

Maia Sharp: Living Life on Her Terms

Fringe artist cuts a path with message lyrics

By Lynne Brandon

And, any time I think that I might drown in all this standard issue gray and I’m feeling small and pushed around, I close the door and draw the shades ---- I put on my red dress, I put my red dress. Can’t take my red dress away. I learned to grit my teeth and smile. Let’em think they’ve boxed me in. Inside I’m still the problem child that I always was, so I guess I win ---nah nah nah nah nah nah… - “Red Dress”

Greenville, SC- She’s cool and unassuming, and I am fairly certain that she lives life on her own terms. I heard her for the first time in beautiful Greenville, South Carolina. Maia Sharp was in the southern city for the annual Euphoria wine and food event that brought together all good things in life: exquisite Southern food by the nation’s top chefs and folksy-bluesy-southern rock music that stirs the soul and pulls on heartstrings. Sharp entertained the crowd solo with her powerful lyrics and at the side of friend and fellow musician Edwin McCain, Greenville’s hometown boy and co-founder of Euphoria. Sharp is the producer of McCain’s new album and co-wrote many of the songs on “Mercy Bound.” She wrote her first song at the age of five.

The Los Angeles native is California based but has the appearance of Nashville with jeans, t-shirt and boots. “If a drawl shows up now and then it's because I've spent so much time in Nashville, and around my grandmother in Bakersfield who never dropped her Oklahoma accent,” said Sharp.

Sharp’s soul stirring tunes bear a message: being true to self is the only path to take. Her words soothe those who have felt slighted or “less than” in life. Courage, conviction, loss and love are central characters. The busy woman took a few minutes to share what it’s like having a nontraditional career, working with Edwin McCain, and writing songs.

Lynne: Did you know early on you would follow a non-traditional path for a career?

Maia: I think I did. My father, Randy Sharp, is and has always been a singer/songwriter/musician/producer and my mother is a professor of anthropology and a photographer so non-traditional was par. Before I started playing saxophone I wanted to be the first woman to play major league baseball and they encouraged that as well. I'm very lucky to have a family that has no problem at all with non-traditional.

Lynne: Who have you written songs for?

Maia: I've had my songs recorded by the Dixie Chicks, Bonnie Raitt, Trisha Yearwood, Cher, Keb Mo, Lisa Loeb, Edwin and others but unless I'm writing with the artist him or herself I just write and think about who might want to record the song later. Sometimes the song ends up being right for me and I do it on one of my own albums. Or, sometimes it needs a different home or maybe it shows up on both. It’s different every time.

Lynne: Do you write every day? Do you keep a schedule?

Maia: It goes in waves...I'll write every day for a week then record every day for a week, then tour for a couple weeks. It keeps it interesting and I get to “Jones” for the thing I'm not doing so I can look forward to it again. I record snippets of ideas into my phone or scrawl them down on whatever is nearby. I still have the gas receipt with "sorry I’m a little sober" on the back of it. I was on the way to meet a friend, very cranky from the day, and I said that line and knew I had to write it down for later. I finished writing it with my friend Adrianne Gonzalez and then Edwin recorded it on Mercy Bound and sang the “you-know-what” out of it! I wrote "Say Anything" with Edwin on the road sometime between coffee and sound check. As long as I love the song, I don't care how it came to be. I wrote most of Edwin's latest album, Mercy Bound, with him and when he asked me to produce it I was all over that. What a treat! This is the first album of his that I produced but hopefully not the last.

Lynne: What inspires you?

Maia: That's the toughest one. I'm not always sure what it is, I just know when I feel it or not. I listen to music, new and old (lots of vinyl), a good book to maybe jump-start a twist in the language, and a well timed break is always a good way to gain a fresh perspective for a song or just for my sanity.

Lynne: You sing “Red Dress” which should be every woman’s anthem of not giving up or giving in. Where did the idea come from for the “Red Dress” song?

Maia: My co-writer on "Red Dress," Kim Richey and I thought we were writing a song inspired by a chapter in the Ya-Ya Sisterhood...the one where the lead character's mother is put in a home for troubled (or troubling) girls as a child. The home forbids the girls from singing, skipping, whistling or wearing anything except gray and white but Vivi has managed to sneak a blue velvet dress into her trunk which she puts on every night just to remind herself that this place doesn't define her and there is still color in the world even if it's not in her immediate surroundings. We started with this in mind but quickly realized we were also writing about our view of the music biz at the time. We're both on-the-fringe writers that were feeling like the down-the-middle songs and artists were winning out more and more. It's okay; we both just re-carved our niches and pressed on like always.

Lynne: Can you tell me the story behind “Standing Out in a Crowd” that Trisha Yearwood recorded?

Maia: My co-writer on "Standing Out in A Crowd," Sarah Majors is 6' 1'' and I'm 5' 11." We met and immediately started sharing junior high war stories of always feeling out of place because of our height. This led to the song which my publisher pitched to Trisha Yearwood through her then boyfriend, Garth Brooks. Trisha did a great job on it and asked me to come and recreate the harmonies I had done on the demo. Garth was there too for the session and they were both friendly and totally down to earth.

Lynne: Is doing what you love the best reward?

Maia: It is. It makes for some low lows but also for some high highs and it's always worth the roller coaster. I've never felt like giving it up. No matter how difficult it gets I know that not doing it would hurt more


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