Who is Maple Bee? I’m intrigued by where the name came from, but also, is it you compartmentalising your creative impulse?
The Maple Bee ‘alias’ came about when I had just had my son Cassius and I started writing and recording ‘Chasing Eva’ at home on a reel-to-reel ¼” 8 Track recorder. At the time I had recently parted with my then label, Echo Records where I had been signed for four years as Melanie Garside. The final three years had been an incredibly frustrating time for me creatively and newly free, I felt a very strong need to take control of my musical life again. It may seem contradictory to change your name to ‘be yourself’ but stepping away from the identity the record company had tried to cultivate around me was vital in reigniting my desire to write music again.
Over time ‘Maple Bee’ has changed from an identity to a wider concept – I see it now more as a band name rather than my name as a songwriter/producer/artist.
Would it be fair to call you restlessly creative? You certainly seem to be quite proloific.
I am a restless spirit through and through. The idea of stasis absolutely terrifies me. I suppose this aspect of my personality is reflected in my musical history. Development and growth and change help to keep life interesting. As far as prolificacy is concerned I tend to write in bursts. I get a bit obsessed when a writing spell comes on and I am hard to distract when I am on a roll. Songs tend to appear in 3’s and 4’s then nothing – or no desire in that direction until the next time. When it comes to working with other people the change in energy and dynamic that comes with working with someone else always sparks new ideas in me, so I don’t need to wait, which is lovely!
How do you set about recording? You are largely working alone. Do you have an end sound in mind for an album overall or do you work song by song?
When I first started out in music, recording was all very scary and expensive; endless amounts of confusing looking heavy machines that looked incredibly complicated. All the lights, buttons and faders etc were intimidating. I didn’t understand then that if you understand one set of buttons on the desk you understand pretty much the whole board. I also didn’t know that to make decent recordings you simply need a decent microphone, imagination and patience. Over the years I learned to trust my own ears and this has helped me grow in confidence in my ability to produce and record alone. Another huge difference now is in the quality of the material one can produce with a very small amount of equipment. My ‘studio’ consists of Audio Logic installed on a Mac book, a Nio soundcard, some decent speakers, one good Rhodes microphone, a midi keyboard and a whole load of old fashioned actual instruments (gasp). Building sound-scapes is great fun. Layering up guitars, recorders, voice and percussion really help create atmosphere and opens up a million possibilities about where the music may go. I use odd sounds and samples to help create a narrative for the album. I don’t want a record to sound like a bunch of disconnected songs thrown together – I want to create a body of work that tells a story from start to finish.
Do you tend to work from the same starting point or begin with the same instrument? (You seem to be able to play such a variety of instruments.) Do you start with a melody, lyrics or something else?
My solo work almost always starts with an idea that came about with guitar and voice. One is as important as the other and I honestly can’t think of one song that I have written when either part has ‘appeared’ first. The other sounds I use – piano, recorders, bass, percussion – they tend to come later in the recording process.
The melody, chords and lyrical theme generally all come about symbiotically. I then work on developing the words once I have a solid melody, narrative and chord pattern in place. I see lyric writing very much like a carpenter whittling wood; I chip away for hours. You can see very early on what it may become but the detail and fine finish can take many hours to reach a point where I am happy to move forward.
Keep This Moment Alive:
Tell me more about the themes of These Four Worlds. There seems to be almost a juggling of different feeling and emotions, sometimes even within a song. There are also motifs that seem to reappear in slightly different ways. (I’m thinking: birds, ropes, flight, time and place. I know it can be dangerous to presume autobiography, but I get the sense that this is a very personal project and am also aware that it’s not always desirable to demystify songs.)
The record is completely autobiographical yes. It’s almost impossible for me to write in any other way. I use a lot of metaphors in my songs as I think this allows the listener to create their own storybook that is relevant and meaningful to them. I guess one could draw a parallel with the motifs you mentioned and the aforementioned restlessness I am dominated by…. Being restless gives rise to a good deal of questioning, exploring and picking over choices, beliefs, hopes, dreams and desires…. I’m not sure if that has answered the question but it’s the best I can do!
I think These Four Worlds is utterly wonderful, partly because I struggle to describe the music (I get a little tired of hearing things that sound like other things except not quite as good.) Also each time I play it I seem to get something new, some little detail or hook will stand out. But are there other artists you have as touchstones or influences? Do you listen to others or shut yourself off when writing?
I play music all day in my work as a music therapist and when I come home or am driving I find that I physically crave talking voices. I listen to Radio 4, LBC – anything where I can disconnect from music and come back to earth. That said, I love seeing live music and I have my childhood heroes (not that I sound like any of them!): Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Steve Forbert, Donna Summer, Nick Drake, Maddy Prior, KLF (Chill Out), Underworld, Pixies, Pink Floyd, Aphex Twin, Boney M, Cat Stevens, Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Donovan, Simon and Garfunkle, Carly Simon – I could go on but… Over the years I have come to believe that if you are writing music it is essential that you are genuinely ‘yourself’ – this way you can be sure that a) you will be able to live with your recording outside of a particular time or trend and b) you will have created something original and unique.
Tell me a little about music therapy.
I began training as a Music Therapist 5 years ago. Music Therapy is a non-verbal, therapeutic intervention in which I work with a client through interactive music making. This can help a person to ‘give voice’ to thoughts and feelings, through a creative medium, where it may be otherwise not possible to put these into words. Together we use the medium of music as a way of exploring together different ways of expressing oneself, of interacting with other people, and of group dynamics. In my work I use a psychodynamic approach, thinking about how early life experiences shape how a person responds, functions, and relates to others, and about the feelings that motivate behaviour. My work takes me to lots of different environments: hospitals, schools, elderly care homes, day centres, sheltered housing and learning disability outreach projects, neuro rehabilitation centres to name a few.
You have a gig coming up in July, will that follow a similar format to the 12 Bar? (that was a great show!) Are the live options limited by other circumstances?
I am very excited to be working with all the people in the Maple Bee line up. The next show will also include Sophie Spinoza who played with me on my ‘Home’ gigs a couple of years ago. We met during the Music Therapy MA – she is an amazing pianist. She has had a break due to having 2 bouncing baby boys to look after, but she’s ready to come back now, which is wonderful. We also have my neighbour, the lovely and talented Charlie Rushbridger on Cello, Ruth Galloway (Ruth is Pike from Huski’s sister. I originally met her before meeting Pike during our time in the Mediaeval Baebes together) who plays everything – Ukulele, bass/tenor recorder, Autoharp and Vocals and last but not least Jules Harley (my band mate from ‘Huski’) on Percussion and vocals.
Visuals seem very important to you too, are there particular people you are working with?
Beauty and fashion photographer Bill Ling took the photos and made the video of ‘Keep this Moment Alive’ for ‘These Four Worlds’ and ‘Home’ and it has been great. It’s a strange thing that on the street where I live he happened to live over the road and Charlie, who is playing cello at the shows lives two doors down from me. I picked a great road! The photos for both albums and the video were all taken in the park at the end of the road – ‘Home’ in the winter and ‘These Four Worlds’ in the spring. We didn’t have to travel far and my dressing room was my bedroom. Nice.
I also know you’re already working on new material, how’s that going?
I am currently six songs ‘into’ the new and as yet un-named album. I would hope to have it released by the end of this year, all being well. I am planning more live shows in the autumn through to winter and will be keeping myself busy writing and working on the new material.
Interview by: Simon Holland
The next Maple Bee show will be taking place at The Water Rats in Kings Cross on the 11th of July 2013