Tuesday, February 24, 2009

LOCAL MUSIC SPOTLIGHT: MATTHEW MAYFIELD

Few singer/songwriters can command a crowd for an hour or longer with just a voice, a microphone, and an acoustic guitar; Birmingham’s own Matthew Mayfield represents this type of artist. The passion behind his voice as well as powerful strumming and a variety of melodic open tunings gives an accessible sound to the modern listener.

Though Mayfield is currently gaining airplay on the Birmingham radio station, Live 100.5, with his single “Dead to You,” followers of the local scene understand that Mayfield is no overnight success, but a journey several years in the making.

Mayfield began his musical journey at early age after picking up the guitar at 9. “I used to listen to my dad through the thin walls of my house--he'd play old Beatles, Neil Young, and James Taylor. He showed me some chords and got me into a few lessons,” Mayfield says. About a year later, he gave his first public performance as a fifth grader at the Crestline Elementary School Talent Show in Birmingham. “I played ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ I'm sure it was awful, but at the time, it felt like the greatest thing I'd ever done.”

He began composing songs at 12 when he realized that “everybody was trying to be the next great guitar player,” and to be different, he had to come up with his own style. Early and current influences sprang up from all over the classic and alternative rock map, including Peter Gabriel, Oasis, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Death Cab for Cutie, and Kings of Leon. Though he admits the original compositions were rough, nevertheless they begin to come together and formulate his repertoire.

Prior to his solo career, Mayfield fronted the Birmingham-based alternative rock out, Moses Mayfield, which included Mayfield as frontman, vocalist, and guitarist, guitarist Will Mason, bassist Hans Ford, keyboardist Matt Taylor, and drummer Will Drake. After releasing an independent EP (2003’s Unified) as well as a full-length disc (2004’s Enough to Let Go), the band signed to Epic Records in 2005, and eventually found themselves under the umbrella of Columbia Records and Sony BMG.

For the next two years, the band embarked on several nationwide tours, opening for and sharing the stage with such major bands and songwriters as Switchfoot, The Fray, Will Hoge, Pete Yorn, and Blue October. In March 2007, Moses Mayfield released their Columbia debut, The Inside, to generous response. The album included songs such as “A Cycle,” “Fall Behind,” and “Control.”

Despite their initial success, the band was unable to avoid the storm that was brewing in the major label music industry. “Moses was a great band. I'm still proud of the record we made and work we put in. We gave ourselves entirely to that music...and I think it paid off. We learned a lot of lessons, however, about the crumbling infrastructure of the major label model of doing things… as soon as a few folks got let go and a new CEO was in place at Sony, we were gone. It's just politics. It's unfortunate, but that's the way those guys work,” Mayfield says. However, he remains optimistic about the future of independent music. “The revolution is underway. Artists are taking the business back for themselves...me included.”

In January 2008, Moses Mayfield disbanded and Mayfield began the “pretty natural” transition from frontman to solo artist. “I was so burnt out on constant touring and the ups and downs with the label. Everybody started to go their own way and honestly, the wheels just fell off. But my passion and hunger to write great songs were stronger than ever. So once I'd taken a little time off, I got right back to work and put the EP out on my own. Tracked, mixed, and mastered in 30 hours for under $1000. No need to spend too much time nitpicking everything. I just left the mistakes stay...feels more honest that way.”

The resulting disc was the 8-song The Fire EP, which includes the aforementioned “Dead to You,” “Razorblade,” “First In Line,” and “Element.” Along with Mayfield on vocals, bass, and guitars, the record also reunites the songwriter with drummer Will Drake; Stewart Vann of the Birmingham folk/indie band, The Triceratops, and Emily Hooten provide background vocals. “It's a bit scattered, but I think the common thread is that sense of urgency in all the songs. I was drawing from all kinds of places for inspiration--and it was such a release to get it all out on record. That's a huge part of why I make music. There's no boundaries...you can go wherever you want to.”

In addition to recording, Mayfield has experienced a variety of success in the area of touring, playing major venues in the Southeast such as Workplay Theatre in Birmingham, The Music Farm in Charleston, The Pageant in St. Louis, and Exit/In in Nashville. When it comes to the crowd, Mayfield admits that he prefers one that contains fifty attentive listeners than a crowd of five hundred people preoccupied with other things.

As far as the Birmingham support is concerned, Mayfield believes that he has been well-received by his hometown. “I'd like to think that I've carved out a little nitch for myself here at home. The crowds here are always really supportive and encouraging. There's a lot of great music happening here. The Triceratops, Kate Taylor, The White Oaks, Wild Sweet Orange, The Great Book of John...the list just goes on and on. I'm honored to be a part of that crowd.”

Mayfield started 2009 with a packed Workplay show on January 24th that included big name local acts like The Kate Taylor Band, The Triceratops, and The Great Book of John. He plans to continue playing around Birmingham with shows at Speakeasy on March 7th with Kate Taylor and the White Oaks as well as an in-store performance at the Patton Creek Barnes and Noble in Hoover.

He also will be playing at Workplay on April 11th as part of the Blue Cut Robbery, which consists of Mayfield, Stewart Vann, and Will Drake. “[The Blue Cut Robbery] is just three guys who wanna have fun playing rocknroll. We aren't taking it too seriously, which I think makes us a better band. Once again, no rules. 5 minute guitar solo? Why not? 4 key changes in the same song? Yes, please.”

As far as recording is concerned, Mayfield will be heading to Nashville to start work on a new disc with producer Paul Moak. He hopes to begin the process in late April.

Finally, Mayfield offers this advice for any fledgling songwriters and bands. “I think trying to carve out your own sound is the challenge for all of us. Something fresh and something people will gravitate towards. As an artist, you wanna move people...make them feel things while the songs on and the windows are down. Songs can completely change the course of any given person's day. They can change the temperature in any given room. It's a powerful art form. I'm hooked. “

For more information on upcoming shows and to listen to tracks from The Fire EP and other demos, visit www.myspace.com/matthewmayfieldmusic

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sometimes I Feel Like Holden Caulfield

When J. D. Salinger released his novel The Catcher in the Rye, in 1951, the work resonated with controversy throughout the modern literary world. Shocked at its overtly vulgar content, the authoritative institutions- mainly those of the educational sort- sought fiercely to ban the book in order to protect the influential minds of future generations. However, like most taboo works, the banning of the book only sparked interest among readers, who longed to delve into the mind of Holden Caulfield and discover his “words of wisdom” for their lives. The Catcher in the Rye provided a literary outlet for adventure for many of its readers. The novel changed the lives of ordinary citizens, namely teenagers, who yearned for escape and possessed a desire to transcend their own seemingly mundane personal lives.

Even today, Salinger’s debut work still inspires hordes of people trying to find their purpose in this world, though one can argue that the often-nihilistic Holden sometimes denies a search for purpose and meaning. Fortunately for Salinger, public schools now allow his work in the classroom, often using it as required reading in high school English classes.

The summer before my sophomore year, my teacher assigned us this novel. Though my na├»ve mind, like most readers who peruse the work for the first time, was shocked and somewhat appalled at the content, I could not help but be intrigued by the story. During the first few weeks of discussion, I became enthralled with the influence radiating from Salinger’s work. The story of Holden Caulfield remains one of my favorite books of all time and I read it every summer.

I will be the first to admit that Holden Caulfield and I possess very different moral compasses. Despite these initial divergences, I still identify very strongly with his character and often see myself in his actions. Throughout the past five years, I have discovered the similarities more and more, our lives and personal traits colliding in more ways than one. When examining Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, I notice that Holden Caulfield and I both acknowledge the occasional “phoniness” of people, the importance of maintaining and rebuilding relationships, and the inevitability of maturing and growing up.

In the first few chapters of the novel, readers realize the severity of Holden’s distrust in other people. Holden screams out “phony” so many times during the work, the reader gets to the point where he or she can predict which people Holden will label. Multiple groups receive Holden’s label throughout the novel, including his classmates, musicians, ministers, restaurant employees, and even his own family members. He often makes his judgments based simply on the tone of voice used by the different groups. For example, when he talks about the ministers, he wonders why they never use their natural voices because “they sound so phony when they talk” (Salinger 100). He reveals his immaturity through these statements because he refuses to give anybody the time of day if he deems them “phony.” By making up his mind about a person before they begin to speak, Holden inflates his ego and increases insecurity instead of decreasing it. Ironically, Holden admits to the reader that he is “the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life”; however, he never acknowledges his own “phoniness” - a major character flaw in his life (16).

Over the past few years, I have discovered traces of this sentiment in my own life. Often times, I keep these feelings to myself and refuse to call out individuals for their “flaws” and “mistakes.” I utilized my insecurity, like Holden, to justify my thoughts of my peers. Also, I may have exhibited some distrust in the “popular crowd” or the ones who always seem to fix their eyes on a goal and found success in every step they took. Unlike Holden, however, I eventually discovered my own phoniness. For years, I was heavily involved in the First Priority Ministry at my high school. Inside the thirty minute window of our meeting, I talked about the love of Christ and how it should affect every aspect of our lives. When the meetings finished and I entered the halls of the school, my speech became a breeding ground for sarcasm and negative language. I soon saw my own flaws and vowed to correct them.

Though naturally suspicious and cynical of the world around him and the people who inhabit it, Holden still believes in maintaining and rebuilding relationships. He attempts to fool the reader into thinking he possesses a brash and nonchalant attitude towards life and what people think about him. The reader first notices his care for the opinions and company of others when he asks Ackley to play Canasta with him because Ackley was a “Canasta fiend” (Salinger 47). In the preceding chapters, Holden verbally deconstructs Ackley’s manhood, saying, “[he] was a virgin if ever I saw one,” ; yet, now he longs for Ackley’s companionship (37). Other examples include his attempts to contact Jane Gallagher (though he never follows through with them), as well as his reunion with Sally Hayes. These interactions show the paradox of Holden’s personality. He constantly discusses plans to flee from all of his problems, but at the core, Holden strongly realizes he must salvage his relationships because they are the only interactions keeping him sane.

In my own life, I consider the maintenance of human relationships to be highly important. I admit that I often kept to myself growing up. I hardly talked to anyone because I feared vulnerability and the criticisms of other, though I truly believe now that no one would have ever offered such harsh words. Despite my fear and doubts about these interactions, I constantly surrounded myself with strong groups of peers. I longed to be accepted by the world around me because I knew the impact that these relationships would have on my development. Holden and I share this trait of loyalty, though I believe mine is much more conspicuous and less cynical than his.

Finally, Holden Caulfield and I both acknowledge the inevitability of maturing and growing up. The theme of maturity resonates most clearly in Holden’s conversation with Mr. Antolini. Near the end of their interaction, Mr. Antolini quotes Wilhem Shekel: “The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one” (188). Throughout the work, Holden expresses admiration for people like James Castle, who never backed down from what they believed. He sees Castle’s death as the pinnacle point of his existence. He fails to see the irony of dying for a cause. Though noble, once a person dies, their legacy ends. They cannot continue to do great works for humanity. On the other hand, the men and women who perform anonymous good works show the most maturity. They continue these acts of service throughout their lives, making small, yet noticeable impacts on the people around them. At the climax of the novel, Holden finally realizes he cannot save everyone from losing their innocence. Though he longs to be the “catcher in the rye,” he knows he holds no key to fixing problems and stopping pain. He must live to discover his purpose, because an early death will prevent him from ever finding it.

When I was young, the actions of various Christian martyrs inspired me greatly. However, I acquired a misconception, like Holden, that greatness comes from death. Though I never denied the courage and the purpose of these missionaries’ deaths, I now realize that I might possess a different kind of purpose. Like Holden, I currently remain unaware of what my “job” on this world is supposed to resemble. Regardless, I want to see life in its entirety so I miss nothing. I long to impact others through simple acts of kindness because most people usually remember the personal acts more than the public acts.

Despite a slew of differences, time and self-reflection prove that Holden Caulfield and I possess several similar traits. We question the genuineness of certain individuals we meet, but we eventually acknowledge our own unreliability. We seclude ourselves from others for hours or days at a time, but recognize that the maintenance these relationships gives us a more well-rounded existence. During an era of rebellion, we embrace self-gratification and youthful pleasures, but time reveals that selflessness and maturity bring the ultimate joy. We may never protect others by being catchers in the rye, but we can help guide those who feel as lost and confused as we once were, and that act in itself provides true and unrelenting satisfaction.