David Mallett: Artist In Me

 by Jan Vanderhorst

December 2003



A change of scenery can make a world of a difference to someone's outlook on life. It can mean a fresh start, a new perspective, or a rejuvenation in a physical or spiritual sense. For singer-songwriter David Mallett a move away from Nashville back to his native state of Maine meant a reconnection to his roots, both historical and musical.

"I'm a 7th-generation Mainer," he explains, "and I sort of have a genetic connection to the earth there and all the cold weather we have to deal with. I was in Nashville for 10 years and always planned on going back to Maine and growing old."

David first moved to Nashville in the late 80's in hopes of advancing his songwriting career after a number of his songs were covered by country artists. His return to Maine has revealed a noticeable change in his songs.

"The songs are better now. They got more dirt in 'em, they got more wind, more of the elements. I like workin' in Maine.

David's early work in Maine resulted in songs such as "The Garden Song" being recorded by numerous artists and translated into several languages. In fact, the song inspired a children's book called "Inch By Inch."

His success as both a songwriter and performer was recognized by those in his home state when he was named one of the 58 most memorable "Mainers" of the 20th Century.

While his time in Nashville was productive, David became frustrated with the demands the industry was making on his songwriting, asking him to simplify his songs.

"They like bridge/chorus/bridge/chorus," he says, "I had worked in that chorus format for so long when I was in Nashville. I feel like I'm rebellious now. I actually have some songs without choruses and without bridges and it was kind of freeing."

David's latest recording "Artist In Me" was not only recorded in his home state, but in his actual home with the help of a small band and some ADAT equipment.

"I really wanted to do something artistic there and see how it would respond. I like working at home. It's the wave of the future. I like to be able to work until midnight or one in the morning, which is the best time for me to record. You work all day and you do tracks, and then about 11 o'clock things start clicking. I like being able to do that and then go to sleep in my own bed."

Writing for "Artist In Me" followed a quiet time for songwriting.

"I had been almost 4 years without a record," he says, "along about January (2003) I started to feel the pressure and I started to write some songs. I usually go a couple of years without a record. Sometimes I go like a whole year without writing a song! I had 4 or 5 new ones and a couple I had written in the 90's (Strange Life and Slow Dance) and pulled those out and realized they still sounded pretty good. Then I worked out 3 or 4 brand new ones, sort of on the spot. Making a record is very exhausting but it's fun."

After releasing 11 albums over 25 years on labels such as Newworld, Vanguard and Flying Fish, David's new CD is on his own North Road Records imprint.

"Mostly the people who buy my CDs like to buy them from me. Usually at gigs they come up and shake hands and all that. They like that personal connection. I really don't do that much retail. Some of my records are in Tower and Borders, but mostly it's the personal connection. I designed this record for that and also to sell on my website. The website's real good. I've had one for about 5 years now and it's really a way to take charge of your retail."

With this new record David has also been able to control the way he records his music.

"Basically I started with my guitar and my voice," he explains, "and then we added things very carefully. It's the best representation of what I want to sound like right now. In my live shows over the last 10 years, I've featured the harmonica a lot. It's sort of become part of my guitar. I use it for rhythm and for tone. It's sort of like playing an accordion at the same time you're singing. In my songwriting I always try to be diverse. I've got some inspiration/thoughtful songs, I've got some love songs, I got some angry songs - a little mix."

Besides the change in his home address influencing how his songs sound, David's children growing up has had a affect.

"My oldest is in a hip-hop band," he says, "he's delivering pizzas to hang in there and doing this hip-hop band thing at night in Portland, Maine which is a great little city with a cool music scene. I'm very aware of him when he's playing. I'm very aware of his presence on stage.

"My middle son is in Europe right now, hiking in the Alps and that's a tough thing!" he says laughing. "My daughter's going into high school. Somehow having the kids grow up and out of your control is hard for me to deal with, but I'll figure out a way."

Future plans for David Mallett include either a re-working of his current songbook or publishing a second volume.

"But mostly," he says, "just working on my craft."

 For information on David Mallett, his website address is: davidmallett.com

Jan Vanderhorst can be reached at jan@hyperpeople.com.