Human Touch: Maddy Walsh to celebrate new solo album with Hangar Theatre release show
For more than a decade, Maddy Walsh has fronted the Blind Spots, the Ithaca-based rock band that has earned fans all over upstate New York and throughout the eastern half of the country. But while she’s devoted much of that time to the band, she also had a few other irons in the fire in recent years – including a solo project that explores new sonic terrain.
Saturday, Walsh will return to the Hangar Theatre – where the Blind Spots played their sold-out “Bandiversary” show in 2018 – to mark the release of her new solo album, “Humanmade Thing.”
What we can expect at the show?
“A killer band playing three sets of music, the debut of a short film, and top-notch production,” Walsh said in a recent interview.
Indeed, Walsh has put together an all-star lineup featuring some of the area’s top players: Mike Suave (guitar and vocals, The Blind Spots), Jennifer Middaugh (vocals, Sim Redmond Band), Michael Wu (bass, The Gunpoets), Diwas Gurung (guitar, Ayurveda, Photoreal, and The Rungs), Sam Lupowitz (keys, Noon Fifteen, Thru Spectrums, and solo), Bronwen Exter (vocals, solo), and Sam Fishman (drums, Driftwood).
To learn about the Hangar Theatre’s covid protocols, go here.
Q: What spurred you to do a solo album? When did you first think of it, and when did you actually do it?
Maddy Walsh: It's crazy to say that we started this album at the beginning of 2018. Yikes! We were simultaneously working on The Blind Spots' album, “Talk,” and my partner and co-songwriter, Suave, and I had written some newer songs that somehow felt very different from Blind Spots' material. The record was finished and set for release right before the pandemic, but since I wanted to release it safely to a live audience, we've had to wait a long time.
Q: Could you talk about the recording process?
MW: I reached out to producer Steven Dewey, whom I met when he was a student in the music program at Ithaca College and who's now a mastering engineer for Sony down in New York.
Even though Suave and I are the co-founders of The Blind Spots, a machine that's been running for that long can tend to take on a life of its own, and certain roles and patterns get established over time; I liked the idea of scaling way back and regaining full autonomy over the songs I was writing with no other "cooks in the kitchen."
I love and thrive on collaboration when the band is creating together, but this experience was very different – it was liberating, just borrowing microphones from a friend and setting up right in our living room to track. We bused Steve up from the city several times and would work all weekend with the woodstove going and something good in the crockpot.
We created percussion sounds together organically, sometimes using glass containers and dry beans, or whatever was laying around. At one point Steve recorded Suave and me talking about a tune; he fuzzed out our voices and made a loop out of our conversation that you can hear at the top of the song "Ur Turn." He's very inventive and present, and he's game to try whatever.
A bulk of the record was created that way, with one track recorded by Mike Parker (former Blind Spots' drummer and engineer for Pyramid Sound) and one with Angelo Paradiso (owner of Black Bear Studios and founder of the former Big Mean Sound Machine).
Q: Does this batch of songs have a different lyrical approach than your work with the Blind Spots? And did that inspire the different musical approaches to these songs, or vice versa?
MW: I guess I can't really write like anybody but myself, so I'm sure the style will be familiar, but I did set out to use my voice as more than one instrument with this batch of tunes. I wanted it to serve also as percussion and the "middle" (so often covered by guitar and/or keys), so I was ready to dive in with lots of vocal layering, not just for harmonies and backing parts but to cover all of those bases. I play a little guitar and a little piano (poorly, but just enough to write!), so I wanted to let my main instrument drive the songs.
Q: Any of the new songs that you’re especially proud of?
MW: Is it cheesy to say I'm proud of them all? Haha! I don't know what tunes will resonate most with people, but each one of them has been my favorite at different moments. Right now "Forgiveness" is my favorite track, but I really love them all. I feel like I made music that I would want to listen to, if it wasn't me.
The title track, “Humanmade Thing,” and the record's overarching theme is the juxtaposition between my frustration and disillusionment with our human capacity for destruction and oppression, while I also still believe so steadfastly in our capacity to create beauty and to help each other.
The songs were written during the previous administration, so the frustration in them is palpable, but I think the hope is too. Somehow they feel even more relevant now, after everything we've been through together – a global pandemic wasn't a thought in my mind when the songs were written, but our human need to find support in each other has never been more apparent.
Q: You’ve assembled quite a band for this show. Some of them you’ve played with before, and others you haven’t – what was your goal in putting together the lineup?
MW: I am thrilled with this lineup! What a dream team.
Because we had to wait so long to release this record properly at a show, Suave and I decided to go all-in and shoot for the stars with the lineup. We basically asked a bunch of our talented friends whose musicianship we admire, and luckily everyone was game to do it.
Jen Middaugh and Bronwen Exter are sounding positively angelic on vocals; Mike Wu is one of the most precise and skilled bass players I know; Sam Lupowitz is an absolute monster on keys and if he wanted to could be a session player in any big music city, a writer for Broadway, you name it; Diwas Gurung is who I consider the "big guns" — he can do pretty much anything on the guitar. He's incredibly inventive, his instincts are always spot-on, and he's probably the most dexterous player I've ever had the honor of sharing the stage with. His playing in our rehearsals never fails to give me goosebumps.
And then Sam Fishman, our drummer, is pretty new to Ithaca, has a lot of touring experience, and is a ridiculously talented guy. He moved up to Ithaca to get out of the city during the pandemic and seems to really be hitting his stride here. He just got the job as Driftwood's drummer and will be rounding out their 2021 shows with them. He sent in a video audition that floored me, and I'm so happy to have him on board for this show.
Q: What has it been like bringing these songs to life in rehearsal?
MW: Freaking magical. It's funny because you can assemble a band of all-star musicians who you admire, and it could look so good on paper, but it's kind of like a blind date – what if the chemistry just isn't there when you actually get in the room together? Thankfully, it really, really is. The sounds this band has been making have surpassed all of my expectations.
Q: Talk about “The Tunnel Sessions” – that was an interesting project that came out of the constraints of the pandemic. What’s it like bringing those songs to life in rehearsal?
MW: Bringing this record to life with the full band has also been an absolute thrill. We wrote “The Tunnel Sessions” in an attempt to offer people some comfort during the height of the pandemic, a time that was fraught with anxiety, uncertainty, and grief. We released it without much fanfare for download at any-price-of-your-choosing, just to get it out.
I was frightened and anxious myself; I felt isolated and lonely during the lockdown, and suddenly I was unable to do my job and passion. No shows, no connecting in that reciprocal way with audiences, no money... I tried to channel what I would most want to hear, and I hope the songs served people during that time and will in some other inevitable dark times.
When we released the record, I hadn't envisioned working them up with a full band, and it's been very moving to hear everyone's unique stylings fill them out. With “The Tunnel Sessions” in the program, I'm especially glad we booked The Hangar Theatre – it's the right room to fill with this music.
Q: Looking back at 2021, how would you assess it, considering how weird things have been? And what’s 2022 looking like for you, musically?
MW: Has almost another whole year in Bizarro World gone by?
Suave and I rented out our house and lived in Florida State Parks for a couple of months this past winter; I hosted an online variety show for three months; we played some livestreamed concerts, which felt soulless and sad to us both; The Blind Spots played a handful of outdoor shows, which truly lifted our spirits; I played a lot of acoustic shows with my dad [in the duo Madd Daddy] at wineries; we reconnected with friends and family; we saw two Phish shows; hiked and ate lobster in Maine; and now here we are preparing to release an album I'm really proud of. It's been a YEAR.
We loved being in Florida for the winter so much that we're doing it again, except that this time we won't be hiding out so much. I hope to get my booster shot right before we leave, and we look forward to collaborating with musician friends we've made along The Blind Spots' many tours south.
I'm trying not to freak out about the uncertainty of the future so much, and trust in the simple knowing that there will always be more songs to write. I hope the world will feel safer next spring than it does now, and I look forward to booking shows with the band again then.
Q: Anything else to add?
MW: We are seeking sponsorship for this show and will gratefully accept any donation toward the production right up until the day of the show.
The pandemic has made this past year and a half a devastating one for people in the music business – not just musicians, but sound engineers, lighting technicians, stage crews, promoters, managers, and everyone in the field whose livelihood depends on the gathering of people, which has been unsafe and impossible to do until very recently. I am using this performance as an opportunity to unite, uplift, and hire top-tier local talent (musicians and technicians alike) and to pay everyone a fair wage.
I also want to keep ticket prices affordable, so the only way to put on the big, beautiful show I've envisioned and to pay everyone fairly is with sponsorship. We are currently 56% funded.
To find out more about sponsorship, which can come from an individual or a business in exchange for advertising in all of our online, radio, and print promotion leading up to the show, people can email Julia de Aragon.
If You Go
Who: Maddy Walsh
What: Album release show for “Humanmade Thing”
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6
Where: Hangar Theatre, 801 Taughannock Blvd., Ithaca
Cost: $20 in advance, available online here; $30 at the door