Californian singer/songwriter ToddZero talks to LTTM all about his new EP '1234567' which sees the talented artist write, perform and record the songs himself. Already receiving critical acclaim for his work, ToddZero tells us how he went about learning the skills to record his songs, and why he chooses to give away the music for free.
For those who haven't heard of you before, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in making music?
I'm a singer/songwriter from the Los Angeles area, California. I just came out with my debut album entitled '1234567'. I played all the instruments on my record except the drums. I'm a passionate Christ follower so deeply grateful to be given the opportunity to make music that blesses the Lord as well as people.
Tell us a little bit about your new '1234567 EP' and what the inspiration behind it was?
Well, first, the title is due to there being seven songs. I couldn’t come up with a more clever title than that. So I just counted up the songs '1234567' and named it that. The songs were recorded over a period of about 18 months. A couple of them were done in my friend’s studio but the rest were all engineered and produced by me at home on my laptop. I am inspired by juxtaposing different sounds that normally don’t go together. For example, I’ll put a ukulele next to some trippy fuzzy sounds to create sonic textures that, for me at least, sound new. I enjoy the acoustic piano and various sound effects like lightning and finger snaps. Sometimes there’s nothing more required than the sound of distant military snare drums with foot stomps and the hand claps of a marching crowd Basically -- anything goes -- as long it helps propel the song along in an sonically visual way.
This was very much a self-produced EP, with you doing everything from playing the instruments to recording and engineering it yourself. How did you go about learning all the skills you needed for this?
I’ve been a musician and a songwriter for a number of years. So the really new part was recording and producing myself. Recently I purchased a bunch of analog recording gear - fairly high end stuff like a Neve 1073, LA-2A, Nuemann U87, etc. So I just took my time in learning how to record myself. Trial and error is a luxury that you have when the meter is not running in your own studio. I will never again pay for studio time. You’d be surprised how good something can turn out if you have the right gear, the right song and sound, and enough time.
Which is your favourite track on the EP and why?
I really like “Hallelujah Chorus” because that is a song that engenders most of the elements that I believe a good song should have. First, it has a good chorus. But more than that, the chorus has a certain thrust to it that really takes you somewhere. Second, the verse melody is one of my favorites that I’ve ever written. Third, the song is very, very simple. There are only three chords - Am, C, and F -- and their order doesn’t change between verse, chorus or bridge. I’m constantly striving to write simple songs and wring out as much melody as I can from them. This song does that in a way that was new for me and I love singing it. I hope your listeners will enjoy it too. (Link)
What's your song writing process?
I always write on the acoustic guitar, either my steel or nylon string. Actually, a couple songs that are new which will be on the new record were written on the ukulele. But typically I will noodle around on some chord changes hunting for a great melody. Occasionally, I’ll stumble upon something that really fires me up so I’ll repeat it over and over. I always start with a chorus. I feel songs that start anywhere else usually end up searching for a chorus and never deliver a knockout punch. But when I start from an already fully conceived and birthed chorus... I know that I’m already ahead of the game. Lyrics always come second after the melody. Typically, I will write way more lyrics than are necessary. I will throw away everything but the best lines. And by 'best lines' I mean the ones that tell a story in near-cinematic language. I’ve been getting into more and more storytelling, actually. A song that exemplifies my brand of storytelling is my song 'Made' which tells the story of God's love superimposed upon a short love story about a male and female toy soldier built in a factory. (Link)
If you could work with any songwriter, who would it be and why?
Maybe Sara Groves or Brandi Carlisle. I love their voices and their ability to turn a good lyric into a great song. You said any songwriter, so maybe Ray Charles or Paul McCartney or John Lennon.
You've previously spoken about "the death of retail CD sales" and you're giving away this EP as a free download, so how do you see musicians like yourself earning a living?
So basically the vast majority of bands never sell enough recorded music to recoup even a fraction of the money it takes to record even one song. Thus, in my opinion, the music that an artist puts out has to be from the heart not geared for the pocket book because there is no one getting rich and famous from the machine anymore. As you mentioned, I chose to give away all my music for free. The reason I do that is because I believe my career is better off if 100,000 people download and listen to my music for free than if a paltry few thousand purchase it. Plus in so doing, I build my mailing list much larger and faster.
How would you describe your style of music and what are your influences?
I would describe my music as Christ-centered indie rock with influences as varied as the Beach Boys, U2, Foster the People, the Newsboys, Sufjan Stevens, Muse, Sara Groves, Brandi Carlisle, Electric Owls.
You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your mp3 player. What track is it?
Ah, the old 'stuck on an island' question. I suppose as the last vestiges of music waned in my ear buds, as the mp3 player slowly died, I would call up one last time Louis Armstrong's 'What A Wonderful World'.
What does the next year hold for ToddO?
I plan to release my second album (for free of course) and keep doing what I'm doing, God willing!
Get ToddZero's EP for free at ToddZero.com