Guitars, Dreams, and A New Album: An Exclusive Chat with Maureen Toth

Dive into her music career and the tales behind her songs

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Pics by Nathan Hope
       
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Discover the fascinating world of Maureen Toth, a mesmerizing singer-songwriter hailing from the vibrant heart of Long Island, New York. With an impressive discography boasting three albums and two EPs, Toth’s musical prowess has graced the small screen, leaving an indelible mark on indie music lovers everywhere.

What sets Toth apart is her gift for weaving soul-baring lyrics with a voice that radiates warmth and authenticity. Her latest masterpiece, “Chiaroscuro,” the EP, unveiled its brilliance to the world in the crisp September air of 2023.

Join us for an exclusive interview as Toth delves deep into her artistic journey. She’ll unveil the secrets behind her latest album, unearth the profound influences that have shaped her soulful melodies, and offer a glimpse into the sacred alchemy of her songwriting process.

Please tell readers about yourself (background, etc.), musical influences, and your current projects—basically, what you would most like for them to know. 

I grew up in Long Island and fell in love with music as a teenager. We had ALOT of girls in my large Italian family and we all loved to sing and really dug harmonies, classic rock and of course disco and Motown. In particular I always really loved female singers and female fronted bands. I moved to California after going to Boston University where I had some great teachers in voice and performance. I picked up the guitar in my 20s and started to write music after crossing the country to California. My first band was a garage band that my cousin and I joined – started by a great drummer and I thought this is the most fun ever. From there I have worked with different vocal teachers and began recording music with the help of some fabulous musicians I have met along the way. My first album was produced by one of the best rhythm guitar players – Bernie Larsen – who has had a long and lustrous career as a touring musician (Lucinda Williams, Melissa Etheridge, Jackson Browne), producer, writer and singer and a good friend of mine Lora Ball. That Album was called Laugh with the Moon. I worked with Bernie again on the next album Shine and the fantastic Jim McGorman on the third release called Cut Flowers. My last two EPs have been produced by the fabulous Carlos Calvo – an amazingly talented producer, songwriter, epic guitar player and human along with the super talented Marc Slutsky on drums. Those releases are Blur and this current release Chiaroscuro – out now.

Artwork by Nathan Hope

Tell us about your new EP ‘Chiaroscuro’ and the inspiration behind it.  

So this album was written in the beginning of – and during – the pandemic. Everyone was struggling with what it all meant and we started to get these images from Italy of people in lockdown and reaching out to neighbors and folks on the streets by playing pots and pans or instruments or singing. I thought it was gorgeous and sad simultaneously and that is why the album is called Chiaroscuro which technically means the juxtaposition – often stark – of light against a dark background. It usually applies to paintings of a period but also applies to the use of light in general. I thought it was really apt for this period in time.

What was the songwriting and recording process? 

I would generally write a simple chord progression on the guitar and repeat it and live with it for a beat. Then as I was playing, I would decide how it made me feel and what emotions or story the song was beginning to relay. That would often lead me to a theme. Once I had that – I would start to write lyrics and the subject would reveal itself more thoroughly. Some flowed quickly and others took a beat, but once I had a strong sketch of the song I would hand the simple rhythm guitar parts and lyrics to Carlos and Marc who would fill in the more sophisticated guitars, etc and percussion. Then we would get together and rehearse and see how it all flowed. Sometimes we would write different parts or a bridge/chorus and do the arranging at this stage. Once we felt it was close to complete – we would get into the studio with Paul Smith, our engineering producer – and he would help us put the recordings together.

What do you hope your fans/listeners take away with them when they listen to your music? 

This album in particular really reflects the lightness and darkness of this fraught time in human history – the shared trauma and triumphs – and I hope that my music is a good reflection of that dichotomy. I would love for people to feel the range of emotions distilled in the album that this period inspired and hopefully they can relate to that in their own lives. The experience for all of us was so unique and not sure we will really understand its impact until we are looking back from a distance.

Pics by Nathan Hope

When did you first pick up guitar and what drew you to that instrument? 

In my 20s after college I got my first guitar and I remember sort of shaking and I had this buzzy feeling like I had this precious thing that I was holding and it was a gateway somehow to some kind of wonderful path or place. It was pretty cool. I feel a little like that each time I get a new instrument as a matter of fact. Mostly guitars of course – but I do have a piano and a drum kit that I was also excited about albeit to a lesser degree. For me – the guitar was something you could hold and move with and it was more intimate in a way than other instruments. You could also use it for rhythm and it felt like if I could sing and play guitar – I could create a complete song without the aid of anything else. Also they are just so damn beautiful. I feel like I will always be a student as well and so I have a great respect for the art of the guitar as both an instrument and a work of art. My uncle Carmello makes stunning hand made guitars and hopefully one day – I will have one of those. 🙂

Who are some of your musical influences?

I loved classic rock w/ harmonies like The Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac and just solid rock bands like The Stones, Tom Petty, and of course The Beatles. But I really loved the strong female musicians and was very inspired by many of them. Early on it was Carole King, The Pretenders, Blondie, and Joan Jett and then it was Ani DiFranco, Patty Griffin, Bonnie Raitt, and the like. These days loving Brandi Carlile, Regina Spektor, Florence. There are so many that I love – but those are some. 🙂

What’s next? 

Well – I got a new shell pink electric guitar recently and I want to get good on that instrument and play and promote this new album with my band for a beat, while I start to conceive and write the next one. I feel really lucky to have great folks around me that I get to journey within music. It just makes me happy.

Pics by Nathan Hope

https://www.maureentoth.com


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