WILMINGTON — Over the last week, local musician Rebekah Todd has been tucked away in a recording studio in Chapel Hill laying down tracks for her first album in four years. “Realign” is slated for release sometime in 2021. A sneak peek of a few tracks can be heard at the Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area on Sunday. Todd will play a music festival with the Justin Cody Fox Band and Donna the Buffalo.
“As an avid fan of Shakori Hills Music Festival, owned by Donna the Buffalo, I’m super excited to share the stage with them,” Todd said on a phone call Friday.
The Wilmington musician will be joined Sunday by her band The Odyssey, which, according to Todd, has been “an amalgamation of about 30 dudes throughout the years.” The weekend lineup will include Brett Johnson on guitar, Christopher Marcellus on bass, Malcolm Howard on drums and Paul Miller on keys.
“We will be playing at least two tracks from the new album,” Todd revealed — “‘Mothers Beauty’ and ‘Realign.'”
Todd’s latest batch of songs were born from a confluence of tragedy and pause, starting with her mother’s death in 2018 and ending with a breakup and pandemic that reset Todd’s life through 2020. The musician decided to take a hiatus from music and become a caretaker when her mother became ill.
“After she passed, I was closing out her estate and taking care of all that, and then I fell into a very, very deep depression,” Todd divulged. “That was right before Covid hit.”
Then the breakup came, and Todd found herself isolated during a pandemic, once again without live performance to turn to. At the height of her career, she was playing up to 180 shows a year. During Covid, it had scaled down to a paltry 15, with a few livestreams included.
“Being forced with the rest of the world to not have the music career that I once knew for an additional year and a half was very challenging,” Todd said.
Hunkered down in a cabin on the side of a mountain in eastern North Carolina, she picked up a pen and guitar and decided to work through her emotions. She had bones of songs she had penned years before, and started rearranging and editing.
“They took on new meaning,” Todd said, “and I wrote new material.”
All 10 will end up on “Realign,” which Todd recorded with sound engineer and producer Saman Khoujinian. She has been working on the new catalog with Sleepy Cat Records Studio musicians at the band Sylvan Esso’s recording studio, bettys.
“[W]e all sit in a circle and I play the song for them two or three times,” Todd explained of the process. “They’ve already heard it, but, usually, they get me to play it for them again, so they can feel it.”
Todd said the workmanship has been steadfast and tremendous in such a short timeframe. She had the studio for eight days and they all worked 10 hours a day to lay down a few takes for each track.
“They’re very intuitive,” Todd said of the crew. “And they really listen.”
Johnson called “Realign” “adventurous,” as well as on point sonically in both its impact and scope. The engineer said he was tasked with stripping down Todd’s sound while delivering a constant groove.
“I’d often mute everything except bass, drums, and Rebekah’s voice, and all of a sudden the tune would spring to life,” Johnson wrote to Port City Daily. “Rebekah’s trust and patience in the studio are real gifts. Her collaborative spirit is a breath of fresh air.”
Todd said they have been adding in soundscapes, like the ocean or forest, to some areas on the record. More importantly, she has tweaked a more mature voice than heard on her previous three releases, including the 2011 EP, “Forget Me Not,” and the two followup LPs, 2014’s “Roots Bury Deep” and 2016’s “Crooked Lines.”
“I used to think that in order to be heard on an album, I needed to wail,” Todd said. “These days I’m learning that when you speak more quietly, you actually ask your audience to lean in. So that’s what I’m doing: leaning in to my authentic sound of folk with a hint of modern/electronic.”
“Realign” is about Todd undergoing vast changes and rising from adversity with a clearer mind. The song “Mothers Beauty” pays homage to such. It’s Todd’s way of working through grief of losing her mom.
“I questioned what it means to carry someone’s legacy forward after they’re gone,” Todd said. “What it means to me is carrying the love that she carried around; she was a very bright person, and she always made other people brighter. . . . So I aspire to be more like her, like my mother’s beauty.”
Johnson said, though the record experiments with many styles — art and grunge rock among them — Todd and the band have played it out with cohesion. It also sheds stereotypes the music industry has unfairly placed on female performers, according to Todd.
“It boxes you in: You either have to be a small voice, sweet acoustic, or you have to be big, bold — sing some blues or something sexy,” she explained. “And I have gone big, bold; I tried sweet acoustic for many years. This time I’m somewhere in the middle . . . I’m gonna have smaller songs that are more stripped down, but I’m also gonna rock out even harder in a way that is a lot more raw than it used to be. Because that’s kind of who I am — rough around the edges.”
Once the record is complete, Todd will shop “Realign” with her manager Mandy Tenery (Balsam Range, Jon Stickley Trio). Todd has already booked several festivals in 2021, including with the Odyssey at Floydfest this July.
While Todd used “Realign” to unearth and refine her voice, she said it also has gotten her back on track as a full-time musician and re-evaluating how to best handle her workload. She has decided to become less of a people-pleaser, something Todd admitted the industry impresses upon females: “what we should wear, what our size should be, how much makeup we should and shouldn’t wear.”
“I’ve been growing in my personal life a lot, and becoming more solid in who I am and what I need out of life,” Todd said.
She also has been striving to reach a healthier work-life balance, sans rock ‘n’ roll clichés — which in her world includes not drinking, doing yoga and actually getting sleep while on the road. “I’ve decided I’m coming at all of this with a new approach,” she explained. “I’m not going to be the girl that drinks a lot and sings blues and tries to be sexy on stage. It wouldn’t be me. I’m going to be healthy. And it actually is a little easier to do the grind. Imagine that.”
Rebekah Todd and the Odyssey will play a 60-minute set at Fort Fisher Air Force Recreation Area on Sunday, June 13 with Donna the Buffalo and Friends. The festival lasts from 12:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Chairs and blankets welcome; food and drink sold onsite. Tickets are $35.
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