Thus far, the height of my musical “career” was winning first place at my elementary school talent show for singing I’ve Been Working on the Railroad. I was five. I was a complete ham, and wanted to be a star. My older brother told me the only reason I won was because I was cute–fair enough. Fast-forward almost 30 years, and I’ve realized that my feverish desire for stardom is much better served in the confines of my car and home, rather than on the main stage. Instead, the main stage should be reserved for those people who possess that innate gift of musical creativity and mastery that inspires and makes us feel alive. It was a pleasant surprise when I recently stumbled upon one of those people right here in eastern NC.
I was introduced to Rebekah Todd when she opened up for Paleface at The Tipsy Teapot in Greenville, NC a few months ago–a lone young lady on stage with just her acoustic Alvarez guitar and a mic. She did a quick mic check, and politely introduced herself to the audience. I watched and waited, thinking how brave she was to get up there and sing by herself. I was envious and impressed before even hearing her voice. And then she sang. A boisterous yet angelic, soulful, bluesy voice filled the room, and I was floored. Who had been hiding this homegrown gem, and why hadn’t I heard of her before? She quickly captivated the crowd with original songs like Jordan, Citizen, Gallows, Little by Little, and Walked Right Through Me. That evening, as her powerful voice echoed off of Tipsy’s glossy, cherry red walls, I was happy to tag along on her musical journey.
A few weeks after the show I sat down with Todd to talk about her music and big plans for the future.
Todd grew up in the small town of Benson, NC and was surrounded by music as early as she could remember. At eight years old, she started formal piano lessons, but soon figured out that the structure of reading music didn’t quite fit her style of learning.
“I play by ear 100%, so I don’t read music unless you have a sheet with chords. If it’s the notes on the staff I can’t do it at all. When I was eight, I figured that out. I remember my teacher was teaching me the Titanic theme song. I was reading it on the paper and I got a note wrong, so I stopped looking at the paper and listened and figured it out. She yelled at me and told me I had to read the paper, and she was really mean so I dropped it and never went back,” she recalled.
Soon thereafter, Todd’s father suggested she learn how to play the guitar. She fondly remembered those early memories of her dad and his love for music.
“[My dad] was classic rock all the way. It’s pretty cool because it really influenced me. I am happy that I know all of these artists now because I meet people my age who say, ‘Who are the Beatles, or who is Bob Dylan?’. He was musical and played guitar and he was the one who taught me. He bought me this crappy Washburn guitar that was black, and when I was eight I thought it was awesome,” she said with a chuckle.
She continued to laugh as she told me that the first song he taught her to play on the guitar was Wild Thing. Todd and her father continued to play together at home until she started playing in different high school bands with her friends. Over the years of playing with her dad and others, Todd pulled inspiration from a wide range of musical genres, which has shaped the music she writes and performs today.
“I went through the classic rock phase, and then I really got into people who had a soulful voice, like Lauryn Hill, who is one of my favorites. I literally wore her CD out [The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill]. Now I am into the more bluesy sound with singers like Susan Tedeschi and the Derek Trucks Band. I really admire artists like that,” said Todd.
Though she can cover songs ranging from Led Zeppelin to Katy Perry, Todd’s bread and butter is in songwriting. To date she has recorded about 16 original songs, but admits that there are many more waiting the wings that need to evolve a bit before she will bring them into the studio.
“Sometimes I will be sitting and playing and [a song] will come then, and other times I will get a tune in my head and I will literally pull my cell phone out, hit video, hold it out, and sing into the video. I used to carry around a tape recorder before cell phones. I think that started because when I was really young my parents bought me a karaoke machine that I could put a tape in and record my singing and listen to it. It’s funny how the steps that your parents take totally mold what you become,” Todd shared.
Songwriting for Todd is a very natural, organic, and “in-the-moment” process. Her songs are passionate and moving because they are honest. Like most artists, Todd finds inspiration in her life experiences and channels those emotions into her songs as well as her art.
“One time I played with this band called Cool Hand Luke out of Tennessee and Mark came up to me and said, ‘I really like your music because you are honest with what you are going through and what you are feeling’. Ever since he said that I took it and tried to apply it to everything I was doing. I’ve come to find that people can relate to your stuff if you are brutally honest with your feelings because then they can say, ‘Oh yeah I feel the same way’. With my situation now, with having a loss in the family, everyone can relate. Sometimes it’s hard because you really have to go into your emotions and that can be painful. It’s the same with art. You pull it out and you put it on a canvas or put it into a song and hope that people can relate to it,” she revealed.
Having just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from East Carolina University, Todd is ready to hit the road and share her music with the world. She’s completely devoted to throwing herself into writing and touring as much as she can, while maintaining a realistic outlook. She knows that with a hopeful heart must also come a level head, and she’s willing to put in the time and work to pursue her dream.
“It’s tough as an acoustic girl to say, ‘I promise that I can bring it’. It’s something you have to slowly prove and know the right people. I am working on it. It’s a weird road. A lot of people say I should think about getting a band. That could be cool, but I just don’t feel right with it right now. I feel like I want to prove to myself that I can do it without the band. I just graduated and I have all of the time in the world,” she said with a hopeful grin.
So far she’s got a great start with several club shows and festivals booked across the state, and hopes to add a small northeast tour towards the end of August. In between shows Todd will continue to write songs and dabble in her second love, painting. Though Todd admits to being very comfortable in the “opener” slot, I suspect she’s going to be pushed out of her comfort zone fairly soon. She wont be able to hide in the shadows of bigger acts for too long. The main stage awaits her.
To learn more about Rebekah Todd’s music and upcoming shows, please visit her website.