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Maia Sharp overcomes creative crisis en route to making new album

Maia Sharp_photo by Sheryl Nields

With age and experience comes greater conviction — and for Maia Sharp, that helps explain why she’s quite comfortable identifying herself as a recording and performing artist these days.

That’s saying a lot for the well-rounded Sharp, whose songs have been recorded by the likes of Bonnie Raitt and The Dixie Chicks and whose production credits include Art Garfunkel and Edwin McCain.

“It isn’t that the other things have waned,” says Sharp. “It might just be that I’m not 25 anymore and I’m a little more fearless about things. There are fewer walls in the way: ‘Oh, I hope that this show goes OK.’ ‘No, you know what? This show is gonna go great’ (laughs).

“There’s a confidence that you need as an artist, and some people have it when they’re 16, and for some people, it has to slowly grow. I just feel more confident occupying that skin all the time.”

Despite feeling better about herself as an artist (one who sings and plays multiple instruments), Sharp went through a creative crisis in recent years that hindered her as a songwriter (which she says remains her primary professional identity).

“I let an external force affect my internal passion for [songwriting], and that had never been the case,” says Sharp, referring to the publishing situation she was in at the time. “I didn’t like any of my ideas anymore. I would start writing stuff and get a verse and chorus going, and then I’d say, ‘Uh, I don’t care about that. What’s the point of putting one more song in the world that nobody’s going to care about?’ (laughs) It was self-pitying and sarcastic.”

Reawakened by a ‘Phoenix’

Sharp got to a point where she didn’t write at all for a while. Instead, she directed her efforts elsewhere, such as touring with other artists, which she says helped maintain her passion for music in general. Eventually, Sharp realized that the only way to rectify her situation was “to write myself out of it” — and she says that meant “even if I hated it or if I wasn’t moved by it, I had to keep on going or start something else.”

“Phoenix” — a song “about what I wanted to happen,” Sharp says with a laugh — got the ball rolling. (Its chorus has the lines “Nobody thought she’d wake up/shake off the ashes … If she could come all the way back in a fiery flash/From as gone as she was/There’s hope for us.”)

“I started to dig it, and it started to get exciting,” Sharp recalls. “I didn’t know if anybody was going to care about it — and I didn’t care about that. And that’s really important. It was not about what my publisher was going to think about it or if anybody is going to cut it or I’m making a record, it was that this song is exciting me right now. And feeling that again was such a relief, like, ‘It’s still there.’

Next came “The Dash Between the Dates,” at which point Sharp says she “got my swagger back a little bit.” So she booked a trip to Nashville, Tennessee, with various thoughts running through her mind: Maybe I’m writing for an album, maybe I’m writing for artists in Nashville who are looking for songs, maybe I’m writing for one of my co-writers who’s also an artist.

“And on that trip, I wrote ‘Underneath,’ ‘Little Bottles’ and ‘Real Love’ and walked out of the room loving them all,” she says. “Now there were five songs, and it started to feel like something.”

That “something” would go on to become the recently released The Dash Between the Dates, Sharp’s sixth album overall and her first for eOne Music. Guests include Eurythmics co-founder Dave Stewart (who plays guitar on “Maybe Tonight”) and Nashville-based singer-pianist Gabe Dixon (who sings on “Underneath”).

“Nothing But the Radio,” the album’s first single, has been part of Sharp’s live set for a while, but it underwent a makeover in the studio once co-producer and multi-instrumentalist Linda Taylor became involved.

“This is such a great argument for having a co-producer,” Sharp says. “I had all these attachments to the song’s tempo and this little riff and that little part. And Linda comes along, and she has a whole other approach to it: make it faster, put horns on it [among other changes]. She starts doing [her thing], and [now] it’s badass.”

— By Chris M. Junior

Maia Sharp concerts and appearances (schedule subject to change):

• Nov. 3: 3rd and Lindsley — Nashville, Tennessee

• Nov. 5: WMMM-FM’s Studio M — Madison, Wisconsin

• Nov. 6: Sharon Wilson Center for the Arts — Brookfield, Wisconsin

• Nov. 7: Wildwood Station — Marshfield, Wisconsin

• Nov. 9: KINK-FM’s Skype Live Studio — Portland, Oregon

• Nov. 10: Pend d’Oreille Winery — Sandpoint, Idaho

• Nov. 12: KRSH-FM (midday show) — Santa Rosa, California

• Nov. 13: Freight & Salvage — Berkeley, California

• Nov. 15: Don Quixote’s — Felton, California

Photo by Sheryl Nields

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