“It’s just a ‘little happy,’” says Maggie Eckford as she hands over a copy of her sophomore album, Show + Tell. The term comes from the Mississippi-born singer-songwriter’s mother who also refers to things as “little happys,” and it’s certainly fitting for such a charming music creator. One would expect the Mississippi girl – and now Nashville resident – to plunge into the world of country music, but Eckford’s wide-ranging interests have taken her elsewhere.
Rather than abandoning her home state’s roots altogether, Eckford has put her own twist on them with a blend of indie pop and folk that allows her personality to shine through. It’s impossible not to smile in her presence, and the same goes when listening to her upbeat and immediately catchy songs. With two albums to her name, a second place honor in the International Songwriting Competition, and her first New York City show under her belt, Eckford has a lot to be proud of since her first release in 2010. She recently spoke with Playback about her inspirations and why it's important to take a leap of faith for what you love.
You spent some time in Australia toward the beginning of your music career, how long were you there?
I actually lived there for about three years, probably the best decision that I’ve ever made. ::laughs:: I studied music and creative arts for two years over there, and developed my songwriting. Then the last year I formed a band and started playing shows and that’s kind of how I started to pursue my own music.
So that trip really jumpstarted your career?
I definitely think that it did. I always wanted to travel and being overseas is really inspiring. I probably wrote more songs being over there than I ever did in my whole life. It was a really good time for me musically.
A lot of musicians and songwriters are scared to take a step like that to really start their career. Did you have that fear at all?
I did a little bit. But I tried to go to college for a couple of years and do the normal college thing, and I just knew that something was missing. I had nothing holding me back at the time, so I just decided I wanted to take a leap of faith. It was definitely scary at first, but I think it’s good for everyone to travel like that, because you’re forced to grow up really quickly and figure things out on your own. I was from Mississippi and had never really done anything like that, so it definitely taught me a lot.
Your first album – For What It’s Worth – came out in 2010. How was your experience in putting that first album together?
It was kind of interesting because it was my first time putting out an album on my own, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. ::laughs:: It kind of all fell into my lap, which was interesting. I met my producer while I was in Australia, he was Canadian, and it was just this random coincidence how we met. He ended up being like, “If you could get yourself to Canada, I really believe in you, believe in your music, I want to help you record an album.” So when I came home for Christmas back to Mississippi, I was like, “Mom and Dad, all I want for Christmas is a plane ticket to Canada.” ::laughs:: So that’s what happened. We released it independently and it just snowballed from there.
Show + Tell – your sophomore album – came out in October, and I can definitely notice a difference in sound between the two. What was your goal in making your second album? Did you want it to be different from the first in certain ways?
I definitely did. Usually the songs are pretty raw when I’m writing them, and once we get in the studio and start recording, that’s when they take on a different vibe, they go in a different direction. Overall though, I definitely wanted it to be a little more upbeat, a little more full band, a little more electronic. It still has the same vibe, you can still tell it’s me, but it’s just a little more aggressive. ::laughs::
When you sit down to write a song, is there a certain process you go through?
I wish I could say that there’s a specific process. Sometimes it’s lyrics first, sometimes I’m playing something on the piano and it just comes. Sometimes a song will take me a week to write, and sometimes 30 minutes. I definitely work off of inspiration though. I have a hard time sitting down and saying, “ I’m gonna write a song right now!” Usually it’s very much [dependent on] what mood I’m in.
You’ve had a number of placements ranging from Apple to Teen Nick TV shows. Do you ever find yourself writing with placements in mind?
I do a little bit more now, but I usually try to focus on writing a good song because I think that the songs just speak for themselves. I feel that if you have good material, a place will be found for them, you know? Now that I’m working more closely with a placement company I do try to be a little bit more disciplined about it and write more toward those goals, but for the most part. I like to just focus on writing a good song. I work so much off of inspiration, so I try to just be weary of that.
Are there certain inspirations that you always find yourself going back to?
I definitely think the main thing as far as what inspires me with music is my environment. I think that’s why I was able to write so well in Sydney, because I was experiencing new things all the time. Nashville’s great too! I’m very inspired there. I’ve been living there for about a year and a half, but it’s still new to me, so it’s good.
Is there any advice that you would give to a songwriter whose just starting out, or who has started their career but feels stuck?
I have felt that way before and still feel like that at times. What people have always told me is just to keep writing. You just have to keep writing. You have to keep going back to that place where you keep reminding yourself that you’re doing music because you love music, and because you’re passionate about music. Whenever I feel like I’m at a standstill or I’m not inspired, I just have to remind myself that I’ve sacrificed a lot to do music because it’s what I’m passionate about. I think that everyone should find out what they’re passionate about and that’s what they should do!
As a songwriter, what does being part of ASCAP mean to you?
Its means a lot! ASCAP specifically has been so wonderful to me, especially when I first moved to Nashville. They really just adopted me and built a team around me. I really didn’t understand or know what that meant, or what a performing rights organization could do. I thought it was just like, “Well, they’ll just give me my money when it comes.” ::laughs:: But they have helped me move my career forward in so many ways. They’ve helped me with shows, they’ve helped me with writing and co-writing, and I just couldn’t be in a better place. So for me it’s more like a family more than anything.
For more information on Maggie Eckford, visit www.maggieeckford.com.