Music | Lean & Green: Mia Doi Todd cuts back on carbon and overzealous producers 

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Modern-day Renaissance woman Mia Doi Todd subscribes to the old Joni Mitchell adage that songs are like tattoos. If the saying truly holds any weight, with the recent release of her seventh album, GEA (City Zen Records), Todd must be covered nearly head-to-toe by now.

“Yeah, I’ve got a lot of tattoos,” she admits. “Actually I don’t have any real ones, but my songs pretty much come quite directly from my personal life, from all my experiences. This time I’ve had a much more internal period while writing the music, and I wanted this album to reflect that. I’ve also been much more protective of the whole process.”

Each outing for a musician can be a sort of knee-jerk response to their last. GEA really is no different. Having spent years upon years (since 1997’s The Ewe and the Eye) recording projects with different producers, record labels and various musicians, Todd couldn’t help but tighten things up by tugging back on the producer’s reigns. Still, she couldn’t go at it alone, so she enlisted a number of like-minded musicians, such as Chicago-based bassist Joshua Abrams and multi-instrumentalist/composer Miguel Atwood-Ferguson.

“It is very important for me to gather together the right kind of people. The sound of each album is really made by that. After my Columbia album [Golden State, 2002], where I worked with people that were much more experienced than myself, I really wanted to work with my peers. So, with my next record, Mazanita (2005), I got a lot of my friends involved. After that, I wanted it to be a much smaller nucleus of people, not necessarily the indie-rock crowd, and control it more myself. So, this time with GEA, I sort of hand-chose the people involved and really developed the sound of the music—especially the harmonium and the percussion.”

This personal, introspective approach is immediately demonstrated on the album. With a wide spectrum of musicians focused in diverse genres such as jazz and world music—think Alice Coltrane and Fela Kuti—Todd truly began to believe that she could achieve a higher awareness through her sound.

“If you blow out performance it can be anything, anything at all,” says Todd. “My interest is in blowing out that box to the extent that it should have a huge impact on the emotional ideology of the audience, that they should be transformed. I think that, even with my songs, they go to places that a lot of pop music doesn’t go, like really uncomfortable emotional situations, the real heart of the human condition. So, if the audience really hears the songs, really engages them they will have the opportunity to have some sort of change of heart, change of mind or opening.”

Pretty optimistic for an artist battling an often cruel modern world. Luckily Todd also was able to find a like-minded musician to go on tour with—José González. Another very introspective singer-songwriter, González decided to develop a completely “Green” tour. Apparently, a portion of all ticket proceeds will be directly diverted to offset the carbon consumption of the entire tour—e.g. planting trees, recycling, etc—as they crisscross this great country of ours.

“There can be a lot of waste on tours so we’ve done everything possible to reverse that,” says Todd. “We’re also encouraging all the clubs to recycle and have recycling options for the audience. The idea came from González’s camp and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to do things responsibly.”

Todd has been taking advantage of such opportunities all her life. As a painter, dancer, sculptor and musician, she uses any and all mediums to express herself while simultaneously trying to raise social consciousness. In fact, she has choreographed a sort of tango for the track “Night of a Thousand Kisses” on GEA that can be seen on her Website Todd admits that, although she’s extremely passionate about it, dance is in fact not her strongest point.

“My father was a sculptor; I was always surrounded by art, and I guess it was sort of inevitable that I become an artist of some sort having experienced a very aesthetic youth,” explains Todd. “Even making a sculpture, I have these very spiritual, existential goals with creation. My relationship with creation is like a relationship with the invisible, with a spiritual element. My new album and this tour are just an extension of that—that is my personal goal with my music.”

JOSÉ GONZÁLEZ W/ MIA DOI TODD @ Olpin Union Ballroom, U of U, Saturday March 22, 7 p.m.

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