Ellyn Maybe’s Planet Green Interview

Ellyn Maybe and Tommy C. Jordan Ride in a ‘Rodeo for the Sheepish’

Poet Ellyn Maybe talks about her new album of spoken word fused with music.

I had never heard of Ellyn Maybe before a chance meeting in Los Angeles. Shame on me, considering her poetry pedigree is practically second to none. With her latest project, a spoken word/music album, Rodeo for the Sheepish, it is easy to see why she was named one of ten poets to watch in the new millennium by Writer’s Digest.

What’s particularly delightful about this album is that in addition to hearing her perform her poems, the album is also full of the vocal stylings of Tommy C. Jordan, of whose band Geggy Tah David Byrne once said:

“Geggy Tah are so post modern that they’ve come out the other side.”

We had a chat with both Ellyn and Tommy about making the album, inspiring social change through words, plus got a little insight into what both artists are working on next.

PG: What gave you the idea to do an album of spoken word set to music?

Ellyn Maybe: Since I reference music so often in my work it seems natural to do a spoken word/music album. This amazing opportunity came about when I reconnected with my cousin Harlan Steinberger who is wonderfully talented and he suggested we go in the studio and record a few poems with a click track and the album evolved very quickly.

We recorded everything at that first recording and then I went back after the music was finished and rerecorded some poems once I knew what the musical accompaniment was as that affected the reading.

We’re working on turning Rodeo for the Sheepish into a movie musical and hopefully a live stage show too. If anyone wants to create images for a track or a vignette for in between the songs they should please write me at ellynmaybe@aol.com.

We’re open to live action, animation, photography, painting, sketching, dance…

PG: How did working with Tommy C Jordan come about?

EM: Tommy has known Harlan a very long time and I loved what he brought with his vocals, hooks and how that shaped things. Tommy did the art direction for the CD and that turned out fabulous!

PG: Is there an underlying theme behind the album?

EM: Interestingly 5 of the 10 tracks are poems written while I was in Prague studying film at FAMU for two school years. There are definite things that go through my body of work. Love of music and the other arts, feeling a bit different that sort of thing, what’s going on in the emotional landscape.

PG: I had heard some mention that you went to Prague to study…

EM: I’d been getting more and more interested in learning about film and also heard such amazing things about Prague. I ended up getting the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship from the U.S. Department of Education which made the experience possible. I only expected to be there one school year but ended up staying two!

PG: How do you see poetry as a force to help inspire people towards social or personal change?

I think because I reference different stuff in my work, as well as there being a social justice thread quite often in my poetry, people listening to it might get inspired to look into things. One can go to an open mic and hear very topical poems.

Consequently, the art that resonates most is timeless because though the names and faces change, unfortunately, the human condition is pretty consistent.

Since I began reading my work I’ve gotten a lot of wonderful feedback thanking me for my candor, people have resonated with the work big time. Art is a very natural part of my life, the fact that I was so shy and never expected to read in public but that I do has inspired others.

I have a poem called “A Day in the Life of a Working Poor Xylophone Maker,” which talks about a lot of stuff but like most of my poems that deal with social issues it is also surreal, imagistic, and has humor.

One thing I think that people enjoy is the mix of emotions and moods. I think the subtlety is appreciated and since my poetry is a natural gift, I just am very grateful.

PG: Picasso is one of my favorite pieces/poems in that it addresses a feeling that I think a lot of women probably struggle with. Basically the “standard of beauty” which stood for hundreds of years has basically eroded in one lifetime, making a lot of women uncomfortable in their own bodies. Can you talk a little about that?

EM: I think your intro to the question basically nailed it! :)

PG: Is there a favorite track on the album for you?

EM: Wow, tough question. There Were Two Girls Who Looked A Lot The Same is certainly one which I feel very strongly about but fortunately I feel the whole record came out really great. Deep gratitude to everyone who had a hand in making it. People were so incredibly dedicated at every level of the process. Now we’re beginning to rehearse for live concerts, very exciting! :)

PG: What drew you to this project?

Tommy C. Jordan: Harlan, the producer, is an old friend. He drew me into the picture.
After meeting Ellyn i realized it is a moving picture.

PG: You’ve written some of my favorite songs over the years and I wonder, what’s it like coming into something where the words/music are already there, and injecting your own self into that?

TCJ: It felt fun. Sometimes strange. Strange fun. Fast.
i love sopapillas.

PG: How did your own creative process work in this album?

TCJ: It was a Rorschach test to sound beds rather than inkblots.

What’s your favorite track on the album? Any of the poems really stand out and connect with you…affect you?

TCJ: Ellyn affects me in surprising ways. When words stop being words, its hard to say.
My favorite songs are the songs that stop being songs, and become vehicles of transportation.
City Streets makes me cry.

PG: What’s next for you? New Geggy Tah anytime soon?

TCJ: I am on a quest to ride in an actual “Poetry Rodeo.”

This Saturday I’m performing a wedding march I wrote for some friends. A good many friends have been sending Mendelhson’s “Here Comes the Bride..” to the showers; inviting fresh ceremonial tunes into play.

Geggy Tah?
Luaka Bop (David Byrne’s label) now and again inquires about releasing a “Best Of “. Sometimes I find my finger wet and in the air glistening. – By Alan Graham

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