Inside Maylee Todd's Virtual Womb
Way back almost two years ago when I first started Hella Pinay as a random Instagram account, just trying to spotlight creative Filipina womxn, I think Toronto-based Maylee Todd was actually our second #PinayCrush ever for the release of her single "Poetry of Intuition." I remember stumbling upon her work and being hella heart eye emojis over her music, her vibe, her coolness, her style...I feel like she's so emblematic of our generation of creatives, pushing boundaries, defying genres, taking risks, doing weird shit, putting out work in an authentic way, all while rocking her own original, constantly evolving swag. And she's also a really talented producer, singer-songwriter, and multidisciplinary artist, expressing herself through not just through music, but with performance art, 3-D projection mapping, and installation. She's toured the world, topped Billboard charts in Japan, and shared the stage with artists like Janelle Monáe, Thundercat, and Aloe Blacc, yet she's still super chill, grounded, and rad AF.
Maylee's third studio album Acts of Love, which dropped in early November 2017, is a stylistic departure from both her 2013 neo-soul and funk-tinged Escapology and her upbeat bluesy-pop 2010 debut Choose Your Own Adventure. Self-described as a "bedroom record," she taught herself how to use synths and sequencers for her almost completely self-produced, arranged, and written 17-track album, which was mostly recorded at her home studio. In parts moody, groovy, dancey, and smooth with hints of disco, R&B, dance-pop, and lots of repetition and electronic loops, Acts of Love touches on themes of loneliness, gender inequality, self-reflection, relationships, and sex. Whatever her musical evolution, Maylee's work always keeps its soul of authenticity and humor (see: song titles "Disco Dicks 5000" and "Arby's Combo 1"). Some of the songs were first written for Virtual Womb, a multimedia immersive installation that she's toured in different cities, including here in Manila for Fringe last year. The audience enters a fabric sculpture representing her vulva, then lays on the floor to watch projections and experience a live musical performance containing harp, electronics, samplers, and dancers. Maylee describes it as a "place of gestation, meditation, rebirth, and deprogramming" and "a portal into another dimension." Acts of Love isn't just the title of her latest record, but is also a portion in the show where she asks the audience to participate in writing down their "Act of Love" revealing an activity/practice that brings joy, and which continue to live online so that every person has access to the digital collective consciousness as a method of soul healing.
We were hella fangirl status to be able to chat with Maylee about her inspirations, challenges, and returning to Manila for Fringe this year, and are super stoked to check out her Virtual Womb experience and see her perform live this week!
Can you tell me a bit about your journey into music and performance, early influences, etc...
My family. They are extremely artistic in many disciplines, it was crucial to have such a artistic family and that type of freedom in the household growing up. Nature is also a huge inspiration! Nature has mastered art time and time again.
What inspires you as an artist?
All types of art, anything and everything I don't understand. I've always been drawn to the unconventional and outerworldly.
With Acts of Love and Virtual Womb, it feels like you're focusing on self-love and also creating healing spaces. Was there something that sparked that, or do you see it as part of your own self exploration and growth?
In my family there's also been a lot of pain. Seeing loved ones experiencing their trauma over and over again and trying to understand it was really important for me to not take it personal and make peace with the bleed of their trauma repeated on my younger self. To dissipate fear and anger, I believe that understanding it can really help bring some enlightenment to a person's situation. Having that empathy and not blaming was an important way for me to make peace.
As an artist who's been working for quite awhile and on many different types of projects, constantly changing and evolving - what is your favorite part of what you do? The most challenging?
My favourite part of this life is the constant reminder that I am not limited by the lack of my skill, lack of talent - if all skill and talent comes with practice and perseverance, then it is just time that is on my side.
The challenges I have experienced have to do with funding. There is a freedom with money. Money isn't everything - that I know and understand - but it does give a sense of freedom that is related to a shackle of the mind. I am also working on freeing this shackle.
Who are some other performers that you look up to, and why?
I've always loved Bjork from a young age. I can see the freedom in people nowadays and there's def more Bjorks hanging about. But since time she has always been her unique self. Alien to what a lot of us really understood.
Does your heritage inform your work and identity as an artist?
I believe so. Since I am half Filipina growing up in Canada, my experience is quite different. I have a sense of being an outsider, but the difference is I don't look at that as a detriment. Some people may feel victim to this thinking. I embraced it at a really young age and I made peace with it. It gave me my own voice, my own unique qualities inspired by my culture and surroundings, but I never feel bound to anything because I am not truly defined.
Your costumes and image are also a big part of your performances - is this a collaborative process? Do you work with a lot of different designers or do you have go-to's who you've worked with throughout your career?
The costumes have been a huge part of this project. I've always loved to dress up, make, design, etc... I've had many collaborators like my sister Leilanni, Evan Biddell, Shirley Liang; and now for Fringe I'm working with Caroline Mangosing from VINTA. This one's gonna be huge!
You brought Virtual Womb to Fringe MNL last year - how was the experience and what made you want to bring it back this year?
The experience has been incredible! The amount of love, compassion and connection that I have made with the community here is incredible and important. I am in love with the Philippines and absolutely excited to see all that is happening here!
What are some of the events you're going to be checking out while you're out here?
Are You Lovin' It, Kyle's [Kyvita] at xxxx, I'm excited to see PANQUEQUE. It'd be great to hear some talks and take in more dance troupes.
What makes you Hella Pinay or what does that mean to you?
Hella Pinay means to work with an improvising and passionate heart. To be extremely creative! Whatever materials you have you make the best beautiful collage with that work! That's how I've always done things. There's opportunity in everything, one just needs the eye to see it!