To hear her “people” describe it, “If Carole King and The Band went to a gospel picnic, Kristen Toedtman would be dishing out the potato salad. Part Norah Jones, part Bill Withers, she’s been called “The Street Joan Baez.”
Well the music scientists at MusicZeitgeist.com decided to run some critical analysis and after six months of exhaustive testing also found traces of Lyle Lovett, Bonnie Raitt, two runaways from the Boys Choir of Harlem and a quarter bottle of Southern Comfort. Otherwise, the original conjecture checked out. But we needed to work on the subject directly in order to ensure that our findings were, in fact, conclusive. Here is the result:
MusicZeitgeist.com: Tell us how it got to be this way:
Mostly me and my guitar, then me and my Wurlitzer electronic piano. Fast forward 2 years when after seeing my friend Foster Timms play at the Hotel Café we were all at a party in Hollywood. There was this guy Mike Freas sitting on a couch with a beautiful National resonator guitar and a rotation of others on the house guitar. I’d just written a blues song, “Hungry,” which I knew this guy would tear up, so I took my turn. We stayed up til about 5am playing music, had breakfast at the Astro diner in Echo Park and have been playing together ever since. After about 2 years of playing the Pig ‘n Whistle, Lavalounge & Genghis Cohen, I slowly got a band together. I’d known Al Sgro & Will Golden of Chalet Studios (Gary Jules, Meiko, Buddy, and also original Hotel Café crew), but it was Mike Freas who presented the idea of recording to them.
So, I played Al my brand new song “Wrong Time of Year,” a gospel/soul song that has a whole choir in the bridge. It was me singing all the parts, of course, saying things like: here, this is a choir, get it? He loved it and encouraged me to do a whole record of that material. Well, I had a bunch of older songs I wanted to record, but damnit, he was right. It wouldn’t be the same to slap together the songs I’d written from 2006-2008, call it “Kristen Toedtman” and release it. I write in many different styles. So I left the studio wondering how to move forward.
Took a trip down to Buenos Aires to visit my grandmother & almost missed the connecting flight. When I finally got in my seat, out of breath and quite emotional, the second song started coming. I wrote it over sleepless nights amped up on maté and on the equally sleepless and eerily quiet flight home. That was “Here to You” and those are the two songs we recorded with Al & Will. They brought in this stellar band: Mike Freas & Brian Wright (Brian Wright & the Waco Tragedies) on guitars, Will Golden played bass, Al engineered, Michael Jerome on drums (Buddy, most recently touring with Better than Ezra), Fil Krohnengold on organ & piano (he’s all over town, toured/played with Joshua Radin, Oren Lavie, Gomez, Duncan Sheik) and my back-up singers, as well as some of my classical music colleagues singing in a choir. We recorded all the band (with me singing, old-school) live, the first time they’d done that in their new studio, which was awesome and gave it the overall organic sound that it has.
I sat on those two tracks for a year before I met Sheldon Gomberg over at the Carriage House Studio right in Silverlake where I live (as a bass player, he’s played with Warren Zevon, Beck, Willie Nelson, Rickie Lee Jones; recording Rickie Lee, She & Him (M. Ward’s project with Zooey Deschanel). Talk about creating a vibe. We recorded live there, with my live show band (Mike Freas again, Chris Lovejoy on drums (AM, Tom Freund, Chris Pierce, Tristan Prettyman), Dylan Cooper on bass (Joe Greene & the Heavy Steppers) and my backup singers Katie Cole & Tuzy Ellis) and just had a great time. Added strings, horns and plenty of organ by Fil Krohnengold again, plus extra guitar by Stevie Gurr (Dr. John, Don Henley).
MZ: So by this point, what do you feel you’ve created?
It’s soul music. Soul, based in pop with funk and country elements. It’s a big sound with a whole lotta heart. I come from a classical music background, believe it or not (I sing regularly at Disney Hall and the Hollywood Bowl), but growing up when the easy listening stations played Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding and Ann Peebles … well, it all seeped in and came out in my songs.
MZ: Where can we participate with you at church?
You can often find me singing at Room 5, the Hotel Café (if not with my band, then back up for The Brendan Hines (Lie to Me, Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles) & Holly Conlan), the Mint, my living room. Like I said, I also sing at Disney Hall with the LA Master Chorale & the LA Phil. I even have a solo in March – watch out.
MZ: What motivates you, going forward?
I must sing. That part’s mostly for me. I even write new songs to have something to sing. That, and in some cases because something is giving me great need to write. Often crushes give me great need to write. Also, injustices. Crushes and injustices.
And I hope that the more I record and put out there, those songs, like my little children, will grow up and take a life of their own and feed me when I’m old.
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