Bangor Metro Review
SINGER/SONGWRITER DAVID MALLETT MAY HAVE A FOLLOWING ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, BUT HIS PERFECT DAY IS ON A HILLTOP IN SEBEC.
From the time he was 11 and appeared on Bangor’s fledgling Channel 7 with his older brother, singer/songwriter David Mallett knew he was “destined to be a professional musician.” Over the last 40-odd years, that’s exactly what he’s been. Mallett has performed in every major venue in the state and almost every minor one, as well as toured the country, north to south and east to west, every single year – building a loyal fan base that rated his last album, Artist in Me, Folkwax’s Album of the Year, over Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash.
Mallett, described as having a storyteller’s naturalness and a poet’s intelligence, values language and recognizes the weight of every solitary word. In-state, he now often performs with a band, but on the open road, he still flies solo, with his guitar and his voice, singing his stories in intimate venues.
“Place” is where Mallett started years ago, writing songs about the world he inhabited and that inhabited him-songs like “I Knew This Place” (about his house in Sebec) and “Fire” (about the burning of his grandfather’s farm), both on his first album. Place continues to be a subject he returns to, having moved back home from Nashville 10 years ago because, he says, there’s no better place to be.
Place is very important to you.
It was one of the first things I wrote about. I think I got it from my mother, who always made me aware that we were, like, sixth-generation in this town, and that her family, the Towns, were the first white settlers in the county. I was taught early-on how this whole “place” evolved from deep woods.
You depict your characters very clearly. Does your long history here enable you to get to the heart of people?
I have a unique perspective on top of this hill. You go straight north and you hit nothing but woods. It’s a unique place to come from as a musician. It is prohibitive in some ways, and yet it has allowed me to have a much dearer voice than I would have had somewhere else.
It’s more isolated. For years I didn’t even have a band to play with.
So, do you miss all the activity in the outside world when you’re home now?
Not at all. Not at all. My perfect day is not to leave home. Just to be in my yard and work right around in a circle. And maybe go to the lake, you know. [Understandably, since over the next month, Mallett will perform in Presque Isle, Palmyra, Vermont, Massachusetts, California, Wisconsin, and Minnesota-and not on a straight trajectory; either.]
I’ve heard your music described as folk/rock/pop or pop/country. How would you describe it?
The fact that I play acoustic guitar and I lean heavily on words labeled me as folk early-on. I appreciate all kinds of music. It’s not the “genre” I’m driven to, as much as it is the conviction behind the performance or the voice – on any level. Oh, and just to set things straight, real country died out when Ernest Tubb died.
How do you write your songs?
Some come in and they’re already formed, like little characters. Some I have to struggle with. On my last album, the second song, “Angel Standin’ By,” came out of an idea, a mystical idea about how there’s always, you hope, someone, if you’re in trouble somewhere, who comes along and bails you out. You never know who it is and what the bailout is. Getting thrown in jail might actually be a bailout for some people.
But the words and music come simultaneously?
They almost always come as a “thing.” Like somebody comes up and whispers in your ear and gives you like a tip on a race, and you go, “Yeah!”
Your last CD [Mallett's 10th] is on your own label, North Road Records. Is this the future?
For me, it sure is. This record [Artist in Me], I intentionally wanted to do right here. I recorded it at home in my old house across the road with a digital system and I brought in the band. I mixed it in Waterville at a studio. I took the picture in Bath; the artwork was done in Sebec, down the road. The plastic insert was made in Portland. The CDs were printed in Sanford, and the whole thing was assembled in Waterville. It’s a real Maine product and I want to say, What took me so long!
How different are the stories you tell from what you would have told if you’d grown up in Texas or Louisiana or Minnesota?
The language changes. I’m proud of my language. I’ve always had a great disdain for artists who come from a place and then dishonor it by pretending they come from somewhere else. I find little nuggets in our language and use them. The subject matter is different, and yet if I were in rural Louisiana, it probably wouldn’t be a hell of a lot different. Rural America is pretty cool wherever you go.
Do you ever look forward to not being on the road?
Sometimes I do-until I’m up there performing and I look out and see virtually every part of this society represented in my audiences. It’s always a mix – That’s the thing I’m the proudest of, I think, the diversity of my audience. That and having the conviction to hang in there. Being a full-time musician is not an easy road, especially when you have three kids.
Your songs are so rooted in real life – backaches, loss and loneliness and love – and it seems to me that you want us to do something with what we hear.
I don’t know. My old mentor Noel Paul Stookey once told me, “What’s important about you is your point of view.” I’m not really that dear in my vision, and yet when I’m writing a song, I am. Maybe there’s something about my songs becoming a part of you, of your life and your purpose-that through them you can be “more.” There’s always more.
- ANNALIESE JAKIMIDES, BANGOR METRO NOVEMBER 2005, LIFESTYLE