By: Shayla Lee
“With this project, I literally lent my voice to those that have survived domestic violence.”
Brooklyn-based musician and women’s rights activist Lexi Todd is seeking to empower others through the release of her deeply personal EP ‘Maria, Immured.’ With the hopes of inspiring other women to hold their abusers accountable, Lexi was determined to share the outside perspective she had experienced after witnessing a close friend experience domestic abuse. ‘Maria, Immured’ contains three songs which tell the heartbreaking story of what her friend went through, and what many other women unfortunately go through as well.
Weaving through production elements of r&b, rock, and pop with Lexi’s soulful, soaring voice, ‘Maria, Immured’ is not only an EP that addresses an extremely important topic, it is also a delight to listen to. We had the chance to chat with Lexi and she broke down the EP for us, told us what inspired her to create the project, and explained the hardships she has experienced as a woman in the music industry.
Femme Riot: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to become a musician?
Lexi Todd: I’m a Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter, but I’m originally from the Jersey shore. My parents will tell you that I came out of the womb singing and performing. As early on as I can remember, I was always putting on shows for family and friends. I remember convincing my parents to let me start voice lessons at a very young age, and from then on all I wanted to be when I grew up was a musician.
How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
The shore culture I grew up with definitely influences my aesthetic, personal style, and music. I grew up listening to classic rock, soul, r&b, and reggae, and I think you can hear traces of those genres in the music I’m creating now, but in more of a pop structure. In addition to my solo career, I’m in another band, Chevy Lopez, and we made up the genre name “gnar&b” to describe our sound. Sometimes I call my solo music “jazz-pop,” but lately I’ve taken to calling it “gnar&b.”
Where do you draw inspiration for your music? Do you have any musical influences?
I have many musical influences, and I’m constantly finding new ones. I try to fuse my icons from growing up—Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone, Fleetwood Mac, and pretty much all of Motown—with my more contemporary influences, like Hiatus Kaiyote, Emily King, Lake Street Dive, and Bahamas. I love to listen to artists that are meshing and bending genres to create their own sound, which is what I aim to do in my music.
This October you released a three song project titled ‘Maria Immured’ which details a close friend’s struggle in an abusive relationship. Can you tell us more about this project and what compelled you to create a piece of art centered around something so personal?
As an artist, I feel it’s important to speak out and empower others to find their own voice. I often write extremely specific and personal songs about the people in my life, and with this project, I literally lent my voice to those that have survived domestic violence, including my friend. As I witnessed my close friend’s abusive relationship for several years, I felt like I had a unique perspective to share as a confidant, bystander, and sometimes intermediary. I also felt like I was freer to point out certain aspects of this toxic relationship from the outside looking in. My goal was to artistically and thoughtfully spread awareness through the music and video content of my EP, while also inspiring survivors to hold their abusers accountable.
I often write extremely specific and personal songs about the people in my life, and with this project, I literally lent my voice to those that have survived domestic violence, including my friend.
Can you briefly describe ‘Complacent,’ ‘Open Wounds,’ and ‘Extra Key?’ How does each piece contribute to the overall story of ‘Maria Immured?’
The first song, “Complacent,” is about my friend convincing herself to stay in the relationship and overlook the abuse. It touches on some of the hurtful behavior of her partner, specifically his constant cheating.
The second song, “Open Wounds,” focuses almost entirely on emotional abuse; constant put-downs, hurtful words, and condescension. This song represents the period when my friend started to realize how painful and intolerable that abuse really is.
The third song, “Extra Key,” is about my friend breaking fee from her partner’s cycle of manipulation, a cycle that involved him constantly lying about his wrongdoings and convincing my friend to think of herself as crazy, worthless, and the one that’s really in the wrong. The story ultimately ends with her finally gaining the courage to let go of the relationship.
What is your favorite lyric from the EP?
“It doesn’t need to be physical to hurt like hell.” That’s the first line of the chorus in “Open Wounds.”
Your EP gives an extremely personal look into domestic abuse and the effects it has on others. What advice would you give to someone who is currently in an abusive relationship?
It’s tough for me to say what the right course of action is because every situation is different, and what might work for one person may be dangerous for another person. I would say the most important thing for my friend was utilizing her support system. Once she started opening up to her friends and family, she started gaining more confidence in her actions and more awareness of how she was actually feeling in her relationship.
Have you faced any challenges being a woman in the music industry? If so, how did you overcome the adversity and do you have any advice for other women facing challenges in their lives?
I face challenges as a woman in the music industry every day. Despite the fact that the entertainment industries have been under a magnifying glass since the start of #metoo, the music industry is still dominated by men. For me, it really comes down to a lack of mutual respect. I constantly feel as if I’m talked down to; as if I need to be mansplained to in order to understand anything. One of my biggest frustrations is how men are “shifting” their behavior now to avoid what they think could be perceived as inappropriate conduct, without actually addressing the underlying issues: like why certain conduct is inappropriate and why they shouldn’t engage in it. For example, I often get flippant comments like “I’d tell you I like your shirt, but I can’t say things like that anymore.” Is that a joke? Am I expected to laugh? Or can you really not identify sexual harassment to such an extent that you can’t tell the difference between oggling a woman’s body and complimenting an article of clothing?
I try to call men out on their behavior as much as possible. When getting cat called on the street, I often respond by saying “stop harassing women,” which usually results in some priceless facial expressions and hopefully some afterthought on the guy’s part. I think if we can all start holding men more accountable, even on a small scale like this, we can start to redefine societal norms.
Mental health is really important to us at Femme Riot and we love hearing about how others maintain balance in their own lives. Being a busy musician, what practices do you implement to make sure your health and wellbeing are taken care of?
I’m an avid yogi, and my yoga practice is very important to my overall well-being. I try to meditate and journal regularly as well, but yoga is the real constant. I feel like it connects the left and right side of my brain and gives me the clarity I need to write songs.
Aside from your EP release, do you have anything else in the works for this year?
Yes! I’m almost finished writing my first full-length album, and I plan on starting to record in December. My goal with the album is to show a softer, more vulnerable side of myself and my art. Up until recently, most of my music comes from a place of power; of being a strong, independent, fearless woman. I am that, but I’m also reflective, and I love to laugh. I finally feel like I’m at a place in my life where I can let my guard down and show those parts of me.
Anything we haven’t asked that you want to add?
I’m taking November off from gigs to reset after the EP release, but my next show will be on December 13th at Rockwood Music Hall (Stage 1) at 8:00 PM!