Is MB Padfield an overachiever?
In a promotional video for her new CD, the singer songwriter’s band mates answer with an emphatic yes.
“She has a lot of energy,” says one. “Never slows down,” agrees another.
Considering that the 16-year-old is already a year into college, while taking online courses at Berklee to hone her budding professional music career, that’s something of an understatement. In her spare time, Padfield boxes, sews, trains seeing eye dogs and she’ll bedazzle a ukulele if you ask.
Padfield began lugging her gear out to area nightclubs to perform when most people her age were occupied with deciding between Nickelodeon and Disney Channel cartoons, first at the regular Tupelo Music Hall open-mike nights hosted by songwriter friend Joe Young.
Having to wait until near closing time to do a short set didn’t deter her. If anything, it committed her even more to being a full-time musician.
“I was going home one night after midnight,” she recalls. “I put the key in the door and thought, ‘Yeah, this is what I want to do.’ Friends said that would wear off, but I don’t mind it.’
A self-produced EP done at age 15 gained the attention of Rocking Horse Studio. Early this year, she recorded a full-length album at the Pittsfield facility. Released in June, the album includes support from Greg Hawkes of seminal Boston band The Cars and Nashville rocker Cal Olivier, who also invited Padfield to sing backup on his record.
Hey You! is a well-rounded effort, and so far, well-received. The flirty “Silly Boy,” with Hawkes on ukulele, received airtime on radio station WXRV. The reflective “Unforgettable” deals with teen suicide, while “Bar Room Romance” is a bluesy romp, and the title track is a bouncy country rocker.
Padfield cites varied musical influences. She enjoys rappers — Mac Miller, Chris Webby and Eminem — “I like their twisting of words,” she says. Folk pop artists like John Mayer and Colbie Callait also inspire her, and she’ll cover everything from Sublime to Johnny Cash at her shows; she even puts her own stamp on George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone.” She’s a big fan of California actress and singer songwriter Jenn Grinels, whom she also counts as a friend.
So far, it’s a busy summer for Padfield, who’s playing three to four times a week at Murphy’s Taproom, Fratello’s, Jokers and other area venues. Her July 19 appearance, opening for the Manchester Community Music School Summer Community Band, will be her fourth appearance on the Veterans Park stage.
Padfield’s music is often mature beyond her years, tackling difficult topics in a singular way. “You Can’t Break Me Down” is an anti-bullying song that urges a proactive response. It’s also autobiographical. During her freshman year in high school, she endured relentless verbal and physical taunting.
After a group of schoolmates created a Facebook page to ridicule her, Padfield went on the offensive.
“I took charge for my own well-being,” she says. She confronted one of the students, demanding they take it down. “I am one to stand up for myself,” she explains. “I think differently than a typical teenager, and a lot of people don’t understand where I am coming from.” The incident almost ended in tragedy, when the rattled boy drew a knife and began menacing her with it.
When she sat down to write about the experience, Padfield wanted to send a unique message. “I would listen to other songs about bullying, and it was always ‘poor me, this isn’t going to work out for me’ — I wanted an anthem for kids to keep their head up,” she says.
Padfield was home schooled from that point on — “I decided high school wasn’t for me,” she says. Inspired by the book College Without High School, she enrolled at Manchester Community College at age 14. “I started with anatomy and physiology, and I have 32 credits so far — and I’m a 16-year-old with a full-time job.”
Although she took a few piano lessons early on, Padfield is mostly self-taught as an instrumentalist. One of the online classes she’s currently taking is Voice Technique 101, but her foray into Berklee College of Music is mainly about professional development.
“I wanted the prestigious Berklee name, and I wanted to be able to network with people and instructors and musicians, so it seems like a logical idea for me,” she says. “Certification doesn’t mean crap in the music industry, but this is giving me more skills and tools in my artist box that I can put to use in my music.”