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Oct. 28, 2005 - Her sister, Fiona Apple, is a triple-platinum-selling singer-songwriter. But Maude Maggart is blazing a musical trail of her own with vintage songs suited to her retro-leaning voice. The eldest daughter of actor Brandon Maggart and singer Diane McAfee, Maggart, 30, has found a venue for herself that is vastly different than her sister’s audience: the dimly-lit, cozy world of cabaret. Her new CD, “Maude Maggart Sings Irving Berlin” mines the early works of the great song master who is credited with writing nearly 1,500 songs during his long career. Maggart may not be a household name yet, but she’s definitely on her way to being known as more than just Fiona Apple’s sister. She spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Jac Chebatoris. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Your real name is Amber. Where did Maude come from?
Maude Maggart: I made that decision when I was 20. The lyricist Marshall Barer had cast me opposite Michael Feinstein in this tiny little production of something he had written and he said, “How do you feel about your name?” I thought it might be fun to change it. Maude was the name of my great-great grandmother on my father’s side. Her name was Maude Apple.
Speaking of Apple, do you feel like you need to try to do this on your own without using the association of your very famous sister?
Oh, no. I’m extremely proud of her, and I don’t see that there’s much danger in people thinking that I’m not doing it on my own. What we do is really different. I’m very proud of the association. We love each other and we’re very close, but our careers have absolutely nothing to do with one another.
Did cabaret find you or did you find it?
It kind of did find me. From the time I was a teenager, I was a big fan of [cabaret legend] Andrea Marcovicci, but I didn’t think that my own career would follow in those footsteps probably because I didn’t know what the hell kind of career I was going to have!
But you knew you wanted to sing?
Yeah, I was very scared, but I developed a friendship with Andrea and she heard me sing and said, “I really think you should try it, I have a feeling about you.” And she helped me do that. So that was my first real foray into feeling like a professional singer and putting together my first cabaret act.
Was Fiona just getting her footing around the same time as you were?
No, she beat me to it. She got there before I did. [Laughs.] She was always writing songs. The songs that she wrote she always wrote by herself. It was very private for her, but we’d sing together sometimes.
What speaks to you about Irving Berlin? Why did you choose his work to cover in a record, as well as in your live shows?
His work is deceptively simple. It’s certainly simply stated, and the language is simple—probably partly because the English that he learned, he learned mostly from the streets. Musically and melodically, he gets to the point, and I love that, because it’s so pure that way. I love the simplicity. Feelings are feelings whether they’ve been written about 80 years ago or today. Complexity always existed; it just depends on how you state it. And so as a performer you can dig through the layers and find complexity that’s applicable to what we understand today.
You carry this flapper-era style off effortlessly, but is this where you’d like to stay stylistically—in the standards?
I concentrate on that period, but obviously, I’m a young woman living in today, and I’m interested in a lot of different types of music. It just so happens that this is one thing that I’m good at, and I’ve chosen to focus mostly on it. Even though my voice sounds kind of retro when I sing the material, I don’t think that my presentation is vaudevillian, I think it’s pretty modern.
Do you consider yourself only a cabaret singer?
No, I’m just a singer. I don’t even know what “cabaret” means. For me, cabaret is really just reflective of the venue. But it’s not a type of singing, you can get anyone from Michael Feinstein to the mother of cabaret, Mabel Mercer, who by the end of her career was just kind of croaking out songs and it was more interpretive, so as it applies to singing, it can sound like anything. I would like to go beyond that. Where? I’m not exactly sure, but cabaret really is a special thing because you go into that little box, and it’s your job to allow people to get lost in whatever you offer them for that hour.
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