Rising Above – The indefatigable MB Padfield

What does it take to be a musician? That’s an oft-heard question, but equally important is another: Is there anything that  could cause a performer to give up and walk away? For MB Padfield, the answer is an emphatic no. 

Adversity simply made Padfield’s psychic fingertips more calloused and ready for the fretboard of life. She was playing full-time in her teens, becoming a habitué of bars she couldn’t drink in, and battling alcoholism anyway. A year and a half ago, she put her belongings in a U-Haul and moved to Los Angeles, only to have her life’s work stolen when she arrived. 

It’s all she ever wanted – a life in music.

The experiences merely made Padfield double down on the only plan she was certain life had for her. Now over five years sober, she’s juggling a career that includes playing gigs and recording her own music while jingle writing and performing behind the scenes of countless endeavors that quietly pay the bills.

It’s all she ever wanted – a life in music.

Recently, Padfield posted a short manifesto on her Facebook page, writing of struggle and triumph – the Berklee professor who tried shaming her into another career, and the sweet taste of financial independence she left in his wake. “I’ve played 1000+ shows. Yes, really. You’ve probably heard my writing/voice/work and have had no idea,” she said, ending joyfully, “we’re just getting started – don’t sleep.”

Bravado aside, losing all her songwriting to a thief was a hard blow, Padfield recalled in a recent phone interview. “I was pretty depressed,” she said. “When you have stacks of notebooks, you’ll remember some stuff, but you’re never going to write that same song twice – and why would you ?  You’ve already created it.”

She bounced back by plunging into unknown territory. With the help of musician friend Joe Sambo, she got work singing on commercials. “I started getting more involved with them, then I was in their audio department, writing jingles, learning how to craft the choruses,” she said, adding, “the world of advertising is very similar to writing pop music.”

Her credits include two spots for Subaru, commercials in Japan, and most recently a Mickey Mouse 90thBirthday ad for Disney that’s also running in Japan. “I’m tapping into a lot of different music income streams,” Padfield said. “It all pieces together to let me do what I do.”

That “do” is making her own music, which is a challenge amidst relentless gigging. “What some people don’t necessarily understand is how creatively demanding writing is,” she said. “I can’t play six nights a week AND write… that’s how we get a lot of really sad songs about being on the road.”

One solution is coming back home to New England for a marathon of performing every summer. From the start of June until mid-September, Padfield has no fewer than 83 appearances booked, including nearly two dozen at Bernie’s Beach Bar in Hampton (if any club owners are reading, she’d love a Wednesday residency – hit her up on mbpadfield.com).

“It’s very hard, and obviously I’m a one woman operation,” she explained. “I don’t necessarily have a couple band mates that I can delegate tasks to either, which has its pros and cons. But it’s very difficult for me to be creative to the level that I want… of course, I could write whatever, but I want to write stuff that I am passionate about.”

Playing mostly cover songs on the beach, Padfield uses a loop pedal and changes up her set list frequently to keep things interesting. She plays requests, and loves to be thanked with largesse. “The tip jar pays my groceries, helps get my songs mixed,” she said. “I really want to take things to the next level, and I’m completely unable to do that without people.”

This story appears in the June 20, 2019 issue of Seacoast Scene