'The only muscle you need is your heart'

FLINT, Michigan—The cold seeps in through the crack in the door at Soul Foundry. The second floor studio looks out on the snowy familiar landmarks of downtown Flint. Sitting with a comfortable lean on swivel chair in the corner, musician Todd Gilbert gives a quick smile and a nod.
Gilbert is busy these days, as father and producer in his own right, he recently completed his first solo album at Soul Foundry titled “36.” 
“The music is about where I am now, who I am, what I’ve been through and what I’m doing. It’s really just me,” he says with a laugh. 
Born with muscular dystrophy, Gilbert says he was heavily influenced by artists like Billy Joel, U2, Prince, Led Zeppelin, and David Bowie. Gilbert began playing everything from the drums to piano when he was 15. “I couldn’t do things like sports, and all the other crazy athletic stuff that a lot of other people do in school, so the arts were really my outlet,” he says. “I turned to music especially, because you know with music you don’t have to have big muscles or be ‘crazy athletic.’ The only muscle you really need is your heart.”
After high school Gilbert knew. “I wanted to be a songwriter. I think anyone that gets into music wants to be able to create and contribute yourself,” he says. But he didn’t know how. Gilbert joined a few cover bands and played bars. Over time, Gilbert made different attempts at making music, but he couldn’t seem to find his own sound. 
So, he continued to play the cover band bar circuit for 16 years, until he turned 34 and says he “just got burned out on it. It felt like it was a placeholder, like I was just biding time until I came up with something cool to do.” 
Taking time off to spend time with his kids, Gilbert sold his drum kits and quit playing completely. 
During that time away from the grind of lugging equipment around town, Gilbert indulged in another passion. With an explosive laugh, Gilbert explains, “Yeah, in a weird turn I got into professional wrestling,” he says. “It was something I was a fan of as a kid. I think all kids are fans of it. I think some people just grow out of it.” Yet, it was that fun and entertaining atmosphere that triggered a different place of inspiration. 
“Wrestling helped me flex a different creative muscle then the one I used for music,” he says. Then Gilbert’s boss found out he could compose and produce his own theme music—and Gilbert began creating different entrance tunes for other wrestlers. 
“I was having so much fun doing that, that other ideas started coming to me that didn’t have anything to do with wrestling,” he says. As Gilbert kept producing, he kept adding to his side project of writing music for the fun of it. “I think it was just the fact that I had been away for so long and submersed myself back in it without any deadlines, pressure, or any expectations. It allowed me to let the inspiration flow out instead of trying to make it go somewhere.”
Over time Gilbert says he had enough material stacking up to start putting an album together. The time came, he says, to return to his craft. “I realized I had something to say, and I decided I’m not getting any younger. If I want to make a serious go at it, it’s now or never—and that’s what this project is about.” 
In terms of how his music relates to his muscular dystrophy, Gilbert doesn’t shy away from letting others know how he feels. “It’s not something you can really hide,” he says. “But I hope they see that here is someone that has these things but isn’t letting that rule their life. I have all this other stuff to say and feel, like anyone else. … Yeah, there are roadblocks—like climbing a flight of steps to get into the studio can be a little extra fun,” he laughs again. “But with the wrestling and especially with the music, at the end of the day it’s worth it because others see the real joy I get out of it.”  
You can find out more about Gilbert’s music here: facebook.com/ToddGilbertMusic/. If you would like to see him dominate in the wrestling ring, you can find him here facebook.com/TheSimonPaige/.

Read more articles by Jake Carah.

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