Ethan got a chance to talk to Maria Maita-Keppeler aka MAITA who is a singer-songwriter living in Portland. She’s the kind of songwriter who takes you on magnificent, moody, melodic journeys with her lyrics and her music. She is a recent signee to the Kill Rock Stars label and her label debut record Best Wishes dropped in April of 2020.
This interview has been shortened for the sake of clarity and brevity.
When did you get a deep interest in songwriting as a practice?
I’ve always been a creative person–as a kid I was constantly drawing and painting and writing stories, always drawn to expression of some kind. When I started discovering my deep love for music as a form of connection, it was purely as a listener. I am fairly introverted, was even more so then, and was astounded by the world of emotion and passion that could exist within the realm of one song. Music gave voice to the feelings that I never had the courage to articulate myself. It was a kind of private empowerment.
Tell us about what it was like to grow up in your family of origin? What skills did you learn as a kid that you’ve been able to use as an artist?
I grew up traveling between my mom apartment in Eugene, OR, and my dad’s house in the next-door town of Springfield. My mother, who is Japanese, cultivated a household where we spoke only Japanese, listened to Japanese pop music, watched Japanese soaps, took off our shoes, ate, and slept on the floor.
I was never fully settled, always living out of a laundry basket, always adapting to my new surroundings, and able to keep myself entertained.
What would an ideal work day look like for you in Portland?
An ideal work day in Portland is a tricky thing to answer, because as a musician my ideal work day is on tour elsewhere. Before the pandemic, the tour van was our office, as was the venue, as was the highway, as was the stage. It has been a challenge adjusting to being in one place and defining what work means while remaining in my home base. As a musician, every day is different as we have to wear so many hats. I might spend six hours in the recording studio mixing or recording, and that would be an ideal day. Or I might wake up, practice guitar, and then spend hours crafting a song out of writing fragments collected over prior months, and that would also be an ideal day.
How do you stay in flow while creating?
I jump around through different things when I’m creating. Once I start to get stuck, that’s when I feel the impulse to quit for the day and do something a little more mindless. I jump between practicing guitar, which can be very technical but unemotional, to writing riffs, which is creative but not as much pressure. Sometimes I allow myself to just improvise, which can help get the cobwebs off of my thoughts, and sometimes I pour over old notes to try to find fragments of a song I want to flesh out. Sometimes I just free write and see if anything comes out. I try to exercise all of these parts of the creative process.
What is the place of the songwriter in this new, modern, and technologically oriented world of short attention spans, clickbait, and streaming services?
I believe there will always be a place for the organic and the handmade, and think of social media as more of a tool to get these ideas in front of people rather than a replacement for them. People have always had distractions; I remember sitting in front of the TV when my family first got cable and switching the channels every five seconds, and I remember the flashy, stimulating video games we played with the neighbor kids as children. I think the risk with social media, which is more intertwined with our personal lives than TV and video games, is that we forget how to interact with our world outside of its lens. I have also, however, found myself getting very inspired by the creative ventures of my peers as they post about their paintings, their new songs, etc. It can go both ways, but I know that it isn’t going away, so I try to adapt to it and take what I can from it. For example, I had an amazing time sharing these prints as I created them, taking the time to reflect upon each one and give each piece space. I was completely surprised by the response, by the number of people, some of whom were very very far away, who saw these cards. It would have been impossible for me to reach an audience like that without social media.
If you could imagine something that the songwriting world, the modern songwriter, really needs, what would it be?
How have you found collaborating to be during this lockdown? Has it been easy for you, hard, manageable? What tools have you been using to collaborate with others?
I have always found it difficult to collaborate–I’m very private when it comes to my creativity. One fun thing I have been doing during the pandemic however is virtual writing sprints with fellow songwriters. We each come up with ten ideas, whether they are half written lines, words we like, songwriting prompts that stuck with us, and put them into virtual hat (I forget which program we used, it’s free and online). Then in a zoom call, we do 6 minute writing sprints where we each draw a prompt from the hat and do really quick songwriting bursts. We check back in every 6 minutes to draw another prompt. At the end of the session we debrief about ideas that came out or share interesting lines we wrote, or just our experience of the exercise. It has been really helpful to get out of a writer’s block slump, this group creativity without pressure.
What legacy do you hope to leave from your music? Do you think of your music career that way?
I don’t really think about my legacy that much when it comes to music. I prefer to live more in the moment. I think at its best music can be a form of therapy, whether it is a somber, quiet mirror to your own sadness, or an elated, vibrant way to get you to move your body in a way that makes you feel good. I rely on music as a companion to my own thoughts and feelings, a way to feel supported in whatever state I am in, and I only hope that that is what others might be able to gain from my music.
You can keep up with Maita’s personal work, on these platforms:
You can purchase her prints and her EP here
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