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“Like today I was feeding the receipt machine out and trying to scribble down some lyrics that popped into my head…”
There’s this cliché about musicians, working in coffee shops, scrawling down lyrics and ideas any chance they get at their nine-to-fives, and the rest of the time circling some kind of music ‘scene’, before bam – discovery, stardom, Grammys.
It sounds glamorous, these poetic and hip artists constantly creating, minds buzzing, melody making during every free minute. Maija Sofia’s creativity, talent, and poetic voice is certainly undeniable, but the singer isn’t afraid to draw attention to the more practical and difficult elements of such a romanticised impression. House-hunting, working to pay the bills, sometimes just not finding time for creativity, they have to do it too.
Maija is no stranger to the London music circuit, playing open mics, gigs and festivals, but there doesn’t seem to be any discernable ‘scene’ in London, rather those groups who play open mics week after week, or the lucky few who play venues equivalent to The Olympia.
Does this ‘scene’ that seems to be missing in London exist here in Dublin? “Definitely, which is good,” she begins. “But it can be a little bit suffocating. I’ve played The Workman’s Club so many times now, and I guess there’s something a bit degrading about playing the same venue to the same crowd as you were two years ago. It’s like, ‘now where do I go?’. You’re just kind of floating.”
HeadStuff: So with your music, what’s the priority at the moment?
Maija Sofia: Well, my whole brain is being taken up by trying to find a house, so I haven’t really been thinking about music but, besides that I’m trying to do gigs. Right now I’m just focusing on writing more songs and hoping to do some more recording while forming the bones of an album.
I imagine it’s hard to find time with everything that’s going on personally right now…
This summer has been a bit hectic in general because I finally moved back to Dublin from London and have sort of been going from one place to another. I’m finding it hard to just sort of sit down and focus on writing.
I was going to ask what a typical week is like, but I suppose right now there’s no such thing…
Yeah, I guess. I’m working in Tower Records now. For the last three years I’ve been working in coffee shops and restaurants so it’s nice to not be doing that anymore. I just try to cram some lyric in wherever I go. I can’t really predict when, and I know everyone says this, but I can’t really predict when I’m going to be able to write something. I get a flicker of an idea, or a thought, or a melody and it’s almost like a race to get it out before it moves on. As soon as the stirring of the idea begins I get it down, otherwise I forget about it and can’t really revisit it.
You directed the video for ‘Stains’, so are these ideas visual as well as musical?
I neglected the visual side of things for a long time really because I was sort of just focusing on music. But I think the visuals are almost as important to me. When I write a song I have very clear images in my head and those visuals are very important to me.
So did visual art come first for you growing up, or was it always music?
First it was books and writing. I always wanted to be a writer and was always writing from when I was really young; bad poems and stories and things like that. I always secretly wanted to sing but I thought that I couldn’t. I don’t know what changed.
Was it open mics first, or did you start recording music yourself?
I never really got any pocket money as a teenager and I saw people busking in Galway. There’s so many buskers there, and I thought ‘I can do that!’, and I just started. Which is weird, I would never be able to busk now, the idea of standing on the side of the street and singing while people walk past is horrible! But for some reason when I was 15 I was able to do it, it’s like you become part of the furniture on the street and people don’t really notice you as a person, but as something that’s just there.
I think you have a different kind of confidence at 15 also.
Yeah, exactly. I did that for a few years, and that’s how I strengthened my voice, and realised that people would stop in the street and say ‘you can sing’ and I was just… ‘can I?!’. I think that’s how I learned how to sing and how to project and everything.
And I guess to perform as well, how to behave in front of an audience?
Yeah, that gave me an idea of how I would perform. Like in performance it’s really important, to have, not an alter ego but a persona to slip into. I hate the word ‘brand’, but you know, something that is you, but you can remove yourself from it in your everyday life too. An exaggerated self.
The video for ‘Stains’ is rather celtic and almost witchy. Is that aesthetic especially interesting to you?
From a young age I’ve been interested in the occult and paganism. Not in a ‘oh I want to be a witch’ kind of way, but it’s always intrigued me aesthetically. I’ve always been fascinated by naturalism and magic.
You’re a Stevie Nicks fan, then?
Yeah! I had a phase of calling myself a Wiccan and then after researching it properly I thought actually I don’t really want to label myself as Wiccan!
I had the same thing, I thought it was very cool and obscure. I wanted to ask also, how you feel about the term ‘Kate Bush on acid’ to describe you?
I can’t remember who it was who first said that, I think it’s kind of a lazy description. I mean I love Kate Bush but… I can’t remember who wrote it, but he obviously just came to a gig and saw a slightly odd looking girl with really dark hair and just put her in the Kate Bush bracket. Everybody from PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Bjork, they all get ‘Oh! It’s the new Kate Bush!’ and I just think it’s kind of lazy music reviewing.
That’s why I wanted to ask you, I’ve always had a problem with the ‘____ ON ACID!!’ thing. What does that mean? And I don’t think this happens with men?
No, it absolutely doesn’t, and it’s something that’s bothered me for years. I don’t even bother having conversations with people about it anymore because men just don’t get that. It’s like ‘You sound just like this woman’, and I don’t tell them that they sound like the next David Bowie or whoever.
How was it playing in London?
That’s where I sort of knew that I couldn’t do anything else. London is really amazing in some ways but it’s also really awful in others. There are several open mics every night of the week. There’s this really industrious man called Richard Gregory who goes to open mics every single night and reviews them. He tells you, ‘You get a free drink at this one, or there’s industry people at this one’. He’s a really great guy, you’d often bump into him at open mics. So I kind of stalked his website for a while and tried to go to one or two a week while I was there.
I just met so many people, even if I wasn’t playing. There is a group of like, Ed Sheeran-ites, with mini acoustic guitars and loop pedals… eventually I had to stop going because I couldn’t stomach it any more! But that kind of constant playing gave me confidence in performing, I know I can get on stage and perform without freaking out now. It’s practicing another skill, performing is like learning an instrument in a way.
How do you feel about Twitter, and the role that plays in the Dublin music scene. There really seems to be a ‘Dublin Twitter’ for music.
Twitter is definitely a much better medium for promoting music than say Facebook, but yeah there definitely is that element of suffocation, and Twitter cliques. But it is a good way to get music out. Whatever I put on Twitter gets shared widely, more widely than on Facebook.
What’s your album of the year so far?
I think it has to be Blackstar.
It was so hard to listen to it at the time as a stand alone thing, but it’s incredible.
Yeah I think now that the dust is starting to settle on that, people are starting to appreciate it as… it’s a fucking masterpiece. The drums and the brass, it’s so good! I was looking at the sleeve the other day, with the holographic constellation, I do really want to get it, when I have a house to put it in.