Maria Minerva: Interview
“When you break a song down into parts, it’s a monster.”
Maria Juur has been everywhere lately — not only geographically in the context of touring, but also experientially. Originally from Talinn, Estonia, Juur, better known to us as Maria Minerva, has spent most of her time in London completing her master’s thesis in Aural and Visual Culture at Goldsmith University. She also lives in New York City, likely making new music. But, more importantly, she spent a significant amount of time in the Praça dos Restauradores neighborhood of Lisbon, a place I have come to determine is the new Berlin. It was in that city (which she said reminds her of San Francisco) that she would record Will Happiness Find Me? (Not Not Fun) in a makeshift studio. In spite of these worldly travels, her new album represents something more internal than external, centering around her struggles with her place in the world, set to a sampling backdrop that moves around ferociously and challenges assumptions intelligently.
Prior to her show at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco, Maria sat down with TMT to talk about her troubles with traveling, being a symbol, weird humor, and the notion of a long set.
So you were saying you guys were having a bad day…
Yeah. It was bad the last 24 hours because last night, we drove into Eureka to find out that the show had been cancelled. We had been driving for the last eight hours, and the last four were in the dark, in the mountains — it was pretty scary because it was very curvy — and we made it into Eureka, and as it appeared, another act had bailed. So there was no show, and the audience had gone, and the promoter had gone to another party in a different town, and we didn’t have a place to stay. So we found some people from the bar next door that had come to see us, and we stayed at one of the guy’s mum’s house. It’s like, we met him and an hour later we were on his mum’s couch, and when I woke up the next morning, I thought, “I have no idea where I am, but I am so thankful to this guy right now!”
Today, we were on time. We loaded in, only to realize an hour later that, during the 30 seconds that we left the car unlocked, someone had broken into our car! They had stolen our friend’s computer that had all his music, and he was expected to play the latter half of Father Finger’s tour. All his music and his new album are gone. Of course, he doesn’t have a back-up. Kylie’s [of Father Finger] iPod was stolen, and someone had gone through my clothes bag, gone through all my pockets, and threw my dirty underwear onto the street. Upon seeing all this, I had a panic attack, because I keep my passport, my tour income, and other valuables where my clothes are, and they hadn’t found it yet. Thankfully, I have it now, but if that had been stolen, I would have been completely fucked. I also usually keep my computer with my clothes, but thankfully that was already indoors. So it was the luckiest day of my life, but also a very shitty day, especially for our friend. So I just feel completely annoyed. I hate touring.
Sadly, I’m not surprised. This part of the neighborhood varies, but it can get sketchy at night.
The club owner mentioned there’s a place where ex-cons live on the corner down there (pointing down the street). But yeah, with touring, you just have to take it a day at a time. Even though we had such a nice time in Seattle and Portland, it seems ages away. It’s tough.
Speaking of which, you have spoken about having lived in three different cities in the last year. Does that sense of impermanence ever get to you?
Sometimes. I miss my family. But I get really used to being on the go. I got rid of the majority of my stuff. I use an iPad a lot instead as a music, books, and film station. It’s ridiculous, but I’m an iPad obsessive because of my lifestyle. I think, as long as you know you have money in your bank account, you can wake up pretty much everywhere and feel fine. For the past year, I’ve had the feeling of knowing three months in advance how I am going to survive financially. So it’s been fine. But, when you meet people, it’s hard to explain to them where you come from, and they can’t really imagine all the miles you traveled to be here. I get this discrepancy between my mental and physical state all the time, because it feels so natural to be at all these cities, but at the same time I know it’s not natural living this way, and it has to end at some point. You’re just dragging your shit from one place to another, you pack it up, pack it in. Pack it up, pack it in… it just gets really boring managing all this stuff. Keeping your gear from being stolen, dealing with dirty underwear…
It’s like, we met him and an hour later we were on his mum’s couch, and when I woke up the next morning, I thought, “I have no idea where I am, but I am so thankful to this guy right now!”
Well, there’s a laundromat down the street over there…
[laughs] There’s always a laundromat down the street, but there’s never enough time.
In dealing with both the aspect of touring and taking on everything at once, how does that affect your creativity?
It’s bad. I’ve realized that, if your time is spent mainly on logistics, and getting from point A to B, it’s hard to get anything done, be it music or writing. So this summer, I tried to be in one place while in London, and do my shit. But the funny thing is, I was writing my thesis until the very last week before I left, so I didn’t even fucking have time to prepare for the two-month tour, which is how it ends up being: Of course I have prepared the stuff I’m playing, but there’s so much more that I wanted to do with it, and I just didn’t have enough time because I was packing up to go to Australia. I’m supposed to be this full-time musician, and all I end up doing is something else. And when I was supposed to study, I was making music. It was very chaotic.
You mentioned Australia there. One of our writers was at the Sydney show, and he pointed out the show length being around 30 minutes. Is that a typical show for you?
Yeah, 30-40 minutes. It is typical, because when I sing, I engage my whole body in it. It’s very tiring for me. So, my body sets the limits: I always start losing my voice towards the end. But also, I think it’s unnecessary to play longer because I just get really bored when I listen to bands who play for more than 45 minutes. It just overloads them, and it comes down to giving people their money’s worth. I agree with people who say you have to be like Bruce Springsteen or Prince and do it for as long as you can. But every musical revelation that I have had has been short and breathtaking. I listen to music one track at a time, or I just listen to 30 seconds of one artist.
So the idea of one artist of playing for an hour, I have to say I get bored. I prefer club nights and DJ nights, where the atmosphere changes every four or five minutes. When someone is performing their art however, I feel like I need to give my full attention, and to give that for more than an hour… I don’t think humans are even capable of that. Even the great operas of the 19th century, people went to the opera because they had to be at the opera to see and be seen, or to look at their lovers from a faraway row. The concentration is always more than just the music being performed. And that’s why I think it’s better to come and do something with a big bang, and fuck up, and let people have their own thoughts and impressions. I’m all about the short sets. I’ve experienced a few sets with people I’ve played with or supported me, and I always think it’s kind of unnecessary, the length. I think it’s part of the hectic culture that we have anyway. John Maus, he plays 25 minute sets, my friends Hype Williams play 20 minute sets.
Speaking of John Maus… I have to ask this but, a while back you posted a photo with him and you and the title “ARYAN RACE REPRESENT!” What was that about?
[laughter] That was just my joke. I have a pretty strange humor sometimes. I just thought that, we were both wearing navy and looked so healthy and nice, and the girl’s younger than the guy. It was like, “Aryan race represent!,” and we should have babies. But of course, we’re not gonna have babies. So it’s an Instagram joke.
It’s such a left-field thing to say…
Yeah, I know. And that’s the thing. I know a lot of humor gets lost in the wires, but I don’t even care. If you can’t say anything, then it gets boring. I’d rather go over the top with it than anything. Anyone who knows my music and knows me a bit can tell that it’s a joke. I seriously don’t have anything to do with views like that.
I don’t think I would listen to my music if I weren’t making it. If that makes sense.
Reading over some of the interviews, forgive me if I’m paraphrasing this, but in discussing the development of Will Happiness Find Me? and even Tallin At Dawn, you mention that people seem to restrict themselves too much…
I didn’t mean it like that. It was more, I was restricting myself. Like, people can be people. It has more to do with my background, which is, I have an adoring family. They’re quite liberal, they’re never anal about anything. It’s more myself, I suppose. I went to a prep school, I was a really good student. I was really anal about grades and achieving goals and just getting everything right all the time. It was easy to do it because the environment was so safe and familiar to me. The minute I entered an unknown territory of recording and playing music… When you’re making yourself vulnerable to people instead of being this 16-year-old know-it-all, it’s when your life changes and you start growing up. You leave your home country, and you go to all these places and you see that you’re not important, in a way. And that’s when you do become free. I feel so much better than I did four years ago, when I was living at home. I was really nervous then; now, shit doesn’t really get to me that much anymore. But I get upset still, like when people steal my friend’s shit and so on. But that’s a different story, and on a general level, there’s not much I can do about it. You learn how to chill out and cope with the unknown all the time.
In that vein, listening to the album for the past couple days, one thing that stood out in my mind was the cohesiveness of it. Albums tend to be little vignettes put onto a disc. But I feel with yours, there’s more a whole body to it that’s cohesive. Even though it’s not linear, it’s still like it’s one singular structure than separate songs. Was that the intent?
No. It’s a weird one, because some of the stems from these tracks were from an earlier time, yet at the same time they were all finished within the same two-and-a-half, three months in Lisbon. So it was the same space and the same state of mind, and the same time span. It was sort of like, I would go to my studio, do something in the morning, then have a lunch break and do maybe another track in the evening. My main thing is just the way I used my vocals: It always tied everything together, even when I went across genres. I would stamp all of the tracks with my voice, and it was the only thing that saved me throughout all my mixes, heh.
Do you fear becoming a symbol to your field?
Maybe. No, I think I always wanted that. It sounds so stupid, but it’s what I told my parents the other day when I spoke to them about it. I had this idea in my mind that, when I got into cool stuff back in the day, when I was a teenager, I thought, “I’d like to be like one of those idols.” When you think of Cossi Fanni Tutti, she’s a symbol of a whole era and a genre through Throbbing Gristle, being sexy, dark, whatever they do. It would rule to be in the same category of female underground icons like her or Lydia Lunch, or even Nite Jewel. I love them all. For me, they’re my icons, even though I meet these people and it’s kind of funny. I would like to be that charismatic, cool type of woman, like Chrissie Hynde, and be remembered like that, even if it’s for a minor, minor scene of like 5,000 people.
Above that, I’m a normal person, because the older you get, the more you realize that you can go through genres, but eventually you grow out of them. It doesn’t mean you can’t have this thing going on in your music. But I think the minute I got into music, I got my need for attention satisfied, so I could be a better person in my daily life. It’s calmed down. So yeah, I hope someone remembers the whole hypno-going shit 10 years from now.
Well, the reason I ask this is because, I recall you posting on your Facebook (and later deleting) a statement in response to Lyndsey Zolandz’s review on Pitchfork. It was something like, “Oh, so Pitchfork wants me to sell out, I don’t want to be another Grimes… “
No, I like Grimes. But I just didn’t get the premise of this review. I don’t want to fill and not fill anyone’s expectations in that sense. I tend to like the stuff they give shitty grades to… they’re not into experimental music: They just want things that are easy to digest, and be cool background indie music. So I have a problem with their mentality in general. But at the same time, I don’t really read Pitchfork, I don’t listen to the bands they promote. I have no connection to them. We had to get this review, which was assuming we need to be one of the bunch, and I didn’t really try hard enough, haha.
I was pissed for one evening, but honestly, I didn’t get what the expectation was, because the girl had reviewed my EP, which I really dislike, and she liked it. So I was a bit confused. I thought, “If you know what to do with my music, then maybe you should do it,” hah.
But yeah, I found it really funny. I don’t have a problem with Grimes, but I think they want people to… I prefer the slow and intricate, or the slow build-up, and maybe the slow fade-out, because I want to be able to feel that I don’t have anything to lose. The people that like my music will find it themselves, and I’m not for them to buy and sell. I want things to be deeper than one new band one day, another the next, even if it means less people will be into it. I mean, I posted this, then I looked at it and thought, “This is ridiculous, why do I even care?” and deleted it.
I get this discrepancy between my mental and physical state all the time, because it feels so natural to be at all these cities, but at the same time I know it’s not natural living this way, and it has to end at some point.
What’s weird, too, is that the comparison between you and Grimes seems so weird… you’re not similar.
Yeah, we’re not similar at all. Everything I’ve heard about Grimes is so cool, as opposed to really funny. So I don’t have a problem with her at all. And there’s other people in that respect like Laurel Halo, of whom we know each other, and she’s cool and talented. As people and as musicians, we have different tempers and things we’re trying to do. Like Grimes, she’s making music that is very accessible, Laurel is a proper trained musician. I’m neither of these, which maybe gives me freedom to do whatever. Like, I’m thinking of signing up for the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York and just doing comedy. I don’t give a shit. I’m thinking about all kinds of things that I want to do. Music is like, if you attain a high level of popularity, you also wish to maintain that level of income that comes with it. Once the bubble bursts, you’re left to burn. I don’t want this to happen to me. I’d rather be less known and just have the exit nearest to me open, because I’m very paranoid about being in music. They’re always looking out for the next big thing, and I don’t want to be a part of this game.
But I would like to continue releasing music, maybe travel a bit less. So that’s my plan for now. But I’m interested in so many things that I feel like the minute I lose interest in just being around, out and about, late at night, this is the moment that I’m just going to do something else.
Going back to preferring the slow methods, I think that comes through in some aspects of your music in that when there is something arguably danceable, you try to limit it as much as possible, in a way. Like with “I Don’t Wanna Be Discovered… “
That is such a weird song. It’s a loop-on-loop-on-loop. The bass and beat I just took from a house track — I don’t even remember which one it was — and pitched it down. Then I added an Irish folk song, messed around with the violins, doing a puzzle thing by misplacing them, and then I played some keys and then I sang over it — it’s such a freaking weird song — and then I added some claps to it. I think the song is retarded, but people seem to like it, so that’s cool. And that’s the thing: When you break it down to parts, it’s a monster. But once again, my voice makes it coherent. So that’s my thing.
I guess what I was trying to get at was, with this emphasis on slow music, is there still something to be said about cultivating something danceable in a track that is not necessarily a dance track?
Well, I’ve released EPs of this stuff. My plan for when I go back to New York soon, I’m going to try to find a place to stay, and then I want to start recording ASAP. I need to make new music. I feel like it’s time. It’s good to have this feeling. The first thing I want to do is an EP, I want to do dance-y stuff, and I want it to be more legit than the stuff I’ve done. I’ve always cared about dance music so much, so I don’t know why I’m holding myself back from actually making it, especially since I have the tools to make it. I don’t think I would listen to my music if I weren’t making it. If that makes sense.