Interview: Maria Minerva

She’s travelled across many, but there are no borders in Maria Minerva’s music. Dub basslines cruise alongside rave stabs, YouTube rips, 2-step kicks and waves of noise. Even her vocals fluctuate track to track, slipping from spoken word into torch songs. Despite the dissonant sounds, nothing is out of place. There could easily be a “look what I did here” quality to her work, but she sublimates each piece of the puzzle perfectly, get’s them to play nice. As much as her tenure in different cities, on different continents, must contribute to her patchwork sound, she’s often spoken about the internet’s role in both her inspiration and her career. That’s how she met Britt and Amanda Brown, the duo behind Not Not Fun & 100% Silk, who have released most of her music to date. She’s one of the few artists with records on both. Her tunes skirt the line between the woozy experiments of the former and the mutant club sounds of the latter. Before meeting face to face she even collaborated with Amanda Brown (as LA Vampires) on Integration, an album that sounds in the best way possible, like a Black Tambourine bootleg and a Bizarre Inc. cassette fused together in the back seat of a station wagon on a hot summer day. Shortly after the release of Histrionic, her latest album, we chatted briefly about her hometown, Naomi Wolf, Brooklyn winters, Trina and the 2080s.

Stream: LA Vampires & Maria Minerva – A Lover and a Friend (Not Not Fun)

You’re from Estonia right? What’s the artist community like? Did did you start producing there? “Yes, I am from the Estonian capital Tallinn. Well, the artist community is small, because the country is small, only 1.3 million people in the entire country, 400 thousand in Tallinn. So everyone knows everyone. I started making music in Tallinn during my last year of college but then I soon moved to London. All my friends in Estonia are really smart and well educated, the type of general knowledge of the world that I don’t often encounter in young people here in the states, where the peeps (I know) only care about pop culture OR are self-absorbed academics/intellectuals.) The Estonian scene is cool, because people have great senses of humour, they are political and sharp, self-effacing and critical. And so is their art, I guess. But my perspective is maybe a bit distorted, because I went to art school, and hung out with visual artists and curators and etc. I was never really involved in the music scene. There is definitely more happening there right now compared to when I left and I am proud to be an Estonian, I have no doubts about my identity at this point, though I sound more and more American every day when I speak. It is nice to have best of both worlds and be a part of both cultures.”

You’re based in Brooklyn now right? What do you like most about it? Any plans to settle down or has another town caught your eye? “I am moving to LA mid June. Brooklyn is cool but it is getting a bit too expensive; been here for a bit less than two years so I think I get the idea by now. Usually when people say that a city is “cool”, they mean the coffee shops, parties and vintage stores – I have been to so many cities that I’ve come to realise that the coffee shops, parties and shops are all the same everywhere. And I don’t care about any of these things that much these days, so I just wanna live in California where it’s warmer, cheaper and more chill. I really really hate the winters, I shut down completely and it is not a good time for me emotionally and socially – the east coast winters are brutal, NYC this year was all about the endless “polar vortex.” I didn’t leave the house for like 6 months. They say the music scene in LA isn’t that great there but to be honest I don’t really care, my label is there, I know a bunch of music people in LA and I just want to go hiking and cruise around, eat avocados and build this little life, I have been participating in the night life since I was 13 so it is not my priority, nor do I wanna be a fixture in a scene and always have to show my face everywhere. LA is better for being alone and since it is so big and spread out it, in the end, also makes one wanna be more social. I need that, in NYC I often just wanna hide, because here you’re always elbowing with strangers. The initiative to head to Cali came from my boyfriend and I have always been very selfish, done things my way, so this time I thought I will give life and love a try.”

Many of your records have a narrative or theme running through them. Do you approach each release with a concept, or is it something that happens naturally? “Naturally I guess. But I always only deal with the same themes which are alienation, loneliness, not being satisfied. Because that is how I feel most of the time (in a “good” way), so when I am making my music, for a moment I feel safe in that realm of art/music.”

Stream: Maria Minerva – The Beginning (Not Not Fun)

Do your lyrics contain any autobiographical detail? There’s an honesty to them, they feel very direct. How much do you separate your everyday experiences from your musical identity? “They do and they don’t. Autobiographical details – definitely. Just details. I like to write generic lyrics in a way, because the weird thing is that this IS what people relate to, no one relates to your absolute psycho-manic ramblings. Generic is good! But there are some more personal songs for sure, off the new album Histrionic I’d maybe bring out the track called “Treasures”, it is about this sex-based affair I had with a dude; kinda nice as it was happening but looking back I realised I was never once sexually satisfied with/by him and it struck me, because I was like – what WAS the point of all this in that case, if I wasn’t even satisfied, and most of the time we weren’t really getting along that well. So this theme of torturing yourself or weird submission to another person, emotionally and sexually. I feel the theme of female sexuality in music is not often present, there are female rappers who are “ballsy” enough to make a complaint about a guy being inefficient, like Lil Kim or Trina or whatever, but in the realm where I operate it is not very common. So when I listen to these female rappers for example I feel really super empowered and moved, and I guess every woman, be black or white, does too, because the not-being-satisfied is actually VERY predominant in the life of a woman (like 95% of the time) as opposed to a guy basically always getting what he wants. And I was tired of that, so the best thing I could do was to make a song. “Spirit of the Underground” is essentially about the same thing, of not being satisfied – with a social scene. I guess when I made that song I was in a bad mood! It samples “Don’t Stop the Music”, the funk classic by SOS Band, so it is supposed to be kind of an opposition between not wanting to stop the music and really wanting to make it stop. And feeling bored. But also I guess it is a typical case of having a first world problem, cause seriously there are bigger issues in the world than being bored with some big city underground scene (laughs). Get a life, Maria!”

Your past work has referenced philosophers Avital Ronell and Helene Cixous, are there any nods to thinkers in Histrionic that we should look out for? “As said, feminism means everything to me. On every level. Returning to the previous answer, then actually last year as I was making the album I was really influenced by this book “Vagina” by Naomi Wolf, I think it came out in 2012. Basically she talks about the same thing, women always being left sexually – and therefore also emotionally – unsatisfied throughout history; the difference between vaginal and clitorial orgasms and the taboos surrounding the latter (and the former, too). Almost like she wrote down the real history of female sexuality. That book is a must read, also for guys – who I guess generally have no idea of what goes on inside a woman. Cause it really IS complicated. She talks about everything, from emotions to some spinal nerves. It is not a philosophy book per se, but Wolf is a feminist thinker and amazing at what she does. She once did a talk at the same event where I performed so I almost met her. Another track,”Wolves and Lambs” is based a text I borrowed from Lautréamont, once again resonated with me cause it’s about self-sabotage, longing for love and understanding but then forbidding that to yourself, not allowing yourself to become a better/happier person.”

The album art on Histrionic is super entrancing, much like your music, just when you think you’ve nailed it there’s another layer. Mind if we ask how the design came together? “The album art was made by Antonio Trecel Diaz and Alexander Fleming, the photo is by Dan Allegretto and the legs belong to the NYC sound/noise artist Cammisa Buerhaus. These are all my friends. I guess we were on the same page with Antonio and Alex from the start, I wanted to use a physical detail; almost like a fetish object, and make it glam, make it roxy music, so we did just that! Really happy with how it turned out, it’s kinda 80s, but more like 2080s.”

Your music has such a broad palate yet remains unique, what’s your approach to folding other genres into your sound? “There is no approach, I’m just wandering in the dark actually, trying things out. I guess I constantly wanna pay homage while remaining unique, also I am a really bad producer and singer so I guess this is where the Minerva sound emerges from!”

Stream: Maria Minerva – Galaxy (Not Not Fun)

And finally, The video for Galaxy nails that early morning commuter haze. What do you listen to while traveling from place to place? “Well, sometimes I find an album or make a playlist and then listen to that like 2 weeks in a row, everyday on repeat. Like a kid. My favourite thing to do is actually walking while listening to WNYC/NPR, it really sucks that you can’t listen to the radio in the subway, so sometimes I just walk like 45 minutes somewhere in Brooklyn instead of taking the train so I could listen to the familiar NPR voices and think my thoughts, it has become a form of relaxation at this point. Old soul vibes!”

Histrionic is out now on Not Not Fun

Stephanie Neptune

Spends a lot of time in loud and/or dark rooms. Surfing Twitter as @spacejamzzzz.