An interview with MAYaallyoueverwanted is an anthology of releases from MAYa, the solo project of Maya Hardinge. We first became aware of MAYa with Kına, a collaboration with the Turkey based techno artist Tolga Baklacioglu. Maybe we should have been paying more attention as she had already been one half of Angel Delight, a one-off project with Jim Thirlwell aka Foetus who together recorded the seasonal song 'Candy Cane'. Prior to that Maya was part of Backworld, the acclaimed dark folk project of Joseph Budenholzer with whom she worked with on the Good Infection album. And yet it wasn't until researching for Kina that we delved into her musical and visual output released under the name MAYa and became intrigued by this striking Englishwoman living in New York.
Maya Hardinge is a true individual and it is testament to her creative flair that before her work with Backworld there was literally no recordings. No releases at all. This is the DIY effect made manifest but there's nothing lo-fi here. An experimental artist with an off-centre pop sensibility these recordings released under the name MAYa span 5 years beginning in 2008 when she released the first of 4 EPs, two on vinyl and two as videos. The approach varies but the results remains spectral, intimate and introspective, probing inwardly revealing insights into her thoughts and psyche. She is a restless creative, and aside from her day job (which I believe is) as a stylist on films, she has hosted a radio show dedicated to female fronted music, composes and records music immersing herself in the creative and visual aspects of the accompanying videos made in collaboration with her friends. Her latest project the feature documentary Penny is a moving and intimate portrait of a woman whose life changes and unravels during the bohemian hippy years and of another whose life would be fulfilled with creative adventures. Compiled from interviews with Penny and completed with archive photos, dreamy montage sequences and soundtracked by MAYa and (film editor) David Zuckerman, Penny is a riveting, frank and compassionate film.
Those EPs have been compiled by the collectible label Woodford Halse for this anthology who have dispensed with chronology for a running order which simply spells out her name: MAYa.
M the title of the third EP, originally released in 2012, opens the album with atmospheric electronics laced with cello and strings and the distinctly cool and understated voice of MAYa; it is a voice which appears gentle, sometimes half sung, othertimes uttered or rises up into elegiac and ethereal realms. At all times it carries with it a sense of quiet intimacy. The sparse strum and chime of 'The Takers', entwine MAYa's disparate vocal layers couched in orchestral strings, while the languid atmospherics of 'Embrace Comfort' capture wailing voices bathed in cello and forlorn, weeping strings. Guitar twang accentuates the tension of the haunting 'Four Unit Family', its hushed tones hinting at some sort of familial trauma, as electronics pulse and MAYa sings "breathe in, breathe out" as a means of attaining calm. That theme of familial trauma is continued on 'allyoueverwanted', where voices hushed and spoken waft over slippery electronic chime. J.G. Thirlwell aka Foetus is responsible for the strings on 'The Takers'.
A was the second EP featuring songs recorded with Joseph Budenholzer of Backworld. With an emphasis on harmonium drone, both 'Helium' and 'Life Long Tenant' offer easy comparison with Nico. MAYa's voice although registers apart can, like Nico, be delivered at times in monotone. Nico though remains an obvious touchstone and especially on those earlier vinyl EPs recorded with Joseph Budenolzer. 'Life Long Tenant' inhabits a haunted space, its brittle vocal layers unwinding over floating organ chime as piano keys and cello play sadly. "Let it in, let it out" she utters. A delicate piano score surrounds MAYa on 'Red and White', ruminating on a past relationship, as it slides into parping electronics enlightened by a passage of lullabyesque singsong, recalling the folk melodies of some of Backworld's friends, before it slips into darker experimental realms. Placing fragile and breathy vocals amidst icy electronics and disembodied piano 'Diamond Belt' seems just as abstract but that's before its graceful opening up into harmonium drone and ethereal backing. I love the way she seeks solace in a diamond belt, quite apt for an artist known for her love of striking and unique costumes.
Y the first EP recorded with Joseph Backworld opens with 'Power' an unhurried piece of deep cello swathes and violin shadowing MAYa's morose tones, gently swelling into fuller arrangements with piano and guitar. 'Bliss Implode' enters with chiming piano chords which gently meander with cello around MAYa's voice. There's an intimacy here, like much of Y, captured in a voice that sounds vulnerable and at times hesitant. It's no wonder as it feels we are peaking into a personal, secret world. "I was beat down in December, left awash in a canal to die", the opening lines of 'Living Behind Smoke', reveal the impact of a harrowing assault told in dual vocal layers over frosted electronics and a passage of dreamy pastoral folk atmospherics. 'Common Thread' is steeped in melancholy draping elegiac tones over elongated vintage synth drones, as austere electronic sequences and piano coalesce with gentle tumbling guitar notes.
a the final EP originally issued as 4 videos mixes things up, bringing percussive rhythms to enliven the subdued electronic and cello soaked sound. Maya's voice is much more assured here as evidenced by 'Moral Disease', which snakes through quiet electronics and the patter of hand and wooden percussion. Delivered with a spoken and half sung approach it drips with a rich sensuousness. Here as on 'We Shall Not Disappear' the rhythm seems drawn from the East. Bass tones run through the quiet clatter of hollow percussive devices and the clinking chime of dulcimer through which MAYa intones and yearns. Drew McDowall features on this one. From scraping cello, Maya lets loose with chants and playful whoops against the heady percussive shakers and electronic rhythms of 'Alpha Beta', while 'Crazy Malady' slips back to a more insular string based electronic sound.
allyoueverwanted is an intriguing collection which spans experimental, orchestral and rhythmic music with an off centre pop sensibility all held together by those cool understated vocals. The entire album sparkles with a sound just as individual as its creator.
After listening to allyoueverwanted we'd recommend you seek out the stunning videos created for the EPs and the documentary film Penny. We caught up with MAYa during a holiday in Portugal where she elaborated on her music and those many other projects.
i) Who is MAYa and how did she end up living in New York?
I was 21 and was planning to find work and save money to go travelling in Central America. I had originally wanted to go to Amsterdam and find some random work there, When a friend advised that might be difficult and suggested I go to New York instead, It was closer and he knew someone who would hire me off the books. I booked the ticket and a week later was in New York with a back pack and £300. I ended up staying a year and a half. The city was very immediate to me, I felt instantly at home and started living week to week with various side hustles. I spent two months in Central America and two months in Canada on that trip. Leaving Canada I got sent back for suspicion I'd over stayed my visa (which I had) by which point I had a boyfriend there, so went back and forth. A few years later the relationship was over and I decided I wanted to work in the film industry and applied for immigration and came back with a green card.
ii) allyoueverwanted features Joseph Budenholzer. How did you come to be part of Backworld and how did you come to work with Joseph as Backworld and beyond?
I met Joseph Budenholzer through Drew McDowall at a cafe in Brooklyn. He had just returned from living in Scotland. He thought I played bass and asked me if I wanted to play a show he'd been invited to do in Germany. But I think he had misunderstood. I had told him, I had borrowed a bass from a friend not that I actually knew how to play it. He didn't seem deterred that I didn't play and spent the next 3 months teaching me the songs. We got on well. I think he liked that I understood his music and we became collaborators for the next few years. I helped produce and write songs for his album Good Infection. I then went on to play my first live shows ever touring Europe. During this time I started to demo my own songs. It seemed natural to ask Joseph if he would work on them with me. When he heard them he said: "Is it supposed to sound like The Residents' Commercial Album?" It seems like my songs needed some work! Backworld consumed my life for a couple of years. It was a great experience but I didn't want to play live anymore, it made me super anxious. The next couple of years Joseph devoted a lot of time to my first solo EPs. I'll always be very grateful to him for his patience and encouragement. He's a very positive spirit who believes anything is possible and apparently it is! When it came to starting work on the next two EPs he was busy with a new relationship and starting a family. This forced me to work by myself, which was really good for me and I invited friends to play where needed.
iii) When did you begin writing your own music and why did you decide to strike out as a solo artist?
I had always wanted to make my own music. I had jobs that were always connected to music in some way. I also had an electronic music project before I met Joseph but nothing was ever released. Also, I think I was at a point where I felt ready to share things I needed to say.
iv) I hear echoes of Nico in your songs but who would you consider are the principal influences in your work?
I was obsessed with Nico at the time. It's interesting that you're picking up on that as our voices are so different. But I'm sure that the general vibe made its way in there :)
v) Listening to allyoueverwanted, it seems home and family life have had an effect on you. Has it and what inspires your lyrics?
The first song I wrote, 'Living Behind Smoke', was about my mother. It's based on an incident that must have affected me, even if I didn't know it at the time. She was attacked and thrown in the canal in Mile End, London and came out with her jaw broken.
Yes, other songs are definitely about family and partners, and feelings of alienation on this earth.
vi) People might be surprised to see the name JG Thirlwell aka Foetus in the credits for allyoueverwanted. How did he come to be involved? And then there's 'Candy Cane', the seasonal song by Angel Delight?
Jim (JG Thirlwell) and I had been close friends for many years. He said to me one day, "I think I should do something on your record". I gave him 3 tracks and he chose 'The Takers' and composed these soaring string arrangements (like he does). It's probably my favourite track on the compilation. I also worked with Iver Ask Overgaard on this track. He's Danish and has a band called My Beloved and plays guitar for Of The Wand and The Moon.
For four years in a row I curated these Christmas CD-R compilations (No Silent Nights) where I invited musician friends to make Xmas songs just for fun. Candy Cane's 'Angel Delight' came out of that. They were only handed out to friends then a few years later Jim busted it out and released it to the world :) at Christmas via youtube. We both wrote the lyrics and I recorded the melody to a beat that was supposed to be sung in a south London accent but I couldn't do it. Ha!
Jim then took it home and spent maybe 5 hours on it and came back with this quite impressive electro track.
vii) I never knew Drew McDowall (Coil) had contributed to your work, how did that come about?
I've known Drew since I was a teenager. We met in a bar in London through David Tibet and got talking about our upcoming trips to Asia. He was going to Thailand with Bee (Into A Circle) and I was going to India. We kept in contact and I made a plan to see him in Thailand - which is another story :). We ended up both moving to New York around the same time. I was working on one of my EPs and we talked about collaborating on a track. He sent me this modular synth part and that's as far as we got. I ended up only using a section of it but it's nice to have him on there.
viii) allyoueverwanted compiles the four EPs released by MAYa. The last two were video only and stunning too. Why the move to video and tell us about these?
The first two EPs were released on Joseph's (Backworld) label Discacula. After 3 test pressings I found the process kind of painful. So although I always intended to make the 4 EPs, I ended up becoming more excited by spending my time making videos than writing emails to pressing plants. The first video 'Living Behind Smoke' was just me and a consistent collaborator my film maker friend Sebastian Mlynarski. Neither of us had made videos before or knew how to edit at that time. It was a fun creative process. So I then decided to make a video for each song of the last two EPs collaborating with different film maker friends. Currently in celebration of the 4 EPs finally coming out on this compilation CD for Woodford Halse, I'm working with the talented visual artist Scott Kiernan for the track 'Crazy Malady'.
ix) Music and visuals are important to you, but what comes first?
Music definitely comes first. I listen to a variety of music and often go through different phases. I remember one record I was really into while recording A was the LP Yhä Hämärää by the Finnish band Paavoharju.
x) Kına your collaboration with Tolga Baklacioglu was pretty special, how did that collaboration happen?
Tolga is predominately a techno musician who lives in Turkey. He found my videos online and contacted me via Facebook and asked if I would like to collaborate. I had just finished working on the music to the documentary I made and was ready and open for something new. We recorded everything remotely and never met until after the LP was released. It came out on double vinyl on his label Vent. He often records tracks live, so I would have one stem with many sounds. So it became a challenge to break it up and make it more song orientated.
xi) Kına was remixed by Decimus, Muqata'a, Martial Canterel, Silent Servant, that must have pleased you?
Sean (Martial Canterel) and Decimus are friends. Silent Servant I've met a few times and liked his music. Tolga was in contact with Muqata'a and I met him once when he played here. I like what he did with the remix.
xii) You host(ed) a radio show devoted to female fronted music. That's sounds great what was the impetus behind it?
I still do the radio show but not on a regular basis anymore. It takes a lot of time to compile them as I try not to repeat myself, so I have to really feel inspired. But the original idea came about from a fascination with the many obscure records that I was discovering on you tube, that had come out of the post punk scene. I realized what an amazing innovative period that was for music and women playing in bands for the first time really. Even if they only made one 7-inch. So I started a Facebook page called 'One of Our Girls Has Gone Missing' named after the brilliant AC Marias LP. This was also before every record of that era had been reissued. It then just became a place to document female lead bands. Later it became a radio show and the music expanded to include current female artists covering different genres of things I like.
xiii) Back to allyoueverwanted, how did you hook up with Woodford Halse?
Mat who runs Woodford Halse used to host a radio show called 'You, the Night & the Music'. When I first discovered it he was doing a series of shows dedicated to all the early 4AD releases. Then he started playing all kinds of things that were inspiring him and I sent him my first EP. He was very supportive and years later he stopped doing the radio show and asked if I was interested in putting out a compilation of the 4 EPs on the label he had started. It started off as a cassette label and now he's doing the odd CD and lathe. He's an inspiring guy.
xiv) And now there is Penny, a feature length film documentary you've written and directed. What's the story behind Penny?
The documentary film took two and a half years to make, so I had no time for music until the end when I worked on the score with David Zuckerman who was also my editor. I like to describe it with out giving away the main theme.
It's nice if one goes in blind I think... but it's the story of a woman called Penny who grows up in working class England in the 60s and gets swept up in the bohemian hippy scene. She leaves her small home town for the first time on a truck travelling from England to Afghanistan and circumstances on the way change her life to that of a drifter. Then, when she settles for a while, she acquires 32 cats only to find her self full circle back in the small town from where she began. I'm definitely leaving out the major theme of the film here...
xv) Music, stylist, video, films and a radio show, what drives such a creative spirit?
I spent many years travelling and seeing the world, and being in relationships. Those things aren't my focus now. Once I started making music it opened up everything else. Once I start a project I get obsessed and need it to be completed and I seem to be taking on things now that take years to make. So right now music hasn't been my focus but who knows what's next. I like collaborations.
xvi) What's next?
For almost the last 3 years I've been working on a story about another woman's life; an artist who has a life changing circumstance. I still have a long way to go. Hundreds of photos happened to have come into my possession and I am working on editing them for a book. They are an insight into a certain time and one individual's world, that I think are very unique.
I've also recently reunited with Joseph Budenholzer and am writing and singing a few songs for the new Backworld LP. They are very different lyrically to anything I would write - which I'm enjoying; it's like putting on a costume - which I also enjoy!
MAYa - allyoueverwanted on bandcamp
MAYa at tumblr
MAYa videos on vimeo
Backworld - Good Infection on bandcamp