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Aspiring Headliner

Maria Maita-Keppeler talks new album, influences and songwriting

Maria Maita-Keppeler, singer and creative engine of Portland, Oregon-based indie rock outfit Maita, may have achieved something of a first among artists in the age of Covid. While many have seen their output scuppered over the past two years, with release schedules scrapped, revised, and in some cases scrapped again on account of the uncertainty cast across the industry, Maita have just released their second album since the pandemic struck.

Released last month, I Just Want To Be Wild For You is the follow-up to the band’s 2020 debut Best Wishes. Building on its predecessor’s homespun blend of alt rock and power pop, their latest outing takes each of the threads that made it such a compelling listen and tugs them taut. Boasting slightly more polished production, I Just Want To Be Wild For You’s quieter, melancholy moments, such as opener Loneliness, feel more intimate, even brittle at times, while guitar-heavy, overdriven stompers like You Sure Can Kill A Sunday, Part I and Honey, Have I Lost It All? are possessed of a power and confidence that feels ready to conquer arenas.

For a record to exude such youthful exuberance with a storytelling prowess far beyond that of a band who less than two years ago hadn’t even released a record, is little short of remarkable.

“We always envisioned we would put these two albums out quite close together,” Maita-Keppeler tells Headliner via Zoom from her home in Portland, her manner cool and calm whilst simultaneously warm and affable in conversation. “I imagined they’d be even closer together, but because of the pandemic we ended up separating things a bit. I’m constantly writing songs, so I just kept on writing after we finished the last album. We actually recorded some basic demos for this album even before Best Wishes was out because we wanted it to be a one-two punch. We felt that as we had the songs we should record them as quickly as possible, because we wanted them to stay fresh and we wanted to stay inspired by them.”

Though the songwriting process for I Just Want To Be Wild For You flowed seamlessly on from Best Wishes, the recording process differed significantly. Not only was the band better prepared for what they wanted to achieve sonically, the recording location also left its fingerprints on the sound of the record.

“We recorded the last record at this 100-year-old theatre in a tiny town called Enterprise in Oregon, and this record we did in a basement studio in a church in Portland. With this record we knew better what we were getting into. We knew as a band we’d sound more ‘rock’ and have louder moments in addition to the quieter, more sensitive moments. With the last record we didn’t really know what we were going to sound like until we got into the studio. So, having a better understanding of our sonicscape made this feel like an easier, smoother recording process because there were no surprises.

This was an easier, smoother process. There were no surprises. Maria Maita-Keppeler

“The studio we recorded this album in is unaffiliated with the church,” she continues, “but they were happy for us to use it and we were able to track our grand piano sounds in the sanctuary, which is this giant room with huge ceilings. The basement itself was just a regular basement, nothing romantic about it, but the huge sound from the sanctuary was pretty special.”

Despite the clearer vision the band had for the sonics that would underpin I Just Want To Be Wild For You, Maita-Keppeler explains that her approach was very much about putting a guide in place as opposed to a rigid set of rules for how sessions should unfold in the studio.

“I always finish my songs before we get to the studio, so well before we went into record I had finished all the songs and I had a loose idea of what I wanted them to sound like,” she says. “But I like to leave the door open, as it’s also good to make some of those decisions based on feel and what the emotions of the songs require. I want the band to have room to experiment as sometimes what they come up with is way cooler than what I had in mind.

“I was never super technical when it came to music, so when I thought about production it was never from a particularly informed standpoint, although I’m getting better at that,” she elaborates. “When I was first listening to and falling in love with music, things like snare sounds weren’t on my radar. I was into things like Bright Eyes, and what I liked about those records was that they would sometimes jump around a lot in terms of production. So, you’d have a folk song, a rock song, a country song, but they would all somehow fit into the same record, which was a huge inspiration for me, because I was concerned about how a lot of my songs would fit together, as they jump around a lot in sound and genre. Those records were a great blueprint – you don’t have to produce an album in a way that every song sounds like it was made with the same sonic template in mind. You can be creative and jump around.”

Among the other influences she cites from those formative years are Elliott Smith, Death Cab For Cutie, José González and Regina Spektor, to name just a few. So, what was it that first inspired her to pick up a guitar and start writing her own songs?

“I ‘ve always been pretty creative, and at first it was more visual art,” she recalls. “And I also really loved writing fiction and reading books, so I would write my own stories. My natural inclination is that when I start to fall in love with a particular medium, I just want to be able to create it myself. That’s just where my mind goes, and it was the same with songwriting. But it was a very shy, slow, quiet start. I did a lot of it very privately until I started coming out of my shell on the open mic scene and slowly gained confidence that I had something I could continue to pursue and enjoy. And I started to feel like a had a place in that world.”

According to Maita-Keppeler, her prose writing has had more of a subconscious influence on her songwriting than a direct impact, something that only revealed itself to her in recent years.

“Writing fiction and writing songs have always felt separate, but when I think about it, I sometimes write really wordy songs, and that was to do with my fiction writing. Earlier on I tended to not write songs in the poetry vein; there was very much a prose feel to what I was saying, even though things would rhyme and be melodic. More recently I’ve tried to be more economic with my lyrics. Part of that is insecurity, like, if I say enough the song will be strong, because there are chances for me to get a good line in and people will be satisfied. But there is a lot to be said for writing in a very economical way.”

With a series of shows planned across the US over the coming weeks, Maita aren’t taking anything for granted on the touring front. Though the Covid situation has – for now at least – improved for touring artists compared to this time last year, the band are rightly cautious about lining up too many shows in far off places.

“We’re really excited about playing shows again and having so many new songs to perform for the first time,” says Maita-Keppeler. “We’d really like play in Europe. If the opportunity presented itself and it felt safe, we’d love to.”

Here’s hoping we won’t be waiting too long.

You can listen to an extended version of this interview below.

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