Maple Glider talks childhood and why her new album feels like her true debut

On October 13, Melbourne-based artist Tori Zietsch, better known as Maple Glider, releases her second album I Get Into Trouble. Here she tells Headliner about escaping an oppressive childhood to pursue a career in music, and why her latest outing feels like a new beginning…

There’s a beguiling quality to Tori Zietsch’s music that is immediately detectable in conversation with the artist herself. Her 2021 debut To Enjoy Is The Only Thing and new album I Get Into Trouble are each possessed of intimate vignettes that explore themes of sexuality, shame, and a damaged childhood. Over gently plucked acoustic guitar, her delicate yet deceptively powerful voice channels personal experiences into songs that feel simultaneously fragile and cast in stone. Both the weight of the stories she tells and the strength she exerts to carry them are palpable.

As we meet over Zoom, this same juxtaposition soon becomes apparent. In amongst much laughter and moments of self-deprecation, there is steeliness in her demeanour. This mixture of fragility and stoicism is something that has informed not just her music but virtually every aspect of her life so far.

Brought up in a deeply religious community in Naarm, Melbourne, a career in music isn’t something the young Zietsch could ever have predicted for herself. Indeed, many years after escaping the confines of her upbringing, it wasn’t until the release of her debut that she fully understood the path she was on.

“My first album was written mostly in Brighton in the UK when I was living there, and it was during a break in music,” she says, explaining her origins as a solo artist. She’s joining us from Granada, Spain, where she is taking a short break before playing a handful of European shows ahead the album’s release. Her tone is suitably bright and relaxed. “I’d just come out of a collaborative project and wasn’t really sure if I wanted to continue pursuing a career in music. But making that debut was the first time I’d ever really acknowledged I was pursuing a career in music [laughs]. I was just sort of doing it for ages without realising!

“I wanted a bit of space to figure out if it was really what I wanted to do, and I just wrote a heap of music and got obsessed with songwriting again. And I ended up accidentally recording an entire album when I planned just to go in [the studio] for a few songs. That was the beginning of Maple Glider. The recording was in 2020 and the release was 2021. Then in November 2021 we were coming out of our seventh lockdown in Melbourne, and I entered into the recording of the second album, which was a whole heap of songs that had just followed the first album. So, this album covers quite a long period of time.”

Music was a pathway out of that life and into a space where I could connect to people.

While the subjects and experiences that informed her debut flow seamlessly into I Get Into Trouble, the manner in which Zietsch approached them this time around was quite different. Evidently, the release of To Enjoy Is The Only Thing brought with it the courage to open up further through her music.

“A lot of the songs on this new album are shadows of songs that existed on the first one,” she says. “On the first album I was very conscious of what I was recording and I was a lot more nervous about the content I was sharing. A couple of songs on this album were already written at that time, but I was in no space to record and share those songs yet. It seemed too hard, and I felt too vulnerable. So unintentionally I came to a place where I felt more confident and able to be more vulnerable and to share things that felt more difficult for me prior to releasing my own music.”

There was, however, a counterpoint to that new sense of confidence Zietsch felt when recording the songs that would make up I Get Into Trouble. Despite feeling freer to depict certain aspects of her life that she had previously felt unable to share with the world, Zietsch was also feeling the pressure of releasing a solo record more acutely. As she describes it, her debut never really felt like a ‘proper’ album.

“It was actually so much harder to make this album,” she reflects. “It was really difficult. With the first album I was just doing it because it was something I really wanted to do, but had no real awareness of what could potentially happen. I was recording it independently and was just so grateful to have the experience of recording and sharing my own music. But this time it was more like, oh my god, I’m recording an album’!

“It’s the second album but it was really the first time I’ve intentionally gone in to record one [laughs]. “At the beginning I was like, I don’t even know what to do! Will it work? [laughs]. So it felt like a bit of a fluke in a way. I always feel like that, like I’m constantly surprised myself when I can write more music. I often go through periods of feeling like I’ve forgotten how to write music! Hopefully I’ll have some more self-confidence with more time and experience!”

These are the moments when that combination of self-deprecation and steeliness are at their most intriguing. Regardless of how much of a ‘fluke’ I Get Into Trouble may have felt to Zietsch, a single listen to the record suggests it is anything but. Each of her albums are rich with melody, subtlety, and an emotional depth and complexity that would be impossible to achieve by chance. Chisel away those layers of apparent self-doubt and what surely lies beneath is an artist possessed of a far greater confidence in their craft than is visible on the surface.

It was so much harder to make this album.

According to Zietsch, one of the biggest sources of strength she has drawn from is her audience and its reaction to the intimate nature of her music.

“From the first album, the relationship I have with my audience is such a beautiful one,” she smiles. “It’s such a kind and nurturing space with a lot of people who really connected to some of the content I was sharing and would send beautiful messages. They are just a pleasure to perform to. I felt really safe and held in those spaces. It was a really welcoming and open space for everyone to share in some of the more intense feelings. So that gave me the confidence to feel OK about continuing that path of sharing rather intimate details of my experiences, knowing there are plenty of people looking for music they can connect to because those songs represent those feelings.”

Much of those feelings and experiences she speaks of stem from her childhood. Part of a deeply religious Christian community, her upbringing was profoundly sheltered, with a future essentially mapped out for her by her father that would involve little beyond spreading the word of their beliefs.

“We went to church three times a week minimum,” she says with a deep intake of breath, as she paints a picture of what her childhood was like. “We were door knocking trying to spread the word. That was me from birth, so it was a huge part of my life. My life plan was that my dad didn’t want me to finish high school, he wanted me to just be a secretary and devote my life to god. That was his plan for me.

Even amongst a community bound by a very specific, uniform framework, Zietsch insists she always felt like an outsider.

“I always felt really odd and not connected to the religion and the space we were in,” she says. “I always felt like the dorky one even in those settings. I didn’t have that many friends. I just felt out of place, and because my dad had a significant role in the church, kids my age were nervous to hang out with me because they thought I was really into it. I didn’t know why I was there. A lot of thigs I just blatantly didn’t agree with as a child. So, music became a format for me to express those feelings and to write about what I was experiencing and I think I wrote my first song when I was 10 or 11, just singing. I picked up the guitar later in high school and I loved it. I loved music; it was something I spent most of my time doing. I’d be in the bathroom writing songs, and well into the night my parents would be going ‘go to bed’!

“I started performing at about 14 and it was such a significant part of my life that my dad realised that it was a threat to my so-called faith and that would be an issue. But that just enhanced my resistance to the religion. And it gave me a reason to leave and not follow it. It was a big pathway out of that life and into a space where I felt like I could connect to people.”

The decision to leave the only existence she had known at such a formative age was to prove particularly traumatic for the teenage Zietsch.

“It was a very dark time,” she says. “I was only 14, and a kid at my school had died in my year… I was very confused and very sad. I didn’t really feel like I had any space to talk about it in the home, and I think there was this crux of a lot of feelings. And when you’re that age everything is really intense.

From the first album, the relationship I have with my audience is such a beautiful one.

“I went to one of the big conventions they have and I was talking about wanting to do this music programme and there was this huge falling out with my parents. It was very dramatic. From that point on I was quite stubborn… I was very stubborn, and there was some bribery involved and my trust was broken by my parents. So, I made the decision never to go to a meeting again. Fortunately my parents weren’t the kind to kick me out and make me leave the home, which is the experience of a lot of kids, so I was lucky to still have a safe home. But there was months of letters and people coming to the home and conversations to try and reel me back into the space, but I was so adamantly made up that I was not going back.

“And my mum left not long after. Within the year. So that was pretty pertinent and was another point of confirmation that it wasn’t something I wanted to be doing. And she didn’t want to be doing. So together we were able to pull each other from that space. She had to rebuild her life, and I was starting to figure out new things about the world. I’d led a very sheltered life until then so there was a lot to experience still.”

As for her musical discovery, Zietsch was able to access a relatively eclectic catalogue of music outside of what the religion was willing to sanction.

“We sang at the church every day, but that was not my only music experience,” she says with a laugh. “I remember a particular talk where they referenced a Stacie Orirco song – and I loved Stacie Orrico – and there was a lyric that was like, ‘I hate you but I love you’, and they said it was Satan coming through the lyrics [laughs]. So, there was weird stuff like that. At home we just had dial up internet on my dad’s computer and some days I’d sneakily go online and do really broad searches for things like folk music, rock music, and that was part of my music education. And then later on I was one of the Limewire children, putting a million viruses on the computer! And the rest was random CDs. Occasionally I’d be allowed to buy a single! We had a strange collection. A lot of ’80s music, and things like Cher, Shania Twain, Celine Dion. I probably listened to a lot.”

After leaving her family unit, she was able to broaden her musical tastes further still, citing PJ Harvey, Cat Stevens, Tegan and Sarah, Cat Power, and Sharon Van Etten as big influences.

“I remember that Sharon Van Etten record [Epic], the song Love More I love so much,” she beams. “I was maybe 17 and I have a distinct memory of moving to the city for the first time and I would listen to that song almost every night on the ferry after I finished working at a restaurant. And I’d just look up at the bridge with all the lights and listen to that song. It was beautiful.”

As she prepares to go out on tour in support of I Get Into Trouble, Zietsch finds herself in the unusual position of releasing her second album in the mindset of an artist about to unveil their first. It’s the first time she’s approached the recording, release, and subsequent tour of a record outside of lockdown restrictions. And given that her debut happened, as she puts it, almost by accident, this time there’s a drive and intent that was likely lacking to some degree before.

“In a lot of ways this does feel like my actual debut, because the feelings were so different,” she says. “I experienced it differently, and because the first album came out during lockdowns it took ages to perform the songs live. I was very apprehensive to tour internationally. Now, in many ways, it feels like a new beginning. I’m already in the releasing process and feeling fired up to record again. I remember this happened last time. After finishing the campaign for the first record I was ready to go again straight away. And I want to do that now. I feel like it’ll be different all over again.”

Listen to the interview in full here.