Mayda isn't like any other performer in Minneapolis. You can't categorize her music, or fit her in with any particular scene. This is something that she is both proud of and uncomfortable with. Her new album, Busy Signals, will be celebrated with a release show at the Turf Club this Saturday. She wrote the album during her recent tour through Korea and Europe, and recorded the material immediately upon returning to Minneapolis. The work is a whirlwind -- much like the commotion in her mind, caused by recent life-changing events which served to feed her incessant desire to somehow express these internal thoughts outwardly through sound.
Gimme Noise had the chance to sit down with Mayda to chat about the album and her travels over tea and coffee at Muddy Waters. As the sounds of Fugazi and Sonic Youth drown out the surrounding chatter, she gets real about the woman behind the work.
While out of the country, Mayda performed every single day. "I'm insane," she says. "I just like to work, and play hard, and keep doing it; see as many people and places as I can." She relied on the kindness of other musicians and friends she met along the way to ensure that she'd make it safely along her travels, and stayed guarded. The tour was a massive undertaking. The tour was entirely self-funded, and she booked all of the shows and travel arrangements entirely on her own. "It put hair on my chest," she says. "Yes, I have hair on my chest."
The mental image of Mayda traveling through foreign countries alone is somewhat startling. At just 4'10'', her impossibly small frame would be draped in luggage, snaking through large crowds. Her distinctly Americanized fashion sense betrayed her Korean ancestry, making her an outsider even in the country in which she was born. (Mayda was adopted and brought from Korea to live in Minneapolis with her adoptive family at three months old.) "People were like, who is this ten-year-old, traveling alone?" she says. "Maybe I can steal all of her Euros, or whatever." They looked at her differently. She kept her guard up. The risk was well worth the reward.
"Here, people love music, but over there, I feel like they really take it in," she says. "Of course they drink and party and have fun, but they go to see the artist and what the artist is like, and what the artist is saying, so they're super receptive in a different way. They're not just there to get drunk. They're there to see a show. It's more like a shared experience."
The tour resulted in press, interviews, and even a deal with a Korean record label. Mayda also now has a connection with Reebok, who has used one of her songs in a Korean commercial.
During the three weeks she spent touring through Korea, Mayda's world was entirely altered when she unexpectedly received the opportunity to meet her birth parents for the first time since being adopted almost 29 years ago. Before the tour, she had been searching for more information about her birth parents. She found that her parents had lied about being together so they could give her up for adoption. She had six older sisters and a younger brother who didn't know about her. And the kicker: her birthday was printed incorrectly on her birth certificate.
"I'm 29," she says. "I thought I was 30. I was like, shit, another year of this shit?" After managing to gather these small bits of information about her family and herself, she was determined to attempt to come face to face with her birth parents. Finally, she received a letter from the adoption agency telling her that her parents were willing to have this meeting.
"I didn't feel good, but I didn't feel bad," she says. "I'm glad I did it, and I'm still trying to comprehend what happened." The meeting was somewhat awkward. They talked about her siblings. "They kept saying things like, oh, you have your sister's cheekbones, and you have your third sister's eyebrows... They all grew up together. I have no idea how you keep a kid a secret from your other kids." She struggled to see herself in her parents' faces. She never got a straight answer as to why of all the children only she had been given up for adoption, but she believes that it had something to do with financial struggles. Again, she found herself filling the role of the outsider.
"When I first saw them I was like, I don't look like these people," she says. "They could be complete strangers. I could see these people on the street and not look twice."[page]
Knowing that record-keeping can get messy in Korea, she requested a DNA test to ensure that the people she had met were indeed her parents. Then came the crushing blow. They refused to submit to the testing, and stated that they were not interested in being a part of Mayda's life. Mayda didn't know what to feel. "It was devastating, but I have to learn to accept it somehow," she says.
All of these experiences and reflecting upon her interactions with others spurned some major philosophical revelations for Mayda, which she put into her songwriting for the album. Its first single, "All I Have," was written with a message in mind: all that we have is our love -- the love that we give to others. "You want to control other people, and things around you, but you can't," she says. "The only thing you can really have and know is what you have inside. I know that sounds cheesy as all hell, but it's true."
"All I Have" is a ridiculously catchy, radio-friendly song. Mayda's voice on the track carries between layers of drums and bouncing electronic elements, beginning lazily and quickly gathering force as she declares, "Love is all that I have." It is searching, soulful. At 2:16, it is short in length, but manages to travel through several musical landscapes from start to finish. The lyrics offer a personal reflection of bittersweet lessons learned -- finding triumph in an ended relationship.
"I've actually been married before," she says. "I was the girlfriend at the rap show behind the merch table like, yeah babe, I love you!," she says. This was about eight years ago, and she has since been divorced. "I don't regret it. It was a great experience, and we still have love for each other. He is a great guy. He deserves a really wonderful person. I just can't be that person."
Right after meeting her parents, she wrote the song "Verite," which appears last on the album. "I videotaped myself writing it, because I was breaking down," she says. "I don't think I'll let anybody see it." She describes the song as being "hypnotic." It is still difficult for her to listen to the song.
"Verite" is hard to listen to. "I don't know what's true," it begins. "I just want to hide tonight." The undercurrent is dark and luring. An unsettling keyboard part is reminiscent of the off-kilter chord progression in an early Nine Inch Nails song. Eventually her voice becomes almost lost in a cascade of sound, until it all fades out into a nothingness that is the end of the album.
This album is strikingly different from her previous work. There are more heavy electronic elements, and less of the funk overtones. It feels like a declaration. The work is cohesive from start to finish -- a strong, solid pop album, backed by producer Chris Neviator. Much like imagining Mayda struggling through crowds in foreign countries, the image of such a small woman behind the huge voice is hard to reconcile, but this aesthetic confusion lends itself to the sounds on the album. On "Dangerous," there are elements of the music that sound like chirping birds, or screeching parrots. "There's a bomb inside my chest that's ticking in my skeleton," she says over a wailing synthesized flute. "There's a bomb inside my chest that's bigger than an elephant."
"Nightingale" emphasizes her signature guitar-playing sound. The notes weep over one another, interrupted by loud drum machine claps as she layers her voice soothingly over the building cacophony. "Nightingale" is a perfect lullaby, Mayda-style. "All this worry is mine," she sings, "and you can have it. Nobody deserves these tears but me."
Mayda is currently working on a theater project scheduled to debut next July at the Guthrie. It will be her first performance piece. "I'm super damn nervous," she says. "I've got stuff to work on." It will be a one-woman show, for which she will create all of the music. "I can't really believe it yet, because it's so far away...but it will be a bunch of different scenes that I wrote, and you will see my alter-ego come out." The performance will run for two nights, and if it is successful, she will take it on the road.
For now, she's filling her summer schedule with local shows, and preparing for the release of the second half of this album. She seems content, yet with Mayda it is clear that things are constantly changing, and she likes it this way. Without the struggle, where would the inspiration stem from?
"I'm just Mayda. I do what I do, and every day I'm just trying to be okay with the things I'm doing, making sure I'm a good person and that I'm doing what I like to do," she says. "I want to live, and I want to be happy. It's not easy being a musician, and being different."
Mayda performs this Saturday at the Turf Club with Mixed Blood Majority, Joe Horton, and Alexei Moon Casselle. Dance crew Hiponymous joins. Hosted by Toki Wright. 9 PM, 21+, $8 presale/$10 door
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