SUNDAY CLASSIC GTC: Songwriter MAIJA SOFIA Interview
Maija Sofia can be found at Apple Music.
by Walter Price
Balancing self-fulfilled youthful wonderment and old soul whispers, Maija Sofia is sure to prosper with her eclectic whimsies, dark in spaces, otherworldly at others and rooted in alt folk-pop. Or “witchery”, as she would say.
Small Irish village foundation and big-city London cultivation, Sofia shows that refreshing ideas and sounds can come from the smallest of places. Her tracks are brilliantly fanciful tales, trippy enchantments and enjoyable playful jaunts from a true recessed corners dweller of a storyteller. Sofia’s amazing and certainly mesmerizing EP with Ferdia (MacAonghusa) called Sentient Light marvels in the tradition of Irglová and Hansard’s Swell Season and dazzles sweetly.
When you happen upon an artist such as Maija Sofia it is hard to fully grasp all that is being laid out, as it should be. As this story teller’s journeys take shape I sat down with her for a little exploration of what is.
Its hard to get an idea of your age and it isn’t all that important really. When did you start writing songs?
I’m 19 but people usually mistake me for a lot older, probably because I’ve pretty much always hung around with people older than me, most of the music I love is really old, and I’m quite independent. I do a lot of things on my own that people may not expect someone so young to do. I’ve always been writing stories and poems, I’ve been obsessed with words my whole life, but when I was 13 my dad taught me a few chords on guitar and I started writing ‘songs’ then (they were really, really bad at first!) It was never a conscious decision, it just felt natural and cathartic to sing, even though I hated my voice for ages, I’ve gotten used to it now.
You wear some familiar styles in your sounds, who are you or who have always been your musical heroes?
It changes all the time but I think a lot of my musical heroes are quite predictable ones; Kate Bush, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen. The Smiths are huge one for me, they literally changed my life, I first heard ‘Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others‘ playing in my parents’ car when I was 11 and they have been my favorite band ever since. My other ‘musical heroes’ might be Billy Bragg, Joanna Newsom, CocoRosie, PJ Harvey, Talking Heads, Nick Cave, Elliott Smith… I could probably go on forever. At the moment I’ve mostly been listening to Townes Van Zandt and Syd Barrett. I’m not sure how this reflects in any of my own music, though I’m sure it does. I think my music taste is a weird mix of everything…
How often do you demo? Is it a do at home passion?
I’m almost always working on a demo of some kind. Usually just to play to myself, only a minuscule fraction of anything I record ever gets shared with anyone else. Doing it at home is less out of passion and more out of convenience. I don’t have a producer or professional studio access, so I do it myself mostly out of necessity. Having said that, I do like the warmth and romanticism of recording a song by myself in the middle of the night. Most of my recordings are made at night, so they are really close and quiet, it can be frustrating not having a drumkit or a piano or a team of elaborate instrumentalists at hand but I kind of enjoy doing what I can within the limitations of solitary bedroom recording. I really admire Grouper in that respect, she records all her music herself on tape and it has a really raw unique intimacy that I think is lost in a lot of polished ‘professional’ records. Also CocoRosie’s album ‘La Maison de Mon Reve’ was recorded in the bathroom of their flat in Paris and that is one of my favourite albums in the world. So I suppose I do have a passion for raw and even slightly flawed home recording, I like the authenticity I think.
What brought on the move to London?
I kind of moved to London on a whim. I knew the city quite well because my mum grew up here and I’ve been visiting family here for years. I have always wanted to live here, I have a romanticism about London. A lot of writers I love lived here and wrote about it, as well as loads of musicians and visual artists so that aspect really attracted me. I grew up in the countryside in the west of Ireland, somewhere utterly devoid of culture, so London is quite literally the complete opposite of that. I went from living on the outskirts of a tiny stifling village that had 2 buses a day to the nearest city where everyone knew who I was… to living in this whirlwind city of beautiful anonymity. Though it can be really lonely at times, I’m reveling in being in another world, being completely free. It’s funny though, I think regardless of where I live I still fundamentally spend my time the same way; just wandering around and daydreaming and writing. I feel quite detached from my surroundings most of the time, but at least in London, I can traipse around daydreaming forever and never run out of new interesting places and new people to find.
Has this new London experience, anonymity and wandering daydreams affected your writing?
I’m not sure, it probably has. But I’m definitely quite an internal person, in that I understand and make sense of the world through my feelings rather than through my physical experience – if that makes any sense at all. There is certainly a creative abundance in London, that I was really starved of living in the Irish countryside, but I think my songs are insulation from the outside world. I love traveling and exploring new places, but I think regardless of wherever I am I will probably still be writing sanctuaries for myself. I’m quite sensitive and find many aspects of the ‘real world’ hard to process (as I’m sure a lot of people do) so my songs are a retreat of sorts. The wandering daydreams have always been there, haha, my songs really are just weird rambling daydreams!
Your work with Ferdia has some Swell Season elements, what’s the story behind it all?
Ferdia is just amazing. He is one of the few people I know who is completely on the same aesthetic wavelength as me. We met at a gig we were both playing about 2 years ago and I said ‘hey let’s record some stuff together!’ and we basically did it all in two sessions, he came over to the mad cottage I lived in and then I went to his lovely house by the sea and we played our songs to each other and just recorded everything in pretty much one take. I feel really grateful to be able to work with him, he is one of the best songwriters I know, and also a really genuine, lovely and wise person, which is rare! When I lived in Dublin he’d come to visit me and we’d play each other’s songs with our friends, and stay awake singing and laughing all night, they were such lovely times.
The rawness of or in music does carry a good amount of soulful and honest textures and/or tones but do you dream of mass pop success?
I do dream of mass pop success to an extent, in that I’d like to be ‘popular’ enough to make a living out of music. I think ‘pop’ has really negative connotations, and truthfully I think most of the ‘pop music’ we’re bombarded with on daytime radio is saccharin-coated commercial bullshit, it’s not even music, and I don’t think it should even be talked about in the same context. Those kind of ‘artists’ are just products, they exist solely as a brand, and are just a gaudy sedative, just an aural McDonalds. I don’t want anything to do with that world. Thankfully though I think there will always be a thirst for real music.
There will always be people who crave something more than the homogenized bubblegum ilk, and I think there are a lot of genuine artists doing really well at the moment, which is reassuring. In the end, though, songwriting is just a self-indulgent endeavor for me. Regardless of whether anyone listens I’m still going to spend my time writing songs in my bedroom, I need to do it for my own sanity! If other people show any interest in what I’m doing that’s a really, really lovely bonus, and I am awed and grateful, but fundamentally, the world is crazy and writing is just a coping mechanism that seems to work for me.
What three songs (your own) would you say define or represent you the most?
I don’t know, I have so many songs, but of the ones I’ve released online I think ‘Cosmonaut’ is a good microcosm for the kind of sad fairytale whimsy a lot of my songs end up having, and ‘I Will Not Be Worth It’ is a good representation of the kind of lyrics I find myself writing. I don’t know, different parts of me are defined in all my songs, I don’t think there’s a definite choice.
Do you think you will duet again or is there more comfort in solo?
I’d love to experiment with a band. I’d really like to work with a bigger sound at some point, but I like not having to rely on anyone, I like the freedom of being able to do what I do completely on my own.
It seems that you could write pretty interesting and whimsical books. Ever considered it?
Thank you! Yes, I’d love to. I think I fell in love with books before I really fell in love with music. I write kind of obsessively almost every day. I have a lot of short stories and poems floating around, and though it seems like a really big and scary task I’d like to write a novel eventually.
Which Edvard Munch work would best represent you?
As much as I love Munch, he is one of my favourite painters; I don’t think any of his work ‘represents’ me. It’s a bit lofty to compare oneself to a painting! But if I had to choose a painting that represented me, I’d like to think it would be some beautiful elaborate pre-raphaelite, but I think it would more likely be an Edward Hopper, one of his women sitting on their own in cafes or bars, I can definitely relate to that!
What are 5 things the world should know about Maija Sofia?
Honestly, there isn’t anything that interesting to know, I’m quite mundane really, but sure:
- I’m a vegetarian.
- My favourite books are Good Morning Midnight by Jean Rhys, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.
- My star sign is cancer (I’m really into astrology.)
- My favourite poem is ‘Morning’ by Frank O’Hara
- Once I met Debbie Harry and she offered me a bowl of hummus.
What’s next for you?
Adventure! I have no idea. The last few months have been a frenzy of manic songwriting for me, so I’m making some tentative attempts at a debut album, but who knows when that will materialize. I need to do some laundry too, so I suppose that’s the next step in my life for now.
Stevie Nicks vs. Hope Sandoval?
I love them both! Stevie Nicks is a celestial goddess and is just in a totally different league to most people, but I’m going to go with Hope Sandoval, she has a warm dreaminess to her voice that just seeps in, and is so underrated.
[ 23. February 2015 ]
MAIJA SOFIA Bath Time
+ I Will Not Be Worth It
Article cover artwork via Bandcamp/Facebook/iTunes
Written-By – Maija Sofia
Producer, Mixed By – Chris Barry
Sleeve [Sleeve Design] – Emer Kiely
Synthesizer [Nord Synthesizer] – Clara Tracey
Violin – Christophe Capewell
Vocals, Guitar, Producer – Maija Sofia
Backing Vocals – Ronan Kealy (tracks: A4)
Cello – Laura McCabe
Harp – Méabh McKenna
Lap Steel Guitar, Synth – Niall Murphy
Mastered By – Antony Ryan
Photography – Jilly McGrath
VIDEO: by Ciarán O’Brien for The OB Sessions
Bath Time is available now on your favorite platforms, click