Maria Maita-Keppeler aka MAITA was ready for a breakout year in 2020. The recent Kill Rock Stars signee had assembled a great team and was sitting on her impressive label debut record Best Wishes.
Preparing for a long year of touring – suddenly (as we all know) – everything was put on hold. For bands like MAITA that relish in the live experience, obviously, 2020 has been a challenging year, to say the least. Having built a reputation for delivering powerful live shows that bring focused and uplifting indie rock energy, MAITA creates music that blends lyrical tact with a warm and psychedelic indie rock sway.
Today Maita-Keppeler is releasing a series of prints she created to live alongside her 2020 release, “Best Wishes.” We were fortunate to catch up with Maria and talk about the illustrations, how to approach or “pitch” a record label, some digging into her creative process, and what’s in her tape deck.
I was interested in visual art before I was ever interested in music. I was thinking about how to continue the life of the record and explore themes in it without being able to tour. I really enjoyed the experience of turning these into artworks. At times it can feel very serious and precious when it comes to writing songs or expressing myself with words. I can let myself be a little more whimsical with visual art. The art pieces are a little lighter in tone and can be more fantastical and imaginative than the songs can be in certain ways.
Have you been writing during the pandemic?
I’ve been doing a lot of journaling and recounting memories. I think just because I’m not making that many new ones. (both laugh) I was thinking about how the songs I’ve written during the pandemic haven’t been about being in quarantine or a pandemic at all. They’ve been a process of digging into old memories. Mining old memories and realizing that there are truths in those memories that I can express with a renewed perspective.
That is a very cool and inspiring concept. Mining for memories. Do you have any advice for people that feel stuck creatively?
Try to change your environment. I’ll put out a call to see if there’s a house trade or a retreat. Anything affordable to get you out of your own environment. It can be really inspiring to be in another person’s space. Also, when I get super stuck I’ll pick a random record – usually a friend’s record – and put that on and free write as it plays.
I really dig your new record Best Wishes. The arrangements and songs are stunning and powerful. I feel a sense of freedom in your music. Does that resonate with you?
Well, I try to be very careful about what I say when I’m speaking and writing. Songwriting is the ultimate version of that and I am scared of saying the wrong thing. That can often keep me from saying things that are more emotionally intense. With songwriting, you can go to this emotionally intense place and have complete control over what and how you’re expressing yourself. I want to make sure that what I’m saying is the truest form of what I am feeling. I’ve spent a lot of time working on that. I think because I’ve spent so much time on a song before it sees the light of day, once I get to perform that song it’s so gratifying. There is freedom in that expression.
The first song I wrote and performed in front of people was for an essay I wrote in school. We had the option of either writing the essay or half of an essay and artist performance. I ended up writing a song for the book My Ántonia. I felt this moment where everyone enjoyed my song. I got to perform the song at our graduation and for the other classes. It really helped me realize that I could share what I created instead of harboring and hiding it. After that, I started doing open mics casually. That was the start.
I’ve always loved writing. Most of what I did growing up was writing stories. I would write fiction and chapter books. I just loved writing. I couldn’t stop doing it. Songwriting was a little bit of a challenge to get into because it was just so different from writing fiction. Everything works differently in a song versus chapters in a story. Once I started listening to good music it naturally moved in that direction.
Do you have a general songwriting process?
I guess my process is that I don’t have a routine or process. I’m too busy to have a diligent writing schedule. I work better in spurts when randomly and suddenly I have twenty minutes home alone to myself. I’m very private with my writing. My writing schedule is based more on opportunity than routine. When I have a sense of urgency and my time is precious I get more done, opposed to when I go on a writing retreat or something. I’ll aim to do a lot of writing and often get less done.
You put out Best Wishes right as the pandemic hit. Do you feel like things are still moving forward for you in 2020?
I think we were pretty fortunate to have a record come out this year. It can be really hard to preserve momentum and I feel that the album release went as well as it could have considering the year we’ve all had. Having the record come out definitely helped us to feel like we still have things happening, things that we’ve been working towards and we get to share with the world. That being said, we love touring so much. Touring is really what we do this all for. Connecting with people, connecting with other artists, and the feeling of playing on a stage with your band. The way it sounds and feels. It’s hard because that integral part is missing and we sometimes have the concern that this will go on much longer. I feel that it’s important to keep writing and observing the world. Keep taking in what’s around us. Just because shows are shut down it doesn’t mean the creative process is shut down.
Can you shed some light on how KIll Rock Stars picked up your record – Do you have any advice for artists that are hoping to score a record deal?
Yeah. I definitely don’t think that cold calling labels really works. Maybe once in a while but it has to be rare. Every record label must be getting so many submissions. When people blast submissions to labels I really can’t imagine that many of those emails get opened. So.. I would say; continue to put out music, engage with your community, and engage with fellow bands. You have to be part of a community and build something together with your music scene. What worked for us was to have someone other than yourself – someone with a connection to the label – recommend your music to the label. That’s actually how we got connected to all the record labels we were talking to when shopping our album. Any personal touch and connection may get your music at least listened to. From there it’s whether they love your music or not.
That is great advice. Makes a lot of sense.
Yeah. Go to open mics, meet people, make friendships. That’s the best thing you can do if you want to be part of a music community. It’s hard right now but yeah… Just be real. That’s my advice. The myth of being discovered or someone seeing you play and signing you. Its misinformation. It doesn’t happen like that very often.
Totally. Artists basing their “strategy” on things that rarely happen is not the best plan. What’s in your tape deck?
I just listened to Feist’s most recent album Pleasure. It’s really underrated as far as her material goes. I actually listen to it all the time. She makes some really strange choices on it and I appreciate all of them. Her voice is so expressive and she’s a great guitar player – I love it.
Buy MAITA’s “Best Wishes” prints and LP HERE
Photos by Matthew Zeltzer