Maria Minerva is easy to like; friendly, chatty, smart and funny. We met on a rainy afternoon smoking cigarettes and talking about Adorno. It was the last day of the Creepy Teepee festival, a worn but elated atmosphere pervaded the air, and she was just about to play a gig before Excepter unleashed their trance-enducing bonanza. Since releasing her tapes on 100 % Silk, and primarily, her much-lauded album Cabaret Cixous on Not Not Fun, Minerva has cemented her position as one of the foremost figures of the contemporary lo-fi avantgarde dance/pop scene. Her sophomore album, Will Happiness Find Me?, is out on 4 September on Not Not Fun.
Electronic Beats: Where have you just come from and where are you off to next, both physically and mentally?
Maria Minerva: I’ve just come from London, and I’m going back there. Which is good, because I’m writing my dissertation, so I’m mainly trying to be in London for the summer. That was the initial plan anyway, but now I’m doing shows instead. I like this chaos. Chaos reigns.
What is your dissertation about?
It’s about glossolalia and vocal music. It’s about the Italian composer Luciano Berio. For some reason I’m procrastinating and listening to rap music all the time.
How do you combine the worlds of theory and practice?
At the moment the combination is a bad one. When I’m supposed to write, I can’t do music, and vice versa. I can’t do either, so I keep procrastinating and feeling guilty. It’s human nature—you have one thing to do and then another, and then you just end up doing the third or the fourth thing on your list beforehand. Usually when I’m at a better place, something might ring in my ears and I build a song around it or get an idea which I recycle into a song.
Don’t you get more self-conscious because you’re aware of all the context that’s surrounding music?
I think nowadays everyone has a personal history of pop music that they dive into and consume stuff online, but I’ve also studied a lot of stuff. I was studying art history in Tallinn, stuff like 16th century Dutch architecture, which I wasn’t so much into. Then I went to London, and I started writing and reading about music. I was interning at the Wire, and now I study music at Goldsmiths. The two professors who are teaching me are actually writers at the Wire, so it’s like a very small scene of people in London who are into the same kind of stuff. I kind of squeezed myself into it. When you come from places like Tallinn or Prague, you don’t have any connections, so you have to appear at events and talk to people and be a bit pathetic, and at some point they know who you are. And finally I started making music myself.
So you think had you stayed in Tallinn, you wouldn’t be able to be where you are now?
So many people have left their homes to go the big city to pursue their careers in arts, like Ezra Pound, etc, they all went somewhere else. I think I could go back home in the future and still do what I’m doing, fly to places and live a quiet life. But I wouldn’t want to go back to Tallinn; I’d go to South Estonia or to some island and live in isolation.
What about the East/West divide, that’s still permeated in society and culture? It’s probably still harder to break through if you’re from Eastern Europe.
I think it only makes you more interesting. I read an interview with this girl in the Fader magazine. She has such a strong accent, which is something I’ve always been embarassed about when I sing. That was interesting for me, that she didn’t give a fuck about the accent and she sings like someone from the East. It adds an extra layer, and you don’t know if it’s comfortable for you or not, but you can hear that there’s a certain amount of otherness in her voice.
When I want to be more cute, with men or something, I sometimes emphasize the fact that I’m from Eastern Europe, but they never care because they are so politically correct or they just take me for who I am. But it’s a good thing to sometimes throw out to the world that I don’t care that I come from where everything is shit (or was when I was growing up) and the music scene is awful or non-existent. You have to find another reason to be vain, because people do leave home. But there aren’t too many people who have come out of Tallinn making music, though. The focus is still on the Anglo-American world, big time. Even though I want to say that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you have to have steps to the world, and in terms of that maybe it’s better to be where it’s happening. But I don’t go out in London much.
We all go out on the internet these days.
I’ve been online as long as I can remember. I realized what a difference it makes when I was applying for my US visa. You can be in correspondence with Americans every day and night, but when I want to go over it’s such a pain. The Internet is getting smaller, but it seems like borders are getting more strict. It’s a virtual thing, where it seems like an open, nice world full of ideas and people who can communicate, but in practice it’s expensive to go where you want and it’s hard to settle down in a new city.
What are your plans in the US?
I’m doing a lot of shows there, but what I’m looking forward to is that I get to drive. I’m jealous of myself when I think of it. For me, just to be able to play three different shows in Texas is a dream come true. I also think I’m going to record my next album in New York.
Can you tell me about the upcoming record?
It’s more like hippie music. You know you can fuck up with the second album. I don’t think that I’ve fucked up, but it’s just funny. First and foremost it’s psychedelic pop music, proper songs but really weird ones.
You have a strong feel for song structures. Could you imagine becoming more poppy, crossing over to the mainstream?
I’m a dreamer. Right now I’m reading a book about the music industry and music publishing. My American dream would’ve been to get into the song-writing business, but I’m not sure that it’s ever going to happen. It’s not like you just go and start writing for Beyoncé. I’d be interested to see if it’s in any way possible to write songs for people, and keep doing my underground stuff on the side. I can’t even see myself becoming the Grimes type of performer; she’s pretty huge in terms of the underground.
The question between experimental and popular is that you can’t be both. You can be to some extent, but there are compromises to be made. I read an interview with Grimes where she said that when she played her ambient witch house sets, she got booed all the time. Just the fact that she admitted that she felt she can’t get booed any longer, that she’s so tired of being the vibe-killer, is cool. I might kill the vibe tonight, I don’t know yet [note – she didn’t].
Do you prefer recording or playing live?
I prefer just making my albums. It’s private time – you work three hours, take a break, work three hours. It was like this for me last winter, when I was making the new record. It was like paradise, especially since I was living in Lisbon. Every day I walked over the hill, the sun was shining, the view was amazing. I went to my studio hoping that there hadn’t been burglars taking all my shit.
Has the environment influenced the sound of the new record? You mentioned it was more dub-heavy.
Maybe a bit. It was more a mental state. In general it was a nice, quiet time. My best friend from university was there, and she was like my substitute mother. I got taken care of, so she got a credit on the new album.
Why is it called Will Happiness Find Me?
It’s from a Fischli and Weiss book. I just liked the idea of not finding happiness, but will happiness find you? It’s a bit banal when you think of it first, but turned around it’s quite nice actually.
Photo: © Sarah Faraday
Published July 20, 2012.