maia macdonald – march 26 2016

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EF – So, I’m just going to ask you if you will tell me who you are and what you do, because I generally get nervous about describing people – I think it’s better for you to describe yourself.

MM – Well, I get nervous about describing people and myself, so I will do my best. My name is Maia…I’m a musician, a producer and a drummer. I’m also a guitar player and I play bass; I’m a generic, jack-of-all-trades musician type. I like to sing, and I like to play music with other people. I’m also a radio producer and I interview a lot of bands – I’ve interviewed a thousand bands in the past decade, which is crazy now that I’m saying it out loud.

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I’ve been living in this apartment on and off since like 2008, so a lot of wonderful and horrible things have happened here in the last eight years. Like, basically my entire 20s were a thing that was here.

I’m really glad I’ve left all the places that I had my 20s in.

Yeah, I left for a second and then I came back.

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Objects and the value that I place on them, and sentimental things and little bits of memory and ghosts are really key to my process – that sort of inspires me, being a hoarder.

Yeah. One of the people who I was talking to [Wren Kitz], he has this collection of tape recorders.

Oh, I saw that one, all the reel-to-reels.

Yeah, that one. He was talking about how when he uses one, it’s like a memory that gets stored in that object. So now even the shitty things that he’s done to annoy his roommates just go in and that’s like a fun memory that is in that object. And that’s kind of what you’re saying maybe?

Yeah, totally. I have this reel-to-reel at my parents’ house in New Jersey and it’s been busted for years, but there are all of these tapes I made when I was a little kid, of some more embarrassing things like Hanson covers and stuff. But also some original work.

I was really obsessed with The Beatles for a couple years and read all these books about George Martin, and cool production techniques, and cutting up tapes, so me and my friends would just sit around and try to do weird audio experiments with this reel to reel. The tapes are still there but the machine is broken and I kind of really want to go back and listen to them all. It’s probably garbage.

I think you should listen to them. It’s like, I found a diary recently from when I was like 16.

Yeah, for me it feels like the diary is very bleak at that moment.

I read it and I was like, “I hope my parents have not read this.”

Well, here’s a question, are you the kind of person who – do you want those diaries to stay? Or do you want someone to, like, burn them when you go?

When I go? Oh, burn them. Like, probably there’s going to be a point in my life where I’m going to be like, “Yeah, it’s time for these to go.”

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So, do you have any objects that you particularly want to talk about?

Well, let’s go over here. Does the cat count?

The cat totally counts.

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This typewriter is actually kind of important. I feel a little like, “Oh, I’m so precious, writing on my dumb typewriter like an asshole.” But this is my dad’s typewriter from college.

Basically everything that I have and use is from my parents’ house. I grew up in the house my dad grew up in, so the house and the basement and the garage, and the attic of the house and of the garage are filled with stuff. My grandparents moved there in 1950, so we’ve had a physical presence in the house for almost 70 years, and it’s also filled with all of these old photo albums and stuff, of my great-great-grandparents. Point being, a lot of stuff in my life comes from that house. So anyway, this typewriter is a thing. I write all my lyrics out on it…

It’s really hard to type on, it takes all this effort and you have to type really hard. I finally found a typewriter store in Manhattan that sells the right ribbon for this, and so I re-upped on ink for this a few years ago and it felt like this revolution in my life.

An ex-girlfriend was clearing out her apartment many years ago and was like, “Do you want this big box of special writing paper?” And I was like, “Of course I do! I’ll take your garbage.” But I have this weird thing and I always use this paper. I’m worried that someday it’s going to run out and so I’m really precious with it.

It’s literally a ream of like 500 sheets of paper but I’m like, “No no, I have to use it only for specific important things.” But I’ve tried that and failed so many times in my life. Like, you can’t write in a new journal and stuff. So I started using this paper and it’s a thing – I always have to use this paper and this typewriter. I have really shitty handwriting.

When you’re working from home a lot you have to do little things to make yourself feel productive and efficient and businesslike, so I do a weird one person role play of being a person in an office, and then I’m like, “I’m writing lyrics…but also I’m a secretary, and it’s the war.” So there’s a lot going on here.

Oh, and except for this last tour, I usually hand-make every single pin. I write out whatever is going to go on the buttons on this typewriter, on this paper, and cut it, and it takes forever. But it’s part of the whole thing. I feel like it’s this little piece of what I’m working on and every single button is this piece of this thing that feels important to me…

None of the numbers work, and none of the punctuation works. I tried to make an invoice for someone, like for real, I typed it out a hundred times, and I was like, “This is weirdly unprofessional. I can not submit this handwritten thing where the numbers don’t work to an office.”

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OK, we’re just having show and tell now, I guess.

That’s the entire thing, that’s the whole project.

This is from a grove of pine trees in the backyard of my parents house. One tree was diseased and it was cheapest to just have the tree people cut down a lot of trees that would maybe eventually need to get cut down. It was really heartbreaking to me, because it was the tree my parents got married under, and I used to climb this tree when I was little, and there were hammocks. So the day the tree people came, I filmed the whole thing from the attic of the house, like out of the tiny window.

Like Beetlejuice style?

Yeah Beetlejuice style! Holy shit, if I had Beetlejuice in this house, that would be making into the show and tell. That basically framed my entire worldview – it’s like a Beetlejuice, A League of their Own, Clue: the Movie based thing.

You’re speaking my language.

But, yeah, we had the tree cutters slice us off these little pieces of the trees in the backyard. I did my best to preserve it. I used that stuff people use to make collages.

Gesso? Or, Mod Podge?

That. So this is covered in Mod Podge. And it has this wire on it because for a minute a few years back I was making this weird museum of my life, which is fucked, but I had all this weird stuff, like old nails, tacked up on the wall. And so this lives on its own now.

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I had to send a lot of my cool stuff back to my parents’ house. Basically, I just shuttle stuff back and forth between here and New Jersey, and I sent a lot of stuff home recently that was taking up too much room in the apartment. But some stuff is still here.

These wrestling trophies…I found a box of them, where I grew up they have really good trash days. People are always throwing away stuff that is like really perfectly good – I mean this is obviously kind of garbage – but there’s epic garbage. My dad found a full drum set and a trombone and a clarinet a few months ago, and he called me on tour, and he was like, “You’re never going to believe this, the car is full of clarinets and stuff and a full drum set.” My dad is a hero, by the way, because he picked all of it up in like one arm – I mean he has two arms, but one of them is kind of currently a little bit not working – the point being, he grabbed all of this stuff for me.

But on a separate trash night, maybe like three years ago, I went out and found this box of junior wrestling trophies. I guess it was 2012, because that’s when these are from. So this is a wrestling trophy from my high school, at least I’m assuming it’s from my high school, and it says, “Ridgewood Junior Wrestling, achieve your best.” So I have like 30 or 40 of these in a box in the attic and, you know how when you are a person who cares about objects, you ascribe all of this meaning to things? I felt at the time weirdly moved by the image of these people who were struggling. And I also felt like you should get a trophy for trying. Mostly everything I write about, and also the people that I hang out with, what they’re writing about, is like interpersonal struggles or relationships, as boring as that is.

That’s like the only thing people write about.

So it felt sort of representative of that. So I bring them to almost every single show and then occasionally I’ll sell them to the highest bidder – or if you just want one, you can have one. I bring one. It was another thing that I was like, “I have to keep these, what if I don’t have them sometime?” But you can’t live life like that. So I use this paper and I give away these things and someday there won’t be any more, and that’s fine.

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So you were talking about writing your lyrics on your typewriter. Other than using the typewriter, what’s your process? Do you have a set process? Or just, like, every so often are you just like “I’m going to write some stuff on this typewriter.”

The typewriter usually comes last, or like in the middle. I’m really shitty at journaling and stuff, so I never just write stuff down even though i think about writing things down a lot. I’m always like, “if only I had written down anything about that five week tour and going to every city in America, that would have been cool. Lots of memories, guess I won’t remember them.”

I used to just play a lot of acoustic guitar in kind of a percussive way and write that way. Or the last couple of years – OK, there’s like a journey here – I used my loop pedal a bunch. You can make things go in reverse…as I was mentioning earlier, I was really into The Beatles, and they did all of this reverse stuff, so I got really into that.

I started writing with this a few years back, I’d plug my SPD-S, my drum pad, in, and loop all these drum parts, and then loop all these guitar parts alone in this practice space in Greenpoint for hours. I was like so sad, it was the middle of the winter. A lot of the Kid in the Attic stuff started with loop pedal things. And then with the amazing reverse button, you can press it and it’s a whole different song, so then I would write stuff over the reverse thing. And that was a specific process that was happening for a few years.

I’ve been using Ableton a lot of the last couple years also, because the drums are really important to me and are a good place for me to start. So these days I’ll do a lot of programming the drum parts and sampled stuff on the computer. Then I’ll add and subtract all of the other pieces, like tinker with my guitar and the bass and stuff. Things will start here, I’ll get something halfway, bring it to the band and we’ll mess with it in rehearsal, then we’ll play it out live a bunch. And then it comes back here and it turns into this other thing. There’s maybe like four or five iterations of the songs at this point, and then it gets to some point where it feels like it makes sense.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about how to finish these songs, and what makes sense with the live band, and what I want [the next] record to sound like. That’s what I’m doing today actually, after this, is working on that. I’m actually having a lot of thoughts about process right now because I’m doing things in a different way than usual. Stuff usually simmers for a long time, but I’ve decided I need to start finishing things because it’s really unproductive to let stuff sit. It gets so old that you don’t care anymore and you never release it, so it just goes into a void…

In the digital world, it’s really exciting, because you can make things really quickly and you can manipulate images and sounds rapidly and in really big ways, you know? You can make something really dramatic really quickly, but you have so many options. There are a lot of things I get paralyzed by and choice is one of them, so I’m increasingly trying to limit things a little bit. I feel like I used to do all this stuff on tapes, on a reel-to-reel, and it felt in some way like, “This is going to be what lasts, all these things I record, like, on my kitchen radio.”

Maia Macdonald plays her own music as Kid in the Attic, in Mitten, and with Mirah. She was photographed in her apartment/home studio in Brooklyn, NY on the morning of March 26, 2016.