Maïa Vidal is extraordinary. She is certainly a girl after your heart. Not only is she adorable, but she is inventive, artistic and incredibly talented. When breathing in her musical adventures, you are swept away by enchanting sounds constructed with children’s toys and sweet horn like vocals. Her voice resembles a modern-day Billie Holiday with a whimsical twist. My heart, of course, is always interested in an accordion. The minute I found Maïa covering Rancid’s song Poison I immediately fell in love with everything she has been up to. From her early album, My Kid Sister, which is full of Rancid cover songs, to her more recent and original works in God is My Bike, this girl has our attention and she should have yours too. TUBE was recently able to catch up with Maïa and learn a little more in-depth what is going on in her magical world.
TUBE: Hi Maïa. Tell us what you do and a bit little about you.
Maïa: My name is Maïa Vidal, I’m 24, raised in Ithaca, New York and basically call anywhere I set my bags down and pull out my instruments “home” (be it Montreal, New York City, Paris, or Barcelona). I have a hard time classifying the music I make, but suffice it to say that I’m a multi-instrumentalist that uses any instrument, sound, or toy at my disposal to craft a kind of magical world where I am free to express myself honestly, feel intensely, and where basically anything is possible.
TUBE: You feel very much like a fairy tale to me. Your videos and photo shoots are very magical. Where does your inspiration come from? Do you see the world or the song first?
Maïa: As I see it, I feel like I exist outside of reality; that by spinning into being a environment of magic and wonder, I’ve also created a home for myself, so in this case the songs and world go hand in hand. I am an only child and grew up largely uninhibited, roaming through wooded forests, bathing in streams, and encountering imaginary friends as I went along. My parents both allowed me to grow on my own while sheltering me from any sort of real life experiences for most of my childhood and that allowed me to develop a kind of sustained fantasy world that’s still with me today.
TUBE: You started off playing in an all girl punk rock band. When did you pick up an accordion?
Maïa: My first instrument was actually the violin, which I started playing when I was 7. By age 14, I was so fed up with it that when my parents told me I couldn’t quit violin, I rebelled and started messing around with bass and eventually founded Kiev, an all girl, all 9th grader, punk band. It’s kind of the classic upstate cliché but it really was my way of dealing with the thrills and boredom of growing up in a town that suddenly felt very small. That was who I was all through high school; big black boots, brightly colored mohawk, and my parents driving me to shows in and out of state on the weekends. And as my music history is basically a series of artistic rebellions, by age 18 I threw down my guitar and decided to dedicate myself solely to visual arts. After moving to Montreal and becoming a raging conceptual-art-hipster, I got the totally post-modern and gleefully ironic idea to record covers of Rancid songs in an ultra-sweet style. While searching for ways to contradict the electric guitar in every way possible, my eye fell on the accordion that was collecting dust at my parent’s house. I decided it was the perfect vehicle for my project and when I taught myself to play Rancid songs, I soon ended up writing my own.
TUBE:You toured briefly with Bad Religion, Anti-Flag and Gogol Bordello in the mid 2000’s. Do you feel like Gogol Bordello influenced your experimental take on punk rock? If it is not Gogol Bordello that influenced you, who did?
Maïa: Yes, our tour with the greats was my band’s LAST shows, which means like anything worthwhile in rock n roll, we burned out instead of fading away… or something. I became a huge fan of Gogol Bordello right before our tour because I had grown up listening to Balkan music and had never thought of pairing it with anything like that! I think discovering Beirut and Pascal Comelade also were “Aha!” moments, because they were completely different takes on sounds that I already knew and loved (european folk and toy instruments, respectively).
TUBE:Have you ever met Tim Armstrong? Is he aware of what you have been up to?
Maïa: Yes! He got in touch with me when he discovered me as Your Kid Sister, the name of the strictly Rancid-cover band project, saying and I quote “you’re AMAZING!!!!!” (and if that wasn’t enough to have warmed the cockles of my punk rock heart, I don’t know what would!). Since then we’ve kept in touch, he was the one to have suggested me covering It’s Quite Alright on my album, listening to my new songs, etc. Finally we met this year when he played a show in Barcelona. I think I was a little star struck but he’s awesome and I hope we’ll get to collaborate some time in the future.
TUBE: I notice a little wolf floating around, your hat, the Follow Me video, is this a nod to Rancid?
Maïa: It started as such, yeah! As Your Kid Sister, I’d actually always wear a wolf hat on stage, a riff on “And out come the wolves”. I don’t wear it anymore but it’s still my power animal.
TUBE: Any loves other than music?
Maïa: Russian Literature, Woody Allen’s early films, the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Joseph Cornell, animals, coffee (but not in the snooty way, I don’t grind my own or anything, I mean I just love to drink coffee. Some of the best cups coffee I’ve ever had was at gas stations.)
TUBE: What can you not live without?
TUBE: If you were stuck in one place for 2 years with 3 people who would they be?
Maïa: My mother, my co-producer and best friend Giuliano Cobelli, and Ira Glass (but he would have to be able to continue to meet other people and come up with interesting and contemplative stories like he does on his radio show, This American Life).
TUBE: You are quite the traveler. Barcelona, Williamsburg, Paris… What feels most like home and where are you living now?
Maïa: My home-home is where I keep my stuff and let my plants expire (I’m never home to water them) so right now that’s Barcelona. But when I was back in Montreal for the first time in years this summer, and I realized that basically anywhere I have history and friends, can feel like home again in a second. I guess it’s a complicated question for me to answer, so I recently wrote a song where I admit that “home is where I find my mother.”
TUBE:God is my Bike is your latest album, how do you think you have grown from Your Kid Sister?
Maïa: Your Kid Sister was a way for me to get back into music without exposing too much of myself, it was a sort of protective persona that kept me from having to share anything personal and it worked because I ended up back on stage even though I had vowed not to! When I realized that my 5 rancid songs weren’t really going to fill a set, it was only natural for me to start writing again and this time around it was more personal, more unrelentingly honest, and pure than ever before. Your Kid Sister was my training wheels and when I started performing my material and took off the wolf hat and told people my real name, it was a revelation. And unsurprisingly, I keep changing! Who I was on stage a year ago isn’t who I am now, the things I write about now aren’t what I wrote about for God is My Bike, and I think it’s because my life has changed so much since then. I think the only thing that stays constant is my will to change.
TUBE: Do you feel like the music you are doing now is linked to the punk rock world other than the occasional cover song?
Maïa: Definitely, well at least I’d like to think so even though the punks might not ! What I feel most linked to is the ideology of DIY that still pervades almost everything I do. I still never ask someone to teach me how to do anything, I don’t hire professionals, I record almost all the instruments myself, I refuse to wait, I insist on a fresh and hard-won naiveté that is essential to my creative process. (But again, if you want to know what the punk world thinks about me, you should see what they commented when Rancid posted one of my videos!)
TUBE: Who is the last band you went to see?
Maïa: Marc Ribot and the Cubanos Postizos in Barcelona.
TUBE: I notice a lot of the time you are a solo act. Are you playing with anyone now?
Maïa: There are an awful lot of instruments to move around from, especially if you are playing live. I did start in solo but now am accompanied by 2 multi-instrumentalists, because yeah, there are a hell of a lot of instruments to navigate. All told we have something like 15 instruments on tour with us and we find a way to artfully juggle them all.
TUBE: What is next? Anything we should keep our eyes open for? New albums, perhaps a tour? Any chance of you visiting the US west coast?
Maïa: I’m in the process of finishing up my new album and I hope to release it next year and definitely want to come to the west coast as soon as possible! Did I mention I was born in Santa Barbara ?
Well Maïa I do hope you come visit us soon. In the meantime, visit http://www.maiavidal.com/ to learn more.