For all that Minneapolis rightfully is hailed for its legendary contributions to R&B/funk, not the least being his Royal Purpleness, St. Paul has its own exceptional entity in the artistry of uniquely compelling singer-songwriter-musician Mayda.
It may just be Mayda’s time to stake out a claim to national standing. She’s certainly got the essential ingredients: talent, steadily increasing exposure, and that ever-indispensable key, connections with juice (namely producer Michael Bland). There’s no factoring in that last piece, luck, but, well, all the luck in the world won’t do any good without strong chops—and Mayda’s are cast-iron.
She follows her winning debut Stereotype and the successful The Interrogation with her best yet, Tusks in Furs. About the highest compliment you can pay is to call a musician a monster. Accordingly, Tusks in Furs comes up on you like Godzilla walkin’ down Broadway. Cut after cut knocks you on your ass.
Starting with “Sylvia.” Mean backbeat leans into sparse guitar, airy harmonies for a couple verses. When Mayda signs on, carrying the melody, everything gets real serious—driving hard, music you can’t help but feel right in the middle of your hips. Added to which the lyrics are tight: “A jet plane had a baby/ the baby was a little girl/ The plane crashed into a building and crushed the baby’s world/ She grew up in the safe zone avoiding any type of fight/ The plane crashed during the daytime, so she feels the most comfortable at night.” That’s before all hell breaks loose at the chorus. “Sylvia, Sylvia they heard you singing to the moon/ They heard you singing the blues/ Sylvia, Sylvia you’re making the news/ They’re talking about you/ They’re talking about you.” Caution: it is not recommended to operate a moving vehicle or anything else requiring concentration and listen to this song at the same time.
“Tsunami,” made to make you dance, is a subtle, ferocious cascade of sweet passion and raw fire, on which Mayda again acquits herself as a sharp lyricist with lines like ”Well, my head keeps on talking to my hormones/ And my hormones whisper to my hands/ And my hands keep on moving through the free world/ Tryin’ to build castle in the sand/ What do you feel?/ What do you see?/ I am down on my knees, facing the sea/ Just like a tsunami/ hit me.” And there is “You’re going to have to be the one to stop/ I broke brakes when I saw you walk/ I stood up when you rode the wave/ Like a tsunami/ It hit me high, it hit me far/ Just like a tsunami/ It hit me.” Trust me, it’ll hit you, too.
Tusks in Furs is produced by Mayda, Michael Bland, and Ross Hanover with Mayda playing keys, bass, and guitar; and doing the drum track programming (engineer Chuck Zwieky guests on guitar and synth).
The month of September, after a short tour in Europe, her dance card hardly leaves breathing room. As a partial listing, September 16 there’s Mayda Pizza Party at Punch in Stadium Village, a solo performance. September 17, KARE 11 Morning News; and, in the evening, she’s on the bill for Villa Rosa’s (Muja Messiah and Maria Isa) release show at First Avenue. September 23, an in-store performance at Cheapo, 1300 W. Lake Street in Uptown Minneapolis, 6 p.m. (free). Capping things off, September 24 at Cedar Cultural Center is the Tusks In Furs release event with Maria Isa and the Birthday Suits. $8 in advance/$10 at the door, all ages, 7 p.m.
After trying to fit a sit-down interview in her schedule, Mayda made time for a phone conversation.
You’re stronger than ever. What artistic growth have you seen between Stereotype, The Interrogation, and Tusks in Furs?
I’ve gone through a lot of life changes in between those albums. I know myself a lot better as an artist now—who I am as a person. I wanted this one to be a little more organic. It makes more sense to me. There’s more [cohesion].
The material for the new album: your lyrics have always been strong—and your playing, of course. Your singing. But the melodies this time around, they’re newly inventive.
Yeah, I am definitely into harmonies and just not doing what I’ve done before. It’s always been important to remain myself. But I always like to make something different. There needs to be change, because I’m constantly changing. So my melodies are [too]. And I like to make things very colorful.
Well, you did that. You’ve been publicized as a funk artist.
While there’s still funk in the new album, there’s a lot of rock. Not rock ’n’ roll, but a great deal of straight-ahead drive.
I know what you’re saying. With these songs, with this album, I felt, like, urgency. A strong feeling to just move. Traveling is something I love to do, and movement is so important to me and prevalent in my life. Especially in these past couple years. That’s something I’ve been able to do, wanting to do. These songs are a reflection of that. Just urgency, the movement, travel. The basic concept of [“Tusks in Furs”] is resorting to what you need. Your instincts, your natural abilities. My need to is travel, to keep moving.
I couldn’t help noticing and—please don’t feel insulted. I don’t want it sound like I’m saying you’re less than, or copying or something. But “That One” has a kick similar to Mariah Carey’s “Someday.” It just gets right to you. And, man, stays right with you.
I’m flattered. She’s not one of my favorite artists, but, I definitely respect her. And as a singer, as a musician.
I guess my point is, like you said, there’s that urgency.
Can I add something?
I think, especially being in Minnesota, where, y’ know, the weather changes constantly—it can be 90 degrees one day and then it can be 30 below the next day and all you have is what’s around you, and you don’t know what’s coming—you resort to your instincts, and that’s the essence of the album. Being Minnesotan and, especially in this past year, was like…even in the whole world, tsunamis and all the disasters. You really have to resort to what you know, what you have. It’s not about what you can buy or what you can make. It’s more your family or who you are—and really depending on those. That’s what’s urgent, what’s needed. That’s why the songs are so strong. [Because] you don’t need anything else.
Well, for me, the melodies are leaner. Stark. Do you feel you’re reaching a new point in your artistry?
Yeah, I think so. I would hope so, you know? Like I said, before, nothing is the same. It’s natural change. For me, it’s [about] staying true to the change.
Any particularly memorable moments in recording Tusks in Furs? For instance, any takes that on playback surprised you? Any songs that worked out even better than expected? Stuff like that?
When I got the master back, when I got the mixes of the whole album and I listened to everything, then, I thought, wow, this sounds bigger than what I, y’ know, when I was just playing [the songs] in my room and writing them. When I was able to absorb it rather than exhale it, you know what I mean?
No, but go ahead.
Well, when I was able to look at it and not sing it. Not be the person telling it. When I could sit back and analyze it as a listener.
Speaking of which, how much are you able to ever really sit back and be objective—like you said, be a listener?
It’s pretty difficult for me. When I write, I write with a vision already in my head. I’ll already have an idea of how I want to perform the song. As a part of my writing process I’ll already have a path for the song, which helps me develop it. But, once I’m finished and then can finally record it, that’s when I can sit back and be more of listener. But, it is very difficult to detach myself in that sense.
You, without a doubt, have one hell of a gift for writing lyrics. And what’s amazing is how well they go hand in glove with the feel. I mean, they’re just as funky and shoot-from-the-hip as the recording, the rhythm. Y’ know? Packing a real punch. Instead of just being rhymes put together, your words give dimension to the whole thing. For me, anyway, they truly strengthen the whole experience.
Thank you. That means probably the most to me out of any, you know, any aspect of the music. Because lyrics are one of the most important things to me. I don’t care how poppy or dumb your melody is, if you’re saying something and you mean it and you do it in the right way, that’s what’s important. For me, anyway. Maybe not for other people. That’s a huge compliment.
Well, it’s well deserved.
Any interesting dynamics as a Korean-American touring Iceland…where else was it?
I went to Iceland, Sweden, and Norway. It was weird. I’d never been there before. It was interesting. It’s kind of funny, ‘cause [before the tour] I was thinking to myself, I’m a Korean adopted Minnesotan. And Minnesota roots are in Scandinavia. So, I have now been to Korea where my blood is from and, now, I’m going to my nurtured routes. Everyone there was nice. I didn’t experience any, y’ know, odd looks or anything like that. I did think, wow, these people from this country like what I’m doing. It’s crazy that [they] can connect with what I’m saying over here, too. This is great.
What about last year, playing South Korea? How’d it go?
That was amazing. The whole experience. Not just playing music, but, just, it was more of a culture shock than going to Scandinavia.
Just ‘cause, I’m not used to being around so many people from Korea. It was mind-blowing. It helped me be more…it reminded me of who I am. Of how different I am from everybody, but, also helped me to connect just because we’re [all] people. And it doesn’t matter where I’m from, it just matters who I am and what I can do as a person. It just made me happy and more sure of who I am.
You were home.
Yeah, I went home. And it reminded me this is where I came from, but, it’s not necessarily only who I am. It’s a part of [my identity], though.
Tusks in Furs getting airplay in advance of the release show?
Yep. It’s already been featured on MTV, on The Real L Word on Showtime Network and Bad Girls Club on the Oxygen Network.
Touring. I want to go as big as I can. I already have my next album done. It’s frustrating for me, because these songs [on Tusks in Furs] are new, but, they’re so old to me. I constantly write. So I have to keep going, and keep pushing. I need to get these songs out of my system. I have a really fast metabolism artistically. That’s part of the urgency too.