Interview: Maija Sofia

Words by Alex Norelli

Singing to secret ghosts, Maija Sofia brings forth a spacey detachment that cuts to the bone and may just haunt you too if you step into the lo-fi gloom of her sonic universe.

What have you been listening to lately?

I’ve been listening to loads of Grouper and CocoRosie, and also another Irish songwriter called Katie Kim who should be a lot more famous than she is.

What do you like about Grouper?

I like that her music is really raw and feels close. I know that is quite a cliche thing to say about any music but I don’t know how else to describe it. I think the production quality of her work (sort of organic unfinished sounding with lots of reverb) has been a big influence on the way I record. There is an atmospheric sense of frailty and vulnerability in her songs that really appeals to me in that I can relate to it a lot. I like the idea of using music to address individualistic frailty rather than suppress it, and thus create some kind of personal sanctuary, and I think Grouper does that really well.

Who are your favorite musicians and what are your three all-time favorite songs?

The Smiths, Kate Bush, Lou Reed, The Shins, Joanna Newsom, and CocoRosie are some of my favourites, but I could keep going for hours. Just 3 all-time favorite songs is hard! I think maybe Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks, Only Skin by Joanna Newsom and Heroin by The Velvet Underground.

Whats your first memory around music?

I don’t really know, my dad is a bass player and my parents used to lull me to sleep to Bob Marley so the sound of really heavy bass, or any reggae, makes me feel really safe and comforted. When I’m at loud gigs or festivals and there is a thumping bass sound, everyone else is dancing but I just want to curl up somewhere and feel safe haha. Another really early memory of music is listening to my mum quietly play guitar and sing to herself, she used to really quietly play Joni Mitchell and Dylan songs in the kitchen while I was upstairs falling asleep, listening to these sad, dreamy melodies. Also when I was really really young, maybe 3 or 4 I heard ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ by the Buzzcocks -actually that’s one of my favourite songs ever too –  playing in a pub in Galway called The King’s Head and it had a strange profound effect on me, and I had this realization that creating music was what I absolutely had to do (I was a dramatic 4 year old…)

I like how you describe your music, “ghost songs for the half-awake.”  Can you elaborate on that .. who are you singing to?  Are there any ghosts you sing to?

I’m singing to myself mostly, and anyone else who wants to listen, but yes there are ghosts that I sing to, what a lovely way of putting it! The ghosts themselves are secrets though, I’m afraid.

About your latest EP, can you explain the significance of the title Sentient Light?

There isn’t any particular significance to it actually, open for interpretation I suppose. Ferdia and I were desperately trying to think of a title, we were flicking through books on random pages trying to find words that would work. I think the books were a collection of Allen Ginsberg poems and Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams by Sylvia Plath, in the end I think we were half joking and just like ‘call it anything.’ The whole EP has got a sort of alien-y, detached spaciness so I guess it kind of makes sense. Or going back to ghosts, I suppose a ghost could be sentient light?

Do you have a muse/s? You bring up witchcraft and gloom a bit in what i’ve read. 

Do I have a muse? Good question, I definitely do quite often write about people, but it’s a secret who they are. Witchcraft has always intrigued me, everything to do with it from Witch Trials, to herbalism, to Tarot cards and any kind of divination. Actually some of my instrumental music is being used in an upcoming documentary about pagan burials, which is cool! I’ve always been really drawn to the occult, and any kind of white magic (I’m not claiming to perform any, the subject has just always interested me.) Gloom is a great word, someone used the term ‘gloom folk’ to describe my music once and I think that suits it quite well.

What colors, materials, objects, textures best express your music to you?  

I like this question, I have quite a synaesthetic brain as it is so I make sense of a lot of intangible things by association with stuff like colours or objects. Actually a friend of mine recently said listening to my songs makes her see grey and turquoise and pale pink and tangerine, and I really liked that! Materials.. maybe spider webs, chiffon and antique lace? And for objects maybe prisms, crystals, old aerials and weather vanes? Sorry I’m beginning to sound a pretentious here …

If you could perform anywhere in the universe where would you and why?

I would go back in time to 1960s/70s New York and play in places like Andy Warhol’s Factory and CGBG’s and hang out with Lou Reed and Patti Smith and Bob Dylan and everyone else…I know that’s a pretty predictable stock answer, but I’ve always been obsessed with that period and I really fell in love with New York while I was there.

If you were a Rare Earth Mineral, where would you be found and what would your qualities be?

Haha what a strange question! I would be clear but slightly iridescent like quartz, I’d be found in teardrops and would be quite delicate, but stronger than I appear.

Your name Maija,  is that your own spelling or your given name?

It’s my real name, real spelling, it was hellish a name to have living in the west of Ireland where no one could pronounce it. It’s quite a popular Finnish name (I’m a quarter Finnish) and according to google it means ‘sea of bitterness’ which sounds pretty heavy metal, but ‘Maia’ is one of the Pleiades/Seven sisters (the constellation) and the Roman goddess of spring, while ‘Maya’ was Buddha’s mother, the south american tribe who discovered chocolate (thanks for that) and also I was apparently named after the writer Maya Angelou.

And lastly, what are your musical plans for this year?  Any touring, recording, listening goals?

I’m doing a small in May/June, so far I’m just playing in London, Dublin, and Galway. I am really impatient to release a collection of songs I’ve been working on for a while but want to wait until they’re ready… Basically I’m just going to write more songs, record those songs and play more gigs, that’s it really.

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