Estonian music producer and artist Maria Juur, better known as Maria Minerva, makes dreamy soundscapes that straddle the line between experimental lo-fi psychedelia and pop-oriented dance music. Completely entranced since her first release in 2011, Tallinn at Dawn, and in anticipation of her upcoming record release on April 29th, we sat down to a casual chat and (in-between much laughter) discovered a nuanced and insightful artist who embraces the mundane and isn’t entirely opposed to selling out.
So, you’re thinking about moving to LA?
Yeah, I started applying for my driver’s license. I don’t want to be one of those people without a license in California. When I initially moved to the States it was with the intention of living in California, but then I thought wait, I can’t even drive, who am I kidding? Now I feel sorry for the people who have to be in traffic with me.
Meaning you feel sorry for us! Where are you living in New York?
I’m on the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood, so I’m the last wave gentrifier who can’t afford to move anywhere else. Bushwick is ugly as hell, and I don’t want to live under the JMZ until the end of my life.
We must say we agree. Want to talk about your new record coming out? How is it similar or different from your most recent EP and those before it?
This is the first album I’ve recorded in the States. I moved here in 2012, and people might perceive that I’ve been easy going about it, but in reality it’s been a huge change. I spent the past year settling and familiarizing myself with the city. The idea of New York that I had initially is still in the back of my head, and when I go to Manhattan or take a taxi I see what I imagined. But the reality of it, like the JMZ… It took me about a year to wrap my mind around the situation that I had put myself in. I can only occupy my mind with one big thing at a time, so making music became kind of hard for me because I was occupied with my life, especially after two years of touring. Eventually, I felt like it was high time to start recording again, but I kept making stuff and discarding it, so it took more than a year to get the whole thing together. Now, I almost feel like it’s behind me, but it hasn’t even come out yet. The thing with albums is that they always come out with such a delay. In my mind I’ve already moved on.
Ok, so what are you up to right now? What are you working on?
I’m mostly working on mundane stuff, like the driver’s license. I’m also collaborating on a performance with two Lithuanian artists, and I’m doing a few shows and DJ sets. But in my day-to-day life I’m putting together a green card application, which is super time consuming. So that’s my life, really boring. Creatively, it’s a weird time in New York. There’s been a lot of hibernation going on. You know the pyramid of needs where food and shelter are on the bottom? It’s feeling bottom level.
How did your collaboration with our mutual friend and turntablist Maria Chavez come about?
I met Maria Chavez through a friend, and we both performed at the Ladies of Experimental Music Festival in Brooklyn. I was mesmerized because what she does is so unique—how she doesn’t even use editing, and everything happens entirely in the moment. The process really intrigued me, so I started reading about her and saw that she had written a book (Of Technique: Chance Procedures on Turntable), and that she is also a DJ. She seemed like a really cool person and artist, so I approached her. It started out with me going to her apartment in Greenpoint every Monday afternoon and recording. The difference that I introduced to her process was that I started using my sampler to manipulate what was coming from her turntable, and I added a lot of effects and loops and both of our vocals. I remember we played this one show together, and her experimental music friends said to her “Why are you making songs now? You’re selling out.” But I can’t help it, whenever I hear something I create a song in my mind, and I turned all of her experimental bits and pieces into pop music. Some people get annoyed.
It’s ok, they don’t need to take themselves so seriously.
I know, that’s how I feel too. I’ve given up on all kinds of labels like that. It’s so pointless. But working with Maria was really awesome. People like her and some other people that I’ve met here are the reason that I moved. Not even the skyscrapers or the American Dream. It was more about discovering new avenues, and I feel like people in NYC are eager to do stuff together if they think it’s in any way profitable to them, you know?
It’s a little different in LA. People stick to themselves more. You definitely spend more time alone.
I’m not scared of being alone at all. I’m kind of used to it. LA, for someone like me, maybe it seems almost unlikely, so I think there’s more of a chance that it could be completely different. I feel like the NYC existence is the same life that I lived in London or Estonia. It’s just an urban existence. But I feel this weird urge to go hiking, which I’ve never felt before. I hope everything works out, because even though NYC is an expensive place to live, at least the infrastructure is pretty easy, or at least you can enter the scene as a stranger more than nine times in your life. You can always come here and start over. People don’t even remember if they saw you two months or two years ago.
So true! The recent demos that you’ve posted to your soundcloud page have an overwhelming theme of heartbreak. Much of your music, despite its dance beats and psychedelic disco vibes, maintains an element of nostalgia or loss.
I think it’s a pop trope, because I’ve never been happier than I am right now in my personal life, but I’ve written so many heartbreak songs in the past year. The problem with songs is that they have to be about yearning. Either you’re yearning for the Friday night, or you’re yearning for someone’s affection, but it’s always about the missing element. The primary emotions around that feeling of lack. I’ve been involved in the experimental music scene for a long time, but I can’t get over just making songs. I mean, I’m not saying that I want to super sell out, but I wouldn’t say no. Primarily, I want to write songs, and the theme of heartbreak just goes along with a really beautiful melody line. My two favorite things: sad melodies and heartbreak.
Before parting, what are you listening to right now? Can you enlighten us?
I listen to DJ mixes when I work, but I’ve become so old that I just listen to a lot of WNYC. It’s so weird, I used to be such a music maniac, but often now I find myself just sitting and staring at the wall. Sometimes it makes me worried, and I question if I’m losing interest in what’s happening in the music world, or if I should care more. Music is such a physical thing, to assume that every latest track from the internet has to protrude your everyday life like that, to me it’s almost invasive. I don’t want to let everything in. Last week I listened to a lot of Robert Johnson, the early blues recordings. I kind of go back in time a lot. I’m like an old soul, in a good and bad way.
Interview by Chantal Chadwick