Ich weiß auch nicht, weshalb Interviews generell auf Tage fallen, die der Engländer als „one of these days“ bezeichnet. Man könnte auch sagen: die unter keinem guten Stern stehen. Der Montag, an dem ich Maïa Vidal treffen sollte, ging jedenfalls schon einmal denkbar schlecht los. Wie so oft war ich spät dran zu einem Meeting, dem ich nicht nur einfach beiwohnen, sondern auf dem ich auch aktiv sprechen sollte. Gerade stand ich wimperntuschend vor dem Badezimmerspiegel, als Kopfhörerhund ins Bad getappt kam, um „Guten Morgen“ zu sagen. Normalerweise hat man jetzt noch Zeit, die Wimpern fertig zu tuschen und ein paar Klamotten über zu werfen – allein, heute nicht. Wieder etwas gelernt: Wenn Kopfhörerhund raus muss, muss er #jetzt# raus – Altersinkontinenz lässt grüßen. Jedenfalls hörte ich im Flur nur „strull“, und ehe der ganze Spaß dann wieder trockengelegt und desinfiziert war … Meeting adé, Chef sprang im Dreieck. Überflüssig zu erwähnen, dass in der hektischen Aufbruchsaktion das selbstverständliche Zubehör eines Interviews wie Visitenkarten oder Stifte vergessen wurden. Wenigstens hatte ich mein Diktaphon (aufgeladen) und meinen Fragenkatalog (vorbereitet).
Als ich nach einem Arbeitstag, der ganz im Zeichen der Chefbesänftigung stand, im verabredeten Kreuzberger Café ankomme, sind meine Interviewpartner noch nicht da. Dafür kommt bald eine weitere Journalistin, die am selben Ort ein Interview mit jemand anderem führen will. Da die asiatische Kellnerin beide Male aber nur „Interview“ versteht, will sie uns erst einmal verkuppeln. Und dann wird mit einem Mal alles gut: Maïa Vidal kommt, sieht und siegt, könnte man auch sagen. Die unglaublich niedliche und charmante Musikerin begrüßt mich ganz selbstverständlich mit Küsschen links und Küsschen rechts, und ihr mindestens ebenso symthatischer Begleiter, Mit-Musiker Simon Beaumont, ist derart höflich, dass er mich fragt, ob ich etwas dagegen hätte, wenn er sich statt eines Tees ein Bier bestellt. Von Berliner Jungs bin ich eine so gute Erziehung ganz bestimmt nicht gewöhnt – und daher erst einmal gebührend beeindruckt. Diese Franzosen!
Nachdem wir alle mit Getränken versorgt sind, kann das Interview zu God Is My Bike, der Platte mit dem aktuell coolsten Cover-Artwork, dann auch schon losgehen. Immerhin ist es die erste, die Vidal unter ihrem bürgerlichen Namen veröffentlicht. Vorher sorgte sie unter dem Alias „Your Kid Sister“ für Aufsehen, als sie sich einigen Songs der kalifornischen Ska-Punker Rancid angenommen und daraus eine Cover-EP gemacht hat – „eben wie deine kleine Schwester, die Punk zwar cool findet, ihn aber nicht verstanden hat“.
Made to do music: Maïa Vidal on the loss of faith, the only great thing about having had violin lessons and the general soundtrack of her life
Klangverführer: First of all I would like to ask you about the title of your upcoming album. What does “God Is My Bike” mean to you?
Maïa Vidal: It’s one of the songs in the album. It’s funny, it’s a song about the loss of faith – but at the same time … you know, I’m not a religious person at all, but it kind of talks about this experience I had where I was riding my bike around in Barcelona at night, and a couple of times I had this feeling that felt like – if I was a religious person I would say a religious feeling – I felt suddenly full of this vibration and light and it was incredible and I’m there on my bike, feeling like “Oh my God, the world makes sense!” and I was thinking about it and it felt like if I had any sort of religious feeling that would be like being close to God. And the song talks about the sad side of being that, because since my bike got stolen I don’t have this feelings anymore. So it’s really like a funny material answer to the loss of faith.
This album is your second recording after “Poison”, your self-released
Your Kid Sister EP, which exclusively contained cover songs – punk anthems, which you adopted to your own style. What is, to you, the difference between recording a cover song and recording an own song?
It’s interesting because I started doing covers as a sort of response to not … You know, I used to play in a Punk band and I used to write my own songs and after two years I really couldn’t do it anymore. I think it was partly the Punk scene and partly being so young and writing really personal things and being in a not really accepting community, because Punk is a very sort of … special genre. And so I started doing covers in a way to keep myself from getting hurt again. So I had this alias persona, I had a concept and I told myself, “This is good. You can do music without getting hurt because you’re not gonna write about yourself, you do just covers. It’s sort of like an art project.” You know, I was studying visual arts that time and then I started performing. Originally, I recorded the songs just on my computer with GarageBand. And then people really responded to the music video, the animations I made, so I started performing and I found that the scene I was playing in had so much changed from what I remembered, was so much more accepting, so much more open and … warm! It was just a totally different experience. I still perform the Rancid covers because I really love them. I love the arrangements I did … but it’s true that with my own songs it’s different. Because I don’t hide anything, the songwriting is really honest. It’s a nice feeling to know that I can write so honestly about myself and not worry about anything. Maybe it’s also because of my age, because I experienced a lot more and it’s kind of the second time that I’ve done it and whatever, but above all I think the scene has just changed a lot. Because when I started playing music in the early Two-Thousands – I played in an all-girl punk band – I guess the genre that we’re doing right now didn’t really exist. In the meantime, Regina Spektor happened, Feist happened and people like them, so when I came back to music, people where incredibly kind to the genre that I play, and incredibly respectful. People come to my shows and you can hear the clicking of the cameras just because it’s so quiet, and that gave my such a kind of trust to write my songs, the trust that everyone is gonna be kind.
Like you’ve just said, due to your homemade video your version of the Rancid song “Poison” went quickly viral on Youtube and your “Your Kid Sister” EP became a noticeable success. Would you characterize yourself as a Youtube star or, more general, as somebody whose career is based on social media?
That’s interesting actually because I coulnd’t … like I said I didn’t start performing until after I had done a video. I had a Myspace account but I wasn’t really publishing anything. But when I put on the video, you could watch how it picked up the speed hour by hour. And now my work is much more … But now what people talk about when they talk about me is not my video but how we are live. Because live is … that’s really what I’m working on now. But definitely I feel like – I wouldn’t say that I am based in social media, now it’s two and a half years since I made the video, but I definitely got my first approval there – which is cool because since I made my own video I feel like people recognize me as an artist instead of just as a singer/songwriter, they are like, “Oh, you did the animation!”
So your music was more or less a side-product to your animations, at first?
Totally, yes! I was doing a Bachelor Fine Arts in Montreal and so I was exploring culture and drawing and art history, and I just started to get into animation, and it was at that point that my boyfriend and me were listening Punk songs, and I thought it would be funny to do this as a visual art product, rather than thinking about maybe becoming a musician. And I just turned into that, so my visual arts were translated in a funny way … But yes, absolutely a side-product, I never thought it would result in this.
Currently at least people apperceive you as a musician …
Absolutely. And weirdly music is always coming incredibly easy to me, I’m always having a good time – I mean, I’ve always been able to express myself musically. But I’m glad that it turned out that way because I was always troubled with my visual arts. I don’t have the same … I’m not made for it. I’m doing visual arts, I love animations – but I was made to do music. But I needed to get away and really struggled, struggled to be just another, in order to come back to music and know why I’m doing it, know what makes me happy and so on.
So it wouldn’t have worked for you if you had studied music from the start …
No. I’m really happy that I took that time off and I’m glad that … You know, to some point I talked to this guy in the music industry, at some point with my Punk band we were really getting somewhere, and I was like “Find me a legal or whatever”, and he said, “Look. You are too young, you really should just stop right now. You have all kinds of talent but you should just close the curtain and come back to it in a couple of years”, and I’m glad that I did, because I got a lot of perspectives on my art, I wasn’t just sort of making a transfusion of self-expression, but I learned how to shape it, how to control it … I found my voice studying art.
Talking about finding your voice – your current project started under your alter ego Your Kid Sister. I even found some layout drafts where “God Is My Bike” is labeled with your alter ego … What made you decide to use your real name, after all?
Well, it was not a conscious decision. I just felt like I didn’t have a choice one day. I played some shows under the alias, where I used to wear a wolf hat on stage all the time, and there were moments that were just incongruent. For example, “God Is My Bike”, when I play it live, it’s really intense, and I’m basically wailing. And then sometimes I step back and say to myself, what are you doing there, you’re wailing and you call yourself Your Kid Sister? Your Kid Sister was a persona I created for the Rancid project, but once it took off without Rancid I was like, “What am I doing here?” And I really wanted it to be … I wanted something that was unarguable. And the next concert I played as Maïa Vidal was surprising me, because it was a completely different experience, I don’t know why even but I felt so much more comfortable, I never felt so comfortable on stage! They would say my name in the beginning of the show and I felt like … amazing! I’m really really glad I did it, because this album is my entire universe, it’s not just the sweet parts, it’s also the really bitter and the really sad, the really scary and angry and weird and whatever, and so that’s why it feels good to play … show it all.
So your album “God Is My Bike” mirrors your whole personality, not to mention that it contains a collaboration with avant-garde guitar player Marc Ribot. I wonder how this collaboration got around …
Well, it was a really really amazing experience, even though we did it across, I was in Barcelona and he was in New York. But it happened because actually my Dad and he know each other from way back in the days. Actually, Marc is the one who invited my Dad to New York, my Dad is French. Marc was touring with his band and met my Dad there and invited him to New York. My Dad came to New York and met my Mom and they got married and they had me … So, you know, he’s like a way old old old friend of my father and had a really big influence on my life! He’s the reason why I’m here, in a way. And he’s always sort of followed my career and was really supportive, but with the Rancid project – he really liked it. And so when I was recording I asked him if he would be interested. I only gave him very little direction, I just said, here are the tracks, do what you want. And when I heard them, it was really really incredible!
Another collaboration was your work for the autumn/winter campaign “Dreams 2011” for the Spanish fashion brand Desigual that you recorded a song for … How did this come into existence?
When I was living in Paris, I came back to Barcelona – so I lived in Barcelona and then I moved to Paris, thought I was never coming back, and it was kinda strange, I just needed to get out of the relationship I was in (now I’m back in the same relationship), I moved to Paris to forget it …. And we came to Barcelona to play a little tour. And somebody came up to me at one of the concerts and was like, “I work with Desigual and I love your music, can’t you come back to Barcelona and record something for us?” This guy turned out to be the producer of the spot, an Argentinean pianist and composer, who made me come back to Barcelona with the original garage band file of mine that I recorded on my laptop, they took that song. Before, the original lyrics where Rancid lyrics, and they said, “Can you write your own lyrics?”, and I was like, okay. So I wrote my new lyrics on this already existing song, because they didn’t want to pay for the rights or whatever, and I came to Barcelona for three days to record it and it ended up being a really beautiful thing! I was very insure because you never know how these things really will come out, but now it’s actually the way I sing it live. So I had someone to ask me to write my own lyrics to a song that I was playing for the last year and it was really great, I’m actually happy with the product.
Talking about collaborations … I wonder how the record deal with the prestigious Belgian record company Crammed Discs was achieved. Did you choose the label or did they spot you?
Well, a little bit of both. When the album was done, I … no. In recording the album, I actually had found out about them. Because a band I liked was on the label, and I was looking at their roster and I found they had all these bands I was listening to my whole life, like Taraf de Haiduks, all these World Music, that is the background of all my music education, and so when I saw that artist roster I thought, “I wanna be on that label!” The whole time while we were recording the album I was thinking that, like, “Yaeh! Crammed Discs, Crammed Discs, Crammed Discs!” And then, when it was done, a friend of ours send them the demo, and it just happened that we were in Paris to play a couple of shows and so they came to the show and saw us live and just said, “We want you”. And they really fought for me, too, because there was a moment when I wasn’t sure, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sign or not, because in 2011 it’s not like you need a record label anymore, it’s more or less a question of where you want your career to go, but finally I think it was the right decision.
Would have been my next question. You started recording without having a record deal and would have possibly released the album by yourself just like you did it with your EP?
Yeah, because we recorded in a home studio and I definitely had a moment where I thought I that I was gonna self-release it, but actually now that I’m part of the roster it definitely feels good sort of be part of a group or whatever. But also, first and foremost I’m a musician, and even if I like to book my own shows or do my own album artwork, there’s a part of me that’s like … dealing with distribution or sales or whatever is kind of just a headache for me, and so if I can have … You know, Crammed Dicsc is actually a really well-respected, good label that has a really reputable roster that is really inspiring and interesting … Even if I could have done it on my own, I’d rather have that energy for writing new material, recording new material, playing live.
Aside from Ribot on the guitars and Giuliano Gius Cobelli on trumpet and drums you are playing all the other instruments, like violins, accordion, guitar, percussion and even toy instruments. Tell me a bit about your musical background – for instance, are you an autodidact or did you have lessons on each of these instruments?
I had lessons with classical violin and I studied from seven to eighteen but hated it all the while! Every year I would ask my parents to quit, but they said no. So when I finally became eighteen I couldn’t wait to get rid of it and said to myself to never play it again! But the great thing about having had violin lessons is that learning other instruments is really easy. Violin is really complicated, so when you wanna learn guitar or even accordion … I knew that I would probably get by with it. So yeah, I play violin, accordion, I play guitar on the album, flute, xylophone, toy piano … and now I’m learning trumpet. When I was a kid I also played clarinet at some point for a couple of years. So I had a clarinet at home, I just didn’t play for ten years. And so I saw it when I was playing with Simon who is a totally talented multi-instrumentalist, and now we tour together and he has never taken a music class but plays every instrument he puts his hands on, so we’re learning clarinet, and now we’ve just incorporated the autoharp into our set … It’s a fine kind of curiosity to play every instrument that we come in touch with. Somebody had a banjo – now we’re playing banjo!
But actually you started your musical career as a bass player in the girl punk rock band Kievan Rus in 2004 …
I am currently working on a project called “She’s Got Rhythm – Girls At The Rhythm Section”. Did gender play a role in this time of your career, have you been confronted with prejudice or something the like?
Well, in my band we were a girl drummer and a girl guitar and whatever, and I was the classic girl singer/bass player type, and I don’t know if it’s a rhythm instrument thing or just an instrument thing in general or just a Rock’n’Roll thing, but I always felt like I was struggling in a man’s world! And especially with Punk because that’s really you stepping into a male dominated scene. In order to play music, I felt you have to take on a male personality, like angry, strong, whatever. Even if it’s just in front of the sound guy. I mean, I was a sixteen year old girl, and there were these forty-five year old sound guys … I definitely felt like … It was not fun. Of course, there were moments that were fun, but mostly my feeling was that I had to prove myself always, I had to … like … be extra-strong and extra-bossy and extra-aggressive to sort of make up for the fact that I was a tiny girl. And now – it’s totally different for me now. The sound guys are nice – yeah, it’s still a sound guy and not a sound girl –, which is incredible! I’m not trying to be sexist about it, not like, “oh, with a girl it’s always fun”, but … it’s still a bit weird for me, the fact that I literally in hundreds of concerts that I had played only had two sound girls ever. It’s always a little bit surprising. These are the moments that I realize, “oh yeah, I’m still in a guy’s club”, even if now I had changed my genre and had much more women going before me, I’m still ninety-nine dot nine percent of the time sort of trying to make it in their world, but it’s definitely a lot easier now.
So Rock’n’Roll is still a playground for the boys?
Absolutely. You don’t really think about it until it hits you, like, a lot of people are still surprised if there’s a sound girl, they go like, “Where’s the sound guy?”
The weirdest thing is that even I catch myself being surprised when faced with a sound girl! Well, let me come to my last question. During my preparations to this interview I came across a statement which I would like to read to you: “Fans of female voices will hear a touch of Billie Holiday, Agnes Obel or Joni Mitchell in her”. Are the mentioned artists inspiring examples for your work?
Billie Holiday enormously! I still don’t – and it’s a crime – I still don’t know Joni Mitchell’s work at all, or Agnes Obel’s, actually. But I have to say that Billie Holiday is somebody whose music I love to put on during this tour backstage before a show just to feel like I’m in my living room because that’s kind of the general soundtrack in my life. She’s … I could go on and on about Billie Holiday because I find … people say she was not the best singer of her time but I feel so much more when I listen to her than when I listen to Ella Fitzgerald! Because there’s the irony, there’s the playfulness it’s very often that you have some heart-rending, sad material, but you feel like she’s singing it with a tiny half-smile, a weird kind of … I don’t know. I find it really interesting because I know that feeling of incredible sadness, and not wanting to … She doesn’t do it in a stuffy way, you don’t feel melodramatic, it’s like … honest! Her interpretation of a song is just so so so interesting and so new each time. In different eras, interpretations chance, but the feeling is always a sort of … like you can really hear her personality through which I think for the era is pretty interesting, because it was above all about to sing nicely and well, but in Billie’s case you really feel her in her voice.
Is this honest approach something you try to do in your own music?
Absolutely! I mean, there’s the honesty, and there is also a sort of … a tiny bit of irony. A little contradiction. And you can find this quite often in my arrangements: If I’m gonna sing a sad … like a really honestly sad subject matter … I like to have it with a touch of playfulness. Or if I play super crunchy distorted guitars, I wanna put a little flute in there. I definitely feel like that music got me thinking you don’t have to be a hundred percent romantic, or you don’t have to be a hundred percent happy or a hundred percent sad. Like playing between every emotion and be more three-dimensional, that is really more important. It’s like life. You don’t wanna be all-romantic all the time or be all-cute all the time.