On the Radar – No 239: Fast-rising Yorkshire band Maia claim to have invented “sci-fi folk” – and are being championed by some very influential names.
Ahead of a new series of live shows this month, the innovative quartet spoke to Mark Butler about their astronomical inspirations, the dream of opening for Metallica, and having their “noble trumpets” praised by Elbow’s Guy Garvey.
Hi guys. So, who are the various members of Maia – and how do you each fit into the line-up?
“Tom (Clegg)’s the lead singer and plays guitar and ukulele; Simon (Robinson)’s on banjo, mandolin and vocals; Joe (Haig)’s on trumpet, keyboard and vocals; and Will (Fletcher) plays drums and percussion.”
What’s the backstory to the band?
“We met while studying in Huddersfield. We rehearsed a lot and made an album fairly fast. Coming from different musical backgrounds – rock bands, orchestras, trad folk – all influences were accommodated.”
You’ve described yourselves as the inventors of “sci-fi folk”. What exactly is this bold new genre of yours?
“It’s folk as heard in the head of a stargazer, observing a new planet for the first time (according to Wikipedia).”
You use a pretty eclectic mix of instruments as it is. Any plans to go where no folk band has gone before and introduce Kraftwerk-like electronics, or Tangerine Dream synths?
“We’ve done Kraftwerk already – hear our song ‘Alight Adventure.’ It’s Kraft-Folk.”
Folk seems to be a huge force in the music world right now. Do you feel it’s a particularly good time to be a folk band?
“Certain bands have helped pave the way – Mumford & Sons, for instance, have taken acoustic music to the mainstream. Still, there’s more competition than ever – we think it helps if you’re unique in your sound and what you offer in a live context.”
Your debut album Pepper Stars was well-received last year. What was the best review you got?
“Time Out ‘Album of the Week’ was a highlight. It helped a lot with the attendance of our London shows.”
How would you sum up that record?
“Most of the songs have astronomy references, each one a twisted exploration of the oft-conservative folk sound. It’s the audible result of four men with their head in the stars.”
Elbow’s Guy Garvey has been a vocal champion of yours. What’s the nicest thing he’s said about your music?
“Something about our “noble reverberous trumpets” being a thing of beauty.”
Have you met him in person yet?
“Not yet – one day.”
Would you like to do a collaboration with him at some point?
“For sure. We’re waiting for the call. Perhaps we should phone him?”
Are there any other celebrity fans you’d be keen to attract?
“There are certain bands we’d love to tour with, especially our American compadres with some similarities of sound – The Low Anthem, Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver etc.”
You play a number of live shows around your native Yorkshire this month. How would you describe a typical Maia gig?
“An entertaining night with top banter, crowd interaction and memorable songs to send people home with. We’re told this is the case. “A brilliant live band” – Mum.”
Have you got any particularly bizarre tour anecdotes to tell?
“At the amazing Festival of Jim in East Sussex this year, we hit the stage just as the sun went down, seeing the audience about half full. Then during the set, because of the stage lights and the pitch-dark forest ahead, we couldn’t see anybody for most of our show. Then towards the end we realised that kneeling right down allowed us to bypass the lights and see the audience, which had doubled, before commencing an extended rock-out for the last song. It’s always nice when things turn out well.”
If you could play any one place on the planet, where would you choose and why?
“I heard that Metallica are set to play in Antarctica (it’s true – ed). Perhaps we could support? They’re all closet ukulele fans at heart.”
You’re releasing a new EP called Finite World on Record Store Day next year. What’s your new material like?
“Bigger songs, strong use of vocal harmonies, and as varied as ever: one new song, ‘Small High Whistle from a Bird,’ is just guitar and three vocals and has already become a staple in the live set.”
What are your ambitions for 2014?
“To play higher up the bill at festivals; to receive a positive reaction and radio play for our next singles; and a trip to America is on the cards.”
Maia play a number of shows this month:
Nov 8: Otley, Korks
Nov 20: Sheffield, The Hop
Nov 21: Leeds, Wharf Chambers
Check out more interviews with the best new bands and musicians in our Radar Music Blog.
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