Q+A: Five Minutes With Elaine Mai
Image: Ruth Medjber
In just a few short years, Dublin artist Elaine Mai has found herself with an ever growing listenership of keen audiophiles and a critically acclaimed debut album. Her music, luscious and richly textured house and electronica, holds onto the soul of her origins. Beginning in 2011, Mai would first enter the scene with an acoustic guitar in hand and loop pedal under foot, entrancing audiences with the same sort of authentic spirit that pulses through her music now. Her latest single, The Moment featuring vocalist soft centre is a testament to the transformative power of collaboration. Originally written as a lead vocal for a different project, soft centre’s arresting, rich and emotive acapella found a new home when Mai breathed new life into it. The track paints a vivid picture of a hazy room filled with dancers, where past memories and present moments collide, exploring the poignant juxtaposition of then versus now. We caught up with Mai ahead of the single’s release.
Set the tone for us. Where did your journey with music begin?
I think very early on. I have a memory of learning the tin whistle (badly) in school. What really stands out for me when I think about it was discovering harmonies. Instead of singing the main melody line in songs, I would always sing the harmonies, and I think that really helped me develop a love for the layering and depth of vocals.
Who would you consider your landmark influences or inspirations?
My unwavering ones are Bjork, LCD Soundsystem, Caribou, Roy Orbison, Alanis Morisette and ABBA. All so incredible in their own way and artistically unique.
How did you make the jump from being an acoustically driven artist to making electronic music?
It wasn’t a sudden shift, it definitely happened organically and over time. I started out with a guitar and a loop pedal, and as I got deeper into music, I became obsessed with the vast possibilities electronic sounds offered. I knew that if I wanted to keep pushing myself and make my music more sonically interesting and big it would make sense to explore new options and what was possible. I started using Ableton and its looper and once I began to understand what I could do with it I was hooked.
The response to your debut album ‘Home’ was filled with acclaim. What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt as an artist from that experience?
I’ve always been a collaborator, but I really opened myself up on that record and tried to let go of pushing the vocals/melodies in a specific direction. By doing that, the incredible artists featured on ‘Home’ wrote some gorgeous music that I am so proud to have been a part of. I think letting go can be very powerful and freeing and that’s something I learned from that experience.
Tell us about your new single, ‘The Moment.’ How did this track come about?
soft centre had originally written the vocal as a lead for another project which did not come to fruition. When I heard it, I was immediately taken by its rich and emotive quality. I felt a pull to breathe new life into it, to emphasise the beautiful vocal and harmonies and build a soundscape around them.
What was the experience of collaborating with soft centre like?
It was great, she was fantastic to work with and she’s a super-talented songwriter. It’s also another fully remote project to add to the list, so hopefully we get to meet and perform together at some stage in the future!
Could you tell us about the connections queer people have to electronic music, and why it’s important that we reclaim it for ourselves?
Club culture is a really important part of the queer community, especially when LGBTQ+ people are still facing discrimination and marginalisation. Electronic music has provided the backdrop to many queer spaces and events, allowing us to dance, connect, express ourselves, and find community in a safe space. It makes sense that we are drawn to it and it continues to provide a powerful escape for us.
What does the next phase of Elaine Mai look like, and what do you have in store for next year?
After “The Moment”, listeners can look forward to two exclusive remixes from my debut album ‘Home’. ESSEL and CHANEY will be reimagining “Still Feel (feat. Ailbhe Reddy)” and “(Go Slow)”, which I’m incredibly excited about. Beyond this, I’m deeply immersed in the creative process for my next album.
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