The world that Estonian musician Maria Minerva inhabits is, by her own admission, highly unpredictable. She gained attention for a string of homespun recordings for the Los Angeles-based Not Not Fun label in 2011, all released while she was living in London. Minerva headed out of the bedroom and into a proper studio for this year’s Will Happiness Find Me?.
That new record is her clearest statement yet, although the music remains a chaotic grab bag of avant and pop influences. The chaos extends to Minerva’s personal life, too. When I talked to her on the phone, she’s trying to hail a cab in San Francisco to find a bank in which to deposit her tour profits. “We got robbed yesterday, so I’m doing damage control,” she says.
The fruitless search for a bank causes her to wander the streets, allowing her to pause and reflect on how the predicament mirrors her general existence. “I don’t know where I am,” she says. “This is an example of my everyday life. I’m just going somewhere without knowing where I’m going to.”
Are you living in New York now?
No, I’m not living anywhere to be honest with you. I came here and I went to Australia from London. When I finish this tour it’s very likely that I’m going to stay in New York because I’ve got recording to do and I’m doing more shows. The CMJ show is the last show of my current tour, but there are so many places I haven’t been to that I want to go to.
Is this your first time touring the States?
Yeah, it’s my first time. For many people it’s a very small step, but for me it’s really huge. I always wanted to come to the States and to be able to tour and see it like that. It’s kind of amazing. I’ve been to so many places already. It’s been great, it’s been crazy. Like I said, we got robbed, but otherwise it’s been fascinating.
What happened when you got robbed?
We were just loading in. We were like idiots. I think the car was open for 30 seconds, and someone saw us doing it and then jumped into the back of the car and took whatever they could take. Which was less than usual because we were just loading in our gear. I was lucky because they didn’t see my purse full of cash that I had.
How did you end up living in London?
I wanted to study at Goldsmiths, but I wanted to get away from home as well. So I applied to Goldsmiths and UCL, and I almost went to UCL. At Goldsmiths I met so many wonderful people. It was pretty much a magical year. It wasn’t so much about studies. It was more all about realizing how you can move from a country and have something to talk about with someone from Egypt and someone from Latin America and someone from California. It was pretty wonderful. I was also working and never had time to properly do anything. But I managed to do my degree and release six albums while I was in London. So I think it wasn’t that bad [laughs].
And you interned at The Wire magazine in London.
That was actually a bit before. That was like my separation summer. I was there for one summer way before I moved to London. I moved to London because my friend invited me over and I had nothing to do. That was my last year at college in Estonia. So I went to London, didn’t have any money, didn’t have any plans or a place to live. I was in East London, and I walked into The Wire magazine’s office, and I just said: “I want to intern.” And they took me. It was pretty cool.
Did working there have an effect on your music?
I don’t think it influenced me directly. I was dealing with issues such as how to speak English, just getting used to how England works, being around English people. In terms of music making, I did actually start making music around the same time. I didn’t really have anything to do in London except sit at home and make music, which is how I started.
How does it feel to read things people have written about your music?
It feels like an anti-climax because usually people don’t write anything interesting. It’s good to read, and in general of course I shouldn’t be complaining at all. I would be thrilled to read something I didn’t know that’s in the music or behind the music. I think if someone was really critical of my whole program, I would really appreciate it because I think I’ve come to the point where I can tell the difference between my stage self and my ordinary self. So I don’t really get offended. Even to try to be authentic or to put emotion into a song, even this is always a pose of authenticity. When you first start out everything’s so fresh and new, and you’re not used to getting reviews, and you take everything extremely personally. Now I feel more at ease, so I would really appreciate it if people said different things. But they usually don’t.
Is there anyone around now that you feel a kinship with musically?
It’s an interesting question. I have no idea. Everyone I’ve ever looked up to in recent years I’ve actually met by now, which is really funny. It hasn’t been superstars. It’s more like people like me who are releasing music before I was releasing music. I think I feel close to everyone who is just doing a whole range of things and that abuse them. I just went online this morning and James Ferraro is on my friend’s list, and he’d put up a ridiculous picture of himself. And I was like, “James, you do completely random shit, and I love you just for being different.”
What music are you listening to now? How do you discover new music?
All kinds of shit. I’m listening to the Love Of Life Orchestra. Usually I find it online, and I have good friends who always seem to know the coolest stuff. But all my music, I always got from someone, or someone lent me something that led me to more stuff. I try to keep it on a micro-personal level and avoid the waves or trends or whatever.
Can you remember the first time you went online?
Yeah, I think so. I remember the sound of the modem, the way it sounds. I forget where it was and how I checked out music. I remember the feelings of excitement but also restriction because my parents wouldn’t let me be online for too long because it was so expensive. I was like, one day I’m going to be online forever. That came the year after when we got the cable connection, and it led to a long time spent online. Now I’m operating more in the real world. I don’t even have time to sit online and Google myself and be aware of everything. But I’ve been doing a lot of traveling. This is the first period in my life when I’ve always been traveling.
How much time do you get to work on music? You released a ton of it in 2011.
Yeah, it was all old material, everything I had recorded. Now it’s become so different. I can’t wait to record again. I need to make it back to New York in one piece with all my gear—hopefully that happens. I’m thinking of taking four months off and traveling only within the States. I’m just tired. I went to Australia and New Zealand, and I’ve been dragging my shit around for a month now. It’s just going to be a few more weeks, and then I can unpack, get out of the suitcase and sit down and work.
Is the way you work different now? Do you focus on making individual tracks, or do you think of an overall concept for an album?
I do it track by track, and then it takes shape, but I think the next thing I want to do is an EP or maybe a 12”. Maybe four tracks. I haven’t decided, but I have some ideas. I’m excited about CMJ because it’s a huge New York festival, and it’s nice to be a part of it. Once that’s done I will probably lie in bed for a week and then get to work.
Maria Minerva plays Public Assembly on Wednesday, October 17, and the Delancey on Friday, October 19, as part of CMJ 2012.