In a Genre dominated by Prolific male representation we celebrate the power and dynamism of the female of the species who are quite simply a force to be reckoned with and can be counted as some of the best producers that this niche little neon tavern has to offer.
Step forward Toronto-based electronic musician, photographer, and writer Hayley Stewart who previously known as One-Half on Synth Duo ‘Dead Astronauts’ has carved herself a unique place on the neon spectrum through her musical project ‘Mecha Maiko’.
Photo by Joakim Reimer
Her debut Album ‘Mad but Soft’ had been lauded as one of the strongest debuts of any Solo Artist to date and her trajectory has seen her star ascend with further celebrated releases and successes to include her last Album release ‘Let’s!’ which incorporated a plethora of styles which showed her astounding production chops off to great majesty. A rich tapestry with interwoven thoughtful lyrics combine to make for an amazing sonic experience everyone has to hear!
Fast Forward to 2021 where she finds herself working on a follow up Album making the best use of these vacant months we find ourselves in since C of 19 took over our waking lives.
Forged where delighted to catch up with her to chat about her career to date and what she has planned for the future, this is delightful. Take a look!
Hey thank you so much for chatting with Forged today, we’ve obviously met and I’ve seen you live which was an absolute treat! Congratulations on all your success so far!
Yes, I remember seeing you at Outland! Your whole look was so retro and when I saw your intricate eye makeup I knew it had to be you. Haha. Thank you so much!
We can jump right into it and talk about ‘Let’s’, what a sublime album that was. Tell us a little about its concept… what was the thought process behind creating a more DJ centric album?
The motivation for making something more danceable came from the experience of performing live and DJing. Previously, I had never really considered what it would be like to play these tracks live since I had never performed before and didn't really think I ever would!
However, that changed quickly and I found that my sets only had a couple high-energy tracks so performances were fairly chill throughout, and audiences in Toronto are particularly shy. It was inspiring seeing artists like Waveshaper, FM Attack and Robert Parker really command a room with a danceable beat. As I ended up in more spaces where electronic music was being played live or spun by DJs, more and more I wanted to be able to hear my music in those rooms, too.
Of course, those that have followed your musical career would know that you where also in a band, an accomplished duo called ‘Dead Astronauts’. You’re on record as saying that towards the end you didn’t fit into that universe anymore, was it in anyway tough to leave all that behind?
It wasn't easy, no - I owe a lot to Jared since he really trusted me back when I was a youngster. I don't think there are a lot of guys that are willing to let an 18 year old girl be the lead producer for their band, ha ha. That being said, as things went on I ended up with a lot of tracks that I wanted to complete that just didn't fit the vibe for DA, and Jared was ready to start leading more with his own production.
Starting fresh after having an established band was really daunting, and I found myself
worrying that nobody would notice what I was doing, but I had to let those ego-driven concerns go and remind myself that I had left because I wanted to pursue music I wanted to make, not necessarily music that an audience had expected from me.
You are an incredible instrumentalist gifted in fusing those retro elements we all love, where did your love of music start? Had you any formal training as it where?
I fell in love with music listening to records with my parents on the weekend, and my dad would burn mix CDs for me that were a sampler of things he liked, and thought I might like. Naturally that led to me borrowing my uncles keyboard to start writing my own songs. (Still have it, sorry/thanks Jim!)
OH LORDY I would not call myself an instrumentalist by any stretch, ha ha. I taught myself some basic keyboard stuff as a kid, and by the time my mom convinced me to take music lessons, none of it made any sense to me and I fell into my bad self-taught habits and dropped out. I also suck at reading music and only fudged my way through music classes in school by playing by ear. I'm used to playing in a studio where I can play around and fix all my mistakes, so I get super anxious before shows and have to practice a lot before I actually feel good about playing anything. So now you and all your readers know my dirty little secret!
Photo by Viktor Wallström.
It’s probably fair to say that ‘Mad but Soft’ was quite possibly the best debut of a Solo Artist I’ve heard. Can you tell us a little about your creative journey for that album and your influences in terms of making it?
Oh wow, thank you! The album feels so much older than it is. A lot of the songs on Mad but Soft were written when I was listening to a lot of synthwave and acts that had a lot of atmosphere and emotion in their work: FM Attack, Brothertiger, Neon Indian, Joakim, M83, mùm, Detektivbyran, Gold Panda, Tycho... When writing the album, I had just quit my job and left Dead Astronauts, so it felt like I had a fresh slate and that I could do whatever I wanted. It was partially a collage of scraps and rejects from over the years put into a bit of a cinematic, dreamy, somewhat sweet and dark package, along with a few original tracks that really exemplify how angsty I was feeling at the time. (Though now I'm convinced I just feel angsty all the time.)
The influence of Japanese culture is strong in your work, but so tastefully done. Where & When did your love for the culture start?
My love for Japanese culture started when I was around 11 years old, and I became obsessed with following street fashion in Tokyo. I would read scans of Fruits Magazine and follow blogs/live journals full up of photos of young people in Harajuku who were all making their own clothes or piecing things together from second hand shops and I fell in love. Nobody cared about brands, it was about creating a wearable piece of art that nobody could easily copy and paste. My friend moved to Japan shortly after and I was able to visit when I was 13. I went to Harajuku and spent a lot of money on amazing multicoloured tights and knee socks that I quickly grew out of, much to my dismay.
Who are you inspired by currently? Who are you listening to?
I'm listening to a smattering of new and old things! I recently discovered an amazing Toronto act, Siviyex . I also can't be mad with anything Antoni Maiovvi touches so Be Serial has been playing lots here. 99% of the time I'll be listening to WFMU since they have a lot of great programming that spans every genre and time period. I find this is the best thing to listen to when I'm working on music since it keeps me from imitating what I'm listening to too much, and provides a wide range of inspiration (and often comic relief). Just listen to an archived episode of Garbage Time and you'll see what I mean.
On your career to date what would you say is the once cherished memory you have of it?
I have to pick just one? Hmm... probably the whole blur of days surrounding Outland Toronto. It was a dream performing at the Mod Club and for a packed house! I was a walking corpse by the end of the night but I had a blast getting to hang out with artists and other folks in the synth scene who don't usually find their way over to these parts! I also have a treasured photo of FM Attack snuggling my cat from when he crashed on my couch for the occasion.
Photo by Connor Watt
How do you feel your own sound has developed over time?
I think it can be characterized by me being a little less afraid of two things: my own voice, and the fact that a lot of what I do can be called "pop". Sometimes I'll lean into those a bit more than I would have before.
Can you tell us a little about any current and future projects you have in the pipeline?
I do have an album in the works. That's about all I can say right now!
Does Synthwave have a future?
The Synthwave sound has already gone through a few mutations, but it does have its walls, which makes it hard for artists who have been making music in this genre for a long time to feel excited by it. A lot of acts I had once thought of as being tied to the genre are evolving and changing their sound to reflect a larger breadth of their influences and creative abilities, which is really exciting. Of course, inevitably more people will continue to discover Synthwave and be excited by the genre as a whole, but I think we'll see more artists stepping outside of the boundaries that have typically been prescribed to the genre, and add more breadth to their repertoire.
What do you enjoy most about being a musician?
I like the moments where I feel surprised by a sound. My production process involves a lot of
experimentation and improvisation (I honestly think of it as a form of play) so it's really fun to
discover something new. When I'm working on a track and everything seems to click and I realize that I'm visibly grooving and dancing while I work - I'll never get sick of that feeling.
What would you say was the biggest problem you encountered whilst on your journey in music?
Summoning up the confidence and learning to perform live. I had never expected to play live, but as I saw more artists I knew booking shows, I couldn't help but feel like it would be great to be onstage.
I quickly learned that producing and performing are two very different things. I had put a lot of
pressure on myself to immediately be perfect but the reality is it's something that will probably take a lifetime to really get good at and feel comfortable with. I still have a lot of fun, and at the end of the day it's a real gift to share my music with others.
Photo by Farrell Tremblay
What is your favourite track to perform?
This may be cheating a little bit but I like performing collaborations the most. My first love was
"Cold" with Dana Jean Phoenix, because she gets to own the stage and I can goof off on the
keyboard. I also got a taste of the role reversal with Betamaxx's "Something Else" and FM Attack's "Stranger" - it's actually such a relief to only have to worry about one function (singing or playing keys) because there's less to worry about and the performative aspect comes so much more naturally.
What has been the best advise you have been given as a Musician that has remained with you?
I can't exactly recall where I heard this, so I apologize to whoever had said it, but not to worry about what you think your fans want when you work on a track or an album - it's imaginary pressure. I also had a lot of great advice when I was learning to perform. One really helpful tid-bit was to not try to do too much onstage - pare it back so you can keep it simple, reduce possible hiccups, and have more fun. I got a lot of great performance coaching from Dana Jean Phoenix so to list them all here would probably be a novel, so I just want to give her a shout-out for her sharing all her valuable insights with me.
A message for your fans…
I'm really into gardening so as my growing season approaches, I'll leave a recommendation for a plant I think absolute beginners can grow. If you want a little dose of sunshine in your life, plant a nasturtium (Tropaeolum minus). It has beautiful large red/yellow flowers, alien-like circular leaves, and you'll get to watch bees come and go inside their deep flowers. The leaves and flowers are edible and taste hot, spicy, and sweet - truly a unique flavour. They do well in poor soils and the seeds are easy to save. If you're going to try your hand at planting one thing this year, let this be it - and tell me how it goes!
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