No feeling is final…
The musical CV of Maya Postepski is certainly a packed one. Previously, the Canadian musician and producer was better known for being part of baroque pop outfit Austra and also worked on the brooding synth soundscapes of TR/ST.
More recently, her solo work as Princess Century has delivered immersive electronica, peppered by subtle beats and grooves. Releases such as 2013’s Lossless and 2015’s Progress offered up plenty of synth-based goodness. Coming up to date, the release of ‘Still The Same’ (see TEC review) delivered bittersweet, evocative electropop topped off by an ethereal vocal.
Outside of this, Maya has also branched into the world of scoring films. That’s slotted into a schedule that includes embarking on collaborations with other artists or augmenting their live shows (including the likes of Peaches, Fragrance., Pepper Levain and momonyx). She also performs as a DJ which has seen her spent time in Estonia, Morocco and a two-month residency in Narva, a frozen town along the Russian border. The former Toronto resident will also slip on her producer’s hat for other interesting projects.
Currently located in Berlin, Maya has unfortunately had to contend with a recent positive Covid diagnosis and also dealing with a poorly dog. Despite these challenges, she generously set aside time to discuss her lengthy career as well as details on the forthcoming Princess Century album s u r r e n d e r.
Was music an integral part of growing up? And how did you fall into taking up music as a career?
My parents gave me piano lessons and I liked it. So, I’ve learned the piano since I was about 4, which is a really good background for any instrument. Going forward, when I was 9 I wanted to play the drums, so my parents said “Sure!” so I got a drumkit and I started playing the drums. So, that gave me a really strong background for rhythm and melody in general. I grew up in Toronto in the suburbs, so I didn’t have a huge musical outlet and I was pretty nerdy, so I never went to shows or anything when I was young.
But then in high school, I got a phonecall from a girl who wanted me to be her drummer for this punk band and I was like “OK” and that was Katie [Stelmanis] and then that eventually turned into a band called Galaxy and then when Galaxy finished, she started her own stuff and then that became Austra. So, when we were in our early twenties we started touring together all over Europe, just booking our own gigs. Eventually, as we started playing more and more, the band became more popular. Over the course of the years, we had lots of different members, but Katie and I were always the founding people. That was completely a different trip, because in university I was studying classical music and I realised this is way more fun! (laughs)
So, I got really lucky with the success of Austra and I enjoyed touring the world with that project and eventually just wanted to do other things. I focussed on my work with Robert [Alfons] on TR/ST and then I always had my own solo music, but it was just sort of a bit obscure and different from my bands. So, Princess Century has been going on for a long time. It’s kind of like my little secret bedroom project.
Since I’ve been living in Berlin, I’ve had more time for myself and I take it a bit more seriously now. I think now I’m more confident on my own, whereas previously, being like the drummer in the band and the producer, it’s easy to hide in the shadows. I wasn’t ever really interested in being in the front. I just kind of got used to being the ‘ghost writer’. But now I’m like “Why not?” Let’s try and do this on my own, you know? But I think it comes with age too. I’m more self-confident in general. So, I feel like I’m ready to do my own thing now.
So how did you come around to the decision to start singing on some of the songs?
I just started singing when the songs were being written and I just was like, “I guess I can sing…”, but I never thought of myself as a singer! (laughs) But then my friends who I would show the tracks to would say “You have an awesome voice, what the fuck are you doing?” (laughs) And you know, it’s weird to find your voice. Because I was always playing a supporting role as a drummer or as a producer. You don’t think of yourself as the centre, which is usually the main vocal. It was weird to have this identity shift from my role as a supporter to being the one in front. So, it’s been an uncomfortable process! (laughs)(laughs)
Your vocals certainly sound excellent and, in some fashion, seems to make the Princess Century material sound more complete.
I know what you mean and I agree. I think I was writing synthesiser melodies in the past that probably would have been vocal melodies. I’m happy with what I did in the past, but now it’s actually more fun because singing… I don’t know, I always had a hard time translating my songs on stage, because what am I going to do, play a synth by myself? And now, when I get well and things get kind of back to normal, I’d love to be on stage and sing those songs. Because it’s fun! (laughs)
Well, if you’re not having fun, then what’s the point?
Yeah, I felt so awkward at my shows because I never knew what to do. I was always playing the synthesiser and standing there. Being a singer is way more liberating. I mean I still don’t think I’m a singer, but I guess I’m exploring what this is really. It’s exciting to try something new.
I wanted to also talk about your work with Robert Alfons and TR/ST. Can you describe what your working method is with Robert? How did you both start working together to begin with?
I met Robert in Toronto through my friend Jenna and she is a painter and she was like “You and Robert need to work together”. We met and we hit it off and we made mix tapes for each other, like on CDs. He put some of his songs and I put some of my songs and some music that we enjoy and we traded CDs and then we thought about it for a few weeks and then he was like, “Why don’t I come to your house?” So, then he came to my mom’s house in the suburbs and we just started working together every day. And yeah, we just made the first record pretty quickly. It was really fun and we’d just work at my mom’s place and it was really kind of wholesome. We both like to cook a lot. So, we usually work in the morning and then we make a big lunch together and then work until basically my mom came home from the office! (laughs)
Later on, when he moved to Los Angeles, I would just fly to LA and we would write songs. But sort of the same way, like we start in the morning and we make really healthy food and go for a walk in the forest and keep working. I don’t know, it’s really kind of holistic. It’s quite dark music and people associate it with drug use and sex and stuff, but when we work on it it’s this really nerdy, wholesome experience! (laughs)
Obviously, you were part of Austra for a long time. What did you take away from your experiences as part of that?
It was amazing, because we were very young, sort of had this dream come true. Like, we got signed by SXSW to Domino and that doesn’t really happen! (laughs) So, yeah as a younger person it was very overwhelming and very exciting. When you’re in your early twenties and you’re travelling all over the world, it’s very saturated and we just had a great time. I mean, the first few years were amazing. It was like a dream come true.
And then, as we get a little bit older and a little bit more tired, it’s like a routine on tour. It’s like any other job: you get more comfortable and you start wanting more luxuries and more comforts. But after a while, for me it kind of became not very interesting and sadly we drifted apart as friends and I wasn’t excited anymore about the project and Katie knew that too and she wanted to keep doing it, so that’s what happened basically. But it’s OK and she’s doing it on her own now. I think it’s better that way anyhow.
What’s your thoughts on Katie’s stuff as Austra in more recent times?
I haven’t listened so much because it’s obviously a little bit painful, to not be part of something that was really important to me before. So, it was hard, I’m not going to lie and we’re not really friends. But it’s like any old relationship, I want the best for her and she seems happy, so that’s all that matters. It took me some time to get over it but eventually I just started doing my own music again.
You also seem to be permanently busy and you’re also flitting about globally in the process. Weren’t you based in The Netherlands for a while?
Actually, I lived in Brussels for six years, because my ex lived there. Belgium was fun. It’s a really strange place but I became very close to a band there called Soldout and we went to China on tour together, produced their last album together called Forever, which is really beautiful.
So yeah, I became part of that scene for a while and then when my ex and I split up, I didn’t know where to go, so I thought, “I’m working with Peaches in Berlin, so I’ll just go to Berlin” and I started playing live with her, which was amazing, of course. She’s the most amazing person to be on stage with. It’s an amazing group of people who are around her and she’s just lovely. It’s a thrilling ride when you’re on stage with Peaches! (laughs)
It’s a beautiful experience and I learned a lot. I think also probably, that gave me a boost of self-confidence as an artist, because she has this “Who gives a fuck” attitude and it really empowered me as a woman and as an artist to work with her. So definitely that influenced my current situation where I’m OK with being on stage alone signing and trying something new and I’m no longer afraid! (laughs)
What other kind of influences did you take in from living in Berlin? What’s the kind of vibe over there like?
Well luckily, I’ve been working in and out of Berlin for long enough that I got to go to the big clubs and I got to experience the party scene here and for me that’s the best part of Berlin. It has a magic still and there’s these old Berliners who are like “Yeah, it’s so different now, it’s not the same.” But it’s still special compared to other capitals, which have become perhaps more corporate and more extremely gentrified. Of course, it’s happening in Berlin as well, but I think the people here are still very strongly fighting this old movement of music for music’s sake, you know, being part of a genuine scene and I love that people stand for that and they’re fighting this, I don’t know, techno battle! (laughs) to keep things genuine and alive.
You feel that there’s a lot of authenticity and pride in the music industry and people work very, very hard to keep that fire alive, rather than, you know, I’m sorry to say but I was never a fan of New York. Whenever I go to New York now, compared to 20 years ago, it’s so depressing, like this corporate wonderland. I don’t see any cool bands coming out of there. It seems a bit dead and it happens everywhere a bit. It’s sad.
Can you talk a little about what to expect from new album s u r r e n d e r? How does it differ from previous releases?
You’re going to hear a lot more singing. It’s not only a pop record, but of course for some reason, I don’t know if it’s because I’m no longer working for a single band, I have these pop songs in my bloodstream and I love pop music and it’s really hard to write good pop songs. So, this winter I locked myself in a studio and I had nothing to do because Corona sucks and I wrote all these songs. Some of them were a work in progress over the last few years and I just finished it. It’s more poppy than I’ve done before and there’s still elements of old school Princess Century, like my classical, nerd, Steve Reich-influenced, minimalist percussion music! (laughs)
It’s very emotional, it’s a breakup record. My partner and I split up and I left Belgium and in Berlin is where I sort of healed my wounds and had a chance to reflect on this big relationship. Because we were together for many, many years. It takes time to process the end of a big relationship and these songs are a result of that. So even though they’re poppy, they’re quite heavy in terms of subject, like even ‘Still The Same’, you can hear in the lyrics it’s this needing of your ex-partner to see you, but everything’s still the same and maybe it’s not working. Yeah, I mean the video is obviously that too. Not really hiding much here! (laughs)
True, but again it’s a song that’s sad but at the same time it’s got a kind of beauty to it. It’s not dour, it’s actually uplifting in its own strange way.
Well, that’s how I feel about this whole relationship, like I’m sad, but it was beautiful so…. It’s this bittersweet feeling and I guess that’s kind of in general the kind of music I write anyhow. There’s this element of nostalgia, elements of, yeah, a bittersweet ending. I don’t like darkness per se, like it’s a tricky word but yeah, sadness can be beautiful as well when you love somebody. You can be mourning them and still be very reflective of a beautiful memory. So that’s the feeling I guess – good old nostalgia! (laughs)
You’ve also collaborated with a lot of other musicians, including Fragrance., who I believe is also guesting on the new album?
Yeah, there’s a new single coming out August 18th and it’s called ‘Stupid Things’ and we just shot a music video for it in Helsinki – which is probably where I got Corona! (laughs) I mean, it’s not funny to have Corona, but it’s ironic because I got vaccinated two days before I got my positive test. I was like “What is this? I’ve been healthy for two years, then I get the shot and then I get sick!”
How do these collaborations usually come about and are there any particular collaborations that stand out as favourites?
Yeah, Fragrance. and I have been friends for many years and we just have the same taste in music and melody ideas. The music is very simple – his music and my music – and the song that we wrote together, it’s a very light-hearted summer, kind of romance song about being upset with something you might have said, when you’re texting somebody; something stupid. We all send stupid messages sometimes and it’s like “Oh shit, why did I do that?” and the song is sort of about moving on and not regretting something you said and having a good time. So yeah, the video is very reflective of that.
Fragrance. and I, we wrote a whole album together! (laughs) and we just have to finish it. But I need to go to Paris or he needs to come here and it’s finished. But we have a whole bunch of secrets in the box! (laughs)
Well, you’re obviously keeping busy. If you’re not DJing, you’re collaborating. If you’re not collaborating, you’re doing Princess Century stuff, so I don’t see how you find time to do anything else because you’re always working!
I don’t do anything except for walk my dog and music!
It’s a great way to live!
And I like to cook! But no, I’m very spoiled. I have a very nice life. It’s always a struggle to make money, but somehow I always make ends meet and, I don’t know, I’m a lucky girl, what can I say. I have my dream life and I’m not really interested in doing much else. I was thinking during Corona that maybe I should go back to school and do something more meaningful. But then I was like, this is what I’m supposed to do with my life right now? Not be a doctor! So, I’m going to keep making music.
Are there any artists that you would like to work with in the future?
Well, I have like a dream list, obviously! I’m really obsessed with Róisín Murphy. As a woman, as a producer, as an artist I think she’s so inspiring and, I don’t know, I just have to find a way to get to her. But she also works long-term with her partner, so I don’t know if I have a chance. Her music is just so inspiring to me. It’s really heartfelt, sort of disco vibes and her voice is extraordinary. I think all of her videos and everything, she just has an amazing background as an artist and she takes so much from cinema, which I’m also very influenced by. I’m not a film buff, but I’m learning more and more. I find cinema really, really inspiring, probably more than any other art form. Maybe architecture as well. I really love architecture. But she pulls a lot of imagery from classic cinema.
I’ve done two film scores recently and that’s something that I love doing. Because having a project where you’re serving someone else’s vision is really inspiring. So, the last film I did was called Cocoon by Berlin filmmaker Leonie Krippendorff and it was such an incredible experience. I find her inspiring as a person, as a friend and her delicate touch with the film is really… it was a beautiful experience working with her. And as a result, the film score that I made is also like, tender. It’s a coming-of-age queer story, so the subject matter is very light and fun. It is very emotional, of course, but the score that I made it sounds very youthful and playful. It felt nice to do something where it wasn’t just about my ideas. It was about Leonie pulling me into her world. And she’s very, very good at creating a spell!
Is soundtrack work something then that you would like to revisit in the future?
Absolutely. That’s my main interest at the moment, because inevitably with something like Corona, you can’t tour live. And even though I love playing drums and synths on a stage with people, this experience made me realise: “Well shit, I need to do something else with my life!” and scoring is so fulfilling and it’s such a challenging experience, so yeah definitely looking for more film scoring work.
I also wanted to dip into your nerdier side. What’s your equipment set up like for writing and recording?
Well, this is fun, because nobody wants to know this! (laughs) So yes, I’ve been collecting synths and drum machines for a long time and right now I’m obsessed. I have a new Casio, the CZ-5000 which is sitting over there in the corner. I don’t know, something happens when I get a new synth. My hands just start playing stuff and then a song happens. Like ‘Still The Same’ was written this way, it was written in 30 minutes. It just happened like (snaps fingers).
Some artists say this is like how God flows through you or whatever. There’s so many, so many artists. Like how did you paint 30 paintings in a month? Historically, there’s many artists who talk about this, how like that is God or whatever. I’m not at all religious, but certainly that spiritual aspect, I’ve felt it myself. I don’t know how I wrote some songs in a minute or two and that to me is the word ‘Surrender’. That’s the closest word I have to how it feels when something kind of possesses over you! And you just have to surrender to this experience and something happens.
Whenever I sit down at a new instrument, these notes just start coming through me. There’s so many writings on this subject from all sorts of artistic backgrounds and it’s kind of a trippy experience. It’s like doing meditation or something and then you just feel like you’ve connected to something greater than you.
I guess when the muse strikes, the muse strikes and you have to write music.
Well, that’s precisely why I think the advice that I would give to any young artist is – whether you’re painting or drawing or writing a story – just sit down and do it every day. Because the more you practice, the more likely something magical will happen. I think that’s when you really become an artist is when you devote yourself to a practice. So, every day I make music and then the percentage of something good happening is much higher.
That makes a lot of sense. So, you’ve got your Casio, what other synths have you got lurking in your studio?
God, I have so much. I just moved. It’s a total disaster, but the kitchen is empty apart from a sink and like a wall of synthesisers! (laughs) So, I’m experimenting a lot right now with the Roland synths, the new little ones, the boutique series. So, I got the 909, the 303 – those are the acid machines, but I don’t want to make acid. It’s been done to death and the best acid I think has already been done. But what I’m interested in is using those acid machines to make something completely different. So, that’s my experiment at the moment.
Then they have a reissue of the SE, what is it? 10? I hate it when synths have numbers because I never remember the numbers! (laughs) and that’s like a monophonic bass, it’s analogue-modelled and it’s beautiful. It’s got a huge bass sound. I also have a beautiful Roland Juno, which is my baby and the Roland is kind of the epicentre for me. It’s a big keyboard and I keep. It around and the sounds are all dusty and warbly. I brought it from Canada and it’s sort of the starting point for most of my music.
There’s also this Yamaha, it’s also a reissue, it’s a teeny-tiny synth. That synth is amazing for ambient music. It has a little record button on it and you can make little loops and there’s no memory, so once it’s done it’s done, which I like. But there’s no presets or anything.
I love Korg a lot. I think they make sounds that are very unique compared to the other manufacturers. I mean all of these synthesiser companies are amazing. But I find that Korg in general makes sounds that I just love, because they’re a bit more spacey and a bit more weird and out there and maybe sometimes a bit kind of cheap sounding. So, I have a few different Korgs and, I don’t know, I think that’s just my brand. If I had to choose just one company to finish my life with, it would be Korg! (laughs)
But then there’s Moog and I have a Sub Phatty, which I use on everything. It’s obsessive, like I decided a long time ago not to collect vinyl because I already have a problem with synthesisers – an addiction! (laughs). It just takes up too much space to have vinyl, even though I love vinyl. But I’m someone who’s constantly moving and it’s just impossible. I can’t have a relationship with vinyl.
It must be quite difficult moving anywhere when you have that many synths!
God, I’m like a fucking donkey travelling around the world! (laughs) Inevitably you have to sell things when you just can’t take everything with you. But I don’t have anything else. I don’t have a lot of clothes; I don’t have a lot of books. I don’t have a lot of anything else. And all of my exs are like “OK, that’s your thing. You have synths!” But then I’m rather minimalist in the rest of my life. I don’t collect other things. I live rather like a nomad.
Obviously you’re a bit out of action at the moment due to Covid. But looking back over the previous year, how did Covid impact on your life generally?
I loved it! (laughs) I think I needed a break! As in, not that I watch TV, I needed a break from touring. Because touring is like the most fun experience for me. I love to travel and I love to play live with my friends. But it’s also very distracting. You don’t have any time. I don’t know how some people say they write records on the road. I’ve never been able to write a single song on the road. Because you’re either exhausted or you’re running from your hotel to the venue. Or you just want to like go and see something in the city where you are. So, I felt like Corona was a blessing because – of course it’s a horrible experience as well – for me, it was a great opportunity to focus and I finally finished this record. I mean God, it’s been so many years since my last album, seven years, like what the fuck happened?
I just needed to sit down and shut up and do it. Because I had two hard drives full of demos. But I didn’t know how to finish them and being in Berlin, being in the studio (I work at Riverside Studios) I finally had a chance to just be quiet, I’ve got my dog and it was winter and I just finished the record finally. Nowhere to go, nothing to do.
It was awesome. I mean it’s sad that it’s also been challenging for so many people. I think an artist in general would probably benefit from this type of experience. But some people who need more routine, like a job in the sense of like, planning, I can understand why some people have mental health issues with this type of experience.
It’s also easy because I don’t have like a family, so I don’t have to deal with kids or a partner. Even I got a dog to create more of a sense of routine.
What are your plans for the future outside of the new album? Are you keen to get back to touring?
Yeah, I miss being on the road now. I work with a Tunisian singer named Emel Mathlouthi and she’s going on tour in the autumn, so I think I’m going to go on tour with her. It’s cool, we’re doing some European dates and all over Japan which is great. I only went to Japan one time with Austra and we were only in Tokyo, I think. It’s a weird place, so I’m looking forward to discovering more of Japan and touring with Emel is always fun, she always plays in really nice venues.
I think I’m quite spoiled because it’s fun to be on the road and of course I’d love to play my own shows. But I’m more someone who likes to do little shows at like art galleries and sort of alternative spaces. Not the sort of normal touring cycle places. I like doing more obscure, more specialised events, because I’d rather play to thirty awesome people then, you know, a half-sold-out venue which smells of beer! (laughs)
This project, I don’t have a strong ambition. Princess Century is more like a passion project and I like playing those big shows with other artists, playing with Peaches is amazing and she’s worked many, many, many years to get to her level. So, I’m quite happy to do my little shows on my own and then, you know, play with bigger artists as a drummer. That’s the dream life!
‘Stupid Things’ is out 18th August 2021.
The new Princess Century album s u r r e n d e r is due out 1st October 2021 via Paper Bag Records.