IT’S A COOL MAY DAY in Toronto, and I’m chatting with the Norwegian pop singer on Skype. For Maya, it’s late afternoon in Oslo, and she’s chilling out on her bad, wearing a vintage run– DMC crew neck with her hair– Something of her trademark, she jokes–let down. Even while enjoying downtime on a day off at her Oslo home, she oozes charisma.
I list off past accomplishments to her, accolades like her Spellemannprisen (otherwise known as a Norwegian Grammy award) for her work with her previous band Montée, her appearance on the cover of Cosmopolitan Norway, and a 2007 declaration by Elle Mann that she’s the most beautiful woman in Norway. And yet, Maya Vik declares simply, “I just wanted to play the bass and be a musician.”
Born in Bergen and raised in Os, a small town on Bergen’s outskirts, Maya took an early liking to old Prince records like his The Hits/The B-Sides compilation, which gave way to a deep interest in funk and pop.
Working as a bass player for bands like Furia and Montée, then ounce solo musician has played alongside acts like Stone’s Throw Records’s DāM-FunK, employing her electronically modern, synthpop blended take on the uniquely black American genre of funk. Through two solo records, Maya Vik has developed an international audience, playing audiences in the United States, Japan, Russia and elsewhere, alongside live bandmates Haakon-Marius Pettersen and Marius Simonsen. Earlier this year, my wraps for very well received sets at SXSW, and her Lay Low EP, out on Oslo Records, has a sombre, moody track called “Teen Spirit”, which features Danity Kane’s Dawn Richard on vocals.
Throughout our chat, her bright, Scandinavian accent passes through a filter of English familiarity, and it’s not immediately apparent if this is a by-product of her frequently tenancy in Brooklyn, or because she grew up on a healthy diet of American pop and funk records. A student of fashion, music and culture, my can’t help but be a little self-conscious with me. She admits she is at her most natural when in the studio, making music with her producers Øyvind Holmboe Basmo and Chris Lee. Despite confessing I found more than a few YouTube videos of her bass slapping live on stage, beaming with swagger, fitting all kinds of funk’d up, all Maya Vik can do is laugh shyly at it all.
How long have you been playing music?
I come from a pretty small place. Kids either had the Boy Scouts, or the rock club. It was cooler to be in the rock club. Playing music, starting a band, or church and the boys Scouts. I started playing guitar when I was 14, and started bass soon after that. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since. We’ve always had music in the family.
My granddad was an organist at church. I’ve always been very focused on doing music. That’s the only thing I’ve done and know how to do. I’ve never had a ‘proper’ job. [laughs]
Where did those funk roots begin?
My first album was Prince’s The Hits compilation. Those were the only songs I actually knew and it was, like, my music. Prince was pop by then, he opened the doors to listening to related stuff. Him, Michael Jackson, all those big artists.
I’ve played in bands that haven’t been funk related at all. I’ve been in a rock band. Slapping the bass was a big no-no in those bands. In the beginning of 2000, that sound was not understood. So when I started doing my own stuff, I just really wanted to get back to the music I was listening to the most. What I grew up listening to.
How old were you started listening to Prince?
I was 14. [laughs]
What was opening for DāM-FunK like?
I’ve had a checklist since beginning my solo career. That was one of those things to do; work with, or support, DāM-FunK. I love what he’s doing. Last September I played at his Funkmosphere event in L.A., and he was there watching. He’s just a really cool guy, especially playing at a club which is all funk. I felt like I was in the heart of something, because everybody there understood the music. That doesn’t happen very often. Younger people might not have the influence, or understand the funk. Just to play that show was really fun.
Is that a sentiment you feel when presenting your music somewhere like SXSW?
It depends. Some of the shows I play in Norway, like one last year, which was for a radio station, the young people totally “got it”, sometimes when they see a guy going on a keyboard solo, they kind of like it… though they might not understand. I make pop music, but its roots are in funk.
How do your experiences bleed into how you express yourself with funk music?
It comes very natural. That’s the music I listen to the most. It’s what I always fall back on. Playing Funk in Norway is a real niche. That’s why I wanted to try to make it in the U.S. That’s where it comes from. People have more references to do it there.
Do messages in your music stem from everyday life?
I basically live in my studio. I would say it’s more of a lifestyle. I’m not switching anything on. That’s what I do. The studio is where I meet all my friends. That’s where everything is going on. And then when I get home, I put on an old funk record. [laughs] But I do try to pay attention to what’s going on with new music, as well. I think it’s important to follow what’s going on.
Are you comfortable as a solo artist?
Very much. After started the solo thing and left my band, it was sort of scary, but it felt really good at the same time. I’ve always been a bass player. That’s what I’ve been doing since I first got on stage. In old bands, I didn’t have to talk in interviews or do anything but go on stage and do what I was supposed to do.
I also have people around me, too, like my producers, my label here in Oslo, people who can help me out and right with me and produce with me. I’m not totally on my own. But I make all my decisions. If I don’t like it, then people won’t hear the song.
Much of your music is on Soundcloud, even demos. What brought you to that decision?
Nowadays, people don’t buy music, or, they do less and less. I feel as long as people can hear my music, that’s good. Soundcloud is a good way of putting it out there so people can listen to it. It’s so much quicker. You’re not sitting on three really good songs anymore because the label is telling you,” hold off for an album.” To me, if it’s done, it’s done. I like it to be quick. [laughs] And good, of course. At the idea of listening to music snippets of songs from artist I like, it feels more personal, in a way.
Why does Funk resonate with you?
It’s the bass. Since I’m a bass player, that’s the first thing I listen to any song– the bass and the drums. I like grooves. In funk, it’s all about a good groove. You put stuff on it, and it comes back and goes back out. It’s simple in a way, but can be very complicated. Music from bands like Parliament, can be very complicated.
I went to see George Clinton in Oslo a couple years back and it was like a circus. That was really, really cool. He was wearing a diaper.
Are you more comfortable in the studio or on stage?
My favorite thing is to play shows. To make a song can, well, sometimes it can go very quickly, everything just fits, from the first step. But I have this song now we started recording last year. We know it’s going to be good, but it’s a struggle getting all the pieces in their place.
But to play show, that’s when you can finally show the audience what you’ve been doing in the studio for a year. My live musicians, (keyboardist and vocalist) Haakon-Marius Pettersen and (drummer) Marius Simonsen, are great. We’ve played together for many years, so when I started to do my own stuff, I really wanted to have them on board. They’re the best musician I know.
Do you have to go somewhere mentally to write?
I don’t have to go somewhere, but I like going to the studio everyday, even if I don’t have anything to do there. I just tried to do stuff each and every day, even when I’m not feeling inspired. I wish I did. Writing my own songs is still quite new to me, like lyrics and doing it all myself. I like to produce some of it myself before I present to my producers. It’s a lot of work. I have one or two songs that were written in a day, but other than that, it’s going back-and-forth.
That must be intense.
Songwriting doesn’t have to be so deep. It’s more about finding cool concepts and having fun with it. Sometimes if it’s very personal, of course, and can be hard to talk about. Even with people who write lyrics, it’s hard to me. So sometimes I don’t involve others in lyrics.
Outside of music, what else takes up your time?
I try to spend as much time as I can with my sister and her kids because my life is basically music and travel. When I’m home I try to be with my friends and spend quality time. I work out a lot. I like to lift weights. It’s away relaxing. I feel stronger, physically and mentally stronger.
Have he always had big hair?
Yes, I have! [laughs] It’s not so big now, because it’s quite short, I had to cut it. When I was a kid I tried to iron my hair, because I wanted black, long hair without curls, like my Mom. But it didn’t work.
You have a really unique look.
Like the same way as making music, it’s a way of expressing yourself. If you have a bad day come are you my trust when way, or if you have a good day, you might just differently.
In high school I was the weird looking girl, wearing all weird clothes. I’ve been interested in clothes more than fashion, you know? I read the magazines, follow the blogs and everything, and I find inspiration there, but it’s not like I going by the newest jacket because it’s trendy right now. Style and image are more important to me than just reading a fashion blog.
The more timeless aspects of fashion.
Yeah. With artists like Prince, Madonna, David Bowie and so on, they have really, really clear image, without it being like a costume for the stage
So how do you have a personal aesthetic and style, so it isn’t costume?
I feel like it comes natural. Right now, I’m making two music videos. Doing that and trying to stay in focus with music and personal aesthetic and style, all while keeping it together, with different people coming in and telling you how to dress, how the music video should look and having all these impact really freaks me out. Sometimes it’s not me. I have a very clear image of how I want to present myself, and likely I have people around me to understand it. Have have a clear perception of how I want to present myself.
Has your idea with how to present yourself as Maya Vik the artists developed over time?
Well, it’s much easier when you’re so low as opposed to in a band. [In a band] there are other people, and you want to make it feel like you’re all from the same group. When it’s just me. It’s so much easier to do what I want to do. When you mentioned hair, I think, for me, it’s an important thing that people can recognize me by it. It’s uncomplicated, but maybe it’s easier that way. “Oh, it’s the girl with the hair!” [laughs]
What has been a highlight for you, or your favorite moment?
Playing funk live for the first time felt so great. After my first gig, seeing the overall response was very cool.
I have another moment with my last EP, Lay Low. I produced it, but I asked Dawn Richard (of Danity Kane) to sing on this one song called Teen Spirit. I really love her voice and her album Goldheart, and she agreed to sing on it. I sent her the demo, and she got the studio in LA with Patrick Lukens, one of the producers that I work with.
They sent the recording over to me while I was walking around in Brooklyn. The sun was setting and I listened to it for the first time. That felt really, really cool. It was a track I produced myself, and to hear Dawn sing on it, it was a proud moment.