An Interview with Maja Lena

Maja Lena is taking her PLUTO album on the road…

Hello Maja, can you tell us where are you from & where are you living today?
Hi! I’m from a town called Stroud.

Maja is not your real name, is it? What’s the back-story?
Maja is my Swedish name (my Mum is Swedish) and is what my family and some of my friends call me, and Lena is my middle name.

What are your first musical memories?
Watching Top of the Pops, making up songs with my Sister about a Christmas tree, singing songs with my Mum & Dad, my Grandpa listening to classical singers, Swedish songs about trolls, dancing to song-tapes in the kitchen.

Who has been your greatest musical influence over the years?
Leonard Cohen

So… desert island, solar power’d CD player, 3 albums – what are they?
That’s a tricky one! I’m going to say at present Mike Oldfield – Discovery, Aldous Harding – Designer, Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen

Where do your songs come from & how do you shepherd them into existence?
I get very inspired by nature but also like to create alternate worlds and landscapes in my head and set some of the songs there. I usually write with my guitar or a synthesizer, and if I can, come up with the melody and lyrics simultaneously. Often I’ll come up with an idea, go and hum or sing it for a while over a mundane task like the washing up or take it for a walk. Then I’ll take it back to the instrument and repeat as many times as necessary. I usually end up keeping only 20% or some of my ideas as I often don’t end up liking them anymore the next day!

Before you turn’d solo, what past musical projects were you involv’d in?
I was the lead-singer in a band called Low Chimes and various iterations of the band prior to that. I played in my friend Pete Roe’s band for a little bit with my Low Chimes band-mates, and sang with a few different bands in my late teens now and again.

You’ve describ’d your debut album, the Keeper, as “forged in the fires of fear and self-doubt”, can you elaborate on that?
I started writing The Keeper as a way of processing the end of the band. Even though it was an amicable break-up, I was really sad about it for some time and missed it a lot. I felt very unsure about branching out on my own and if I’d be good enough. It took a while to build up the confidence to do it, and to find a way of working with the self-doubt and worries still niggling away at me.

What are the key ingredients to your sound?
A mixture of organic and synthetic/electronic sounds, such as nylon guitar and clarinets with lots of synthesizers. A strong beat is very important to me too, and I like a lot of the synth and electric guitar sounds to be gnarly and whacky sounding. We also like to try and make things sound quite warm in general when recording, so we recorded a lot of the instruments through valve amps for the latest record. I’d always record to tape if I could, but it’s a pricey business. One for the future!

Can you tell us about the influence the natural world has on your creativity?
It’s influenced me musically and visually for as long as I can remember. A lot of things come up for me when I’m out in nature. I find it incredibly cathartic which then feeds into my song-writing. I also love that there’s always new magic to be found, flora and fauna to learn about and an endless amount to see and explore. I feel most at home in it.

You also paint the artwork for all your releases, are the visual arts a major part of your soul’s creativity, & if so, why?
Yes definitely. For me they all tie in together as one. The album artworks, for example, are of the key places each album is set. I love to try and bring these to life through working with other creative friends too. My friend Martha Webb made a load of costumes and flags for the second album PLUTO which feature in the video she made for The Stone. It was a really enjoyable experience and one we had a strong joint-vision for. I love trying to bring the songs and worlds to life in as many ways as possible, and visuals to go with the music have always been very important to me.

What is your personal process, from writing a song to recording it in the studio?
Once I’ve written a song in the way I mentioned in answer to an earlier question (which can take anything from a day if I’m very lucky to a few years), I’ll make a demo of it and send it to my friend and producer Rob Pemberton. We’ll then usually have a bit of a back and forth about ideas, parts we’d like to add or take away etc and go through a pre-production process. Then we’ll begin recording and this usually happens in mini sessions here and there over months. For both albums we’ve had other musicians and band-mates come in and play on them too.

You have just released an album called PLUTO, what was the creative impulse that began the project & how did it evolve?
I’d been listening to a lot of early new age music as well as 80’s synth soundtracks – such as those of Joe Hisaishi for the early Studio Ghibli films. I was also listening to a lot of dance and electronic music, and knew I wanted PLUTO to be more synth laden and beat driven, yet keeping some organic/acoustic instrumentation in the mix. I’d also been watching loads of sci-fi such as Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica so was feeling inspired by space and alternate realms and realities. There ended up being Plutonic themes running throughout the album such as creation and destruction, transformation and renewal – hence the album name. A lot of the album ended up being set on an alternate world also, so the artwork is a snapshot of this planet/world with Pluto nearby.

Any shout-outs for the contributors?
Definitely! Rob Pemberton who I made it with. Alex Heane, Emma Gatrill and Sasha Lewis who played on it. Shawn Joseph at Optimum Mastering who mastered it. My manager Aled Chivers who released it on his label Chiverin. Everyone who’s made the visuals – Martha Webb, Luke Oakley-Smith, Robin Parrish, Ella Webb, Anders Duckworth. My live band Rob, Alex, Lachlan McLellan, and sometimes Charlotte West and Rachael Dadd. Everyone who’s worked on the campaign – Aled, Matthew, Simon, Caitlin and InGrooves. Everyone who’s helped and supported in any way and anyone listening to the music!

You have a tour coming up, can you tell us about it?
Yes! It’s the PLUTO album tour so we’ll mainly be playing songs from that plus a few from The Keeper. The tour begins later in the month and we’ll be doing 13 UK dates in total – 10 in England and 2 in Scotland. It’s my first headline tour with this project so I’m especially excited about it! Tickets are available from my website if you fancy coming to a show!

You’re heading to Edinburgh, where we’ll be attending the show – what’s your experiences of Scotland so far?
Ah great! Look forward to seeing you there. I’ve always loved visiting Scotland. I absolutely love the nature and the mountains and I’ve always enjoyed visiting Glasgow and Edinburgh. We played in Scotland a bit when I was in Low Chimes and also recorded our first EP at a studio in a beautiful spot near Fort William, all which I have fond memories of. I’d love to spend some time exploring more of the nature and hiking.

How is the rest of 2023 looking on all fronts?
It’s looking exciting at the moment! I’m going to focus on writing the next album and working hard to save money to record it – I work on a natural horsemanship yard and regenerative agriculture project, so I’ll be there for a good portion of the year. I also want to learn more about trees so will hopefully be doing a lot of reading. As well as getting to know synthesizers better and trying to improve my guitar playing. I’d also like to try and see more of my friends, do more DIY at home and hopefully some mini camping trips!

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