You had as well try to pew-train a sack of snakes as to anthologize what the preceding two years have taught every person on Earth about what an ethical pace of life looks like in the real and up close. There is a decent argument to be made that we all once walked about acting quite as if the world was held together in some reliable way by magical threads of certainty, woven and stitched by Cinderella’s ever-helpful seamstress-birds, before the pandemic took a strimmer to that fairytale fallacy, and fast. Too much meretricious music was subsequently created about how to make the exhausting exultant and the tranked-looking transcendent. It was enough to make one wish for the old glam of evil queens and salacious sleeveens again.
The raven-haired demigoddess known to we cinder-creatures as Maeve Steele has not made that music. With light-fingered singles like “Full Moon” and “Slow Down“, she has quietly, elegantly, and defiantly generated the audio equivalent to a horse-drawn love-cab dawdling by the ocean. Her message is neither thrashing ranter woman nor too-earnest Girlingite, but rather the sound of fallen masonry in a forecourt – something inevitable, something more anciently assured of its beauty. Imagine a photonegative of early ‘70s Stevie Nicks combined with a Baez-Cher hybrid only a Mackie-McQueen mashup could dream up, all with cat-flick eyeliner. Maeve Steele is this, and takes the ostentation a click further by having the nerve to possess a vocal style that floats up beside you like a green-water dragon – peering, benevolent. There is a greenhorn smolder to her sung womanhood that will put you in mind of Indian joss sticks or an Egyptian corniche in a forgotten black-and-white film.
One could chip away at an introduction to Maeve Steele by saying that all her sounds, even the sad ones, are full of sea joy and that they felicitously encourage you to let their foaming tide spirit away whatever worry you have let unwantedly wash into your wanderings. George Sand might refer to her almost ruffle-paint technique with tones and imagery as “some ballet of the fairy theatres,” and the irradiated salts visible in even the kindest corners of her eyes make you know she can look at a man like a rented mule when and where she needs to. The Irish would say: “she’s a gas ticket” – and we would be right as usual. “Maeve” is even a traditional Irish name, derived from the sovereignty goddess “Mebh”, and with the modern translations of “intoxicating” or “she who rules.” What’s in a name indeed, dear Juliet.
What is unilaterally observable and easily interpreted of Steele is this: whether you are the sort of person who gathers your joy-blooms from marches among the Monarchs and the milkweed, or you are the shopping species that cottons to a bit of craven couture (or a manic mutt of the two, like some punnet-pixies rumored to exist), Steele is the sort of singer that can sling all the aggregates of your subjective desire in a way that makes them feel essentialized. This is sonnet-worthy show-pony showbiz stuff, people. Do shots of the sparkles, now, if you are smart.
QRO snuck a cheeky little chat with Maeve Steele as she sent her latest single out into the Spring, and all we can say after hearing her scoop on seismic subjects like Joan Didion, visual inspiration, the female gaze, and Amy Winehouse is: we’re smitten. Don’t read the next section if you don’t want to be too.
QRO: Thanks so much for taking the time to do this today, Maeve! I am mucho-enamored with your latest tracks and videos, and I know that a lot of other people are going to be also. I thought a good place to start might be with your musical upbringing, which sounded positively Apollonian when I read it. Can you talk a bit about your first musical memories, how you learned to play guitar and write songs so early, and your history with the violin?
Maeve Steele: I’m so excited to do this, thank you! I think the place to begin is with my Mom. She’s a really talented musician. She started with the piano and violin, and then was able to learn other instruments having that background. I think she wanted my siblings and me to have a similar foundation, so I started classical violin at a really young age. It was always so structured and theory-based. When my friend showed me a few guitar chords and told me I could play pretty much any song I knew with those four chords, my mind was blown! It felt so easy and liberating. I always liked writing little poems and stories, and playing around with words. At some point I just threw it all together.
QRO: You are a born book-girl, like me, studying literature in college, which I believe really shines through in your writing. You are a stellar storyteller. What are some of your favorite poems, short stories, or books that you feel have lent inspiration to your songs?
MS: Thank you! I am a big reader, which I think is the number one hobby writers of every kind should have. Jia Tolentino’s essays in Trick Mirror and Joan Didion’s short stories in Slouching Towards Bethlehem are huge inspirations for me. Both of them tackle femininity and pop culture with really powerful prose. I love Maggie Nelson’s poems in Bluets and everything by Ocean Vuong.
QRO: Oh, I adore every single one of those women-geniuses of the ink world as well. Who are your favorite authors then, from any time period? Would it be a different list?
MS: I love Joan Didion; she is definitely number one. The way she writes about California with such a unique familiarity has always really stuck with me. You can read one sentence out of context and just know that Didion wrote it. Having that voice is so powerful.
I am a big reader, which I think is the number one hobby writers of every kind should have.
QRO: No doubt, and it is something that can never be cultivated; you either have it or you do not. Speaking of, your early entree into stage performance came in one of the world’s capitals for live music – Nashville – where you proved, unequivocally, that you had it. Tell us a bit about those first songwriting rounds and how you came to the electric epiphany that you were meant to be more than a writer for others.
MS: I honestly think that writing for other people is just a skill I don’t have. I’m so particular in every aspect, and I love the process of making songs in their entirety. I didn’t know how to write songs that weren’t extremely personal, and I didn’t like the idea of giving them up at an early stage. It is also just so much fun to see a song through, to turn it from a demo into a live performance or music video.
QRO: For sure, and I love the particular kind of birth-sore that process always makes you at the end – like, you are not the same person you were before it happened and muscles that you can’t even find any other way feel the best kind of used through that experience. Going back to the end of last year, you released the sparkling sonic sweetshop that is “Shimmer” – there may never have been a track that sounded more like its name! Do you intentionally marry the timbre of your music itself to its corresponding visual and verbal components?
MS: Oh, definitely. I like the idea of a song being a little world…for the title, the colors, the instruments to all feel in sync.
QRO: I’m a big fan of those kinds of through-lines myself. How much art-directing of your own videos do you do, and how important is the portion of your musical career that will meet the eyes, rather than the ears, to you?
MS: It is really important to me. As I was saying, I’m so particular, and I want every aspect of my career to really feel like me. I loved working with Joelle on the “Shimmer” video. I have gotten to work with a lot of amazing, talented women in the last year. I think you can just tell when the female gaze is present.
QRO: Without question! I think it’s also more than fair to say that its rarefied presence widens the atmosphere and wizens the charge within whatever topography it appears, physical or social. Your sonic landscape has been called ‘pop-noir.’ What would be your own descriptor labels for your sound?
MS: I like to say ‘dreamy Americana.’
QRO: That is an excellent one! I am full-throttle into anything that has the word ‘dream’ attached to it in form or function – which I would argue your producer does. You have been working with the fabled pop-magician that is Brian Malouf. What has that exciting experience been like for you and what do you feel Brian has brought to your songs that is unique to your collaboration with him?
MS: Working with Brian is awesome. He is so encouraging, but he will also tell me when a song just is not good enough to record. He has really helped me shape these acoustic little demos into real songs, to build a soundscape with them.
I like the idea of a song being a little world
QRO: That visceral honesty is not just integral but the only basis on which innovation always occurs, I think. To me, your aesthetic presence, both vocally and visually, is a gorgeous hybrid of several sirens before you, namely Stevie Nicks, the most badass side of Britney Spears, and even a bit of early 1980s Cher. Who are your woman-heroes, in sound and beyond?
MS: Wow, thank you. That is one of the coolest compliments I’ve ever gotten! I love Stevie Nicks and her witchy, breezy aesthetic. Amy Winehouse is also a big inspiration to me. Her voice and lyrics are so unapologetic and gritty – it’s mesmerizing.
QRO: Oh, I see a lot of her softer spirit in you, absolutely! She is one that I actively miss every day because she had no equals for rock-poet-woman status in her age bracket and I had every dream in the world of writing for her before she left us. Do you have any dream collaborations with other female artists?
MS: So many! Lana Del Rey is one of my favorite artists of all time. Doing a song with her would be a dream come true.
QRO: Man, you two would be a mirror-image miracle like music has never seen! I am going to wave my wand that this heavenly hybrid happens, for all our sakes. On the subject of natural wonders, “Tycho” may well be the only celestial creative endeavor I have ever encountered that is based on a 108-million-year-old moon crater – and it is certainly the first named after a Danish astronomer! Well done, you! [laughs] It is so cool how you have melded that image into such a lullaby-rumination on very human things. Can you talk about the backstory and inspiration for that song a bit?
MS: Well, I am a really visual writer. It is much easier for me to wrap a song or concept around an image or landscape. I saw an infographic on Pinterest of the Tycho crater and thought it was kind of an easy way in to explore things like time and nostalgia.
QRO: That’s brilliant, and I love knowing that you took something so scientific and made it into art – my favorite kind of intersection! By the same token, I was listening to “No Control” recently and I think it is the night-train anthem of the last two-ish years. It feels like a song coming home from a party at dawn, just the right amount of tipsy-and-tired. Do you write primarily from lived experience like that, imagined reality, ideas brought about by things you’ve read/seen, or a mixture of all of the above?
MS: I love that! I wrote that song during my senior year of college, which was kind of the night train of my college and Nashville experience. I was honestly just having a lot of fun, even though that phase of life was about to end. I wanted to capture that feeling. I definitely write a lot from my experiences.
I have gotten to work with a lot of amazing, talented women in the last year. I think you can just tell when the female gaze is present.
QRO: You were changing trains and heading on to your next destination in the metaphorical sense – love it! You certainly netted that hourglass momentum that last moments of anything always have and that imbues them with such a golden feeling in our memories. What, in your estimation, is the mark of an unforgettable pop song?
MS: I think the best pop songs are the ones with a really specific setting where you want to listen to it driving to the beach or getting ready to go out. It is with you not only when it is stuck in your head, but when you crave listening to it.
QRO: I know exactly what you mean. There are some songs that are so necessary for me that, if I don’t play them at least once in my day, I feel like my ears haven’t eaten. Which of your songs would you say that you are most proud of and why?
MS: I think I’m most proud of “Full Moon”, just because it was the most intimate song that I had ever released.
QRO: I have thought more than once that that song should carry a parasol because it is so gorgeously gossamer and delicate, whereas your latest single, “Slow Down“, seems to live inside the idea of one of my favorite life mantras: make each day an individual life. Do you have any practical strategies for showing people ways to take breaths, smell the wildflowers, and make the most of their time like this song’s lyrics and mood seem to encourage?
MS: It is going to sound so cliché, but journaling is something I have gotten into lately and it really does help me appreciate things in my life that I would typically gloss over.
QRO: That is not cliché at all, it is just classic and it is simply unavoidably true. The mere fact of having that real-time record of what you thought and did in a day is a master class in both self-actualization and surrender that will take you so much further down the roads you want to get down. How about pitstops on the actual roads – can we expect live performances down the rock-n-roll highway from you this year?
MS: Yes! I am finishing up an EP that will be coming out soon and, hopefully, some shows will come with that.
QRO: Awesome-sauce, I will definitely plan to come let you sing me to my shipwreck from the stage! [laughs] I have loved getting the chance to hear you expound on these stunning singles of yours and cannot wait to hear them breathe their special language through the conch shell of the concert setting.
MS: I am so grateful for your support and will be looking forward to that too! Thank you for taking the time to dive so far into the deep end of my music.
Maeve Steele will release a full EP of her mytho-realist melodies later this year. Put down whatever other poetry you are perusing and sign up to stay informed on all her chiming mermaid rhymes here.