Maeve McPherson is a multi-talented 18 year old student from Belfast who creates music that can be described as ‘bedroom pop’. Her voice has a beautiful, almost husky tone, which compliments her piano and guitar melodies. Maeve discusses her music, inspiration, musical progress and more.
Reporting, interview, and transcribing by Managing Editor Katie Carson.
How would you describe your sound to someone who has never listened to your work?
Both a celebration and repulsion of life as a working class teenage girl in the 21st century.
What is your musical process, do you begin with lyrics or chord progressions? Not only do you play music, you also write poetry, do you find that you write a poem and then put it to music?
I find writing lyrics probably the easiest thing in the world, its always trickier trying to find a chord progression that compliments the message you’re trying to convey. And definitely, whether its a poem or a song it always starts from the same germ, which is usually just scraps of lines that have been culminating in my notebooks for ages until I feel like I have enough material to really cement an idea. A lot of songs I’ve written have been born out of abandoned poems and unfinished ideas.
How do you go about writing your lyrics, are there any particular things you look to for inspiration? Any other artists?
My goal in writing lyrics is to ultimately verbalise feelings and situations that I feel are either too subversive to put bluntly or just too hard to define. And I write for teenage girls, first and foremost, and try to turn awkward insecurities and the sheer awfulness of teenage experience into something empowering that you should be proud of. I think my lyrics are always gonna be on the side of the anti-heroine. Artists that inspire me in that respect would be people like PJ Harvey, Suzanne Vega, Juliana Hatfield, Wolf Alice but I’m also very drawn to the cleverness and raw wit behind the lyrics of Marina & the Diamonds and Charli XCX.
Do you play all the instruments yourself and record your own demos? How does your recording process work?
Yes! And unless I need to use the piano on a track, it’s literally me just sitting in my room with a guitar and an iPad and anything I have to hand to throw in as sound effects and samples. I record the track and vocals separately and then go all out with mixing and editing, its probably my favourite part if I’m honest!
How do you go about creating the vocal/sound effects?
I love experimenting with ambience and echo, especially when I’ve layered a few vocal tracks with alternating harmonies. When it comes to sound effects, distorting the simplest of sounds is so much fun. My recent tracks feature everything from tapping pens on cups and blowing bubbles in a glass of water, to excerpts from noughties paparazzi vids.
As you said mixing and editing is your favourite part, how long would it take you to do this? What software would you use?
Just as long as it takes until I’m happy with the sound, and I literally just use Garage band.
You have been writing music for a long time now, how do you think your music has changed from the first demo, ‘Paralysed’ to the most recent work you have put out?
I’d hope a lot! I didn’t really know what I wanted to do back then or how I was gonna do it. I was really drawn to “riot grrl” and grunge but I knew absolutely no kids at school who were into music and at the time I was just learning to play guitar myself really. It was just a very awkward time, as I think we all go through at 15. I have a much broader appreciation of genres of music now and a lot more life experience, and I definitely think that helps you grow as a songwriter/musician, just taking in as much as possible, never missing anything out.
I absolutely love your latest song, ‘Drugstore Dream Girl’. Could you tell us a bit about this song?
Thank you! Basically its an anthem for anyone who doesn’t feel like anybody’s “dream girl”, who doesn’t feel like an object of desire or affection. Its about owning the things you’re insecure about and saying “you know what, you don’t deserve me anyway” to anyone who’s ever messed you about.
The Ballad of Katherine O’Shea’ is an historical account of the wife of Charles Parnell. Do you enjoy writing lyrics about historical events and people.
It’s really the first time I’ve properly written something from someone else’s, some real person’s point of view, and I really did enjoy it, its probably one of my favourite things I’ve written! I just thought I’d heard so much about how O’Shea was supposedly the ruination of this great man, when really she gave up so much for him, her children, her reputation. She was such a dignified woman and I wanted to make her struggle known.
You say some very powerful words in a lot of your songs, and tell stories fictional and factual in a very mature and creative way. Do you base a lot of your songs on your own life experiences or on fictional events?
A bit of both really, in a way that real life experience can inspire a story or an alternative scenario in your head. A lot of times when I’m writing about a real event or experience, key points of the story get deliberately exaggerated and heightened because we all exaggerate stories when we tell them to make them more compelling.
You also performed a song in your school about The Great Gatsby, is that your favourite book? What made you write a song about Gatsby?
It’s not my favourite book but the Gatsby-Daisy dynamic definitely struck a chord with me. The song ‘Paralysed’ was originally an old song I’d written about a year earlier about me when I was going through a rough time, so when it came to writing about Daisy, who for all her faults, I think is such a sad yet wonderful character, the material was all there. I literally just changed some lyrics to include references to the book.
How did you feel when you one the Talent Show in your school when you performed the Gatsby song?
I felt incredible definitely, I wasn’t expecting it at all!
You have done a lot of really original covers of famous songs such as Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’ and Lorde’s ‘Royals’. Did you start out by singing cover songs or have you always written your own songs? How have you tried to make the covers different than the originals?
I’ve always written my own stuff but its about crafting. They say you should scrap your first 200 songs and I stand by that, I think I’d die if I’d ever recorded the awful angsty stuff I used to write and put it our there. Its all about honing your craft, as with any art form. When it comes to covering songs I think its important to inject it with as much originality as possible. Some of the best covers are the most unexpected, for example Bastille’s cover of ‘No Scrubs’ which I love!
What have we got to look forward to in the future from you, any collaborations? Will you releasing any new material or gigging?
I’m hopefully getting together with some friends of mine who are insanely talented and original musicians to work on and record some new arrangements for my songs which I’m very excited about! I want to get an EP out before the end of the year.
What is your opinion on the Belfast or Northern Ireland music scene?
Definitely one of that changes all the time. I think last year there was a lot of promise, it seems to be something that waxes and wanes between something very all inclusive and something very exclusive and niche. I’ve had a few people I know, who’ve been trying to make it here for a while, leave this year to try and make it in England, and its sad I think that a lot of promising talent feel like there’s nothing here for them.
A poem by Maeve McPherson
We three kindred spirits
Hanging from the window of the blacked out taxi cab
Tangled hair and golden flutter twisting through my fingers
When I exhale
The dying light breathes life into the mountains
Tonight we are both young and old
And fresh and dead
Drinking in the heat and to forget
Or simply to see stars the way we did when we were smaller
I flick flies from my wrists
My teeth stained blue
The girl beside me spits
Crimson burns behind the blocks of flats
Across ducks backs
I slide out of my heels
Fat cigars slip
From switchblade smiles
On scared boys’ lips
I’m going over, taking baby steps
I look around to see what’s left
The lights of my life mingle
Past my shoulder
By the bar and by the bastards
My best friend throws her head back
A last toast to the best
Our vomit dressed in frankincense
The myrrh stifling our mirth
And I still taste cheap gold under my tongue
My knuckles apple white
My body was so young
They said we’ll party later on
But now its gone
But now its gone