If it’s true that autumn leaves are nature’s sign of not death but another kind of blooming, then pint-sized art-rock-funk powerhouse Mayda is the season’s patron saint. The ever-morphing singer/songwriter and St. Paul Central grad celebrates the release of her new CD, “Tusks in Furs,” Saturday at the Cedar Cultural Center, and took time out from her busy prep week to talk with MinnPost via email.
MinnPost: The visual presentation has taken on a new sheen over the last year. Lots of masks, feathers, make-up. Tell me about that. To you, what’s being imparted?
Mayda: I have always been more of a visual and physical person (learning-, communicating-, art- wise). My craft is not just about music and sound, it is about art, lifestyle and communication. The physical aspect is something I like to help portray my messages with music. I want to not just make the audience listen, I want you to see what I am talking about. Then, let people analyze or judge on their own which could be totally different from my initial intentions. Physically, I am extremely little, skinny and short (so I am told ;)), which you would not expect just from listening to my music.
MP: How much does being a Korean-American inform what you do? Do you draw on Korean culture for how you move as an artist? Is that important to you?
Mayda: Being a Korean-adopted female in America, I have many identities smashed into one. At the same time, I don’t totally fit into the three that I am partially from. I am not native Korean; I am not Caucasian; I am not the stereotypical lady. On top of that, I have never felt that sense of belonging that you feel from a blood relative. I have grown to really embrace that part of me and really be proud of it. For me, music and art has been the most NATURAL and appropriate medium to feel comfortable with my identities. Since everything changes including myself, instead of sitting around singing sad songs, I play with music, theater, and art.
MP: You’ve had songs featured on “Jersey Shore.” How did that happen, and how weird is that?
Mayda: I have a licensing company that sends out my music. MTV chose two of them. It is just exposure to a larger audience which I am OK with. Or Snookie just feels my grooves yo. But yes, it is weird.
MP: Your music is very powerful, very forceful with a constant bent toward empowerment and enlightenment. Songs like “Lions” and “Tsunami,” etc., are so bad-ass. I’m often left with the image of you as a Sufi Warrior, your guitar as your love-weapon, so as to protect your “extremely little, skinny, and short” self. Has that always been the case? Being so tiny, have you found music to be an expression of the giant inside?
Mayda: Thank you! Yes, I have always found music something bigger than people. It shapes culture and communities. Music brings people together from all walks of life and I am all about that. I have always been fascinated with elephants partly because of their size. I even have a tattoo of one on my right arm in a tornado of Korean fans. Obviously, the image represents my outer appearance vs. my inner entity.
MP: Your lyrics are very compact. Do you read poetry?
Mayda: “Compact” is an interesting observation. I actually don’t read a whole lot of poetry that is not linked with music, but I respect it tremendously. I do like Rumi and random quotes by different folks though.
MP: There’s some cool old-school R&B jams on “Tusks in Furs.” Do you listen to much of that?
Mayda: I do listen to old school R&B mostly from the ’50-’70s. I have always related well to that doo-wop/soul/Motown sound.
MP: You’ve had the chance to work with some of Minnesota’s best musicians, including [Prince and Soul Asylum drummer] Michael Bland. Have you met Prince? Would you want to work with him? It seems like a natural partnership.
Mayda: I have never met Prince. I saw him in concert at the Target Center a long time ago though. I would definitely work with him! His prolific-ness and creativity have been huge influences on me. Maybe one of these days …