Welcome to Creator Chats - a conversation among two groups, bands or people in the music industry. Today we welcome Maya of Floating Room + Mo Troper. This Creator Chat also features the premiere of Floating Room’s new video for single “Dog”.
Mo: Hey Maya. When and where did we meet? I take pride in my steel trap memory, but can't remember for some reason. I think I went to a show at Chaos Cafe and then we became friends on Myspace, back when sending people friend requests on the internet before meeting them in real life was socially acceptable.
Maya: I wish I knew the answer to this. It feels like you’ve always been around—probably because I was 16 when I played that show and now I’m 27. I bet it was Myspace. Thanks for the add! ;)
Mo: How Portland has changed" seems like one of the most popular "how about this weather we're having”-type talking points right now. I really hate driving in Portland, but I'm always afraid of complaining about that aloud because it feels cliched. By extension, people in the music scene love waxing nostalgic about the "good old days" of Portland music. A lot of the people who talk about this haven't been here for very long though, or haven't been meaningfully involved in the music scene here for very long, at least. You've been playing DIY shows in bands that people actually care about here longer than any of our peers, so I'm curious to get your perspective on this since it's something we've never really talked about in-depth. Have the changes to Portland, and the music scene specifically, been positive or negative in your opinion? Or is it a mixed bag?
Maya: Mixed bag. I’ll get the cons out of the way first. Sometimes DIY shows nowadays feel like the first day of school—everyone’s dressed up and uncomfortable and standing around awkwardly saying nothing of interest. I like for there to be a little bit of energy, maybe even some madness. It doesn’t have to be completely unhinged but DIY shouldn’t feel like an institution, right? Artists should be risk-takers. Where are weirdos taking refuge now? I want to go there. I don’t want to pretend to be pleasant all the time. Time for pros: For a long ass time bands fronted by women, POC, LGBTQ+ and other minorities were not getting the credit or representation they deserved. Sometimes I felt I was lent credibility by the straight white cis guys I played music with. I witnessed and experienced so much sexism and predatory behavior from dudes. It’s all still there of course but it really feels so much better. Representation seems a lot better now too. Spaces feel safer. No one that I know has gotten a knife pulled on them in a minute!
Maya: Looking back the scene we both grew up in was filled with hyper-masculine vibes both in terms of sound and also in that “I’ll punch you in the face if you look at your phone during my set” way. As a teen I envied the macho bands that made the windows sweat, the stinky dudes take off their shirts and everyone grab each other and sing along. I never played the right type of music to have this effect. You always got people to move and sing along—however, you never quite fit in musically, either. Your Rival kind of stuck out like a sore thumb at shows—but in this way that made me respect you a lot. How was it for you navigating a hyper-masculine scene and playing an entirely different type of music?
Mo: For the people who don’t know, my high school band was called Your Rival and we broke up when I was 22. I had originally envisioned a sparkly pop band like the Cardigans, and our first EP sounds like that. But then I put a band together, and all my friends were in these dark, humorless metal and hardcore bands, so naturally, those were the types of bands we played with. Your Rival became loud and punk through osmosis, and looking back on that band, it seems like sort of a put-on to me. I wanted to be cool and accepted by all of our friends who wore Minor Threat shirts. I liked some of those shows where people were singing along and being pushy, but I hated that it meant we were a pop-punk band. I think I would fare much better if I started playing music now, because the gulf separating DIY from the “real” Portland music scene isn’t as wide as it was then—it was like shitty hardcore in one corner and then a bunch of bands that sounded like the Blockbuster straight to DVD version of Vampire Weekend in the other corner, and there didn’t seem to be any hope of reconciliation. One thing that’s funny to me was that the Pitchfork review for the new Joyce Manor record mentioned Converge and Big Star in the same sentence in the opening blurb. That’d be a great way to sum up the period of Portland DIY we’re talking about.
Mo: I remember the first time I heard your song “Dog” was when you were still playing it in Sabonis (and when Sabonis was still a band), and I was absolutely blown away. I really like the polished arrangement that appears on the Floating Room album, but I sometimes wish I had a recording of that old version, too, because it was so loud and raw and cathartic. I remember at that show someone said it was “the hit,” and I felt the same way—like that it could literally be a pop hit. Would you say that was conscious at all, or that you have a “pop sensibility?” Is accessibility or catchiness something that you actively consider when you’re writing a song?
Maya: I also wish I could hear that first version because Roc had a guitar lead that sounded like an eagle soaring and I don’t remember it and there’s no demo or live recording or anything. It really was more raw because I was in the abusive dynamic while I was in that band and playing it. Funny to think of the times I played it in front of that person.
I definitely have a pop sensibility. Pretentious musicians look down on pop but there is nothing more gratifying than writing a hook and not everyone can write an earworm. Beyond that, my lyrics are often sad, dark or angry and it feels good to counter those feelings with pop. The combination of desperation and optimism makes me feel giddy, like maybe I’m pulling one over on someone. Desperation and optimism are on the opposite sides of the spectrum but they have a similar visceral quality. They’re a real dream team.
Maya: It’s kind of delusional to want to be a professional musician. The root of my own delusions may lie in wanting attention (4th child syndrome?) and also being shy as a kid and hating myself for it. What’s your problem?
Mo: I think it also comes from wanting attention for me. My dad is a musician in a long line of musicians, but my mom remarried when I was pretty young, so my house went from being extremely musical to there literally being a “no Beatles talk at the dinner table” rule instated by my stepdad, so I think playing music, initially, was a way for me to rebel against that while also getting in touch with my roots. I’m a very project-oriented person so I like making records, and I know there are a handful people who are interested in the music I make, so that’s how I justify continuing to do it.
Mo: We’ve both been playing shows for a long ass time, and we’ve also both toured quite a bit. People who have never toured don’t understand how exhausting it is, especially at the “DIY level.” Do you like touring, or do you see it as more of a means to an end? What would you say are the best and worst things about touring?
Maya: I love playing shows and I love traveling so I love tour. Tour also relieves anxiety—when touring I don’t have a crippling to-do list and I can forget about everyone I know. The worst part about touring on a DIY level is that even when you’re consistently impressed by folks’ support and donations it can be hard to pay your bandmates what they really deserve. The shitty truth is that you often take off work just to lose more money.
Maya: I like your songs because they have grit. Nowadays it seems like artists have some sort of moral obligation to be nice and promote “good.” Do you ever worry about hurting people’s feelings with your music or coming off as self-centered or an asshole?
Mo: I have never consciously tried to weaponize songs like Mark Kozelek or something. I want to be a good person, but I also want the freedom to appear ugly in my art. I think if you have even the smallest amount of influence it’s important to use that responsibly and not be completely horrible, but I also feel like consciously sanitizing creative expression out of fear of being misinterpreted is a little bit of an insult to the audience’s intelligence. My favorite lyricists are people like Elvis Costello and Fiona Apple, whose music runs the gamut of human feeling. I think getting to that point requires a lot of navel-gazing, so I definitely think it’s self-centered. But I also think all art comes from a very selfish place.
Mo: I really admire and am kinda envious of your ability to come up with these great metaphors. I’m never totally sure what your songs are about until I hear you talk about them or discuss them in interviews. As someone who writes pretty literally, that style of lyric writing is very difficult for me to wrap my head around. Do you always think of lyrics in those terms, or is there a process of coming up with a premise for a song and then twisting it into something more abstract?
Maya: I naturally think in metaphors a lot… It’s a problem sometimes because people don’t always understand the metaphors. I use them semi-unconsciously in my daily life. For example, when I try to tell someone to make their guitar part sound like a drop of rain beading up and falling down a leaf and then falling back down the leaf the other way they just look at me and blink their eyes. As a visual artist I’m an image-based thinker. I really admire straightforward lyric writing though. Sometimes I’ll think of a lyric then dismiss it because it seems too straightforward or sophomoric; when I hear someone else sing something quite simply it can really hit me in the gut.
Maya: What is your first memory of being creative?
Mo: I started a comic book “company” with my friend Dalton in the 5th grade called XXX Comics. I think he would draw and I wrote the dialogue. We invented our own currency that other students could use to buy the comics. We fucking ran that classroom.
Maya: If you could be a musician in any era which time period would you choose and why?
Mo: This is a tough question because I think about it a lot and still am not sure. I know if I came of age in the mid-‘80s I absolutely would have been in a hair metal band, but I’m not sure I would want to actually go back and experience that. I wish I could just be a professional songwriter and not have to perform, which I think was viable in the ‘60s. Being a musician in this era is kinda great because of how many resources you have at your fingertips, but I sometimes hate how utilitarian musicians are expected to be now. Like sometimes I just want to write songs and not have to worry about anything else.