Maria Minerva, a somewhat mysterious artist from Estonia, first emerged with a cassette release that was both strangely good and intriguingly in-step with the trend toward moody music pitched somewhere between the dance floor and the bedroom. That album, Tallinn at Dawn, came out in 2011 on the Los Angeles indie label Not Not Fun, and the short time since, Minerva has released a 12-inch single, a full-length, and an EP on the slightly dancier Not Not Fun sub-label, 100% Silk. Charting the differences between them is less illuminating than finding the commonality: a playfulness that’s alternately cerebral and coy, and a lightness of touch at the controls. She sings too, with a voice that stretches out and rises up from deep pools of echo.
On Minerva’s latest effort, Will Happiness Find Me? , she plays with different sounds and different tempos, with a mind toward both vintage club music and futuristic pop at once. In New York from London, where she has lived for the last few years while working toward a master’s degree, Minerva spoke with eMusic’s Andy Battaglia about getting soused with a feminist legend, reconciling the study of Marxism with a need to work, and getting down as a young girl to Basement Jaxx.
On playing a show at Urban Outfitters for Fashion Week in New York:
I felt out in the cold, because when you’re performing a show for people who come and go, it’s scary. It was a good experience, because I’ve never done anything like that. I’ve always been in safe environments where people know me – or, at least, know what they’re getting. Except a few times, like last week in Australia, when I did a weird panel talk that was like a Saturday Night Live-style talk show where everybody was like 45-plus. They had [noted feminist author and academic] Germaine Greer on the panel! There was no theme – it was just, like, a fun panel. The reward was that I got to hang out with Germaine Greer. She’s 73 and I’m 24, and we were drinking. I had a bottle of Jameson on my rider. [Laughs.]
On recently completing her thesis:
I turned in my thesis and [my coursework] should be over by January, hopefully. My thesis is on “nonsensical voice and glossolalia,” basically on vocalisms. It could have been fun, but I was so stressed out. I was here in New York in April and my mind was already fixed on getting back. I was waiting on a visa and couldn’t really count on it, so when I finally got it, everything else just seemed like something I needed to do before I could go and fuck off. [Laughs.]
On learning to like dance music:
I remember very precisely. I was 13, and I got really into French house. Around the same time [I also got into] electroclash, like Miss Kitten, Felix da Housecat, Fischerspooner. And everything that came after Daft Punk. When Remedy by Basement Jaxx came out in 1999, I didn’t have a CD player yet, so my dad recorded it on tape for me. So I was listening to Remedy on a Walkman at 11. It was such a fascinating collage of sounds, and it still is. I can still listen to Remedy and it’s awesome. Also Cassius and some more mainstream things helped me discover the house formula, or disco-inspired dance music. Then I went in deeper and started listening to, like, Marshall Jefferson.
On deciding to make dance music of her own:
It was all like two years ago. My first releases are all weirdo music. It wasn’t even a question: dance music just seemed the most normal thing to me. I went out dancing every Friday night for years. That was the only interesting thing going on in terms of night life for me. I hate the idea of “gigs.” It’s boring. I’m not interested in it. When I go out, I just want somebody to DJ from about 10 to 6.
On the notoriously arty, progressive, theory-strewn Goldsmiths college at University of London:
It was wonderful. It’s a very nice place if you want to study the type of stuff that I studied. There are loads of like-minded people there, but I feel like I didn’t meet many of them, because I was always working. When you work and try to do music 24 hours a day, to make the most of [the college experience] I guess you need to have a trust fund or something, so you can go to every talk by every Marxist. Instead of going to Marxist talks, I went to work. [Laughs.] It’s hard to describe what it’s like there. I don’t think the majority of people would say it even qualifies as “higher education,” but it was cool.
On her favorite music writer, Simon Reynolds:
He incorporates a lot of theory, but he’s also just a very good essayist and a good writer, very precise and intelligent, but at the same time very easy to read. He never exhausts you or puts you off from what he’s trying to say. He also gives an amazing historical overview of different genres of music in ways that people don’t often talk about. He’s extremely encyclopedic and goes over everything, and mentions bands that people don’t remember anymore. He’s an archivist in addition to being a theorist. You know it’s good music writing when you read about other music and it makes you want to make your own music. My main [favorite] book of his was always The Sex Revolts, which he wrote with his wife [Joy Press]. But his post-punk history [Rip It Up and Start Again] changed the course of my taste for a year. I was only listening to music from like 1978-84. He led me to so many things. I was all about going back in time and going through everything, and he had something to do with that.
On other music writing she likes:
I’ve read a lot of music writing in general. Often musicians say they are not interested or they don’t want to know, but I can’t say the same. I was reading Paul Morley or Greil Marcus, mainly from the UK and the U.S. But then there are some books that I’ve never managed to read about music, like the Thomas Mann book based on Schoenberg, Doctor Faustus. This is my goal for life – they say it can be handy when you think about music or being a person who makes music. The Thomas Mann was the only one I couldn’t read yet so far. It’s translated into Estonian though.
On her stature back home in Estonia:
It’s so small. But I’ve been away for two years, and I don’t think they care. Why should they care? I don’t want to let this thought into my head, but sometimes it does: wanting to show people at home what you can do without their help and without their support. There is a lot of help and support there, but sometimes I go on a website there and the comments are the most horrible things that I’ve ever seen. People are just mean. Sometimes also funny but usually just mean. Also my dad is kind of known there, so some people have come up with weird conspiracies of why I’m in the newspaper in the first place. My dad is in the media – he has a TV show and a radio show, and he writes for a newspaper, but it’s all comedy and satire, so it doesn’t have anything to do with him being able to decide who ends up in the music pages. I’m used to people always associating me with my dad back home. Sometimes I try to avoid being interviewed there, but every once and a while I do something. The name of his TV showâ€¦it doesn’t translate. I don’t have any ideaâ€¦kind of like “to put somebody in their place”? The worst things I’ve ever read about myself have come from Estonia. But it’s also such a new country still and everybody is just starting to travel a lot, young people at least. Everybody who’s 35-plus has always been there.