SAINT ANDREWS – Dutch-born, Saint Andrews-based musician Masha Maria thought collaborating with friends overseas wouldn’t be possible when the COVID-19 pandemic first began, and lockdowns were in place around the globe. But as for so many, Zoom changed everything.
The song Twelve Fifty-Six is a collaboration between Maria, U.K.-based Jeremy Johnson, and the Netherlands-based Marije De Vries. To keep their creative juices flowing during a worldwide lockdown, the three musicians held weekly Zoom calls, where they exchanged song writing assignments, allowing for a unique evolution of each piece of through the art of changing hands.
Twelve Fifty-Six is the first finished song in their collaboration project and features vocal performances from both Maria and De Vries as well as cello from Lithuanian cellist Galya Samborsky. The track is the seventh in a series of releases in 2021 by Johnson, and has been played on BBC Music: Introducing in Hereford and Worcester.
Maria sat down with Vicki Hogarth for The Saint Croix Courier to discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic resuscitated her music career and collaborative artistic spirit.
Why did you move to Canada, and how did you end up in Saint Andrews?
Moving to Canada at the end of 2015 was partially a bit of a lovesick journey combined with a sense of adventure. Plans that were made didn’t work out and travelling seemed to be an appropriate remedy. Initially, I wanted to try to get an artist visa for the US, but that turned out to be an expensive ordeal and, in the meantime, I had met a Canadian boy from New Brunswick. After living in Toronto for two-and-one-half- years, we moved to Saint Andrews.”
How has your music career developed since coming to Canada? Do you collaborate online, or do you make music and perform locally as well?
Although my EP was recorded and produced in the Netherlands, I released it in the fall of 2016 when I was in Canada. In the first two years, I played a few shows in Toronto, did a collaboration with the artist and composer Voga, and briefly worked at a recording school, but eventually due to visa issues I pretty much stopped performing. I wasn’t allowed to work and I didn’t want to risk anything.
For about three years, I went from a tourist visa to a work visa and back again until I became a permanent resident in December 2018. At that point, it felt as if I had completely lost that musical flow I was in years prior. While I’ve always played music at home, it didn’t really lead anywhere, except for a sporadic show here and there in Charlotte County. While Covid-19 stopped the careers of Jeremy and Marije, it gave me the opportunity to resuscitate mine.
How did the three of you begin collaborating during the pandemic, and what was the process like?
In the beginning of the pandemic, Marije and I did a long distance duet, which we had never done since I moved away. We enjoyed working together again and from that moment on, we tried giving each other little songwriting assignments, which we would then present in an Instagram live. Meanwhile, Jeremy was keeping himself busy with his own podcast in which he interviews other musicians. The three of us had always been in touch, but when we were on the podcast ourselves, it must have triggered something.
We began doing weekly video calls with the three of us and tried a few mutual assignments here and there until we started writing songs that we would then give away to the next person. Marije and I both have a bad habit of writing songs and shelving them when they’re half-finished and we really needed to break that. Jeremy is quite the opposite of us. He works very systematically and gives great pep talks, which has been a major factor in being able to continue the writing process. What’s interesting is that we come from completely different backgrounds, musically and experience wise.
For example, Jeremy and Marije are a lot more seasoned when it comes to the production process. That forced me to learn a new language to be able to communicate any ideas. And, whereas Marije and I have been in bands and duos together, Jeremy has always been a solo artist, which meant that his usual process automatically changed quite a bit.
Tell us a little bit about the song you wrote together; what is the meaning behind it, and how does it represent the three of you as artists combined with mood you were feeling during the time you wrote it?
The lyrics and melody were written by Jeremy. Initially, he wrote down everything that came to mind, without putting a break on it. He finished the song in a heartbeat. At first glance it seemed that it didn’t have a specific meaning; it was more about setting a mood. But when we stopped to think about it, it all made sense. It’s about noticing the beauty around us, while we’re simultaneously feeling stuck and maybe a bit numb. It also has a sense of how we’re in this together trying to hold each other accountable to keep doing what we love doing.
One of the main objectives of our collaboration is to not think too much about what we’re writing and composing when the songs are still in the first stage of the creation process. We try to not have a specific sound in our heads and to not judge the lyrics. Those things are to be determined during the next stage when we dive into the possibilities to figure out what suits the songs best.
The track will be available publicly today, Saturday, Aug. 21 at www.jeremyjohnson.co.uk/new-release