Almost every artist will tell you they don't want to be pigeonholed or crammed into one neat little category. When Mayda says it, though, it sounds like an attribute inherently built into her personality.
"My whole life, I've never really felt like I fit in anywhere," said the St. Paul singer/guitarist, 25. "It's pretty natural for my music to come off that way, too."
Hardly your typical musician with an identity crisis, Mayda (last name: Miller) is a 4-foot-10 native of Korea who was adopted by a white St. Paul couple before her first birthday.
Talking last week at Ginkgo Coffeehouse -- after she got off work from another coffee shop -- Mayda said she had a "totally normal" childhood. Her only complaint about her Minnesotan mom and dad came when she good-naturedly imitated their reaction to her gig schedule (in full MN accent: "Oh, that's so late").
But she can't help but wonder about the mysteries in her DNA, from her wee-sized stature to what she says is an incessant need to make music.
"Everyone seems to get a slice/ I'm still looking for who ate mine," she sings in "Dirty Pie Crew," one of several tracks on her new CD that ponder her mixed heritage (the "dirty pie"). "Mama's little baby likes shortening/ But momma's little baby wasn't born and bred."
Fortunately, Mayda doesn't worry about fitting into any musical category on the new album, "The Interrogation" (Afternoon Records), which she's promoting with a release party Saturday at the Triple Rock, headlined by her former Central High schoolmates Heiruspecs.
"They were the cool seniors when I was a freshman," she noted.
The full-length follow-up to last year's debut, "Stereotype EP," "The Interrogation" offers a high-energy mix of sneering rock, M.I.A.-like dance rap and Prince-style funk 'n' grind. The last bit comes off especially well thanks to the CD's producer and her main musical mentor, Michael Bland. The former Prince and current Soul Asylum drummer enlisted an MVP crew to play on the disc's 10 tracks, including fellow ex-Purple One sidemen Tommy Barbarella and Sonny Thompson, bassist Yohannes Tona and guitarist Jacob Hanson.
"What I like about Mayda is she's open-minded," Bland said. "A lot of young artists I've worked with suffer from 'demo love' and won't allow you to experiment or augment their vision. Mayda knows what she wants to hear, but isn't closed off to new information."
Mayda is certainly still young, but she is not inexperienced. Her mom pushed her to study piano throughout her childhood. ("She has lots of photos of me playing recitals in hideous dresses," Mayda said, laughing.) She then formed the teen-pop group the Sugar Divas while still in junior high school, an all-girl quintet that earned decent TV exposure and gigs ranging from Grand Old Day to opening slots for touring bands.
"I'm actually really proud of the Sugar Divas," she said. "We were doing what we wanted to do, something creative, at a very young age, and we had a lot of fun doing it. It was a great excuse to get together and eat a lot of Davanni's."
The Divas had to call it quits once the members all went off to college. Mayda earned a communications degree from the University of Minnesota, but by the time she graduated she knew what she really wanted to do.
"I had been writing a lot, and I never really seemed to lose the urge to play music," she recalled.
After some of her home recordings got into the hands of Bland, the seemingly unlikely pair -- total opposites in physique, at least -- started hammering out tracks together two years ago. Bland will also be in her band Saturday at the Triple Rock.
"Michael has definitely helped shape my sound and taught me a lot," she said, "but he also lets me be who I want to be."
Another learning experience for Mayda was a 2007 solo tour of Korea, where the response was reportedly quite ecstatic. She has not had any contact with her birth parents over there but thinks "it would be fascinating." Regardless, she said of being in Korea, "It felt like finding a piece of the puzzle."
However her pieces come together, Mayda is at least a perfect fit for the Twin Cities music scene.Three more CD parties
1. After two ambitious full-length albums, the Honeydogs return with a shorter and more freewheeling six-song collection, "Sunshine Committee," which they're issuing with a release party tonight at First Ave with the Hopefuls and Caroline Smith & the Goodnight Sleeps (9 p.m., $10-$12). Aside from a little extra dosage of horns -- deftly played by Matt Darling and Stephen Kung -- the tunes sound like classic jangly, power-poppy, song-driven Honeydogs. I'd even rank the title track and "Good Fight" as two of Adam Levy's all-time highs as a songwriter.
2. His Mischief makes good on its buzz with a snarling, sparks-filled debut album, "The Perfect Lover," which it's touting tonight at the Turf Club (10 p.m., $7). Led by former Effervescent singer/guitarist Sheridan Fox, the trio bursts and bubbles over in a Pixies way while offering a lot of subtle, Spoon-like hooks on the Mike Wisti-produced collection. Fox gets ace support from the rhythm section of Jeff Quinn and Jeff Brown, who've also played with tonight's Turf headliner, Har Mar Superstar.
3. Former Tiki Obmar electro-wiz-kid Brett Bullion is back in town making music under the pseudonym Tarlton. He has a party today at 7th Street Entry (5 p.m., $6, all ages) to promote a three-song EP titled "The Papa Theses." The songs all clock in around eight minutes and feature Dosh-like whirs, loops and "real" drum beats, although the tracks have more of a droning and atmosphere-over-melody quality compared to Dosh's stuff.SXSW bound
It seems like every day I hear from another local band heading to Texas for next week's South by Southwest Music Conference, and if the snow keeps up I bet even more will opt to go, if even just to street busk. The official SXSW registry lists 22 Minnesota acts, including Mark Olson and Gary Louris, Solid Gold, the 757s, Haley Bonar, Grant Hart, Dosh, Birthday Suits, the Doomtree crew and the contingent for the all-Rhymesayers showcase (Brother Ali, I Self Devine, Toki Wright, Eyedea & Abilities plus P.O.S., who was just trumpeted as a SXSW pick at Spin.com). The total number usually at least doubles when you throw in bands on the tentative showcase list and/or the ones playing the gazillion unofficial private parties.
A half-dozen of these acts will get in a little practice and gas money at the Vita.mn-sponsored "SXSW Send-off Party" at First Ave on Saturday (5 p.m., a charitable $3-$6), including Solid Gold, Sims, Jeremy Messersmith, Gospel Gossip, First Communion Afterparty, Bella Koshka and Idle Hands. Check startribune.com/music starting Wednesday for blog posts, photos and even video from the fest. Warning: The video might be a little shaky.Random mix
While his 10-song greatest-hits collection "Loneliness in America: 1998-2008" is still available as a free download on his website (maybe his craziest stunt ever!), Mark Mallman just finished a new album for Badman Recordings. Actually, he finished it twice. He decided to re-record the disc in a darker tone after a nasty split with a girlfriend. Look for it to be done by summer (the CD, not the breakup). He returns to the Triple Rock tonight with the Greycoats and Crisis Line (10 p.m., $7), and then he also will head to SXSW. ... Crisis Line, btw, is a promising co-ed dance-rock ensemble that just issued a lively debut album, equal parts E.L.O., Scissor Sisters and Revolution-era Prince. ...
A team of local musicians headed up by Brian (G.B.) Leighton are throwing a fundraiser for Minnesota Music Cafe owners Billy Larson and Lisa Wenger, who are reportedly facing foreclosure on their home amid hard times at the bar plus a bout of family medical expenses. It's happening April 5 at O'Gara's. Stay tuned for ticket info. Other participants will include Jay Bee & the Routine, Jody Hanks, Bobby Vandell, Mick Sterling, Paul Mayasich and undoubtedly more to come. ...
The Dakota continues to branch out beyond jazz bookings, as evidenced by tonight's shows with Haley Bonar (7:30 and 10 p.m., $12-$20, Fat Kid Wednesdays opens). ... After taking over the former Rossi's space in downtown Minneapolis, Hell's Kitchen restaurant now plans to pick up some of the acts left gig-less following the closing of the Times Bar and Cafe. Look for the Wolverines Jazz Trio with Judy Donaghy to start playing there every Wednesday starting March 25 (8 p.m.). Andrew "Cadillac" Kolstad also has a new weekly gig there on Thursdays. Hell's ain't a bad place to be, it seems.
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