- Arusa Qureshi
- 20 May 2020
Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist returns with gentle and dreamlike new single 'Fingertips'
As a relatively new voice in the UK musical landscape, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Maebh creates ethereal sounds that are infused with folk elements, though impossible to classify under one genre. Making use of experimental electronic composition, which she studied at university, she adds pop and cinematic sensibilities into the mix, creating a style that is both original, at times improvisational, but wholly captivating. While living in Glasgow, Maebh worked with Joe McAlinden (of Scottish label Single Track) on the coast of Argyll on two tracks, the first of which, 'Dreaming All Along', was released in 2019. Now, she returns with second single 'Fingertips', which connects with the previous track in its piano motif, but further blurs the line between instrumental composition and vocal song with its tender instrumentation and lush harmonies. We caught up with Maebh ahead of the release to find out more about the song, her unique sound and her future plans.
On her approach to songwriting and composing
I grew up surrounded by folk music and my childhood was filled with ceilidhs and watching incredible musicians on stage. I loved the excitement, the rhythms and learning the tunes on fiddle from CDs. As a teenager I played in bands with friends and went busking on Saturdays. Folk music is all about how to arrange and revive traditional music in new and fresh ways, and I got really into that, which led to me writing music in different styles. I taught myself guitar and piano, and have been writing songs ever since.
I don't have a strict approach to songwriting; my new songs almost always come from old ones. I'll be messing around with the chords and get side-tracked and end up making something new. From there, I just start recording because I've found that the first impression of a song in your head is usually the best one – you can ruin it by going over and over it and not recording the initial idea straight away. So I just record, make a beat, and then do layer after layer of harmonies, synths, instruments, until it feels right.
For me, good lyrics are everything, and the best words are those which just tumble out in an hour or two. When I'm coming up with the melody, half-formed words take shape, and I derive meaning from that and write the full lyrics – my subconscious must be doing the talking. But with some songs it can be a really long process – I have about five songs to write lyrics for at the moment.
On her current sound
My sound is definitely influenced by my folky background, contrasted with having studied experimental electronic music at university, where we were encouraged to mess about with the rules. I love beautiful music, and you could describe my aesthetic as gentle and dreamy, but interesting. I'm really interested in the relationship between audio and visual, and I think my music would be quite suited to the screen. My sound is definitely still evolving as I learn more about production, and I'm trying to become a bit more disciplined by putting constraints on myself to create interesting sounds.
On 'Fingertips' and its main themes and ideas
'Fingertips' is a kind of accidental song. I had the nice, slow piano line and then recorded loads of violins, intending it to be an instrumental, maybe for film. I then couldn't resist singing a vocal part, thinking I'd have to make two versions. I sent it to Joe McAlinden at Single Track, explaining that it was a temporary blend of two pieces, but he told me it was perfect like that. We worked on it a lot and got everything intertwining nicely, so the result is this cinematic piece with blurry vocals and lush folky/classical strings. The lyrics are about looking for a feeling of stability that's all too elusive, like holding someone's hand but only by the fingertips. It's about something being gone from a relationship, something that has slipped away. I hope it can offer a moment of quiet and calm.
On artists she looks to for inspiration
Growing up I was hugely inspired by Sufjan Stevens, Amy Winehouse and Nick Drake, especially for their amazing lyrics which take beauty from the everyday. From a production perspective, I love Jon Hopkins and his work with King Creosote. But these days I'm inspired by so many amazing female artists like Kelsey Lu, Georgia and Arlo Parks.
On what the future currently looks like
Due to the lockdown, I had to leave Glasgow, so right now I'm back home with my family in rural Cumbria, which is a really nice place to be, given the circumstances. So things are strange, as they are for everyone, but with summer plans being cancelled I'm getting to make loads of new music.
Right now I'm working on songs that are more upbeat, as I feel like I want to make music that's a bit more fun. In September I'm starting a Masters in composition at Goldsmiths, and I plan on playing live as much as possible and would love to get involved in exciting projects as a composer.