A couple of months ago, Maya de Vitry quietly released a song called “Working Man”, with no real promotion, no video nothing like that just here’s a song. It’s become one of my favorite releases so far this year. It’s unassuming, sparse in arrangement and production yet packs a punch lyrically and sonically. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania native is a violinist, fiddler and lover of melody and language, plants and animals. Maya de Vitry was a member of The Stray Birds for seven years before releasing her debut album, Adaptations two years ago. Early last year, Maya joined WMOT along with several Nashville artists to perform live sets at East Iris Studios in Berry Hill for Public Radio Music Day. Then, just as the pandemic shutdowns were starting, on March 13, 2020 Maya’s second album How To Break A Fall was released.
AnaLee: Hi Maya, I hope you are well, staying safe and on the way to getting back to releasing and playing music and some sense of normal! Things came to a screeching halt basically on release day for your last album. How did that affect you? Did this past year help or hinder your writing and creative process?
Maya: This year has taught me to zoom out and look at my creative output on a much longer arc. It also gave me a chance to asses a lot of my perspectives on how to live as an artist. I think it’s going to impact my endurance for creativity in a positive way in the long term.
AnaLee: Like you, I love plants, animals and music, and for me, the extra time to be in nature and be with my animals has been a silver lining, slowing down and literally smelling the flowers! What’s been a source of grounding for you this past year?
Maya: My garden has been a very real sense of grounding! I’ve also been a part of an artist cohort with an organization called Western States Center - it’s an inspirational crew, doing the work of imagining how musicians can be an integral part of working towards inclusive democracy. Also, I left college in 2011 to tour full-time with The Stray Birds, and I’ve always wanted to finish my undergraduate degree. I enrolled at MTSU part-time a couple years ago, and have been chipping away at it a class at a time, but I decided to really focus on that this past year and set my sights on finishing. I am really passionate about language, and I am now getting a degree in Spanish. With a minor in Music Industry. Hopefully graduating in December 2021. I can’t wait to see where my language studies lead me in future creative collaborations.
AnaLee: In your new single, I’m drawn to the juxtaposition between the imagery of the realistic struggle of the American “Working Man” and the simple, uplifting melody. Tell us about this song.
Maya: So, the spark for this song actually came from an American History class at MTSU that I was in last summer. I was reading about the railroad empires over a hundred years ago, how much of the land was granted from the government but then the profits benefited only a few at the top, while the actual labor was done by countless anonymous workers. Seems to be a pretty familiar story in our country. Although, as a country I think we have also been trying to shine a light on “essential workers” all year — or at least the work of those stocking shelves and delivering packages and cleaning hospital rooms is becoming a bit more visible and acknowledged. I worked at Starbucks for the year in between leaving The Stray Birds and getting my solo project off the ground, but other than that my experience with wage labor is pretty limited - mostly I’ve been a musician. But there’s all sorts of bizarre compensation and concentrations of wealth in the music industry too, and to be a touring musician is service industry as well. So, to circle back to “Working Man”, maybe the simple and uplifting melody is how I wake up feeling most days, the optimism that I have, and then the lyrics are just a story of a pretty twisted reality in this world. The melody is the genuine smile on your face when you hand a drink out through a drive-thru window, and the lyrics are the paycheck.
AnaLee: Can you share any news of what you’re working on for this new year… more single releases, an ep, album? Live shows?
Maya: I am working on a full-length album - I’ve been recording it at home all year, co-producing it with Ethan Jodziewicz. It’s coming together! You can look for some singles from it coming later in 2021. It has evolved all year, and been a slow and mindful process. Being this involved in production is new for me with my solo work, and it’s very rewarding. I’m definitely becoming a better listener. I don’t have any live shows on the books. I played a show in Nashville in October and my boyfriend got Covid at the show, so I’ve been pretty cautious about getting back out there since then. I have been playing a livestream on my Facebook page every Tuesday all spring, and that’s been great. I’ve been learning new songs each week - a lot of which are requests and ideas that fans send in to me. I love traveling - I can’t wait to bring music to people in person again. But I have also been simmering ideas of ways to travel in the future that might feel more nourishing to me, and hopefully offer something deeper to an audience, too. I’d like to go to a town and play in a venue but also play in a school or a do a creativity workshop in the community, just move more slowly overall, spend a couple days in a place, and have a chance to build relationships with a place and with people.
Maya de Vitry, “Magazine” from NPR Public Radio Music Day, East Iris Studios in Nashville