Interview with the woman in charge. Mai Agan from MaiGroup says that music is in her blood and that love inspires her. MaiGroup has released their first album “Luv” and are ready to share all of their happiness and sadness with you.
Interview by Ana Pervan
Since the members of MaiGroup come from different countries (A/N Estonia and Sweden), how do you manage your time regarding the composing, jamming sessions and gigs?
I am originally from Estonia, but three years ago I made a decision to go to study in Sweden. I had so many songs going on in my head and it was time to write them down, so I formed MaiGroup while studying at Skurups Folkhögskola. One year later I made a transfer to The Royal College of Music in Stockholm and now me, Björn Arkö and Rasmus Lindelöw go to the same class and Calle Stålenbring and Jonathan Lundberg are almost done with the school.
Basically we spend a majority of time at school and we have enough time to jam. The only period when we are separated and when we do not play together is during the summer. That is actually good because the break makes our sound fresh and while away from the guys, I use some time to write new songs.
There are not so many female electric bass players. Mai, why the bass?
I played violin for eight years before I met the bass at the age of sixteen. Actually, at that time I was playing in a band called 2+2=5 and our former bass player decided to leave. We needed a new bass player and I just said: “OK, give it to me. I’m going to try to play the bass”.
When I first touched the instrument I am playing now, it was like the moment of recognition. It seemed that the bass and I had always belonged together, but we hadn’t met each other yet. It was a magical moment, just like when you just meet a right guy, but I guess I met the right instrument.
You have been featured in one Estonian guitar magazine regarding your bass playing skills. Is this something you plan to continue doing?
The Estonian guitar magazine opened a bass corner and I was asked to start writing for them in order to inspire young bass players. It’s a new project and I am happy to do it. In Stockholm I have a chance to learn something and why not to share my knowledge with Estonians who do not have the same opportunity as me.
Do you consider yourself as a role model for youngsters who want to play the bass?
Wow, I haven’t thought about it, I don’t know. I just want to do my thing as good as possible and if anyone finds it cool and if people think of me as an idol or a role model, I would be honoured.
I just want to do the thing I love as good as possible. Music is such a gift and I never take it for granted. I know that talent is one thing, but I also have to work for something that I love. It is an inner urge, some kind of natural force. Not everyone gets there, but I hope to get there.
What motivates you the most while composing?
Love is the most powerful thing in the world, ever. It is the greatest weapon, not because I am naive, it’s because I have tried everything else. It is the greatest inspirations. It goes with everything there is in life. Some people love money so much, that they will do everything to earn more; some love the power so much that they would do everything to be in the top of the politics; some people love beautiful cars and they would do whatever to get them. On MaiGroup’s album, all the songs are inspired by love and for the people in my life. All the songs are like the stories inspired by the specific happy and sad emotions. Yes, love is everywhere.
You had really good mentors. Was the chance to demonstrate your bass playing skills one of the reasons for forming the MaiGroup?
That is a good question. I think I have never tried to show off myself as a bass player, I have formed the group because I had some stuff in my head that I wanted to get rid of. As a musician you always have a mission to share the beauty and pain of your life with others. If you have been given a talent, then you should use it. I am very happy to be able to share my music with others.
MaiGroup has started as a student project. Recently you have released your first album, Luv. Do you consider it as a closure of everything you have been doing in the last years?
Yes, even though the music is five years old. We have been playing together for two and a half years now, and the members of the band have been changing, because I was looking for a different sound. At first I was sad because I didn’t want to hurt someone while changing the members, but now I feel happy because we have reached the wanted sound. The sound will always evolve, it comes with the players.
The guys in the band are very creative and open minded, influenced by different music styles. I like that a lot. For example the drummer is very good at playing some hard rock stuff, but he can also play some artsy things. On the other hand, the guitar player is playing with the most famous Swedish pop stars, but he is also good in playing jazz. I want to meet that mix.
Let’s talk about “Luv”.
That album has all my biggest happiness and sadness on it. In every happy song, there is a little piece of sadness and in every sad song there is a little bit of happiness. It is never this or that. It is always walking between those two lines.
MaiGroup’s music is inspired by love. It has really nice beats, awesome grooves and beautiful melodies. It is very important to me that each and every melody has a story to tell. It’s just my life in music. Album “Luv” is downloadable on iTunes and you can buy a physical copy in the record store, on Amazon and from me. If someone wants to have a copy, just send me an e-mail and I will post the album to you.
The album “Luv” features ten tracks. How long was the procedure of making it viral?
The oldest song is from 2008 and the newest is written together with the guitar player, Calle Stålenbring. We wrote it in September 2012 and it is called 362, which is the name of my bass class in Stockholm. It took me five years to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and create an album. Those five years also symbolize a relationship with my husband. Since we got married in February, I have recorded those five years which I may say have been the happiest and also the saddest time of my life. Since we got married, it is time to move on, to turn another page and to start writing new music.
MaiGroup has received some good critics regarding the “Luv” album. What are your impressions?
I am very moved, because it is so personal. I know it is a great record, because I have such amazing guys playing on it, but compositions that come from me… /pauses/ I feel very, very grateful for the people who like it.
My friend Mark Juur is not a musician; he is a melomaniac and knows a lot about music. After hearing the album, he sent me a really touching e-mail. I loved it very much when he said it is very emotional, that the music goes far away and gets close to the listener again. He also said that “Luv” is not a bass player’s album, it’s an album of a band and a band is fucking great! I really liked it, because that was my purpose. Everybody plays the same amount of solos, because we are a band and I don’t want to dominate. All guys should feel appreciated that they are giving something and that they are not pushing me up, they are pushing us up. About the song 362, he said it has some really sweaty fusion in the muscles.
Also, my first bass professor Raul Vaigla said how proud and happy he is for me. That is not so common among the bass players. I am really happy for the relationship I have with my former bass teacher; we are both proud of each other’s work and success. His review was very important to me. The majority of critics are coming next month, so I am looking forward to them.
MaiGroup is no stranger to the Baltic jazz enthusiasts. Do you have some plans for spreading your vibes and playing in Central or Eastern Europe?
Yes, this is our third year in a row in Estonia. We have been playing at the Student Jazz Festival and had two Estonian Jazz Union Tours. Last July we played at Muhu Future Music Festival and in Stockholm at the New Sound Made Festival.
We are also focusing on going abroad. I think we have everything: good music, nice photos and an attraction as a band with a female bass player who is also a composer. I am working hard to establish MaiGroup’s name out there. On Youtube you can find fifteen–year-old girls showing their boobs while playing only two notes on their bass guitars and getting millions of views. I might play awesome in 300+ bpm but still get fewer views. Maybe it is not the time, so I am taking it kind of easy.
Who do you consider as your core audience?
My music is not only for musicians who will come to the concert just to see how fast I am playing now. I would like to get further than that, to reach the people who actually enjoy it. I think we are getting there, because I have got a really nice feedback from the people who are not in the music at all and who are moved by what we do.
I would also like to have an intelligent audience, the audience who understands the bass. I didn’t become a singer because I didn’t want to be in front of the stage. As a bass player, even though it is my music and my band, I want the people to appreciate what all the group members are doing. Warm audience is important. My music is personal – I put all my heart and soul in it. For example, at the concert, we were playing a song that I have dedicated to my grandmother. I told the story behind the song and while playing I have seen an old lady in an audience. She was crying, because she was moved. When I see the young jazz students who are digging what the drummer is doing, I get such a kick out of it, like: “Yeah! We are doing a right thing!”
Are there any future plans for MaiGroup regarding the sound? Maybe the next album will bring some changes.
I think that MaiGroup will have the same members: saxophone, drums, guitar, piano and the bass. It doesn’t matter if I am going to change the saxophone or a guitar player in the future, it matters that I have the right sound of the band. Actually, I was thinking of having a piano trio next year, why not to call it MaiTrio or a quartet as MaiQuartet? I have many plans, so why not to do something with MaiGroup like a singer featuring or whatever. There are so many possibilities and I am open-minded. If anyone has some ideas, let me know.
Is it time to take a break after the album release?
After releasing “Luv” a few weeks ago, someone told me that this won’t be my last album. At first I wasn’t sure if I want to make another record, but right now I think of it as a milestone of my life. When I am eighty years old I think I am going to look back at that and say what a great band I had. I really want to thank all the teachers and all the people in my life for all the inspiration. I have dedicated most of the songs to them, i.e. the song Rite is composed for my grandmother and the song Alpha & Omega is dedicated to my husband. I am grateful for everything.
MaiGroup performed at the Theatre No99 on April 20th 2013.
Björn Arkö – sax
Rasmus Lindelöw – keyboards
Calle Stålenbring – guitar
Mai Agan – el. bass & compositions
Jonathan Lundberg – drums