Elaine Mai Opens Up About Overcoming Stage Fright And Staying True To Herself

elaine mai with her name written in space behind her

The lead single from electronica musician Elaine Mai’s new EP is steeped in childhood memories of summers in the Sligo seaside town of Enniscrone. It’s electronic music with heart, she tells Ciara McGrattan. Photo by Mattia Pelizzari

The Colour of the Night, released last month, is electro-ambient artist Elaine Mai’s eagerly-anticipated EP. The lead single, ‘Enniscrone’, dropped in December of last year and fans (which include influential music blogger Nialler9) have been patiently awaiting more electro goodness from the Mayo-native ever since.

‘Enniscone’, a hazy instrumental track, has an accompanying video that takes in a tour of the Sligo seaside town’s rambling sand dunes and picturesque, rustic scenery. Mai’s cousin passed away as she was writing the song and the loss underpins the track’s summery soundscape and landscape.

“Everything we did as kids was pretty much tied to that place, all these really happy memories,” she says. “I was writing that song at the time and I was like, that is so what this is about. So the song is dedicated to him and it’s really a celebration of all of the amazing fun we had there when we were kids growing up. It’s a bit sad in that way, but it’s not meant to be sad – it’s meant to be a joyous celebration.”

After the release of ‘Enniscrone’, various personal circumstances forced the delay of the EP, until last month (“I just needed to take a bit of time, so that’s what I did”). In the interim, fans had to be content with Mai’s remix of Liza Flume’s ‘Sheets’, something that came about as a result of a mutual desire to collaborate.

“I really love her voice and and always wanted to work with her in some guise,” says Mai. “I talked about working on a remix with her, so she sent me the vocals for ‘Sheets’ and I loved it.”

The Colour of the Night contains a spit-fire collaboration with Dublin’s hip-hop bodhran basher, Temper-Mental MissElayneous, on the excellent ‘Praise in the Cliche,’ but Mai picks Björk as her number-one dream collaborator, saying, “she just looks at music in a completely different way” – something critics have said of Mai herself on occasion.

Although collaboration is something Mai enjoys, she is more comfortable being a solo performer after years of being in choirs, and later bands. “I think doing it by myself is probably what I enjoy the most. It gives you a real sense of autonomy. Not like I feel like I can’t depend on other people, but you’re not stressed or worried about other people. I kind of like the fact that if something goes wrong it’s your fault, it’s no one else’s; but if it’s really good, and goes really well, then it’s all yours as well.”

However, being comfortable alone on stage is something that took some getting used to for the shy Mai. She admits to getting nervous before every performance but says that removing herself from the venue ahead of time mitigates some of the nervous tension. She used to be worse, though.“When I started playing first, friends of mine would say, ‘You’re going to have to relax a bit, you look really stiff’. If something went wrong I would be like ‘Sorry! God, that’s terrible!’”

Despite the nerves, she assures me that she has never been tempted to don Daft Punk-style head gear to remove her even further from the stresses of performance. “I just don’t think I could pull that off,” she laughs. “I think it’s kind of nice to be just as I am. I’ve never really worn anything crazy, and I don’t wear a whole heap of makeup or anything like that, so in a way that makes it a bit more raw. You’re just going up by yourself and doing your thing.”

Is it easier to keep the focus on the music instead of one’s appearance as an electronic musician than it is in other genres of music, I ask? It seems hard to imagine any scenario where the front-woman would ever be permitted to just get on with it, without obsessive attention paid to her physique, weight, outfits etc.

“It’s not something I really thought about, to be honest. I suppose for me personally, it’s not that I don’t care what people think – I do care what people think, I think everybody does in some way – but it’s just that I think it would be really disingenuous of me personally to get up and wear something crazy or to do my hair up or something. I’m not that kind of person. I’d rather just wear stuff that I’m comfortable in. Like the last thing that I want to be is uncomfortable on stage,” she says, before swiftly adding, “I mean I make an effort to wear a nice shirt that’s ironed!” After some prodding, I manage to get Mai to describe her ‘sound’ for me, despite the inherent risk of sounding like “an asshole”.

“I’d probably say it’s electronic music with a bit of heart. All the tracks I write and all the melody stuff usually comes from some kind of vocal hook or a harmony thing in my head, which is what I did when I was originally back playing guitar and messing around with the loop pedal. All of my tracks are about something, they have a purpose, they’re reminiscent of something or they’re telling a story and I think that that’s really important in electronic music because it can be a bit paint-by- numbers if you’re not injecting life into it.”

Those hoping to catch Mai’s live show will have a chance to do so during festival season, but a proper tour won’t be forthcoming until later this year. “I’ll be playing Body and Soul,” she says. “I enjoy playing festivals. I always have a lot of fun. It’s just a really good vibe, people are kind of up for it. People are open to giving you a chance.”
Aren’t festival crowds also just as ‘up for’ throwing half empty cans of beer at you?

“Depends on the festival,” laughs the supremely easy-going Mai. “It’s the risk you take.”

Elaine Mai plays Body & Soul (June 23-25). The Colour of the Night is available digitally now

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