"I know a sound is still a sound around no one" sang Fiona Apple in "I Want You to Love Me". In this poignant and bittersweet line, she affirms that even in solitude, she has her own voice and that at the end of the day it is what matters the most. Maple Glider's debut album "To Enjoy is the Only Thing" carries the weight of loneliness with a similar grace.
Tori Zietsch is a natural story-teller. She paints vivid lyrical paintings about her upbringing, yearnings and observations through her meticulously chosen words. During our interview she reminisces about her childhood and how reading other people's lyrics and literary works used to provide her a sense of escape that she didn't get to experience growing up. Having a successful and beguiling debut under her belt, it seems like it's her turn to inspire many more aspiring musicians to come.
In To Enjoy is the Only Thing, each track compliments the next one to come through atmospheric harmonies and minimal finger-picked acoustics. The slow-building thematics of the album reaches it's crescendo with the mournful closer "Mama It's Christmas". Here, Tori doesn't hold anything back. She almost cry-sings "Mama it's Christmas time again / where is my brother, where is my friend?" It's hard to listen to this one without feeling the initial guilt of witnessing something so personal yet so moving. If you sit with this song long enough, it's almost impossible not seeing Tori on her bed late at night, writing this song on a snowy day while thinking about the cruelness of how unforgiving time is.
Her debut album covers a handful of emotions besides loneliness though. We get to have a peek inside Tori's world and she gladly invites us in. On "Performer" she sings; "Reaching for a speck of light / I do not know this man / But he is in my bedroom unfurling / And I am uncertain that I can play as I have before" Brutally relatable, Tori questions her ability to perform for transient relationships and if she has any room to be herself. This line alone, summarizes the crisis that hits hard as soon as you're out of your head and in somebody else's presence in your young-adult life. She finalizes the song by singing "Must I bring my own torch or are you gonna come and light me up?" She might not agree yet but I think she doesn't need anyone's crusty torch when hers is capable of shining so, so bright.
Janset: I'm starting with a personality question right off the bat. The Maple Glider name comes from sugar gliders, small gliding possums. Would you say that you have the same ease of gliding through life and being able to stay present as they seem to be doing or is reflecting back and looking further more your thing?
Tori: I think I'm more a reflector, I don't glide naturally. The thing about sugar gliders that I love is the way that they just glide through the air. They look so fun and I aspire to have more of that energy.
Your debut album listens like an audibook on personal essays. It doesn't hold anything back in terms of story-telling. Have you acquired the ease of sharing your stories with people through music or did you write poems or stories before you became a musician?
Yeah, I did write poems and stories and sing them as songs actually. However, I realized recently that I don't find it that easy to share my personal stories. It comes really naturally for me to write the way that I write but in the context of actually sharing it with people, I have to go through a huge internal process. I had a moment during a recording saying "Oh wow, ouch this actually hurts!" I thought that after the first album it would get smoother but it's a whole thing of having to choose what you're sharing and trying to let go of the fear and pain associated to that process.
So it's not like you have separated Tori Zietsch from the Maple Glider persona in your head to protect you from that fear. It's still an on-going process of learning how to navigate it.
Are you always this good at communicating and getting your feelings heard in your real life or does your songs have an "unsent letter" kind of vulnerability to them?
Oh yeah, no! I have not been this great at communicating in my personal life. I'm still working on it and learning how to be better. Being able to approach my personal relationships the same way I approach writing is something that I want to do. I do my songwriting in my bedroom in private and it's a way of purging and getting your emotions out. I've always been someone who needs a little bit of time to process my emotions but I'm starting to work on being able to identify my emotions as they arrive.
You are Australia based but have travelled quite a bit. How do you think travelling has affected the way you write music and view music?
I have so many respect for so many musicians in my local area and when you go outside of that you discover even more talented musicians. It was a great experience being in Brighton and seeing Australian acts travelling to UK and seeing the support that they have gotten. I've always been obsessed with music and musicians. It was so nice being in a place where I could go to so many concerts. I guess it influenced my writing in a context of being away from home. I was still feeling pretty detached and alone being away from my close community that influenced my writing. I was in a pretty vulnerable place but it's also a great excuse to write more.
It's obvious that like you're a big music fan above all and I feel like that could be one of the reasons why you write such moving pieces and have a great understanding on music.
Yeah, I'm a HUGE music fan. It's the sentiment of connecting through music that makes me excited and keeps me going.
You had a very religious upbringing which is something difficult to process and talk about. On a bright note though, I think it made you understand what a community is and isn't and forming one where you make people feel seen through your music seems to play a big part in your goals. Have you ever looked at it that way?
You know what, I haven't but that's actually a very fair point. I definitely saw what a community was through my parents. I wasn't feeling as connected to that community when I was younger and that's why I was seeking out a new one. I think music was definitely my entrance into a one where I'm more comfortable in.
Illustration by Ana Felix
Your vocals have the same bittersweetness of Joni Mitchell or Phoebe Bridgers songs. Your sound is so unique yet it hits a very familiar vein. When you first started making music did you have a particular sound that you were aiming towards of did it just came together naturally?
I don't know if I was aiming towards a specific sound. There was a period in high-school where I listening to heaps of folk music though. I was googling music genres and listening to whatever came up. I found Joni Mitchell and a bunch of folk artists that I connected to. I think it's the same with writing stories. My songs are super cheesy but there is always a story line, people doing things. So, the story-telling aspect always inspired me. I tried other genres but I always keep coming back to what I'm doing right now.
Loneliness plays a big part of your album. How did this loneliness made its way into your album besides the lyrics?
I told my producer that I wanted the album to feel how it would feel if it was played live. I only played solo shows before recording and I wanted a minimal feeling. From a production stand point, loneliness seemed to help to inspire that direction. I wrote my songs in a very lonely place and I think that it's that feeling that connects most of the songs together.
On your song "Performer" you say "But he is in my bedroom unfurling/And I am uncertain I can play as I have played before/But I am a performer, of course I’ll perform.” Do you find that with music you can truly open up your true self whereas in your real life the practicality of it is less easy?
Yeah, definitely. In different stages of life, I'm able to deal with things with more ease. Music is a very intense and honest place. I've never written music in a way it's less personal, I find that difficult to do. Sometimes it's frustrating but it's just what it is. Performer was definitely about me feeling like I was putting on an act. I'd come home, tried to reconnect with friends, going in and coming out of relationships and I was definitely was not being my true self. I felt like I played a role until it made sense. That constantly changes though. Right now, I'm in a different place and I'm living more honestly and feeling very much like myself.
You portray very visual imageries through your lyrics which is very admirable. Does other written media that you consume whether it'd be singer-songwriter lyrics or books affect the way you write your songs?
For sure. I've gotten back to reading after a long period of not reading as much. I love it and I find it very meditative. When I first started writing especially, I found myself using books to guide my writing. I was pretty young so I had pretty limited experiences and I looked at other people's stories. You learn a new language through books and images.
What do you think is the most exciting and overwhelming thing about putting out a debut album?
To be honest the most exciting thing was just being able to do what I love and play a few shows that we played so far. I truly felt a connection with the crowd. I've had really beautiful messages through social media and sometimes it doesn't feel real, it's really beautiful. It goes back to wanting to build a community and sharing my music with people. Playing live feels so good because I put all my energy in my songs and those reactions motivates me to keep going.
The most overwhelming part was definitely having such intimate details of my life shared publicly. Especially around the album release I was doing a lot of publicity and lots of talking about it. It's so different going from having a song that you play live that you share in a room, in one night and then putting it online. You can't control the way in which your music is shared and you have to let go of the sense of holding back. Like I said before, there are certain bits in the music that I'm still processing, they are still relevant parts of my life. Working out what your boundaries are around that and trying to understand how you can protect yourself is a bit tricky. However, I'm feeling really grateful and maybe with the second album I'm going to be a bit more aware -hopefully!-
Is there something that you would like to try out for your upcoming projects that you haven't tried in your debut record?
I want to let go a bit more in the recording. I just have this desire of wanting to feel a little less restrained. When I play live, I get a lot of it out and I can get super emotional. I want to see what it feels like to do that in the recording too. Now I'm entering the recording space in a totally different way that I have entered for the first album. With the first record I didn't even know if it was going to be an album, I was just recording.
To finish things off, just a random question that I have been thiking about ever since I started listening to your music. What is your astrological sign?
I'm a Gemini and my rising is Taurus!
Stream Maple Glider's latest record here: