Pelican music editor Tess Bury caught up with local musician Mai Barnes to speak about her music, and what “home” means to her.
Where do you make your music?
Sometimes I make it in bed on my laptop (in Garageband), because it’s easy and it doesn’t require cables to be plugged into other things, which is daunting to me. But I normally get way too absorbed into what I’m doing and wake up with a fucked neck like six hours later, and realise I’ve been just sleeping in front of my computer.
Sometimes I make music in the little adjoining room between my bedroom and the laundry, which is why in a lot of my demos there’s the sound of the washing machine, or a tap running. Once, I swear I caught my housemate pooping, but she doesn’t believe me.
You can’t make music in damp or cold spaces, you need to be comfortable and alone.
What music symbolises home for you?
On a nostalgic level, I always think about Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois, which I bought when I was 16 or 17. I used to listen to it in my bedroom when I lived in my parents’ house. That was the time when I used to feel most at home in that house; because when you live in a volatile space there’s small things you need, small familiar elements to make it bearable. That’s what that album was for me.
But the embarrassing answer would be: now that I live in a house that I feel comfortable in, music that symbolises home for me is Donna Summer, The Supremes, Dianna Ross – things that are upbeat and bring a party vibe, and that is because the nature of my home has changed.
Tell us about an experience that has helped you write music?
Once when I got the Gardasil vaccine, the nurse who did it injected the needle too deep into the muscle and it was the worst pain. I couldn’t play hockey for four months and was woke up every night by a deep, blinding pain.
I wrote a song about it, and by then end of the musical process I realised that the pain wasn’t the thing that got to me, it was the fact that someone (the nurse) had invaded my personal boundaries so easily – the thought that I had watched her do this thing to my body, while I entirely lacked control. It was the first time I realised how quickly our boundaries can be punctured in a way that leaves irreparable damage.
Tell us about your record.
The record is going to be called Spectator, and I came up with that years and years ago when I was at uni and I was reading Laura Mulvey – she writes about cinema in the male gaze. It made me think a lot about being a spectator and being a spectacle and feeling paradoxically both of those things. Because when you are a spectator you’re passive and lacking agency in a sense, and that was how I felt for a long time. From the weird vaccination gone wrong to a series of other events in my life, it was not having control and having my boundaries encroached upon and not having any power, and passively watching it happen. A lot of my music is about this idea.
And it terms of being a spectacle: all the while, at the same time being taught by society to be desirable to men and aspire to an ideal of womanhood, and as a late teenager I was trying really, really hard to achieve.
What’s your go-to record for comfort?
Tender buttons by Broadcast.
Find Mai’s band, Telete, on Bandcamp, Spotify and Facebook.
Interview by Tess Bury
This interview first appeared in print volume 88 edition 5 HOME.