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Interview: Chicago's MAEVE & QUINN on their latest EP star-crossed

Described as "anything but ordinary" by the Chicago Tribune, MAEVE & QUINN is the duo of Alaskan twin sisters Maris and Bryce O'Tierney, multi-instrumentalists, songwriters, and composers. Classically trained (voice, guitar, violin, piano), maeve & quinn write and record music that fuses alt pop, rock, and folk influences. Currently based in Chicago, maeve & quinn have performed their music and poetry in concert with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Poetry Foundation, and Steppenwolf Theatre; premiered their symphonic compositions with the Chicago Composers Orchestra and Anchorage Symphony Orchestra; and collaborated with dancers for film works, most recently with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

Today, Maeve and Quinn release their new EP star-crossed. Recording the EP in their hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, and mixing/mastering it in Chicago, the duo pulled from their foundation as classically trained musicians using only a classical guitar and violin to back the vocals. We meet virtually with Maeve and Quinn, the duo currently split between northern Colorado and Chicago, who walked us through their recording process, the importance of poetry and lyricism in their music, and their dynamic preforming as twin sisters.

What was it like making the transition from Alaska to Chicago? How did the change in location influence you creatively?

Alaska is all wide open space on a grand scale that feels otherworldly; Chicago is that urbanscape along the lake that has its own force of magnitude. Alaska raised and shaped us, particularly in terms of our classical music foundations. Chicago is where we’ve really come into our own creatively in terms of digging into our songwriting and defining our sound as a duo, fusing our other influences in improvisation, folk, and alt rock/pop. The breadth and depth of performance opportunities, venues, cross-pollinations of genres, interdisciplinary collaborations in Chicago that we’ve done [with museums, theatres, symphony orchestras]-- all these factors have really inspired what we create as maeve & quinn. It’s neat for us to chart the growth across shows and to note how performing on this or that stage, for a particular audience, pushed us forward in distinctive ways.

So you guys are twin sisters from Anchorage Alaska, you mentioned you grew up being trained classically as musicians how has your classical backgrounds influenced you as artists?

Being classically trained from a young age has given us both a solid bedrock of discipline, structure, and the kind of listening ear that opens the door wide to improvising, collaborating, and composing. The palette of theory and repertoire from our background frees up a lot of musical, expressive choice.

How does your dynamic as sisters, and growing up playing music together influence your songwriting process?

We have been singing together from the beginning, and grew up listening to each other practice our respective instruments. There’s a collective unconscious between us that encompasses everything -- our habitus as twin sisters, which includes the unique perspectives we bring to each other, in conversation, in story and song; we have such a shared memory bank! And there’s a deep trust and love that make distinct shades of vulnerability, daring, and play in the music possible.

The way it tends to go now is that we’ll come together to informally rehearse or improvise, and inevitably one of us has been working on an idea that we want to show the other; sometimes that looks like Maris bringing lyrics and guitar while I (Bryce) explore a violin or piano part; or one of us brings a melody or verse and the other matches that with another verse in the moment. It’s exciting and intriguing how melodies and lyrics from us individually can find their way to each other and speak to each other; there’s that quality of the music or the musical space itself being wiser than you….like the music that emerges in the process can sometimes confess or understand things that perhaps you haven’t even said to yourself or discerned yet.

You recorded the EP in Alaska and mixed it in Chicago, what did that process look like?

We recorded our EP star-crossed with our longtime friend and sound engineer, Kurt Riemann, in Anchorage, Alaska. We have family still in Alaska and it will always be our ground of being; recording there has been such a gift because there’s a feeling of exhale being among the mountains and trusted loved ones. Nick Broste, our friend and sound engineer/producer in Chicago, mixed and mastered the EP. We’re also working with Nick on our forthcoming LP (releasing 2022). It’s a full circle feeling to connect the two places, and creative team, through star-crossed

How does your background in poetry influence you as songwriters, can you explain the importance of language in the writing process?

For us both, lyrics tend to arrive along the contours of the music -- that embodied experience of playing an instrument that reflects a body moving through the world, space and time. There can be this prophetic quality to language, to lyrics -- a verse or chorus telling the Self something that the self-conscious mind hasn’t arrived at yet. For Bryce, lines from a poem of hers written on the page may find their way to a song on piano; Maris has this extraordinary ability to establish an emotional world in just a verse. Sometimes in rehearsal we’ll be joking around about something and land on a prompt for writing lyrics, e.g., what would life be like on Mars? Image and metaphor guide us; thinking about a dialogue between an ‘I’ and a ‘you’ guides us; the shape and movement of words themselves.

How did the pandemic and not being able to perform affect you creatively/change your perception on making music?

Not being able to perform, to create and dwell in that sacred and vital space shared between performer and audience, affected a sense of loss, grief, and restlessness. We were so fortunate to have each other as a creative and expressive outlet, feeding that hunger through songwriting. There were also several silver linings of this time period for us, including pivoting our workflow toward recording more of our music, and connecting with other artists, both within music and in other artistic mediums, in a spirit of collaboration. We partnered with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago for a virtual performance program of our music & poetry in response to a visual art exhibition on water and climate change. Another highlight for us was creating a music video for our single “line of best fit” with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre dancer Miranda Quinn. These collaborations gave us a deep sense of gratitude, presence, and invigoration amidst the many heavy emotions felt during the pandemic.

What are you guys currently working on and what does the future look like for Maeve and Quinn?

We are in the process of finishing up work on an LP to be released in 2022. We’re really excited about the electric guitar and piano instrumentation, as well as lots of twin sister vocal harmonies, featured on the LP, and the in-the-moment collaborative songwriting that really took off for us at the beginning of the pandemic. With Bryce temporarily relocated in northern Colorado, we’re excited to play some shows out west in the coming year, as well as in Chicago. You can next catch us live in Chicago on November 23 at the Hideout! And give us a follow on @meaveandquinnmusic for ongoing updates on music releases and performances. Xo maeve & quinn

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