College junior by day, up-and-coming singer-songwriter by night. San Francisco Bay area native Maeve Steele recently made her debut in the indie-pop scene with her first single “Burn,” all while still studying to earn a degree in English from Vanderbilt. I got the chance to talk with Maeve about how she first got started in music, whether it’s tough to balance her burgeoning music career with school, the story behind “Burn” and so much more! Keep reading to see what she had to say.
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
I grew up in a pretty musical household and it was just supposed to be part of my education growing up. I started violin when I was 4 years old and then I picked up a guitar and taught myself starting in middle school. I was in choir and quit sometime around the 8th grade and just started writing songs on my own. But yeah, I just kept writing and wanted to start recording and it just kind of happened.
Was there a specific moment or person who made you realize music is something you wanted to start taking seriously?
Yeah. [Music] was always a hobby; I had never really considered studying it, maybe music business but never considered it for my career. So my freshman year of college, I was looking around, seeing everyone figuring out what they wanted to do and get internships and realized there was nothing I wanted to do other than play music.
As of right now, you’re still a full-time student in college, right?
If I read things right, you’re studying English?
Yeah, studying creative writing and English.
Does that play into your songwriting? Is that why you picked English?
Yeah, one my emphasis in the program is poetry. Lyrics and poetry are all so tied together so it totally influences it.
Have you found it challenging trying to balance your up-and-coming music career and school?
Yes [laughs]. It’s definitely been challenging. I’m glad for the opportunity to do both and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it’s definitely hard, especially at Vanderbilt where the culture is not really a music-based/artistic culture. So it’s been tough to balance it but it’s cool getting both experiences – the typical college experience and the up-and-coming music side.
It doesn’t sound like you do, but do you regret going to Vanderbilt now that you know you want to study music? Do you wish you had gone somewhere with a bigger music program?
I think about that a lot, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I do love other subjects and doing other things in my spare time. I think learning how to write and learning how to think is so integral to songwriting, so while I’m not studying the technicalities of the business or music theory, it’s still helping.
Back to music, I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music. So how would you describe your sound without using genre names? What kind of music do you produce?
I definitely try to keep a rawness to it; I don’t like a super-produced sound. I like blending genres and having a dreamy atmosphere.
Speaking of blending genres, who are some of your musical influences?
Amy Winehouse is a huge one. She’s a huge inspiration, musically and lyrically. Her lyrics are so poignant. Bon Iver, as I was talking about the atmosphere because I think he creates such a cool space within his music. So those are the parents of my music goals [laughs].
Let’s talk about the new single, “Burn.” What’s the story behind the song?
It’s kind of written in the reflection period of a relationship, kind of struggling with, “Why did this end? Did I do something wrong? Why did this happen?” So it was kind of written in response to those questions, like “This is how you made me feel. This is why it was awful. This is why I’m done with it.”
What was your songwriting process like for this song in particular? Did it flow pretty easy or did any part of the songwriting process stump you? Did you write it by yourself or was this the result of a co-write?
I like to write by myself, so this was written completely by myself. I wrote the chorus first. I was driving; I remember [laughs], I liked the idea of using “burn” to describe that drained feeling and I thought it had so much imagery with it – ash, charcoal, burning the rope – and I thought that was a cool way of putting it all together. So the chorus came first and then I just kind of wrote it in chronological order. I think I wrote it in two sittings.
Wow. Is that pretty fast for you typically with your songs?
Pretty fast. I usually write the bulk of it in one sitting, and then the next few times, I go back to it I’m constantly changing things, re-writing them. But yeah, I like to get the skeleton of it the first time I sit down.
Have you done much co-writing or are you not really interested in that and would rather stick to songwriting by yourself?
I started doing it more lately and it has been a really fun experience. It’s such a big part of pop music, which I didn’t really realize going into the industry. But I like it. I definitely feel like I write different songs when I’m with people than when I’m alone. So it’s nice to write both. But I always want to have lyrics and stuff that I can keep writing when I’m alone.
Once you actually finished “Burn,” what was the recording process like? Did any part of the song change once you got into the recording studio?
Yeah, the bridge I re-wrote like 4 times; I just couldn’t get it right. So every time I left the studio, I would take the MP3 and just play it in my car for the next couple of days and brainstorm. I would love everything till I got to the bridge. I think I re-recorded it three separate times.
Wow. That’s crazy. But you ended up with something pretty great, so it all worked out. So I know you’re aiming to get an EP out in the first of the year. Is it finalized enough yet where you know how many songs are on it and what people can expect from it?
If you had asked me a month ago, I would have said yes [laughs]. I kind of scrapped everything and I’m starting over from the beginning right now. I’ve been trying to find my sound and find what I’m trying to convey with an EP. I think it’s a cool time to look into a theme where all the songs would be tied together. I just want to get it right. So I can’t really tell you more details than that.
Since you’re taking time to figure out your sound and what you want out of an EP, do you think you would put out another single before that? Or is an EP the next thing you definitely want to put out?
Yeah, I think I’ll have a single or two before then.
You are still very new to the music game. What are some music industry-related goals or benchmarks that you’re aiming to reach in the next couple of years?
I would love to start performing, just having a full set of my own with a full band; that’s definitely a goal within the next few months. I’d also love to open for some other artists, work with some other artists.
Are you doing much performing now or is it more like you, by yourself, at something like an open mic night-kind of thing?
Yeah, I haven’t done much performing. I’ve done some videos and I’ve done some open-mic/coffeehouse kind of things. But yeah, I’d love to do some real performances.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd. What is something that you are currently nerding out about?
I am such a reader. I’m always kind of nerding out about books.
What’s your favorite genre? Are you into YA, mystery, etc?
I love historical fiction. My favorite book of all time is The Book Thief. The author just came out with another one in the last couple of weeks so I’m really excited to read that.