Name: Macie Stewart
Occupation: Composer, singer, songwriter
Current Release: Macie Stewart's Mouth Full of Glass is out November 11th 2022 via Full Time Hobby.
Recommendations: Rebecca Solnit - A Field Guide To Getting Lost; Waitresses - Bruiseology.
If you enjoyed this interview with Macie Stewart and would like to stay up to date with her music, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
Macie Stewart has toured and collaborated with a wide range of artists, including The Weather Station, Clare Rousay, Lia Kohl, Ben Lamar Gay, and Japanese Breakfast.
[Read our The Weather Station interview]
[Read our Claire Rousay interview]
[Read our Lia Kohl interview]
[Read our Ben Lamar Gay interview]
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing the piano at age three, and violin at age 5. Music was always a huge part of my existence: My mother is a musician, and my father is a dedicated creative presence and lover of music as well.
[Read our feature about the piano]
As a kid I loved making up songs and improvising- it felt like such freedom to create things out of thin air.
I’m drawn to this art form because there is so much comfort in it, but also so much tension! Sound is all around us and is constantly affecting our environment / mood / perception.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
I don’t often see shapes or colors, but I get a feeling when I’m locking in on something. Its hard to explain, but the best I can figure is that it's just intuition telling me which way to move.
I know when I’m listening to something that really grabs me, I get a tingling sensation in my brain and my arms - like goosebumps, and it gives me motivation to keep creating and finding more pockets like these.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I want to play and try everything - and while that is an enormous boon to me, it also makes it hard to settle down in one thing.
I have a deep, deep, love for collaboration and that drives so much of my musical creativity. Having a dedicated creative partner to explore new territories with is a rare and beautiful thing, and I feel so lucky to have that in my Finom bandmate, Sima Cunningham, as well as my friend Lia Kohl.
I got to a point where I had been making music in tandem with people for so long that I wasn’t sure what I had to offer as myself - so making a solo project seemed like the next logical step. I think it has given me a lot more confidence in my songwriting / arranging abilities - and that in turn makes it so much more satisfying and healthy to return back to my collaborative projects.
I’m able to pour so much more into them without feeling so precious and self conscious about things.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I see myself as a person interested in exploring all that the world has to offer, and therefore I would like to extend that attitude to the things I create and the things I seek out.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
I think honesty, intention, and exploration are the main pillars for me. Those three words capture my ethos towards creativity.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I’m interested in all of it - I don’t think its an either / or scenario. We are constantly building on top of what came before, and I think in order to find new avenues to explore, it's important to learn what came before us, and also important to say fuck it, I’ve found a different way ..
There is an endless and vast well of creativity to pull from in this life. Perfection is overrated. I’m not interested in it all.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
My first musical love was the piano. I grew up playing classical piano, and spent hours and hours practicing and improvising and writing songs.
As I got older I became more interested in violin and guitar - those instruments felt much more malleable, and as I began to explore texture and composition more fully they became much more central to my creativity.
[Read our feature on the violin]
When I played violin as a kid it was such a frustrating instrument, but now I feel like my violin is an extension of myself.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Day in the life when I am home: I wake up. I put the kettle on to make some coffee. I feed my cats, and make myself breakfast. While eating breakfast I either journal or read a book or answer whatever emails I have sitting in my inbox.
On a day like today I go to my Finom bandmate’s (Sima) house to rehearse for whatever tour or recording session we have coming up. I’ll likely go to a show or a backyard hang at night, and then play guitar and write a bit before winding down and going to bed.
I try to play on my own for a little bit every day when I’m home.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I’ll speak on my record with Lia Kohl, called Recipe for a Boiled Egg.
We had been improvising and recording together for a while, and got very interested (for our 2nd record) in the idea of improvising a record of short pieces rather than one long improvisation. Sort of like a record of songs, but all entirely improvised.
We had been discussing the effects of space on recordings - what would it sound like if the outside sounds, construction of the building, sonics of the space informed the composition of the piece itself? We gave ourselves this parameter and then spent a day recording with our friend Nick Broste at this beautiful creative space called Comfort Station in Chicago.
We named each individual improvisation based on what images the recordings sparked in our minds - many of them were food themed - thus the name of the record.
I think this record captured something that feels important to me about recorded music, which is spontaneity mixed with intention. Capturing a moment in time rather than capturing absolute perfection.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I love listening to music as a personal and private practice. I think it brings me a lot of comfort, and changes the way I listen when I am on my own.
However - I LOVE sharing music with people, and try to send the people I love links to records whenever I can. I oscillate back and forth between my preference in creating - I can tell when I need to make something on my own or when I need to make something with another human being. They both serve very important purposes and come with their own unique challenges as well.
I notice different things when I am with someone else that I would not otherwise notice on my own.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
I think it is always a reflection of our environment and the things that we observe.
Creating is a way to make sense of our inner and outer worlds. I think that's why it is so important, because it helps people process things in community. It helps you to feel less alone.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Personally - my songwriting comes from a place of trying to understand my own emotions and how I can work with them instead of run away from them.
I think listening to and creating music is an important pathway to understanding the self. You can always learn something new if you want to.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
To be honest, I don’t think it's that much different. There is beauty and art to be found in every activity - it just depends what you are looking for.
While music is the main way I personally express a lot of my ideas and emotions, I think that there are some things that cannot be communicated with music that can be communicated with … say … making someone a cup of coffee, or through movement, or through painting.
I like to think there is a lot more grey area in what constitutes creativity than we often assume.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Our ears are evolutionarily tuned in to hearing patterns - and I think that music feeds into that which makes it easier to communicate things.
You learn better when you learn something through a song. It sticks to something deep within yourself.