Both the Lancaster music community and the folk community at large were given a shock last July when it was announced that the Stray Birds were breaking up. Many wondered where the individual members of the trio would go next, but it turned out that Maya de Vitry already had a plan.
Recorded in late 2017 and released in January of this year, "Adaptations" is de Vitry's first solo album after years spent in a band. Shying away from the folkier elements of the Stray Birds, de Vitry's talents as a singer and songwriter come to the forefront on album standouts such as "How Do I Get to the Morning" and "Go Tell a Bird."
De Vitry's first-ever solo tour fittingly begins tonight, May 16, in Lancaster at 7 p.m. at Zoetropolis Cinema Stillhouse. We spoke with de Vitry about "Adaptations," the influence of nature on music and more.
I wanted to start by asking about the most recent song you’ve released, “Movie,” which you just put out a few days ago. Could you talk a little bit about it?
It was like a moment-in-time type of song to just document exactly how I was feeling in that moment. And it really was a movie invitation from a good friend to go out with a couple people to see some romantic comedy. And it was like, I’m perfectly happy right here. There's another song I'm going to release soon, too, that was also just kind of an overflow of recording “Adaptations.” I think we kind of found the thread of the album itself to, you know, I really sat with the songs we recorded and tried to kind of make a unified album. I think it kind of lives in its own little world in a way, but I really feel like it belongs with that time, and it belongs with that season of my life
You talk about unifying themes or the through line of the record, and one that stands out to me is the influence of nature in the album’s lyrics and the album cover and accompanying photography of you in the woods. How much is that an influence on your life?
Yeah, it’s a big influence, especially as I have even gotten more and more space from the actual writing of the album, and some perspective now from when I released it in January. I wrote it in 2017 and now I'm finally going to go and start touring it. I would just go and take walks in the woods and I spent a lot of time at this lake that's just outside of Nashville. I’ve watched more sunsets than I ever had in my life in that time. I think that in nature, there's inherent belonging, and everything in nature is very connected and sort of interdependent, yeah. I really am inspired by that, and feel grounded by that sort of belonging.
Is there a type of scenery you can place yourself in that is most inspiring to you, or is it just getting yourself into new places that gets the wheels turning?
I think getting to a new place definitely gets the wheels turning because, you know, you're paying attention and it's supposed to be exciting. You're supposed to see something new, like a grand, majestic mountain or new scenery or something. I just moved across town in Nashville, and the backyard where I am now there's there incredible birds and trees. I love watching the cardinals in the morning fly around, and paying attention enough to just, like, be amused by what is right in front of us.
“Adaptations” is your first solo album, but there is a ton of collaborators throughout the record. Was it important to have people there backing you up in this new venture?
I'm sort of wired for collaboration. I was really wide open with finding people who would lift the songs. Some of the ideas came from Dan Knobler, the producer of the record. He had the idea to put Oliver Wood of the Wood Brothers to sing harmonies on “How Do I Get to the Morning,” ideas like that. Instead of the instinct to say, “Oh, this is just a solo project,” it was more the thought process of being in a band for seven years where I was always singing and playing with the same people and to then savor moments of collaboration. It was such a fun process to bring people into the world of those songs, it was very liberating.
Would the album have come out any different without the break-up of the Stray Birds?
Yeah, because it was finished before the Stray Birds even recorded our last album. This album was done in the summer of 2017, and the Stray Birds recorded again in the winter of 2018. The Stray Birds was one very specific expression for me, with the three of us changing over time. But even before that band, I was writing songs and I wanted to make a solo record. That desire was laser-focused and channeled through the Stray Birds for most of my 20s. This is like a beginning to me in so many ways, but it’s also like reaching back and picking something that I laid down at some point. My experience in the last year or two has been realizing that I can pick up that desire to put out a solo record and move in that direction without apology. It’s awesome [laughs].
You’ll be starting this solo tour in Lancaster accompanied by a drummer and bassist. How do you think it will be different from touring as one part of a larger machine, to sort of being the central aspect of the shows?
I mean, I will probably know better after the tour, but leading up to it, it definitely does feel different because my relationship with touring is different. The Stray Birds were a full-time touring band, that’s how we made our living. I’ve been working at Starbucks now for nine months and I’m a barista. I come home and work on my music, so it’s a big deal for me to leave town and go on the road for a week.
I want to move back into more touring, but I think I’m more aware of what it means to wait for months and months to leave and play six shows. I realize what it means, not emotionally, but what it does to your body to get on a plane or drive all of these hours. That just became so normal, and there’s this deep, deep tiredness that happens with full-time musicians. I really needed to reconnect with, like, normal sleep and friendships and community and remember how good that all feels.
Obviously, every song is like a baby in some aspects, but are there any from the solo record that you’re particularly excited about premiering on tour?
I really love playing “Go Tell a Bird.” It’s probably the most fun song on the album. And I guess every other song on the album [laughs].
Do you think Nashville is more hospitable to bands or solo artists, or is there not a disconnect there?
Oh, that’s interesting. I’ve had a different relationship with this place in the last four or five years. When I moved here, I think for bands, there’s this certain idea that it can be easy to disconnect from a community and say, “We’re a band, we’re intact, we’ve got our operation going, and then we come back to Nashville to rest and regroup.” You can just sort of hang out with other bands. With the solo thing, when I first got here, I wasn’t introducing myself as a singer-songwriter, I was a band member. Now, I’m very slowly coming back to that dream of 19-year-old Maya of just wanting to write songs. Nashville is an incredible place for songwriters, because there’s a really strong co-writing culture here.
I just wrote a song two days ago with this singer-songwriter named Steve Poltz. The next day, he flew to Toronto and played a sold-out show. He just texted me this morning saying, “Hey, I just played our new song in Toronto, the crowd loved it.” And that was so cool, to make something out of nothing with another person, and then we get to go our separate ways and play the song in our own way. That is just so fun.
Maya de Vitry plays at Zoetropolis Cinema Stillhouse at 7 p.m. tonight, May 16. Tickets are $10 and can be found here.