Electronic music star Elaine Mai told David Hennessy about her new single No Forever, why lockdown has been so tough and why, despite being long term based in Dublin, she’ll always be a Mayo woman at heart.
Elaine Mai from Mayo has come a long way since she started performing in 2011 with just a guitar and a loop pedal, evolving her sound into what has seen her described by Today FM as, ‘One of Ireland’s leading electronic artists’.
Elaine is one of Ireland’s most in-demand producers. She has amassed over 2.6 million streams on Spotify and twice topped the Irish Radio Breakers Chart first with Butterflies with Soulé and Sorcha Richardson in 2019, and again with her remix of Nothing by Loah in 2018.
Elaine’s remix of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game was voted Best Tune at Electric Picnic 2017 by The Irish Times.
Elaine has just released the track No Forever which features the vocals of MayKay who is well known as the current host of Other Voices and a former member of the cult Irish bands Le Galaxie and Fight Like Apes.
Elaine Mai told The Irish World: “For me it was just a really enjoyable thing to work on at a very difficult time for everybody. There’s so little happening at the moment. There’s no live shows so having the focus on writing and collaborating with MayKay was just like a total release, a really positive, enjoyable thing to focus on.
“She added a different element to the track and really made it more engaging I think and draws people in with that really really strong melody and the brilliant lyrics that she’s written for it as well.
“The fact that it’s gone down really well with people is just such a nice bonus and I think it’s just reminding people of going out and being at festivals and stuff like that which is really nice.”
No Forever is accompanied by a video directed by Ruth Medjber – a directorial debut for the renowned music photographer who was nominated for an Irish Book Award for her lockdown portraits book Twilight Together.
“She had a really clear vision for it. It was filmed in and out of various restrictions. It was challenging but Ruth has a lot of experience working with Covid restrictions at this point but it was a lot of fun to work on.”
Elaine Mai’s debut album is due for release this year. She tells us it will boast a very universal theme.
“They’re all kind of based around the theme of home and the different ways that we can feel and experience that.
“I think it’s really interesting the way that different pieces of music can make you feel and I think the idea of home in itself can be interpreted in so many ways.
“I think for a lot of people it’s where you live, where you’re most comfortable but I think there’s a sense of home in communities, in clubs, in groups of friends, in nights out, in all of those kind of things so it’s just trying to evoke that feeling in each of the tracks.
“I think it’s a really nice theme to centre that around.”
Originally from Charlestown in Mayo, does Elaine feel at home in Dublin now? “Yeah, definitely. I’ve been here for about seven years now. I’m definitely pretty settled here.
“I had been living in Galway for quite some time at the stage that I moved up and I think it was just time for something new, time for a change.”
Elaine Mai has played at festivals such as Longitude, Body & Soul and Electric Picnic.
She has opened shows for acts like Ray Davies, Emile Sandé, James Vincent McMorrow, Marina and the Diamonds and Hozier.
How has she coped with the pandemic? “It’s definitely been up and down.
“I’ve had the opportunity to create solo things because I’ve had a little bit more time which has been good. But on the flip side there’s been times when I’ve tried to do stuff and I’ve just found it impossible.
“I think the reality is there’s this terrible thing happening across the world and a lot of people are sick and it’s kind of hard to get away from the reality of it.
“It’s definitely been something that has had a lot of ups and downs.
“I think this third lockdown has been the toughest, for me personally anyway, because I think it’s just been longer and we’re not really sure when things are going to return to some form of normality. I definitely found this one tough going but I think as we’re moving more into the spring time now and the days are getting a little bit longer, hopefully it will start to feel a little bit less oppressive. It’s definitely been a strange old year.”
Does it feel like a massive development since she started performing with a guitar? “It’s been a bit of a journey for sure.
“The guitar was my history and the first thing I started to play when I was a teenager.
“Then as I got older, I started to move into production. I was using a loop pedal initially and I found that really fun and exciting so I wanted to get into the production side of things more and I’ve been on a journey with that since.
“It feels really great to now be in a position where I can produce the music that I love to listen to the most. Electronic music and dance music is my favourite kind of music so it’s nice to be moving in that circle now.”
It was when Elaine saw a choir being put together one day in her National School that she realised what could be achieved with music. Perhaps surprisingly given how far she’s got, music is something she has never studied formally. Instead she completed a BA in Sociology and History.
“I was in a choir when I was younger and that was the first thing that really pushed me and made me see how much I enjoyed it and what could be possible there.
“In school music wasn’t an option so it wasn’t really an option for me in college.
“It was something that I just came to through social groups and friends and stuff like that. It would have been cool to have done it in college but no, it’s not how things panned out.”
Of course, as a Mayo woman living in Dublin, Elaine is on the receiving end of lots of stick about the GAA. Does she take an interest in football herself? “I do,” she laughs.
“It’s funny because we have a lot of banter around the All-Irelands that we’ve lost.
“When I was younger I was super into GAA and followed the team quite heavily and then as I got older I kind of moved more into music and focused on that a little more.
“But I will always be a Mayo woman at heart and I will be rooting for them when we finally take Sam home.”
Elaine joined RuthAnne and a host of Irish females including Caroline Corr, Una Healy, Imelda May for Irish Women’s in Harmony’s charity cover of Dreams.
In addition to raising awareness about gender disparity on the Irish airwaves, the single also raised over €250,000 much needed funds for domestic violence charity Safe Ireland.
The female collective have followed that with a festive single in aid of ISPCC Childline and have a full album in the works.
More than that, Elaine says the artists involved have become a community in support of each other.
“I’ve found it to be amazing. They’re such an incredible group of women. I think we really created something. I don’t think any of us had any expectations around what the track was going to do.
“I think we just wanted to put this track out for a really brilliant cause and then it just went everywhere and was super well received. But what’s come out of that is that we have this group now and we really can just lean on each other and support each other.
“I’ve just found it fantastic. I think it’s something that I wish I had had for longer in my career but having it now is really fantastic. They’re a great bunch of women.”
No Forever by Elaine Mai (featuring MayKay) is out now.
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