A musician’s journey varies from one artist to the next and is shaped by a myriad of variables. Without determination and grit, however, the journey is short. Without authenticity, the journey is similar to driving through the plains of the Midwest: interesting for about two minutes, then overdone. Portland indie-folk songstress MAITA reveals her unwavering determination through the intimately authentic lyrics in her latest creation, “Japanese Waitress.”
The Oregon native Maria Maita-Keppeler has a soulful voice grounded in a passion for the music she grew up with. She spent many of her early years writing and playing in near secrecy as her introverted nature encouraged her to focus on the developmental side of her career. Her first public appearance as a musician in her late teens gave her a reason to break outside of her comfort zone, as it was “one of the quickest, most powerful, most inclusive forms of connection, and an incredibly cathartic experience,” she says.
The Portland music scene is indeed powerful and inclusive—and has played a significant role in her journey. To make sensual and cathartic music, which is what you can expect from MAITA, there’s a certain level of vulnerability that an artist needs to be comfortable with. Living in a city where the community encourages individuals to authentically pioneer new ideas makes going out on a limb feel less intimidating.
“I really value community,” MAITA says, “and in Portland, music doesn’t feel like a rat race—it feels like we are all creating something together. I feel driven to support my fellow artists, and I feel supported, and that is very inspiring.”
To say the local scene supports MAITA’s music is a bit of an understatement. On Waterbearer, her very first EP, released in January 2017, familiar names appear—such as Dave Depper (Death Cab for Cutie, Loch Lomond), Skip vonKuske (Portland Cello Project), Tucker Jackson (The Minus 5, The Delines) and Matthew Berger (Laura Gibson). “Japanese Waitress,” premiered here, is one of 13 new songs engineered by Bart Budwig and recorded at the OK Theatre in Enterprise, Ore. The video was recorded by PDX videographer Kristen Mico of Brave Alice Productions with the help of Laurie Shook of Shook Twins. Needless to say, in a city pulsing with musical talent, MAITA is celebrated by listeners and fellow musicians alike.
Like any artist’s journey, however, the path requires more than just the support of a community. The financial burden artists of any medium face is a painful reality check, especially when juxtaposed with the high verbal value we, as a community, place on the work they do. Many musicians fill a great deal of their time with work in the service industry in order to support their artistic career.
“Nearly all artists work these jobs to pay to make art for years and years—because very rarely does it pay for itself,” MAITA says. “Japanese Waitress” was written on her order-taking pad. As a Japanese female serving tea to upper-class businessmen alongside an immigrant-only staff during the earliest days of the Trump presidency, she describes her experience with a dark, almost haunting grace and beauty. With mindful lyrics hinting at the race and gender inequalities in the service industry, the song paints realistic imagery of her experiences in the struggle to sustain a dream.
“The ‘customer is always right’ aspect of the job works out so that as a server, your bosses are your boss and your customers are also your boss,” MAITA explains of her experience as a server. “It was impossible to work there and not see the disparities of wealth, status and privilege acted out on a compact scale.”
This new single provides an intimate moment of reflection and an opportunity for listeners to grow in the realm of social awareness. Set to travel across Europe in February and March, MAITA has no scheduled Portland shows in the near future. But she’s making it her “goal to work with more women/non-males as I build my band and continue to play out in Portland.”