Throughout our lives, we encounter a few artists who collide with us like meteorites, redirecting us on a completely different path of musical interest. Their influence rages continuously as if that honeymoon period of excited listening won’t ever end. You never forget coming into contact with them and will always remember having them on repeat for months as they became wedged into your heart. They change you and they make you.
In September 2018, John Maus struck me. Autumn’s gentle spirit glided in and there he emerged in my recommended artists on a streaming platform, that we can pretend, wasn’t Spotify. Many shared in my new musical discovery when I played him so loud through my earphones during a lesson at college, that the whole class could hear his sparkly, electronic tones seeping from my chair. The stares of twenty classmates awoke me from this deep sleep. I wore a similar startled look that travelled from my ears to my heart.
I never thought my favourite artist would be a modern one having been raised on Eighties Synthpop. I was the six year old on my dad’s shoulders at a Pet Shop Boys concert and the classmate blessing my fellow nine-year-olds with an a Capella rendition of ‘Take On Me’. Slightly cringe. Buddy Holly came to my attention when I was eleven, along with the wonderful decade that is The Fifties. The Cure was the first group to disrupt my entire world aged sixteen. I cried for a whole week over Robert Smith, too embarrassed to share the reason for my intense outbursts with my family. It all sounds very silly, but that’s the power of music for you. Post Punk feeds my miserable soul and Punk riles it up. But upon the discovery of Maus and his electronic magic, I turned another corner in life. For the first time, I felt completely inspired to write music of a similar style, straight off the back of this newfound obsession.
Anxiety ravaged my entire 2018. An intense and toxically entwined first relationship ate me from the inside out. When things ended that Autumn, it was the synth-driven energy and thunderous voice of Maus to slowly drag me through the aftermath, after which I had completely evolved in order to overcome my fears. He fell on my ears with purpose. It was a galactic transportation through colourful sound, a race around Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road, running on the fuel of passionate, jittering youth. A frenzy of ticking tempos and ambling basslines, of desperation and nostalgia. His simple drum beats were easy trains for my heart to catch and ride away on. I dreamt of my own trains, developed at my own hands. My music.
His electronic style cannot be labelled, but merely described. Often harking back to the feel of Synthpop that emerged in the early Eighties, his vintage synthesiser sound makes you dream, but with a greater intensity that haunts you for longer. So raw yet of such perfectly polished structure. My heart found refuge in his weeping keyboards and the comforting vibrations of his deep voice. All these notions were to be amplified when I watched videos of Maus performing live.
He roars down the mic, throwing mighty gestures into the distance and engaging in the hysterical, filling each lyrical gap with melodic screams. What I saw in the recordings seemed to be an exorcism of the chaos in his mind. He was letting everything go and taking me with him. Messages reverberated around my head as the wistful delay on his voice became an endless echo. I just felt a new strength. I was witnessing the energy I would use to break away from the anxiety that was pinning me down and constantly drilling into my sick stomach. In a way that is kindred to Maus, my release through music is so strong a sensation that it evokes a similar liberation of my soul with that microphone in my hand. If I had not seen these clips of him at a time where I was aching to burst out of myself, then I do not know how I would have approached performing live.
My music is intense. It bears all. I weep passion and the emotion in my synthesisers do the same. I too employ simple but addictive drum beats that enable a sad dance, whilst bearing the same aching, forehead-splitting frown. I have purpose when delivering my message. I’m rough around the edges, but it’s real. DIY sound is promising. I haven’t been passed around a number of producers only to be diluted by their dabbling. My sound feels old but I’m only just beginning. Not everyone likes John Maus. Not everyone is going to like me and that is absolutely fine. I learned how important it was to burst out and just be myself.
‘My Whole World’s Coming Apart’ was his main song to pull me from the depths. The sheer title conveys just how crippling anxiety takes over. He cries, ‘this is my nightmare’. Upon hearing it I would be grounded with the feeling that it too was my nightmare, but the final lyric employing to just ‘wait until tomorrow’ gave me that reminder of hope that this feeling wouldn’t last. I would fill up with erratic, burning energy but find I could jump onto his running train and chase the tempo of the music, channeling my anxiety through it.
‘Heaven Is Real’ is my top Maus track. ‘You don’t have to run away from love anymore’.
Writing about John Maus is a total joy. As much as I do not wish my love for him to be tainted by recent news of his attendance with Ariel Pink at the US Capitol riot, supporting the ridiculous Trump, I inevitably feel a change. The community of fans are in understandable uproar, selling his merchandise and separating themselves from him completely. But I must separate the music from the artist, for all humans have their own beliefs. This is life. Some say that if you still listen to the music, you’re condoning the behaviour. Just stream them on Spotify instead if you feel so strongly and I can guarantee they won’t see any revenue.
This is about music, the art form we all interpret in our individual ways. Maus has made me grow as a person and an artist. This positivity has completely enriched my life. I thank him.