playing exquisite corpse with cucina povera
Our next mood talk brings us all the way to Finland where we spoke with Maria Rossi about how she found inspiration in the simplicity of Italian cooking and the joys of playing exquisite corpses with artists that have seemingly different approaches.
Not only do we find her voice mysteriously captivating, we’re also intrigued by the Italian moniker she chose to inherit. As we’re sure we’re not the only ones who wonder about this, we thought it would be cool to find out for ourselves. Luckily for us, she happily agreed to call us from her idyllic cottage in Finland to tell us all about it.
You only recently started making music as a solo artist. What sparked your interest?
I grew up in Glasgow and was always surrounded by a lot of musicians there, but it wasn’t until moving to Paris that I thought of starting as a solo artist. Right before moving to Paris, I did an exchange in Ghana with some musicians from Glasgow. We went to a village called Tafi Atome and we stayed there for three weeks learning about traditional music in that region. It was a really inspiring time for me. When I finally got to Paris after that, I was spending a lot of hours on my own. It’s one of those cases when things start to kind of come to fruition somehow in your head when you’re just alone most of the time.
I started playing house gigs when I went back to Glasgow in 2018. It started very small and my first gig was actually in someone’s bedroom. In Glasgow, there are a lot of very robustly-built Victorian houses with really tall rooms. They’re so good for gigs because they are all kind of rundown, so no one really cares if things get a bit trashed. Not that the gigs were wild parties. It was always really nice, like an easy Sunday afternoon.
What made you decide to actually start releasing music on vinyl?
I think I was really against it at first. In my mind, I was like, does it make sense to have it on vinyl? It’s a material that never biodegrades. But it was Michael from Night School who convinced me. I was working in a kitchen in Mono and Michael was working in the record shop next door that belonged to the same building. It’s a fun place where a lot of music people pass through in Glasgow.
Michael’s a go-getter who’s done a lot for the Glasgow music scene and my release sort of became our shared project. It was my music, but he took care of everything related to the packaging, production and design. After a while, you just distance yourself from the actual object or record and it becomes more like a collaboration.
When did the singing start for you? Have you always done it or did it start with the gigs?
I’ve always sung. I didn’t learn to sing in music school or anything. I went to music school for different things like classical piano or music theory. For singing, It’s mostly self-taught and I just always sang at home.
I think it’s the kind of thing that comes when I pass through different periods in my life. It kind of follows the ups and downs. Recently I tend to sing more because I’m in a more calm place. But when it’s more stressful, I don’t sing at all.
When I was younger, I was never in a band or anything. I remember I had friends in bands and I was so envious. It looked so cool. But I was in choir instead. I was a choir person.
Do you still dream of being in a band?
Yeah, I’ve tried it once, but it didn’t really feel right at the time. The thing I really enjoy now is just collaborating with other people fluidly. It’s essentially like forming temporary bands.
Talking about collaborations, we’re big fans of your collaboration with Haron on BAKK. How did that come about?
It was like one of those fun things that came through email. I had never actually met either Haron or Ruben in person, but it seemed like a really nice thing to get involved with. And yeah, they both seemed very lovely and there was a nice kinetic way of talking to each other remotely.
How did the creative process go for this collaboration?
It was kind of like an exquisite corpse. Like when someone draws the head and the next person has to draw the shoulders of the next person draws the belly and the next person draws the legs and so on.
Haron sent me some clips, so what I did was kind of listen to them a bunch of times. He sent about 15 or so clips in different lengths. Some of them were really long and others were really short. I think I chose a few which I felt like I could sing on top of. It was a nice sort of epistolary almost sending things back and forth, but in music form. Ruben was the one keeping us in shape and making sure it moved along. Not in a pressuring kind of way, but rather in an encouraging way, which was nice.
It was really fun and I also think I really learned a lot in the process. When I work on my own, I tend to just do things very cheaply, or rather very quickly. I’m not paying so much attention to how polished it sounds. It’s more like a rock texture. Raw and a little bit rough on the edges. When you work with someone else, you can really pay attention to different details.
Whenever we listen to the music of Haron, it feels like his music is often very patient and sparse with a lot of silence in between. It feels like there’s a lot of detail in the work.
I think he’s definitely very detail-oriented and his club music is really interesting too.
It’s also very thoughtful. He really thought about it in every detail. I find that fascinating. I think one of the reasons they got us to work together is because we have such a different approach to making music.
I’m by no means the most chaotic person I know, but I do tend to work in a kind of intuitive sense. I just kind of stack things on top of each other and I just hope for the best. I think it’s nice to have a dialogue and work with two different approaches.
Did you work on any other collaborations after that?
Yeah, definitely. Maybe because I was also living in London at the time. When you’re in London, it’s inundated with possibilities for things to do and people to collaborate with.
I was living with a musician at the time and we did this collaborative record together. Sometimes I just felt lazy because I was just singing and I wasn’t doing anything post-production, but it was, again, like two different yet complementary approaches.
I also did another kind of like exquisite corpse-style collaboration with Mary Hurrell who is an amazing songwriter and visual artist as well. I actually really enjoy collaborations with people who are very good at making things visually. I don’t have that kind of power myself, so it’s nice to do things with someone who can do it really well.
You’ve been everywhere and it seems like a lot of cultures and influences have passed your way.
Yeah, I try to be thoughtful about it, and I don’t know if I always can. I don’t probably borrow or steal from influences in a very orthodox way.
My roots are mostly in Karelian folk songs. And then obviously, choir singing is also something I grew up with. I think that’s just always going to be there as an influence. Maybe I steal from it quite heavily and probably wrongly most of the time, but I think it’s fine.
And where does the name Cucina Povera come from?
It’s funny that you ask. Most people don’t make the connection that it’s a phrase in a different language and they presume it’s just my name. Often I get greeted with ‘Oh, you must be Cucina’, like it’s my first name. But Cucina Povera is actually Italian for ‘the kitchen of the poor’. It’s a traditional cooking style characterized by its simplicity.
I got the inspiration back when I was living in Paris when I was sitting around and watching cooking shows. I just thought, oh, this is a really nice concept of taking something that’s readily available and cheap and making something good out of that. At the time, I didn’t have any equipment or anything to make music. Then I thought, OK, I’ll use this idea of just using the voice, an ingredient that I already have at home, to make different things like percussion and so on.
As soon as I moved to Glasgow, I bought a few things like a microphone and cables and a small mixer, which was rubbish. It was very buzzy, but it was my first mixer. So that’s where that came from. It mostly stems from the idea of taking stuff that’s already around. I felt like that cooking style was exactly describing what I was doing.
Why did you decide to sing in Finnish?
It kind of came natural to me to sing in Finnish. I never really thought about reasons why. Although in Glasgow, when you’re in an English speaking community, it seems too much to expose yourself to sing in English all of a sudden when you’re a beginner. Finnish also sounds a bit exotic, which gives it a little bit more mystery.
Someone actually just told me recently that the Finnish language has different frequencies than any other language and that’s why it sounds best sung. I also just find it so much easier to sing in it than any other language. I never thought about this, but maybe there is like a basis for this in maths somewhere.
Do you also sing in a different language?
I did a cover of a French song in English once and some other covers, but it always turns out poppier. When I sing in Finnish, it’s way less structured and it’s kind of more immediate. All of the things that would come to me in Finnish are maybe also more personal or even therapeutic in a sense. There’s also a soothing effect in singing in your own language.
Your gigs were mostly outside of Finland, so probably the people you play for don’t really understand what you’re singing. How do people perceive that?
Yeah. It’s funny. People often ask me what language I am singing in. And then also some people are assuming that it’s made up words, which is kind of interesting as well. It reminds me a bit of Cocteau Twins, although I am definitely not comparing myself with Liz Fraser.
Last question for now. What are you listening to for the moment?
I’ve been really enjoying making mixes lately. I am not a DJ or anything like that, but I like making thematic collages and it’s a good way for me to listen to and discover new music.
A lot of the music that I listen to I didn’t even discover on my own. It’s mostly friends who discover it or make it, although I like to go digging on bandcamp now and then. Also things that I listened to when I was younger are starting to return to me as well, like Cocteau Twins as I was saying earlier. A lot of Scottish bands these days and I think it’s been kind of like a weird homesickness.