INTERVIEW: Maisie Peters taking the wheel of her music career

Maisie Peters

Maisie Peters. Courtesy Elektra Records.

SAN FRANCISCO — Maisie Peters and her touring team left Los Angeles at 6 a.m. to make the trek to San Francisco, where Peters recently had a show the same day. Presumably, the Brit had no part in driving the van straight to Rickshaw Stop. That’s because the 19-year-old only recently started learning to drive. At the same time, she was working on her new EP, It’s Your Bed Babe, It’s Your Funeral.

“I’m not gonna lie to you; I haven’t done driving lessons in a while,” Peters said shortly after arriving early in the afternoon, as her band was setting up equipment on the stage. “I was meant to finish and drive by the end of this year, and it has not gone to plan. After this tour ends and I go home, I’m going to get more driving lessons; try to bang it out.”

It’s understandable—the speed at which Peters’ career is picking up means she’s got less time for pretty much everything else. If she had time, she says, she’d pick up painting with watercolors again, reading more, learning more on her favorite subject in school—history—or even writing essays debating whatever topic she felt passionate about on a given day.

Instead, she was in San Francisco, finishing up her first U.S. tour following the release of her new record and writing more songs every day in her signature conversational style and observational tone about the goings-on of life.

Like mxmtoon and other pop artists around her age, Peters started writing songs early—in her case she was 12—and posting them online.

When she saw Taylor Swift playing “Love Story” on her guitar, she had decided to get one and learn to play. The first one, which she borrowed from a friend, she broke by accident in school.

“I said when I get really famous, I’ll buy her a £10,000 one—but I’m not quite there yet.”

She taught herself how to play Anna Nalick’s “Breathe (2 AM),” which she had heard in a “Grey’s Anatomy” episode, and Lady Antebellum’s “Downtown.”

By the time she was 16, she was playing in pubs in her hometown of Brighton, England. At school she was more of an academic.

Maisie Peters is kind of a cat person. One of her cats actually stars in a video. But dogs she’s more unsure about right now.

“I am a cat person. I have two cats. One called Otis and one called Elsie. I love them very much. They’re not actually the best cats. They don’t really care about me, as some cats do. I have a dog as well, a Labrador. There’s no respect between us.”

“Actually, I used to really like studying, in a weird way,” Peters said. “I like learning things and memorizing things. When I was in school I really liked Cold War history. I liked the act of writing pieces of text—when you’re comparative. … I was [interested in] history, literature and politics. I was never a maths and science gal. No time for it. No time! But yeah, I would do more of that if I could—write essays for fun.”

Peters grew up listening to the likes of Swift, Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson and Lily Allen, whose songwriting style she loved. Those artists, as well as others like the Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain, had a cutting, witty and direct songwriting approach that she would go on to adopt for her songs.

“Female songwriting was very influential,” she said.

Because she also liked reading and writing, she also knew what she liked in terms of writing stories.

“To me, writing a song is just [writing] a really short book,” she said. “I still like to set the scene and have my characters, give them traits, have a dialog, pace and narrative.”

Peters’ songs are often directed at someone in a first-person narrative. On new cut “This is on You,” she tells off an ex who took her for granted. It’s a relatable topic, but the details in the story place listeners next to her and make them part of the scene.

Like Taylor Swift, some of her songs are directed at former flames, but she said that—also like Swift—some are fictionalized. She pointed to her idol’s new song “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” a breakup song written in a time that Swift had no breakups of her own.

“I’m not somebody who’s only inspired by their own life,” she said. “I write every day regardless of whether I have something to say or not. Which means you’ve got to find things all over the place. … I think all good writers are able to work with fiction just as well as [personal stories].”

As a musical storyteller, Peters also looks to the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon as inspirations—artists to whom she and her father will listen together. She refers to their music as storybooks. She pointed to a recent interview with Frank Ocean that she’d read where the musician talks about being vulnerable in songwriting without divulging his whole life.

One of her favorite “storybook” songs is John Mayer’s “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967.”

“There’s a real narrative; there’s a chapter 1, chapter 2,” she said. “I find so much meaning from it. I could tell you what I think it’s about. And I have no idea what he thinks it’s about. I love things like that.”

On It’s Your Bed Babe, It’s Your Funeral, Maisie Peters also made an effort—which she described as subconscious—to incorporate more of her pop influences. It’s a slight but noticeable change from her folksier 2018 debut EP, Dressed Too Nice for a Jacket. But while she cites ‘80s pop and today’s artists that carry that torch, like Carly Rae Jepsen, she said her fans shouldn’t worry.

“I was trying to incorporate that but still retain the roots of what I am as a singer-songwriter,” she said. “That’s what I’ll always be at heart.”

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