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Elsie and Maggie Rigby, The Maes – Photo: LTTL

The Maes

Backstage at the Port Fairy Folk Festival 2024

By Jim Jacob

By Rob Dickens

The Maes are Elsie and Maggie Rigby. The sisters have been a multi-award-winning Melbourne contemporary folk outfit for many years, originally The Mae Trio, with a fine track record of live shows and recordings. They have been in love with music and performing since they were four weeks old. We spent some time with them, straight after their Sunday afternoon set at the Port Fairy Folk Festival.

Listening Through The Lens: We’re with The Marvellous Maes at the Port Fairy Folk Festival. The first time I saw you perform was 2017 at a Music City Roots live show in Franklin, Tennessee, just out of Nashville.

Maggie: Oh wow, yeah that was a long time ago.

LTTL: Were you there for a US tour, or with Sounds Australia?

M: We were there for Americanafest and we did some recording. That was a long time ago, so is there any chance it was actually in 2014? I think it was maybe ten years ago that we were there?

LTTL: Ah, right. Was that your first time in the US?

M: That was our second time in the US. We had a little whirlwind US time where we were going there quite a bit but yeah that was fun.

LTTL: How many times have you visited there?

M: We made a record there in 2016 and we’ve played a few incredible festivals

LTTL: Was that record ‘Take Care Take Cover’?

M: It was.

LTTL: Talk about the process, how you arranged to go over, the recording studio and the producer – they’re all big decisions creatively.

M: It certainly was. I think we grew up going to festivals like this and the height of our ambitions as young musicians was to play the Port Fairy Folk Festival, the National Folk Festival, Woodford and the kind of peaks that we’re doing this weekend. Then at some point we just had this horizon open up to us and we met a bunch of people from overseas who said ‘Come and make a record in Nashville!’ We’d never even thought about it before then.

LTTL: It was a dream

M: It was a kind of dream, yeah and then we grew up a bit and realised that all music scenes are great, but also flawed and it’s hard and it’s expensive. There’s also a lot of hustling. But we had a great time making a record over in Nashville.

LTTL: Who was the producer?

M: The record that we made was with a producer called Erick Jaskowiak.

LTTL: That was recorded in Nashville?

M: We recorded it at Eric’s house. We got snowed in, it was the middle of January and the biggest snowfall they’ve had in about ten years and we were stuck up on top of the hill for about ten days. It was a good space, a good way to get creative.

LTTL: One of my music heroes is Darrell Scott – he was a guest on that album?

Elsie: Yes we had several guests on that album with local musicians and Darrell was one of them. It was the most fantastic session. He rolled in with his ute (I guess they’d call it a truck) with a couple of dogs and a couple of guitars just lying in the tray. He came in, sat down, listened to our strange kind of notes that we wanted on his takes. I remember in on one of the songs I said to him ‘I want you to play like you’re playing a big red cliff face or like a mountainside’ and he just really rolled with that and he was like ‘OK OK’ and then he just played something that sounded like a big red cliff face (laughs all round). It was a really, beautiful little whirlwind and then he rolled out in his truck and I haven’t seen him since. But we felt very honoured to have him play on our music and I remember he’d say little comments like ‘oh that that’s a really cool moment’, ‘that’s a cool chord’ and I was like wow ‘thanks Darrell!’ (laughter)

LTTL: You also used Maya De Vitry who was in The Stray Birds?

Maggie: Yeah, The Stray Birds which is no longer in action. Maya plays solo now and I’d really recommend her, she’s amazing,

LTTL: She has such a distinctive voice

M: Yeah and an amazing songwriter. She’s somebody who really plays for music. She’s present with all of the music that she makes, everything she writes has meaning, has intention and she is just making HER music. That’s one of my favourite things in an artist when you can hear that they’re writing from their deepest self and it’s not trying to be anything other than Maya De Vitry – she’s amazing.

LTTL: You’re on tour at the moment?

M: We’re on tour with the Festival of Small Halls which is run by Woodford Folk Festival. They put on a few tours a year. This one goes between Port Fairy this weekend and the National [Folk Festival in Canberra]. So we’re on that tour for the next 3 1/2 weeks with a wonderful Icelandic singer-songwriter called Svavar Knútur.

LTTL: Who we’ve just seen great do a couple of songs – amazing

M: Yeah, he’s very special. We’re right at the start of this tour, we’ve just met the crew and we’re just getting into the swing of playing tiny-town communities. It’s going to be fantastic, we’re looking forward to it.

LTTL: How many dates are there?

M: I’m not exactly sure. We’re kind of on the school bus now and we’re just told when and where the next show is.

E: It’s five shows a week, except for the National Folk Festival.

M: It’s between 15 and 20. We love playing shows like that. Small Halls is a wonderful tour.

E: It’s a special one to do because there’s a production manager and tour manager who come as part of the tour and they arrange all of the accommodation, they do all of the driving and set up PA for us and take really good care of us as the performers. It’s one of those rare special things, where you just get to go on the road and play music and you don’t have to think too much about behind-the-stage logistics.

LTTL: After the tour, do you have any plans – songwriting, recording?

E: We’ve got a lot of things underway, but nothing we can share with you at this stage (loud laughter)

LTTL: Tell me about the cover of your self-titled album. Whose idea was that?

E: I do love that photo. It was a really, beautiful shoot. We were in this house in Ireland staying with a friend of a friend and we connected with this photographer. We were totally out of our space. We’re in this house and there were a lot of ugly walls and then there was this beautiful bathroom, the most beautiful part of the house, in my view, this deep blue bath and the light, amazing windows. There was something about that space. We all walked around the house for a while and then we realised we have to get in the bath. So we got in the bath and we stripped bare in front of this photographer. We didn’t actually have a bath, it’s been a while since Maggie and I’ve had a bath together (laughter).

LTTL: Another photo shoot question. The single “Make A Baby” has a very impressive pumpkin. Where did you get that from?

M: Good question (laughs) ‘Who’s pumpkin was that’?

E: I have never been asked that question (laughs). Shout out to Gabrielle Bridge who grew the pumpkin. When we went to do that shoot, it was just this moment of inspiration. Someone showed us this pumpkin which was in the house, grown by my friend Gabby, and we just realised that we were looking for something that was like the iconography of a baby without being explicitly a baby and there it was – a heavy, baby-shaped pumpkin.

LTTL: Last question Maggie do you have an EP out?

M: I do! I went through a massive break-up in the pandemic and I had a lot of grief and I had a lot of processing to do and I had a lot of songs that I was itching to get out of my system. I self-produced a little EP of very sad folk songs which I put out in October last year and did a few shows to celebrate that. I’ve been performing more solo than with the band for the past year. It feels really, really good to be back with Elsie, to be back with the band and playing in this setting.

LTTL: That’s a good note to finish on. Thanks for your time.

Maggie and Elsie: Thank you!

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Author: Rob Dickens

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