Maxim Vaga, a true Berlin original, creates a modern take on blues which allows your mind to dip deep into the history of ghostly shanties of barge haulers of the Volga river. This Friday June 20th 2014, Maxim Vaga will perform at the St. Georg in Kreuzberg. S2S met up with the musician who is inspired by great lyrical word jugglers like Poe, Kafka, Orson Welles and Knut Hamsun.
S2S: Why did you choose ‘vaga’ as your artist name?
Maxim Vaga: Well, there are several reasons. The most obvious reason of course is the connection to ‘vagabond’, but also the word ‘vague’ – which for me has a positive as well as a negative connotation, in the sense that indecisiveness can sometimes create a balance. After I wrote the song, ‘Hunger’, I read a book by John Fante, in which the main character was reading a novel called Hunger. I read this novel after. It fit surprisingly well to the song I had just written. I did some research about the author, Knut Hamsun, and found out that he was from a Norwegian area called Vaga. It was a chain of coincidences that made me keep the name.
S2S: What is your song “Hunger” about?
Maxim Vaga: My song is about the different aspects of hunger. You can be hungry for life, hungry for love and of course, physically hungry. But everyone interprets this song differently.
S2S: What inspires you to write a song? Is writing songs to you a way of digesting certain events you have experienced in your life?
Maxim Vaga: I believe this happens subconsciously. I wouldn’t say that my lyrics nor songs are based on my everyday life, but unite personal experiences and a fictional reality that I create. It just needs to feel good and I need to be comfortable with the final result that I have created. I couldn’t really match up a song with a specific story or life event. It’s not comparable to a diary entry.
S2S: Are you influenced by other musicians?
Maxim Vaga: For sure. I listen to many artists from back in the day, which will probably lead us to the next question in regards of the genre my music represents. My music is strongly influenced by soul and blues, although it doesn’t sound like either genre in their classical form. Tom Waits is one of my biggest heroes, others include Screamin J Hawkins, Etta James, Junior Wells, Ray Charles – but also artists from today like RJD2, Son Little….the list is endless. But I wouldn’t say that the music I listen to is obviously reflected in my songs or the music I write.
S2S: You’ve travelled quite a bit, once joining a band in Greece that had members from all over the world. How have other countries and cultures touched you or maybe had an impact on your music?
Maxim Vaga: I have always felt most in touch with myself while traveling. It allows me to connect to some of my memories or thoughts in a totally different way to when I am in one place, carrying on with my everyday life. Being in a foreign place helps me to focus on the aspects of life that really move and touch me. It’s refreshing to NOT know what you will encounter around the next corner.
S2S: You are born and raised in Berlin? Has Berlin had an impact on your decision to make music?
Masim Vaga: Music has always been part of my life, as my parents listened to so many genres when I grew up. I was six when I first started playing the piano. In my early 20s I took composition classes with a Berlin-based Israeli composer, Tal Balshai. I wanted to learn from someone who had stage and composition experience, but also focused on classical music, Jazz and beyond. Through Balshai, I learned how to write music for different instruments. He completely changed my perspective on music.
Berlin has always been my base but I wouldn’t say that I will always stay here, even though I still like the city. I can see myself moving somewhere else for a while, for example Cologne, Brussels or New York even. I will go where my music takes me.
S2S: Do you make a living off of your music? Maxim Vaga: Music and I, we live from each other (laughs). I mainly live from my music, however to survive I do other jobs on the side, which is enriching and opens my eyes to other ways of living. S2S: Are you planning to go on a tour anytime soon?
Maxim Vaga: Yes, I am planning to tour with the band in Germany, Belgium and France this fall. We’d like to team up with local musicians in these places and even play at some festivals. It would be nice to get as far as Paris.
S2S: What’s your stance on being signed to a larger record label?
Maxim Vaga: I am open to anything that allows me to continue making my music. As fun as being a DIY musician can be, booking gigs and tours can also be pretty stressful and I would prefer to focus more on the music itself.
S2S: Who does your music speak to? Is it a specific audience and do you expect a certain answer or reaction?
Maxim Vaga: That’s a good question. I like to surprise people. Surprises are important, and it seems harder to be caught off guard the older we get and the more we experience. The lyrics of some songs may seem cryptic but I am not afraid of pop references either. I’d say that the energy of my songs is somewhere between a kiss and a slap!
On Friday, 20 June, 2014, set the tone for a musical weekend by descending the wearied stairs of St.Georg in the heart of Kreuzberg. Notes from Underground returns, on the eve before Berlin’s Fete de la Musique, with a night-time showcase of three of the city’s best rising acts including Maxim Vaga.