Anyone who’s dipped their toes in Vehlinggoland the past eight years knows who Mecha Maiko is. The Toronto-based musician AKA Hayley Stewart has released a steady stream of compelling, synth-driven electronic albums and along way even contributed a stellar experimental cut to the 5 Years comp. She also co-hosted Season 5 of The Vehlinggo Pod. So when I heard her latest album, NOT OK, received a prestigious Juno Award nomination for “electronic album of the year,” I was basically crying with excitement.
However, I’m not celebrating merely because she’s been involved in Vehlinggo fare — although she has definitely leveled up this publication — but because she’s a fantastic person with an epic talent who deserves to be considered for an award for which folks like Electric Youth, Caribou, Grimes, Tim Hecker, and Crystal Castles have previously been nominated. The Juno Awards are among Canada’s highest honors for musicians. (Notably, this year Stewart seems to be the only female-identifying act in the category.) Mecha Maiko has been an exciting project with crucial albums like the 1990s house-tinged Let’s and the multi-faceted Mad But Soft, and the delectably experimental Okiya EP. This is very much deserved.
With all of that in mind, I figured I’d check in with Stewart, who also is a member of Hyperlink Dream Sync, to see how she’s feeling and if she has anything else to say about this major feat for an indie artist like herself.
What does the nomination mean to you and how does it feel to be among the small group of Canadian musicians to receive such recognition?
It’s a completely unexpected, incredibly meaningful honor. When I realized that I’d joined the ranks of nominees for this award that I deeply admire, past and present, my brain kind of short circuited. My immediate reaction was total disbelief — someone made a mistake, they must not have had enough submissions, I don’t have a big enough following or play enough shows to be here, etc.
Receiving a Juno nomination for an album where I said “screw it, I’m doing this my way,” makes me feel incredibly seen and felt in a way that doesn’t leave much space for me to pass the buck to someone else. Making music has been something I’ve loved to do since I was little, and I’ve had some experiences throughout my life as an artist which have made me feel like I wasn’t that good, that what I was doing had very little value, or that I just straight up shouldn’t pursue a career in music. To think that I earned this nomination based on merit makes me want to cry, because the artists who have earned it in the past are indisputable talents. It means that it’s worth making more time in my life for music — impostor syndrome be damned.
2. If you win, what will you do?
If I win, well, I will bawl my eyes out, lol. Then I’ll have to majorly re-assess where I want to focus my time and energy. Whether I win or not, I’ll begin to apply to grants and look for other resources so that I can re-skill and develop a live show that I feel happy with (something I stress about way too much).
I never really considered that I would have a project funding organizations could get behind, but this gives me more confidence to apply. I work freelance, and as anyone with experience knows, the precarity of the job instills this feeling that you have to say “yes” to everything or else you might not make rent for the month, or lose a client altogether. This makes it really hard to take time off to focus on music for any extended period of time.
Unfortunately most artists have to juggle regular jobs or take a chance on the granting system to help fund their work unless they’re backed by a major label. Making meaningful changes to the way we compensate artists — let alone having a universal basic income — would be revolutionary for helping artists make music. So much value has been siphoned from musicians over the decades, and I recommend listening to the Canadaland Commons episode about it.
But to end things on a more positive note: As per usual, I’ll keep on advocating for the changes I want to see, and writing and recording. I have a couple singles nearly wrapped, and my bandmates Neil [Scrivin] and Eric [Sferro] and I are so close to having Hyperlink Dream Sync’s second album finished, which I’m beyond excited to release.
3. Any message for indie artists setting their sights on such great heights?
Firstly, I hope my last comment wasn’t too demoralizing, lol. I would say to stay true to your vision for your project and what you want to say as an artist. Collaborate with those who believe in that vision. The care and authenticity you put into your craft will come through, so don’t skimp on it — but don’t be so precious that you never release your work. Sharing it is a massive gift. Good things can take time, and that’s okay. Even if you feel like what you’ve made isn’t perfect, it might be good enough to get a Juno nomination.
NOT OK is available now in physical and digital forms via NRW Records.
(Editor’s Disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for NOT OK.)