I'm excited for singer-songwriter Maryam Qudus, a.k.a. Doe Eye. In the past year, the Bay Area native released her debut EP (the lovely, earnest Run Run Run), enrolled at Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music, was named FUSE TV's Unsigned Artist of the Month and raised funds for her sophomore EP through Kickstarter. She's also a finalist in Billboard.com and Chevrolet's "Cruze-ing to Vegas" contest, which pits her against five other groups for the opportunity to perform at the Billboard Music Awards on May 20.
After bonding over our mutual love of Berklee grad Kishi Bashi, we discussed music school, her upcoming EP, Justin Bieber, and San Francisco.
Zimbio: What motivated you to seek formal training?
Doe Eye: I think that learning music is really important, because there are so many possibilities with music if you have all the formal knowledge for it, you know? As a musician I want to know all the different possibilities I can have when writing a song. That's really important to me. Some of it can go way over your head because the theory is sometimes really complicated, and can take years and years to actually understand the concepts, but I don't think it can hurt a musician to learn, it can only help you. As a musician, being really young, I want to get the most out of learning music while I'm still young, that way as I get older I'll only get better and better.
Zimbio: Definitely. I was reading an interview with St. Vincent about her time at Berklee. She ended up leaving, but she said something about how she knew she needed a formal framework to create what she wanted and know what she wanted.
DE: That's awesome. St. Vincent is one of my hugest inspirations, she's one of my role models with songwriting and singing and everything. That's really cool, I didn't know that.
Zimbio: Have you seen her live?
DE: Yeah, she throws an incredible show!
Zimbio: I've never seen any musician ever sing an entire song while crowdsurfing. And in heels. DE: I know, I know. I went to her show last year and was completely blown away. And I was a fan of her for a while, so just seeing her live was—one of those moments, you know, when you see your favorite musician live, so when she jumped into the crowd, I was just like, 'Oh my god, I officially love her forever.'
There were people around me that looked like they were going to burst into tears. I read on Twitter that at the Oakland show she actually got injured and she's in a wheelchair right now.
Oh no. That doesn't surprise me, considering she was upside down for most of it. Anyway, I really liked your cover of Portishead's "Glory Box."
DE: I love that song! We were in practice a few days ago and my drummer Ernie, he really loves Portishead and so do I, and he just started playing the drum groove, and then my bassist picked up the bass groove right away, and then my violinist automatically started playing the violin part. It was really cool, it was like our first time every playing it and I recorded it just on the spot, so it was awesome.
It came off really well. Can you talk about some of the other artists that have inspired you?
DE: I'm really inspired by Arcade Fire, one of my favorite bands. I really am inspired not only by their music but also by their live show and their performance. Sometimes in their live shows they'll put together a 12-piece band or have a string quartet in a tiny club space, and I love that because there's just so much energy when there are that many musicians on the stage.
Win Butler is an amazing lyricist. I have a bunch of Arcade Fire records, and I was just sitting in my apartment, looking through the lyrics, and they're just so profound and so deep. Sometimes you listen to songs and the lyrics go way over your head, but when you take the time to read them you think, 'Wow, this is really beautiful and it means so much now.'
I've been listening to Funeral by Arcade Fire, Teen Dream by Beach House, and Illinois by Sufjan Stevens a lot as inspiration for my next release, which is supposed to be out by September of this year.
Zimbio: That's so exciting, congratulations!
DE: Thank you! It got funded by Kickstarter, which is really cool. I got $600 over my goal, which is really cool.
Zimbio: It's actually really exciting for the people who donate, too. It's such an amazing model for artists.
DE: Yeah. I'm not only thrilled to go into the studio to be able to record those songs, but I'm also really excited to share it. I have had fans reach out and show their enthusiasm and how excited they are for my next release. I'm really excited to go into this studio in San Francisco, a studio called the Tiny Telephone Studio. Bands like Death Cab for Cutie record there, the Dodos...
Zimbio: That's where Chris Walla does production work, right?
DE: Yeah, he's the house engineer, and we're going to be using his studio. I'm going to be working together with John Vanderslice, who's produced Spoon, the Magnetic Fields, and the Mountain Goats. I'm really excited for that.
Zimbio: How is your sound changing on this new release?
DE: I think it's definitely evolved, but I'm still the same songwriter, still the same musician, so there is going to be a similar feel. The Run Run Run EP was my first release, and I kind of went into the studio not really expecting anything and not really even preparing much—my songs were bare acoustic, and I worked together with my producer to add more on the spot. With this next EP, there's a lot more preparation that's being done. We'll be recording on tape, as opposed to digitally. I'm excited about that, it just sounds so much better. But you know, same musician, different songs, but way more evolved.
Zimbio: So, Billboard's Battle of the Bands. If you win this, are you going to be nervous about performing on national TV?
DE: I'm really excited. I've dreamed of being a musician since I was a little girl, I always knew I wanted to be a singer and do music, and I think playing the Billboard Battle of the Bands is going to be a whole new experience, a whole new breakthrough. As far as nervousness goes, I mean, probably a little bit. I'll be a little bit nervous, but I've been performing for a while now and I know how to calm my nerves, so I'm more excited than anything. If I do win, I'll be more excited than nervous.
Zimbio: And you're driving out to Las Vegas in a Chevy.
DE: Yeah, Chevy will be sponsoring us. We'll be going in a Chevy Cruze towards Las Vegas, so that will be a lot of fun—the cool thing is they have Sirius XM loaded in, so we'll be able to put in what station we want and update bands on Facebook through the car, so I'm stoked about that stuff.
Zimbio: There will be celebrity judges at this competition and then at the Billboard Music Awards, a lot of superstars, including Justin Bieber...
DE: I love Justin Bieber.
Zimbio: So does everybody, it turns out.
DE: I give him credit as a musician. Some people feel indifferent about Justin Bieber, but he can actually sit down and play his guitar and just start singing, and produce his own records. I really respect him.
Zimbio: Are there any performers that might leave you starstruck?
DE: Yeah. Adele. I love Adele. Everyone loves Adele. I don't know if that's an overstatement, but I've never heard anyone say, 'God, I hate Adele.' She's amazing, she's such a true, raw talent. I love what she does, I love her music, and she's definitely an inspiration as a vocalist. If I saw Adele or met Adele, I'd feel like I was in a dream or something.
Zimbio: Have you checked out your competitors?
DE: A little bit. I've listened to them, but that's not really what I'm focusing on. I think my competitors are super talented. I just think that it's not going to do much for me to really focus on them, it's important for me to focus on my own performance and practice.