Olivia Mainville doesn’t use the word ‘haunted’ when she describes the night she spent, alone, inside of a spacious, quiet condominium up near Sault St. Marie, but it seems implied. The Grand Rapids-based singer/songwriter has bestowed a temporary lodging for one night in the Upper Peninsula after a performance, but she said that to repel any hint of eerie vibes amassing inside that empty, secluded abode, she stayed up late writing songs. It was a burst of creativity that ended what had been, at that point, a lull.
“I was honestly just kinda scared, so I wanted to fill out the room with some noise. But it was exciting because I had gone for a long time where I wasn’t writing anything. The idea, then, of becoming somebody else through my music excited me, and that’s what I was thinking of when I was writing those new songs.”
Olivia Mainville is well known throughout Michigan, by now, after several years of touring, recording and performing, as the leader of the baroque-pop ensemble known as The Aquatic Troupe. With as many as six backing instrumentalists that brought in flavors like trombone and banjo, saxophone and violin, Mainville’s songs were a tightrope tap dance between the melancholic coming-of-age reveries and whimsical folk-pop ballads. But when Mainville talks about “becoming somebody else,” she’s implying her new act, Via Mardot.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Mainville said, “because I wasn’t feeling like myself while playing shows as the Aquatic Troupe, or I just at least felt the need to do something else. The new music better represents me as a person, I would say; it’s the stuff that I’m more passionate about, and I’m trying to be very careful about what I do with it…”
The Aquatic Troupe has released singles, one EP, one full-length, and has a whole batch of songs (enough for a full-length) recorded (but unreleased). Mainville is now immersing herself in the more jazzier, swankier and stylish vibes of Manouche-style gypsy folk (think Django) and French’ ye-ye’ pop (think Brigitte Bardot).
“There’s something about French pop music and French artists that have always intrigued me. It’s the mystique! And the way that ‘ye-ye’ pop was really so different than a lot of other things in America in the ’60s. I wanted to write something that was kind of an ode to that. I’m also obsessed with listening to movie soundtracks. I have always wanted to score a film, and that was part of my interest in Via Mardot— to try to write more true to myself and write songs that will, like a movie, but different kinds of visuals in the listener’s head.”
Via Mardot has been steadily taking over Mainville for the last two or three years— and that kind of sounds a bit like an Exorcist/Frankenstein kind of thing, but it’s true. It’s not a typical ‘alter ego,’ but more so a new form, a new being, a new identity, for this songwriter. “I just looked to my main inspirations and saw how they were always true to themselves, and it felt like the right time to do something that I really wanted to do.”
Two things distinguishing Via Mardot from the Aquatic Troupe would be minimal instrumentation, but also more intricate compositions. Brandon James is on bass and Adam Schreiber is on drums— it was recorded in Schreiber’s home studio.
Music has been an integral part of Mainville’s entire life— her parents introduced her to a lot of creative and outside-the-mainstream types of artists and she began writing her own songs at a very early age. When she’s not flourishing the Via Mardot material, she’s also in a duo called Brooke & Mardot, as well as contributing to a trio led by Delilah DeWylde.
She lives in Grand Rapids, but her bandmates are on the eastside in Detroit. Still, she’s got fans in Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, and Ypsilanti, so she decided that the best location for her EP release party as Via Mardot would be in the most central location for the lower mitten state: Lansing!
Catch the show at the Robin Theatre!