It’s another absurdly hot Friday afternoon in Cincinnati, but Northside is bustling, sitting in the shade isn’t so bad, fire engine sirens are blaring - loudly, regularly - and I’m at Melt Revival with Maura Weaver, who’s set to release her first solo album this month. It’s my first time meeting her, though I’ve been listening to music she’s been making for over a decade. Her time in Mixtapes is marked, for me, by my return to Cincinnati after 10 years away.
As Mixtapes wound down - not long after I came back to Cincinnati - change was quick to follow. Cincinnati hit the rearview as she moved away. She started new music projects, joined others, worked with other bands and musicians. Music, playing, creating was a constant. And it still is. But let’s back up a bit..
“It’s been such a strange journey in Cincinnati for me. When I first got into punk and I started going to shows, it was hardcore shows. And, like metalcore and beatdown hardcore,” she tells me. “Because that was such a huge thing in Cincinnati in like, 2006 into the mid mid-aughts, I guess? It was, honestly, misogynistic. That scene was racist and like all this stuff that was honestly slightly traumatic for me as a teenager.”
An interesting foundation to start what’s turned into an actual, real, vital career in music, but it wasn’t easy.
“I had tried to join hardcore bands when I was a teenager. I would make demos at home. And my friends would be like, ‘Whoa, this is really good! A girl wrote this?’ like, dead serious. ‘I can't believe that!’ And they were like, ‘You should join our hardcore band!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, that would be great!’ And they're like, ‘Just kidding. We can't have a girl in the band.’
“That actually happened to me. That was around the time that I ended up meeting Ryan Rockwell and doing Mixtapes stuff. Because I was also into pop punk stuff, etc. And that was a really positive experience for a while.”
Post-Mixtapes, Weaver would go on to join up with Asian Man Records founder and overall legendary dude Mike Park in Ogikubo Station, which saw several releases through Park’s just as legendary label. She would join the ranks of pop punk outfit Direct Hit!, punk group The Homeless Gospel Choir, pandemic-era formed band The Mimes, as well as boys and others, and now, she’s set to release her debut solo album via Don Giovanni Records on September 15.
As we work towards discussing the new album - an hour or so after we’ve sat down to lunch and getting to know each other, which, it turns out, we have a lot of mutual friends and mutual appreciation for music across the spectrum - the story of how her new album came to be ties in with some of the larger concepts we were talking through about the Cincinnati music scene - or, really music scenes - in general.
“Mixtapes never really had a huge following in Cincinnati ever. Like, we did way better in Cleveland or any other city pretty much. I don't know why.” She’s amused more than anything.
“And then, you know, I moved away for a while. Like six, seven years, came back in 2019 and things are so much different now, in a really positive way to me, where I'm friends with so many different kinds of creative people and musicians who all kind of know each other. It
just feels more, like there's a lot of younger people, and there’s still a certain kind of sound that I think is cool, you know? A lot more post-punk-y.”
Which isn’t to say that’s where she finds herself musically at the moment. I Was Due For A Heartbreak occupies a musical space that’s both well worn and singular, personal, yet profoundly universal. Leaning heavily on hazy dream pop with a healthy dose of alt-country and languid singer-songwriter aesthetics, the album is, much to my delight, sequentially satisfying just as much as it is sonically attractive.
“So I have wanted to do a solo record for a long time. Like, since I was a teenager. Actually, funnily enough, the songs that I wrote when I was a teenager sound a lot like this album,” she says.
Jaunty indie rock tracks like opener “Ease On The Eyes” transition into lofi electropop tracks like “Crush On You Pt. II” lead to sullenly upbeat tracks like her last single, “Sunshine.” Pedal steel from local hero Travis Talbert adorn tracks like “Jefferson Highway,” while the denouement of the album, title track “I Was Due For A Heartbreak, I Guess” takes cues from all of the above. Even as it veers between and through so many facets of rock, indie, alt-country, and pop, it never feels duplicative or contrived. Weaver’s heartfelt falsetto, or layered, smooth deeper tones, combined with a rotating group of friends who would bring their own little nuances to her work - it’s a combination that ends up being more than the sum of all its parts and plays as a more than proper introduction to a powerful solo entity.
Our conversation turns to the album, the thematics, the density and the way the album moves from track to track.
“This record has been, like, you know, I wanted to do it for a long time, but I think I just didn't have the confidence, and I was really relying on other people's opinions,” she goes on. “That's one reason I love collaborating.” The album’s contents, front to back, show how much collaboration was key to the end result. But, as much as it was about joining with others to create something new, it was even more about creating something that was hers.
“This album was really collaborative as well, but I just wanted to push myself to actually finish things and follow through. And just write, not be worried about how things are going to turn out. Because there was a point when Mixtapes broke up that I wanted to do a solo record. But I think I was still in a weird headspace of like… I mean, I was really young during all of that and when Mixtapes ended, I was maybe like 21, 22. And, you know, I don't know what a record would have been like. Mixtapes had a lot of momentum, and I was really worried about what people thought, right? Like what kind of genre I should make if I made a record?” A good question, but one that ultimately answered itself.
“This time around, I mean, it was just made mostly because the pandemic was the catalyst. I have no excuse. And I've been wanting to do this for a long time. It's not like I wasn't writing songs before, I was. Honestly, I've always constantly written, but I wasn't really finishing anything. But, I did go through a really bad breakup. You can tell.” There’s a bit of a smile, a small laugh. Yeah, I said, you can tell. “So some of the songs are about… there's a few songs about this one specific breakup, but there's a lot just about me trying to find who I am, trying to deal with the fallout of like, why I kept getting into situations over and over again that were bad for me. And, you know, what part I played in that and figuring out who I was without relying so much on other people, not escaping in a person. Or escaping in a situation, but actually trying to confront myself. That's really what the record’s about. It's also just about me finding the confidence to act, to do it, you know what I mean? Like, there's songs on there that are about that.”
Putting the album together was a process, but an ultimately satisfying one - sequencing, the way the album plays from beginning to, what to start with, what to close with, and everything in between.
“We worked really hard on the sequencing. I wanted it to feel cohesive and it’s crazy how much sequencing changes an album. We had a few different ones and certain things didn't feel right. Or I was attached to certain songs to be like the first song. And then finally, when we decided, I was like ‘Okay, this is the best flow, I think.’ And I always worry that people are going to just listen to the first half of a record. There's a lot of people that do that, and I was like ‘My favorite songs are on the second half, at the end!”
As we continue talking about the album, not just where it came from, but what it turned into, we also discuss what the future looks like.
“We ended up making a lot of full band songs. And I'm excited to do the full band show for that reason because so far, I've just been playing acoustic. It's been really nice, I just love playing in bands. I love playing with other people. It's like my favorite thing. I'm gonna be playing a lot more Cincinnati shows, and planning some more full band shows in Cincinnati, too. So that's pretty cool. I'm just excited to play these songs for people… I just love playing live.”
The final track of I Was Due For A Heartbreak, “The Confines,” is suitably dialed back, dreamy, focused on Weaver’s vocal delivery. The thematics - the heartbreak itself, the introspection, the longing and the understanding.
“I used to do this for you. But now I do it for me,” she says during the chorus, even as it cascades into and over itself. She sings this all the way to the song's end. Everything, it seems, will be okay.
The record release show for I Was Due For A Heartbreak follows only a week after the release of the album. You can catch Maura Weaver with a full band, with support from Wussy Duo and Paige Beller, on September 22 at Northside Tavern. The album itself releases September 15, 2023 on Don Giovanni Records.
My sincere thanks to Maura for taking the time to talk about the record, and so much more.