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Single review: MAZED

Photo by Abby Meysenburg

Words by Orla Foster

On the Norwegian island where she was raised, Marte Barstad was the kind of kid who could always be counted on to step up to the microphone. Growing up, she performed every chance she got, experimenting across indie, musical theatre and Scandipop genres while she figured out her own style. After a move to Liverpool she began recording under the name MAZED, crystallising her sound into a high-intensity, high-drama strand of epic pop, and taking cues from artists such as Neoni and Bishop Briggs. Influences aside, MAZED’s songs have their own kind of alchemy, taking pain and struggle as raw material and elevating it to bold, motivational anthems. This is not the sound of someone who has been cowering on a couch for twelve months. From deep within the recesses of my own couch, I message her to learn more, starting with her new single ‘Knew It Was’.

“It’s definitely one of my more personal songs,” she tells me, “conveying desperation after walking the same path over and over, reaching nothing but hurt and frustration, but still keeping hopeful.”

I mentally pan through the lyrics: the girl with “tears dripping on my new blouse”, pledging not to be silenced any more. It strikes me as a kind of letter-to-self, a private project of personal renewal, with any lingering pain swiftly blowtorched out of her path. It’s an attitude consistent with earlier releases, like the icy rebuttal of 'This Is Your Faith’, or 'Back to the Start’, which vows to give heartbreak a hard pass.

This uncompromising spirit is in evidence right down to the slick of lilac lipstick she sports in photos. “I just want to use colours, and visuals in general, that reflect determination and drama, as well as positivity and colourfulness,” she explains. It’s not the first time purple has operated as a kind of visual shorthand for her artistic identity: “When I was a kid, I had purple tights that I wore under my skirts all the time. I wasn’t afraid of what anyone would think about me and was a bit experimental with my appearance, especially considering that in my hometown everyone would wear the same things.”

That spirit of experimentation followed her all the way to Liverpool, where she quickly fell in with kindred spirits. “When I first came here, I was met with something I had never seen before. A creative culture with so much respect for musicians, in general people with a hunger for live music, a music scene with venues on every corner and a space for upcoming artists.”

Still, the Liverpool she fell in love with has been very much on hold. Given the boredom and frustration of the past few months, has songwriting been a source of catharsis at all?

“Several of my songwriting processes have started off by me being frustrated,” MAZED agrees. “This is what I love, giving room for all of your emotions. It’s so important to me that a listener can listen to my music and feel that their emotions are valid. Anger, hurt, jealousy, confidence, remorse, courage, and wanting to help others.”

Releasing 'Knew It Was’ so soon wasn’t the plan, she adds, but “some songs you just feel like you can’t hold back”. It’s the sound of an artist who is champing at the bit, ready to embrace life and share her music with an audience once more. Listening to it, you start to hope that life might be just around the corner, like that moment in spring when you get your first glimpse of crocuses against a sky as grey as old shopping bags. For all her eagerness to get back to the stage, MAZED says lockdown still had its moments of inspiration. Rather than climbing the walls, she tells me, the standstill gave her a chance to explore parts of her neighbourhood she’d never seen before, as well as prompting her to think more deeply about her audience, and create lots of new video content alongside her band.

“It has been very sad to say goodbye to live music for so long,” she reflects. “but it’s good to know that I’m living in a city where I know it will bloom, or maybe explode again very soon.” Take heart, MAZED, we’re almost there.

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