7 Questions With Mecha Maiko: First-Time Electronic Album of the Year Nominee - The JUNO Awards

Get to know 2023 Electronic Album of the Year nominee, Mecha Maiko in our “7 Questions With” series where we speak with first-time JUNO Award nominees from all genres.

Mecha Maiko is a synth pop project by Hayley Stewart. The name Mecha Maiko is a conceptual fusion of ‘mechas’ – massive, futuristic battle robots and ‘maikos’ – geishas in training. This dichotomy of hard-biting dystopian mechanics and the soft and tender performance of the maiko is meant to reflect the very same yin and yang dynamic found in her works.

Hayley began her musical career as the lead producer and a vocalist for the synthwave act Dead Astronauts between 2011-2016. Dubbed “one of synthwave’s most recognizable voices” by New Retro Wave, she has written and sung on a number of tracks by the likes of FM Attack, Perturbator, and Betamaxx. She currently is based in Toronto, Canada.

1. How does it feel to be nominated for a JUNO award? 

It’s completely surreal. So many artists I deeply admire have received this nomination, which is something I’m still trying to wrap my head around. To think I’ve joined the ranks of some of my high school & college heroes like Electric Youth, Caribou, Jessy Lanza, Crystal Castles et al… it does not compute! I really felt like I was just a small potato, existing outside the Canadian music scene – most of my fans are scattered across other countries so it’s wild to have such a massive spotlight focused on me, here in my home on native land!

2. Tell us a bit about your JUNO-nominated project.

NOT OK is an experimental synth & dance pop album with a range of sonic influences spanning the 80s-00s. The album is a snapshot of the tempestuous emotions I had during 2019-2021, which felt like a time where I could acutely feel the effects of living through multiple crises and yet was stuck in a position where there were few options for what felt like real action. So, I decided to write about how it felt to live in that moment; the sensation of slamming the gas and the brakes at the same time. It was like I was in some weird upside-down world where nothing that actually mattered saw any action; politicians were happy to sow division so that we wouldn’t notice while the planet burned for profit.

Many of the problems we face as a society are present not because governments can’t solve them – it’s because they won’t. The lyrics in my album definitely reflect these feelings and served as a way to process my frustration and continue onwards, because I’m not a doomer. I truly believe we can do much better than this. Part of what gave me solace during this time was time spent outdoors, which has a way of making you feel both totally insignificant and extremely heavy. “Sunny, Softly” is a song about reconnecting with non-human life and how deeply beneficial it is to recognize your relationship with nature.

3. What has been the craziest moment of your music career to date?

Probably this nomination! Second to that, playing VHS Vision in Stockholm in 2019 was wild. They brought in so many cool retro games, old TVs, and curated an amazing atmosphere. I met a fan who actually had a big ol’ Mecha Maiko tattoo on their arm! It was bonkers. I really couldn’t believe that I was playing to a totally packed venue in Sweden when it can feel so hard to get noticed in your own city.

4. What’s your favourite lyric from this project, and why does it resonate with you so much? 

“Here lies a generation born under the bus / Raised by early internet’s utopian dreams / Kids grew up and moved to go work in the valley / Writing endless code fit for a fascist regime” – from “The Kids”

I think this lyric is my favourite because it sums up how much the internet, technology, and our whole world has mutated over the last 30+ years. All our gadgetry changed from being purpose-driven tools to an omnipresent part of our lives, capable of shaping our identities and our perceptions of reality, for better or for worse. It’s as if we’ve been in a dream and just woke up to see what a beast it’s become, especially with the creation of algorithm-driven data. Monetization sure ruins everything.

5. Which Canadian artist would you like to collaborate with and why?

Oh man, I have a whole list of artists in mind but I think it would be a dream to collaborate with Dan Snaith. I’ve been such a fan of his work over the years, from Manitoba to Caribou to Daphni, and I just love the way his personality and sense of play comes through in his music. He uses so many different interesting sonic palettes, and can construct one hell of a slammin’ beat.

6. What would you like music fans to know about you? How would you introduce your music to new or soon-to-be fans? 

Well, I would like them to know I’m really an optimistic person, ha ha. My frustration comes from a place of love – and it took me a long time to come out of my shell to speak up. I try to use my privilege to write lyrics that I feel need to be heard. Not everything I do will be poignant, and maybe not perfect, but it’ll be authentic and a lot of fun to make. You’ll get to know me and my varied tastes pretty well by listening to my music – I’m basically just a sponge wringing out my sonic influences. I like to make nostalgic-tinged songs you can dance to while singing about something that matters, that channels something real, whether it’s collectively experienced or something very personal to me.  

7. What’s next for you?

I’m currently wrapping an album with my band, Hyperlink Dream Sync, and we’ll be looking to pitch it around soon. I haven’t played live in years, so I’m going to start working on a live show again, starting with my own home city this spring. I had a North American tour that was cancelled in 2020, but I’d love to try to build one again, so long as the fee increases for P and O visa applications don’t materialize. If you aren’t aware, I really recommend reading this article about what’s going on in the US since it seriously impacts the ability for Canadian artists to tour.

Tickets for The 2023 JUNO Awards are on sale now! Don’t miss out on an unforgettable night of Canadian music hosted by Simu Liu on March 13.