Michigan singer and multi-instrumentalist Olivia Mainville puts feelings first with Via Mardot 

French kiss-off

click to enlarge Via Mardot. - NOMADIC MADAM
  • Nomadic Madam
  • Via Mardot.

Whatever you do, please do not hug Olivia Mainville.

The Holland, Michigan native and singer/multi-instrumentalist — who makes seductive French ye-ye-steeped Tarantino-esque tunes as Via Mardot, along with Vernon James and Adam Schreiber and the occasional use of a musical saw — keeps her distance, even if her music begs for closeness.

"If I see a hug coming, then obviously I'll be like, OK, let's, let's get this over with," Mainville says. "But if there's somebody who looks like they're about to give hugs and I'm next, then I usually kind of like, fold my hands and back up a little bit. Or maybe I'll wander off on 'accident.' I think what really turned me off in the first place was like, you know, as a young female musician, men, lots of men, old and young, just want hugs. And I think that's what actually made me angry at hugs. I'm mad at hugs." 

Mainville, 24, exists in two worlds: one in which she's comfortable with self-isolation, where she would, on any given pre-pandemic night, opt to stay home rather than go out, where the threat of hugging looms. The other is a world where she creates lush, smokey, Spaghetti Western-inspired music she can actually stand, which is more than she can say for the 90% of music she admits to hating, modern pop being the most offensive to her refined musical sensibilities. These sensibilities are on full display on Via Mardot's 2020 self-titled EP, which conjures Megan Calvet from Mad Men smoking cigarettes with composer Ennio Morricone and Téléphone.

"My dad has always been a big fan of more obscure music," Mainville says. "Since I was a kid, the music he liked was Devo, Mike Patton, Air, Gary Numan, stuff like that. That's all music that I've grown up on. And it was pretty much the only music that I heard until some kid in grade school told me to listen to the pop radio station. And I was like, This is shit. I never listened to it again after that." 

It's the aforementioned statement that has made her pandemic plan all the more difficult. In 2020, in lieu of live performances and as a way to make some money, Mainville launched a campaign that allowed fans to request songs for her to cover in exchange for $25-$35, depending on how many tracks they requested. Though it was mostly fun and was a great way to stay on her toes musically, getting song requests for, say, Journey-adjacent bands was, well, borderline torturous.

"You have to get invested in the song," she says. "I mean, you have to put so much attention into a song that you would never listen to. It is soul-sucking, soul-crushing from time to time," she says. "But, you know, some people request some pretty good music and bearable stuff. But man, I realized that I kind of hate about 90% of all music." 

Mainville, who took guitar lessons for a few months before quitting when she was younger and, in fifth grade, was in orchestra but admits to being "terrible," has been making music since about the age of 16, when she formed Olivia Mainville and the Aquatic Troupe, a group that made retro tunes that would feel totally at home at Detroit's satanic ball, Theatre Bizarre. Though she admits to having kicked all her bandmates out and, later, grew out of the Aquatic Troupe altogether, she has years later maintained her writing philosophy with each and every song she says she has written since, which is "a progression before any lyrics and a feel before a thought." 

Looking ahead, Mainville says she would love to write music for television and film and, ultimately, write music with a full orchestra. But for now, success is rooted in growth and creating a life where she doesn't have to compromise her je ne sais quoi.

"The way I see success, at least for me, is to be doing exactly what I want to be doing, obviously," she says. "And to know it's not bullshit and I didn't just make it up. carelessly, just, I guess, knowing that I'm actually putting work into my craft is already success enough for me. But for now, I know what I want and I'm just trying to get better at doing the things I need to do to get there, eventually."

Part of our cover story, "12 metro Detroit acts we think will do big things in 2021."

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