Interview: Portland Indie Rocker MAITA Makes Right Musical Moves


Portland Indie Rocker MAITA Makes Right Musical Moves

Maria Maita-Keppeler, aka MAITA, started penning songs in earnest when she was a high schooler in Eugene, Oregon. As a college student in Portland, she took to playing solo, devouring open mic opportunities on campus and at coffee houses, and later charging into the bar scene.

She toured a slight bit, but soon felt as if something were missing, that a change was required. Soon, she was playing with her partner, Matthew Zeltzer, as a folk duo.
In 2017, after the pair released its first record, Waterbearer, Maria concluded that both the band, which she’d named MAITA, and the production, lacked a touch of something, that another shift was needed.

“The band really needed a rock element to it,” said Maria. “It needed a rock element that felt more true to the music. Something that had both super calm, long, and soft folk moments, but also rock moments as well.”

Maria started touring with an expanded version of MAITA and released two records on respected indie imprint Kill Rock Stars. The timing might not have been propitious – both records, Best Wishes (2020) and I Just Want To Be Wild For You (2022) dropped during the pandemic – but the elegance and tenacity within proved that Maria made the right musical moves.

Back on the road, she is looking to expand her reach and appeal through intimate songwriting, verses of heady truth and private pain, gems found in the structure of songs such as “Loneliness”:

Out of the restaurant, onto the pavement
I caught my own face in a window arrangement
‘Fore I could pose, tilt my chin, rest my lips
I looked pissed, it’s no wonder I was left alone

“In the songwriting,” said Maria, “I really try to figure out some kind of very subtle emotion or feeling that I feel and try to translate that into a music that can very quickly express and very succinctly express that in a way that people can relate to. First and foremost, I do want it to have an emotional impact. I feel like we’ve been able to achieve that.”

Much hard work, she said, remains to be done.
“We are continuing to have a really open mind and be grateful for every minor success and be grateful for every single person that comes to a show. One person comes out, we honor that one person who wanted to spend their time and be with us.”

Maria Maita-Keppeler grew up in Eugene, Oregon. As a teenager, she listened to an abundance of indie rock and folk music, and was heavily influenced by the lyrical intimacy and edgy emotionalism of Bright Eyes. She’s not holding things back – you can feel it. That’s a particular beauty of Best Wishes and I Just Want To Be Wild For You.
“Bright Eyes was very exciting for me and it made me really want to be part of that exchange of emotions and feelings and stories through music.”

Eventually, she discovered Metric and Cat Power and other women fronted rock-indie bands, fiery, persuasive, resolute musicians who were pushing their lyrics beyond the boundaries of the standard, conforming, radio-friendly songs.

“I think that was really powerful for me because then I could see more of that space for myself,” said Maria. “After departing from listening to regular radio stations, and when Pandora came out, I started my own self-driven, musical discovery journey.”

The first time that Maria ever performed live was as a teenager at a literary open mic event at Tsunami Books in Eugene. “Terrifying” is how she describes it. But not terrifying in a pejorative sense, terrifying in that it stirred up growth and fired up change that led to something affirmative.

“I never had shown anyone what I was doing,” said Maria. “You have no idea if you’re good or not. It took me a long time to even get the first words out, but after that, it went really well, and I had some confidence. I ended up performing when I got to college.”
Though Eugene was “a good place to grow up,” she said, Portland was always the place that she imagined that she would “need to be” to achieve what she wanted.

“Portland has such a good music scene for its size,” said Maria. “You can find so many different kinds of music. There are a lot of young creative people who are passionate about going to shows as well as creating shows.”

At age 21, the Portland bar scene opened up to her, and she took advantage of as many open mic events as she could unearth. Several times a week, she would meander into a club or neighborhood hangout, wait her turn, and then start playing. There were plenty of occasions when she was the only performer who even showed up. By default, she needed to assemble her very first set.

“It was really cool because it allowed me to cut my teeth on the idea of performing a whole set,” said Maria, who is also an active visual artist and aspiring author.
One of the things that Maria is working on in relation to her songwriting is figuring out how to better operate in a tighter format, how to better grow a story quickly, to tell it with a literate voice and an insightful mind, but without having to painstakingly stretch it out the way a novelist does.

“When I first started writing songs, because I was so used to writing stories, I was pretty verbose, and songs would be six or seven minutes long…as I’ve gotten older I’m prioritizing being able to tell a story in less time rather than more, and I think that’s a bigger challenge almost…the economy of words is really fascinating.”

Some time ago, Maria realized that there was an opening and a window for her in the rock music scene in Portland, and just what that room will look like in the larger sphere is an exciting implication. The future, she said, doesn’t necessarily require a comprehensive, over-thought strategy, just a conviction and a craving set in stone.

“The truest way to live is in the live performance,” said Maria. “When I first started performing with the rock band, I thought it was really powerful to have these huge tools at our disposal. It’s the power to make the highest highs and the lowest lows with the instruments. That dynamic roller coaster, I find very thrilling as an audience member. It’s a different kind of similarly thrilling ride as an artist – to be able to go through that roller coaster.”

Find more information about MAITA here:

Music journalist Brian D’Ambrosio may be reached at



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