Name: Blond Maze aka Amanda Steckler
Occupation: Producer, singer, songwriter
Nationality: American
Current release: Blond Maze's Something Familiar, her first studio album, is out via Enhanced Chill.

If you enjoyed this interview with Blond Maze and would like to find out more about her, visit her official homepage. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.

Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?

There are quite a few different things that can happen that trigger the impulse to create. But I’d say most of the time I’ll be inspired by another piece of art or inspired by something that’s happened in my personal life. Sometimes I’ll be listening to a song that will make me feel so deeply, or watching a movie/tv show that resonates with me, and I’ll feel that urge to sit at the computer and lay down some chords.

No matter how the song starts, it always progresses with inspiration from my personal experiences and feelings. Every song I make helps me process certain thoughts about personal situations. All of the tracks on Something Familiar were inspired by reality - it’s kind of like my diary from the past couple of years.

For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?

No, I don’t really have a visualisation of the finished work when I start. I do usually have an idea of what feel I want it to have (faster / slower, mellow / upbeat, etc), but often the track evolves a lot over time. It’s a lot of experimentation in the beginning and just sort of playing around with different melodies and VSTs.

The next step is deciding whether or not I want vocals on it. Eventually the song structure starts to fall into place, and that’s when it becomes more planning and setting a game plan to finish it.

"Being Pulled" went through a ton of iterations in the beginning. The lead melody and the sound used for it changed a lot over the course of months. The drums did too. For that one, once the lead fell in place, I had a pretty clear picture of how to finish the track.

Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?

I honestly just jump right in as soon as I’m feeling inspired; I don’t spend much time prepping or researching anything. If I’m feeling it, I want to get the idea recorded / produced as soon as possible.

Sometimes I end up wanting to go in a totally different direction than what I started with, and when that happens, I just make an alternate copy of the project and change things up in that copy. Just in case I end up wanting to go in the original direction.

That happened with "Night Light" - I started in one direction and ended up in another.

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?

Lighting is a huge one for me. In my studio, I have string lights and fairy lights all over. It just sets the chill mood for me. Sometimes I’ll have candles lit too which adds to that relaxed vibe. Food / scents / exercise don’t contribute much to my mindset, although I do love a good coffee while producing in the morning.

I don’t read poetry as much as I used to, but occasionally I’ll get inspired by reading something … even if it’s just a quote. I usually keep the studio pretty clean because clutter is distracting to me, so sometimes I’ll tidy up before I sit down to work. But mostly, I like to get the lights just right and dive right in.

What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?

I always start with chords. I usually play around with a pad or a piano VST and figure out the chord progression with one of those. Occasionally I’ll sit at my electric piano and find the chords there. Once they’re down, I’ll either go for the drums or some sort of lead or atmospheric melody.

"A Break in Continuity" started out as those four chords that play throughout the track. I think I kept the original pad I experimented with, too. I added some of those atmospheric elements next, and then added the drums to tie it together.

With lyrics/vocals, those come less easy to me. I really have to listen to the track on repeat and get immersed in it to even start writing vocals.

When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?

My lyrics typically grow together with the music. I used to write lyrics in my free time and then try to add them into my productions later on, but it’s much easier for me to get inspired by the production itself and to write over the instrumental. Sometimes I’ll start a track with the lyrical theme in mind, and sometimes I won’t even know whether or not I want lyrics on the track until much later on in the process.

One example where I knew there were going to be lyrics from the beginning was "If I Could". I didn’t quite know exactly what they were going to be about, but I knew the general emotion I wanted them to have.

Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?

Once I’ve laid the initial chords down, I start building on top of them with experimental melodies.

I’ll usually have a 4 or 8 bar section on loop where I just sort of mess around with my midi keyboard and different VSTs. At some point I’ll take a break from the melodies and try to play around with drum patterns. I often tend to build out the drop or pre-drop build up first, and then kind of work backwards from there. That way, I can work around those, which is when the structure starts becoming clear to me - do I want to do a verse / chorus / verse / chorus kind of thing, do I want the track to gradually build to a point and then mellow out after that point, etc.

With "Diamond Eyes", after working on the drop, I worked a lot on the toms and the atmospheric pads in the build up. This is pretty much when I knew I wanted it to be the kind of song that builds all the way up, and then releases at the very end. It’s different for every song, but I always have a better idea of what work is left once I get the main part of the track going.

Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?

When I collaborate with other writers and producers, there are definitely aspects that I have less control over, but I kind of love that. I think there are so much new sounds & stories to be explored when someone takes a part of a song in a slightly different direction than you expected.

And when I’m writing alone, sometimes I’ll start in one direction and end up in another - but I’m always up for just going with the flow. Sometimes it will end up worth it, and sometimes it won’t. But I enjoy the process.

Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
This definitely happens to me. Sometimes I’ll start a song with a certain direction in mind - and will take it far in that direction - and then realize there’s opportunity for me to deconstruct it and rebuild it in a more interesting way. I’ll often save copies of my projects at certain points so that I can always go back and reference the way they were. Every now and then, if the direction is super different, I’ll open up a new project and record it there.

"To The Moon" originated as something I was building around these old demo vocals I had, but pretty soon into its production I realized it had a lot of potential to be an instrumental and didn’t need vocals.

There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?

There’s not really any element of spirituality for me, but I do think my best work comes to fruition when I’m in the right mindset / environment. I work in my studio all day, whether working on music or emails or anything, so it’s become a safe haven and comfort zone for me. I feel most creative there, especially when I’ve got the string lights on at night. Sometimes I’ll also listen to other music to get inspiration and to get me into that creative state.

Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?

For me, this kind of depends on whether or not it’s a track that I’ve picked back up after letting it sit for a bit. When I pick tracks back up to finish them, it’s not too difficult for me to figure out what’s missing and what can be polished. I’ll typically break what needs to be done up into sections. However, if it’s a track that I start and finish relatively quickly without any pause, that’s when I kind of get more obsessive over the details and have more trouble committing to the finished track.

I think eventually what happens is I get it to the point where it’s mix-ready, and then I’ll listen through a few times to see if any last minute ideas come to me, otherwise I’ll just make sure the mix is good and send it off for mastering.

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?

I’ll usually give myself the next day to listen again and make any changes. I don’t feel like I need to wait much longer than that. I’ll always give the track a listen on things like my phone speaker, my studio headphones, apple earbuds, etc. Occasionally I’ll notice minor things to EQ when listening on something other than my monitors.

There’s a tom drum in "This Is My Goodbye" that sounded perfect on my monitors and even on my studio headphones, but on apple earbuds it poked out way too much so I had to go back and EQ it a bit until I found a happy medium where it sounded fine on all three.

What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?

I do all of my own production and mixing, which gives me so much creative freedom when I create a song. However, mastering is something I never quite learned how to do professionally. I’ve found that the more mixing I do as I’m producing, the more it helps me out in the long run. I’m not always great at doing so, and I sometimes end up doing most of the mixing in the end, but for example if I record a sound and know it’s not sitting right, I’ll try to fix it right away.

I think a lot of choices that are made in production and mixing (I’m sure mastering too) come down to the person who’s working on the track. There’s a million new avenues to be explored in every track, and sometimes doing things in unconventional ways makes the most awesome and unexpected soundscapes. I think that’s what makes production and mixing, for me, so important in the creative process.

After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?

I think I used to feel that, but not so much anymore. I love the lead up to the release, because I know it’s something I’ve worked so hard on and have held so close to my own heart for so long, and I can’t wait for it to see the light of day. After it’s released, I think I just learned to be super grateful for everyone and anyone who listens, and some people reach out saying the kindest things. It really fills that void that’s just opened by releasing a track into the world.

I get inspiration from knowing I’ve put a piece of me into a song and shared it publicly, and it really just makes me want to return to that state of creativity and do it all over again.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

It’s definitely different for me. There are things in life that are so enjoyable (ie. making a great cup of coffee) and can make you feel so good and even accomplished, but for me at least, there is nothing like translating an emotion into a sound.

Making music is like journaling or keeping a diary for me. When I’m writing / producing and something sounds just the way I’m feeling it, there’s nothing more cathartic. When I make a song, it feels like I’ve written a whole story, and that story gets shared with people who hopefully feel it resonates with them. That’s a unique feeling.