The title of Maple Glider’s debut album, ‘To Enjoy Is The Only Thing’, exudes both a sense of elegance and hedonism. But it could have been very different.
“When I was writing the record in Brighton in the UK I took a photo of some graffiti. It said ‘To enjoy is the only thing, BTCH$’,” the singer-songwriter Tori Zietsch (rhymes with peach) recalls gleefully.
“I considered making that the full name. If you buy the vinyl it has the picture I took on the front ‘To Enjoy Is The Only Thing’ …then ‘BTCH$’ on the back. It’s a cheeky joke for people… I like how it adds a lightness to the darker aspects of the songs.”
Indeed: Maple Glider makes achingly potent music about yearning and loss – and the process of making ‘To Enjoy Is The Only Thing’ involved something of a one-woman exorcism through art. Zietsch was reeling from the end of two tumultuous, seismic relationships: the first a religious sect her whole family was in and the second with a backpacking boyfriend who wanted her to get hitched and move to Europe.
The 27-year-old grew up in Lismore, northern New South Wales, ensnared in something she only refers to as The Religion. A post-interview email asking for more detail yields a polite rebuff: “I have been deliberately keeping this info private.”
What we do know is Zietsch felt trapped. She wasn’t allowed to hang out with kids not part of her insular community, and once had to sneak out for a friend’s 16th birthday party. Caught between Jesus and a hard place, music was her salvation.
“Music was the way that I could connect and find something to talk about, unlike ‘What do you do on the weekend? Doorknocking?’” she says, giving the smallest of glimpses into her regimented upbringing.
“Making music was the way out of The Religion. I knew I wouldn’t be able to pursue it if I was a part of this. And I was really fortunate I wasn’t going to get kicked out of my house for leaving.” Zietsch declared she wanted to leave the flock when she was 14; about a year later her mother followed suit and emancipated herself too.
At 15, Zietsch played her first show with The Koikids on a punk bill in a skate park. After that band folded, she had a crack at studying music at JMC Academy in Brisbane and hit the open mic scene at the now-defunct venue The Music Kafe in the West End. In 2013, she moved south to Melbourne.
Pre-Maple Glider, Zietsch gigged under her own name then formed a group, Seavera, alongside producer Daniel Pinkerton. That band went kaput too, then Zietsch fell in love with a backpacker. After his travel visa ran out, the two set off overseas. Like all young lovers living in each other’s pockets, it was all going swimmingly, until it suddenly wasn’t.
“We were in India when he asked me to move to Switzerland with him.” He put all his cards on the table, and Zietsch passed. The break-up is documented over trepidatious arrangements on the single ‘Swimming’: “I said I would marry you if I could get a passport too.”
Zietsch then headed to the UK. “I literally Google-searched ‘Places to Live’ and found Brighton and it was by the sea, oooh, it had lots of gigs on and a music scene. I just went for it.”
On the south coast of England, Zietsch discovered one thing about her environment and one thing about herself: it was fucking cold, and stillness was the move. Zietsch worked making coffee and toasted sandwiches during the day, and at night she wrote, nay, purged songs in her cosy bedroom.
She had a lot to get off her chest: the two situations she’d escaped demanded creative release. Album opener ‘As Tradition’ addresses her Biblical bind: “Bible study earned me the right / To be alone in my own defence.”
More and more songs came, filling her SoundCloud with demos. Local label Pieater – who’d been watching since Seavera won their first-ever recording competition – were listening. “Her music agreed with us from the beginning,” says Tom Iansek of Big Scary, the band that put Pieater on the map. “Tori’s songs have an intimacy and a raw power, she lays it all on the line.”
“Making music was the way out of The Religion. I knew I wouldn’t be able to pursue it if I was a part of this”
In 2019, Zietsch returned to Melbourne to piece her life back together. She hadn’t played live for ages. “I was at a [musician] friend’s house with a small group of people, most of whom I had met that night. She played a song, then I played ‘Mama It’s Christmas’. It was a very new song at that point, and I was incredibly nervous … but it really inspired me to start sharing music again.”
That little spark gave her the confidence to book her first show as Maple Glider at The Retreat Hotel frontbar in Brunswick. The name was a play on the sugar glider. “They’re the coolest,” Zietsch said of the possum to Frankie Mag. “Watching them glide through the air is majestic; it’s everything I want to feel and more.”
Maple Glider began to gain traction. “I was on really nice lineups with a heap of musicians and songwriters that I hadn’t met before,” she says, laughing bashfully. “And then lockdown happened.”
Zietsch had hoped to record her debut album, but figured those plans were scuttled when COVID-19 brought everything to a stand-still. “My housemates and I danced in the kitchen to Diana Ross four nights a week. The best part was playing Bananagrams.” She also went for bush walks with a new boyfriend, picked blackberries and “got super into gardening”.
Then, an encouraging phone call from Iansek, who suggested they could record at his Bellbird Studios in Collingwood while the rest of the world babied their sourdough starters and refined the art of doom-scrolling.
In the studio, the two drank lots of herbal tea as they worked out what each song needed. Zietsch played guitar and some keys, Iansek did the lion’s share on electric guitar, bass and piano plus some backing vocals, while Jim Rindfleish from Mildlife drummed judiciously on four of the nine tracks.
“Tori was very open to my suggestions,” Iansek recalls. “Sometimes you just need to jump in and start dressing the song up in different ways until its identity begins to reveal itself.” Zietsch – who has a stick-and-poke tattoo on the inside of her left arm that says “FANG IT” – clearly isn’t afraid to try new things.
‘Mama It’s Christmas’ ended up being the final song on ‘To Enjoy’. The song’s finger-plucked guitar takes turns with her Sufjan Stevens-esque confessionals. “Is it drugs or religion keeping you here? It’s already getting to that time of the year.” On ‘Be Mean’, Zietsch “pretty much tear[s] out my entire heart”, she says, grabbing her chest with both hands. The delayed-vocal treatment and pin-drop drama, though, give the torch song a sense of triumph.
They say a debut album is a lifetime in the making. ‘To Enjoy’ vaults Maple Glider straight into the pantheon of beguiling modern indie folk/rock acts with Julia Jacklin – whom Zietsch supported in Adelaide to a crowd of 500, her biggest yet – Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker and Aldous Harding.
The ‘To Enjoy’ song ‘Be Mean, It’s Kinder Than Crying’, NME suggests, has the most devastating song title since her contemporary Harding released ‘What If Birds Aren’t Singing They’re Screaming.’
“Those titles are pretty intense,” Zietsch says, adding a faux apology then convulsing with laughter. “There aren’t many bangers on the album, you just have to sit there with your thoughts.”
Zietsch worked through her own whirling thoughts to record ‘To Enjoy Is The Only Thing’ over a year ago – and releasing it has not been without emotional incident.
“I’m a frequent crier,” she confesses. “I fucking let it rip. Last week I was just having a really emotional time, coming out of lockdown again was so intense. Getting outside was a real struggle. Also, just the build-up of getting ready for releasing an album I made, like, a year ago.”
Still, that album has netted Maple Glider a new international following – as well as a headline tour and an imminent American television debut.
It’s time to watch Tori Zietsch glide, BTCH$.
Maple Glider’s ‘To Enjoy Is The Only Thing’ out now on Pieater and Partisan Records