- - What was your involvement in the Rizzoli book? Have you seen the finished version? What do you think of it?
I wrote the forward to the book and contributed some of the photos and artwork. It’s exactly what I would want from an M.I.A. art book; big color images and full-page prints and a good solid archive of her style.
I think it will hold up very well in future years as a slice of a very particular time in pop culture. It’s a very good insight into how thoroughly MIA gives each album a style backbone and treats the artwork every bit as seriously as the sonics.
- - In your introduction, you made a couple of telling remarks about Maya’s personality — that she’s very decisive, and that working with her can be frustrating. Why do you find that? How so?
Maya works in single sessions of activity and at the end of it you have to have finished what you started. There’s no coming back tomorrow to rethink it, or add final touches, either it works or it doesn’t; if you need three weeks to gently craft and build something, then it’s not right for M.I.A. There’s no single image in the book that would have taken very long to complete, or required a high level of skill.
I think it’s symptomatic of the environment she grew up in as a child. She works as if the computer or the camera might not be there tomorrow. There’s a real sense of urgency to get the idea out there before the opportunity is snatched away from her. She finds it very hard to wait through an album cycle for the ‘big reveal’, it’s a battle to stop her leaking all the songs and artwork on Twitter the moment she finishes each one.
The ‘look’ that she’s running with at any particular time will have a very specific set of ideas behind it - and even though it may seem disposable and throwaway in terms of technique - like screen-grabs, stickers, marker-pen scribbles and webcam captures, there’s a pinpoint precision to the content, the color palette and the style that she wants. She has absolute confidence and never doubts her instincts, which is great to be around.
The reason I say it’s frustrating sometimes, is that she is totally uncompromising in not accepting stuff that has missed the target. My job is to contribute work that fits within a style that Maya has created. I have big folders of reject artwork where my tigers were too cuddly or the palm trees weren’t the right kind of spiky, the gold is the wrong kind of shiny, or my animated-gif was too slick and not tacky enough. It takes a while to tune in to her style manifesto when she starts a new project and time and patience for her to communicate it successfully.
When she works with new people, there is the challenge of getting them to understand how specific the style guidelines are, and that can lead to friction. It can also require from them a real trust and faith in her talent, because she’s not afraid of using ugliness in her work and sometimes people won’t go hard enough and can hold back from giving her what she’s actually asking for, because they think it looks or sounds wrong.
- Maya says that the two of you have opposing work ethics — she’s rash and instinctual, whereas you are more deliberate in your choices. Is that true?
I think our work ethics are complimentary, rather than opposing. I’m good at the stuff she’s bad at, and vice-versa.
I do use techniques that are more laborious and methodical. It’s been good to work with someone where procrastination is totally forbidden, working with Maya has totally changed my approach to making creative work and my productivity.
My school education was all about developing skills and proficiency, so I was taught to sit down at a computer or a piano and spend my years getting better and better at something. Maya had to get by without the time and resources to build skills and craftsmanship; she uses whatever is at her disposal and elevates her work to importance just through sheer creativity, originality and attitude, which is a really liberating way to approach things. She picks up some skills as she goes, but she would never spend time ‘practicing’ something and she often makes finished work having only learnt the barest essentials of some bit of software or technology.
- How has working on the documentary been for you? Has it given you any further insight into Maya’s personality?
No, I’ve been friends with and worked with Maya for about 16 years now, and I filmed a good chunk of the stuff myself. I’ve seen quite a lot of her life, so for me the tapes are more of a reminder than a revelation, but I think it has surprised me how many key events and private moments have been recorded from before she began making music.
She started out as a filmmaker, so the camera has been running for the whole journey.
- - Will the documentary be about her and her career as well as the political issues she’s discussed concerning Sri Lanka?
Don’t know yet, it’s really early days, sorry.
- - Why do you think it is that she’s become such a polarizing force in the culture? It’s odd, in thinking about her career, that she’s so consistently able to provoke extreme reactions from the media — especially in this been-there, done-that era when shock is no longer shocking
Maya breaks rules, and I think people celebrate that and get really excited, until she breaks one of theirs.