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Pulling Teeth: An Interview With Mae Krell

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

Mae Krell has been having an incredible year. After releasing an acclaimed 4-track EP in early 2022, the singer-songwriter is back with the single “tooth fairy.” The song, like so many others by Krell, feels like a healthy dose of catharsis for anyone struggling with old wounds. In the midst of her North American tour with SoFar Sounds, Mae and I sat down to discuss the new single, her evolving musical education, and her favorite influences.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Lyvie Scott: So how does it feel to have the single out?

Mae Krell: Good. [Laughs] Great! It was originally written for an EP that came out in February so it feels like, almost kind of overdue in a way for it to be out already. And it’s nice to know that the full story is almost there. There’s still one more B-side of the EP that will come out before the end of the year. But the full story of the record from February is almost out there. So it’s just one more step towards feeling that way, which is good.

LS: What made you make the decision to break “tooth fairy” away from the EP?

MK: It wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision. I think that when we were finalizing the EP, "tooth fairy" and then the other B-side, neither of them felt like they were 100% there yet, and the EP felt cohesive on its own, like those 4 tracks kind of — we felt like they sat really well. I honestly was not planning on putting either of them out originally. They were just over somewhere, like in the depths of files. And when I was starting to plan future stuff, my friend who produces my music reached out and was like, “I don’t know if you remember these two songs, but I think if we redid them they could be really cool.” And so then we went in and we re-recorded the vocals and redid the production and then decided to put them out as their own B-side for the EP, and I think that will make them feel complete with them being out now.

LS: I find it so interesting that you mention being okay with songs sitting on your hard drive because I was gonna ask: I know with art sometimes it just feels good like, having been done, you know?

MK: Yeah.

LS: Is that always the case when you rework a song and you feel okay with it, are you like “Okay, I’m ready”? Or are some of your songs like therapy, and you’re like “I’m gonna keep this”?

MK: Yeah. That’s a really good question. I feel like the processing and the… what’s the word I’m looking for… closure! The processing and the closure, a lot of the time it comes from writing it… And then I almost loop back to feeling that way when we’re recording the vocals specifically. I feel like I get really into the situation with recording vocals again and then it disconnects again almost. So I don’t know if I necessarily feel like I need to hold music to myself once it’s done. But there’s a lot of like, half-written things that are still very raw even if they’re about older situations, and they’re kind of the things that feel like they are my own thing over here. But once a song is done being written, then it… I think the therapy-like piece that makes it feel too personal to share is kind of over for me. If that makes sense.

LS: No, yeah, that definitely does. [Laughs] I feel like there’s a little dissonance sometimes between what you make just for yourself, and then what you’re like, “This is what I’m sharing with the world.”

MK: Yeah… I like to have some sort of distance from the situation by the time the song releases. And obviously, it’s not always in our control, like some things can come back up and people can pop back into your life but in the sense of the things that I do have control of, I like to have my space before the track is out, because then I can play it and I can talk about it and not feel too “in it.” If that makes sense.

LS: Yeah.

MK: But I think that if I ever get to a point where a song has so much distance that I can’t feel it when I play it, then I don’t know if I’d want to play it anymore. Because that’s part of what makes it special. I haven’t gotten to that point yet, but I think that’s an interesting other side of it to think of too… I think that’s also applicable depending on the genre of music and the things that you choose to write about, because obviously sometimes it doesn’t really matter.

LS: Absolutely. It’s definitely a matter of balance, like with anything.

MK: Yeah, definitely.

LS: So let’s backtrack just a little bit now. Tell us where you grew up, and about your musical influences and all that stuff.

MK: So, I grew up in New York City, in Hell’s Kitchen and Midtown, like New York proper. I didn’t really grow up around the arts in a traditional way. Nobody in my family or my extended family really does anything with arts or music or anything. My mom is super creative, so there was always some artistic chaos going on in the house in just like a mom way, but I didn’t really think about wanting to write or play music until I was like 14 or 15. And I didn’t really properly play any instruments growing up either, so it’s all kind of newer in that sense. I’m not like someone who popped out of the womb playing the piano. I don’t play piano, but I feel like when I envision that person, for some reason they play piano.

But yeah, and I grew up with just a mix of music in the house. My mom like — this is such a random, very hyper-specific thing, but the soundtrack to the movie Garden State was always playing. I don’t know why she had a CD of the soundtrack for Garden State specifically, but it was always playing in the kitchen, and The Shins are on that soundtrack… it’s like a lot of that type of lighthearted indie-folk/indie-rock music, but lyrically isn’t necessarily super lighthearted but you wouldn’t know. And that whole soundtrack is like that. There’s some early Coldplay on there, too. But my childhood is soundtracked by the Garden State soundtrack. Like it was always on in the house. And then my dad… he really liked The Who, and Nirvana, and more punk-influenced stuff — and then there’s just some classics that they both love, like Louis Armstrong and you know, just classic, great musicians. But I feel like it was… that was kind of the extent of music in the house.

I feel like I’m still getting a musical education a lot of the time? My producer [Jakob Leventhal] grew up in a very musical family and there’s so many records that shaped him as a person that I never really heard. And they’re all just like super basic stuff that a lot of people grew up listening to, so I feel like my influences and history with music is kind of still moving in that sense. But I tend to like... classic music that is objectively good, you know — like you can dislike it… you can dislike Coldplay but you can’t say that their early albums aren’t just objectively good, you know? You can be like, “Chris Martin’s annoying,” but you can’t say that the early records aren’t great! I have no shade to Chris Martin, I think he’s cool, but—

LS: I know what you mean, though!

MK: People will try, but I’m like “No, just take your step back.” It’s okay, like it’s okay to say that Ed Sheeran’s first album is really good.

LS: Like you don’t have to say you like them, but you can admit that it’s pleasing to your ears.

MK: Exactly, yeah. So I feel like I always loop back to music like that. And then there’s like, when I find myself hyperfixating on an album or a song or an artist — usually because of their lyrics and their songwriting rather than anything else — I find that the people that I’ll be obsessed with and listen to on repeat at any given moment have no genre consistency at all. Which is interesting.

Art by Maddy Sutka featuring photos by Alex Lyon

LS: What have you been listening to lately?

MK: I have been… I’ve always loved Mac Miller for years but like, specifically for some reason have looped back to listening to his stuff in the past couple weeks moreso. I don’t know why it’s hitting harder than usual, probably around the anniversary of his death, but I’ve listened to a lot of Mac. I love Ethel Cain; I’ve been listening to her stuff for a while. Her full-length album she put out kind of recently is amazing, but the “Inbred” EP is ridiculous. I’m obsessed with it. Jack Kays is cool, I really like his stuff. He just put out two singles recently that lean more acoustic than his usual, because he was kind of doing more like folk-punk for a little bit.

I’m like thinking off the top of my head what like — I listen to too many podcasts because I drive so much. My brain is just full of podcasts. I really like Tommy Lefroy lyrically, the EP they put out, the “Flight Risk” EP is really good from last year… and Charlie Hickey’s album is so good. I think that’s my consistency that I’ve kind of been sitting in for a minute, and it’s mostly the lyrics. You’ll just be listening to a song and something just punches you in the stomach and you’re like “holy shit.” [Laughs]

LS: I like what you said about podcasts because I know that for a lot of artists, inspiration can come from literally anywhere. Are there any other disciplines like film or fine art that you take inspo from?

MK: I haven’t really written much for myself that hasn’t been just based on experiences that I’ve had or been around. But I… this is like, so embarrassing. My Instagram feed, you know how you go through the people you follow and then you get recommended or whatever? I get to that super easily because I have my like, music account, and I keep it very clean so I can just log out of it and forget that it exists and go onto my personal account where I follow all of these meme pages and everyone else. But all my recommended on my main page are either backpacking and camping videos, or it’s like those quotes with Tumblr aesthetic photos, which is so embarrassing! But once in a while, there will be one that comes up that’s like, “Oh wait, that’s really cool” and I screenshot it just as a thought. And there’s one I’ve had in my phone for a while that I’ve had kind of… like it reminded me of a concept I’ve been meaning to write off of, if that makes sense. So I guess Instagram photos. [Laughs] I’m not particularly… I mean, I love being outdoors and in nature, but that’s not like a form of media. That’s just like, a place.

LS: But it is inspiring! I don’t know what it is about being amongst the trees and the grass… touching grass, that is just so mind-clearing.

MK: Sometimes I’ll just drive. I’ll be driving through an area or something and I don’t necessarily know exactly where I’m going… and there’ll just be some huge mountain or something crazy that’s just so beautiful but huge, and I think for me it’s just realizing that everything is so big, you know? I was at Great Sand Dunes a couple days ago and I remember — that’s in Southern Colorado — and we were just walking towards where you get up onto the dunes, and I just looked over and I saw what looked like little specks, but it was people. It was people on the sand dunes! They’re so huge that you don’t even realize. And I was like “Holy shit!” There’s something about it that’s very grounding, and I think that’s specifically what I like about being outside. It’s just like, everything is so large and beautiful and that’s so not what I think we’re used to in our day-to-day life, especially with growing up and being in New York City for most of my life. Very different. It’s pretty in a different way.

LS: Yeah. It helps you get out of your head, too.

MK: For sure.

LS: Like the majesty of everything you’re looking at. You’re like “God, I’m so small.”

MK: Yeah, I love that. That’s super helpful for me when I’m struggling with different things. Not in an invalidating way. I just find it super helpful to just be like, “Wait, this doesn’t matter at all.”

LS: Yes! I know sometimes people are like “Oh, don’t say it doesn’t matter because it matters to me” but it’s good sometimes to just be like, “It doesn’t matter.” In a positive way.

MK: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. One of my friends always jokes and says it’s healthy gaslighting.

LS: [Laughs]

MK: It’s the same energy.

LS: That’s so true. I feel like gaslighting is okay sometimes. If you do it to yourself in like… when you would otherwise be ruining yourself, I think it’s okay.

MK: I agree.

LS: As a treat.

MK: Exactly, exactly.

LS: I feel like you’ve got to be incredibly in tune with yourself and your emotions in order to write and put out what you do.

MK: [Laughs] A little bit too much sometimes. Yeah, I feel like grounding is the biggest thing for me, because I have so many feelings and they’re so overwhelming and so large, when they’re there, they’re insane. We were just talking about gaslighting, but sometimes having the awareness that I’m being irrational — that’s been a huge thing for me in my personal life, because I do have irrational, emotional reactions. I just do. And sometimes just being aware that it’s irrational is super helpful, and I think that a lot of times, sitting with it and writing or whatever… the more I write stuff out the more I realize that it’s like, it’s gonna be fine. I’m extremely different depending on when you catch me in that mindset, because of the extreme emotions, but in the grand scheme of things I usually am very much like, “Well, it is what it is. I did what I could, I’m doing what I can and if something’s supposed to happen or not happen then it will or it won’t and I can’t control everything so it’s like, whatever.”

LS: I’m the same way.

MK: Yeah. But then sometimes I do not feel that way. But that’s my general like — when I’m doing good, that's my spot.

LS: When all is well I’m like, “It is what it is.”

MK: Yeah, exactly. And sometimes like, I’m angrily saying that to myself.

LS: I know there’s probably no cut-and-dry formula to your songwriting process, but is there a way or a method, or do you kind of just play it by ear every time?

MK: I would say every song that I write I can pinpoint the lyric that it was written around. So there’s always like, a singular lyric or line or idea or something that existed before the song did. It usually exists for a long time before the song does, it just sits there. Like the two lines in “tooth fairy” — “Every word felt like pulling teeth, but I’m no tooth fairy” were probably in my phone notes and photos for multiple years… it was in texts, I think. Back and forth actually. And I had the screenshot of it, because I was like “I’ll use this one day.”

LS: That’s so cool.

MK: That’s the one explicit consistency across the board. There’s always one lyric that is the build of the track. And it’s not necessarily the title a lot of the time or even like a chorus line. Some of them are just like a random line in the verse, but the whole song is always written around something. I used to write lyrics before melody and instrument —- now I don’t necessarily always do that. I think I used to have more of a consistency, and as time has gone on, pretty much everything has altered in one way or another, other than the fact that there is always a pinpoint lyric. Like I can go through every song I have, and I can tell you which one it was ‘cause I remember the song being written around it.

LS: I feel like that’s… I’m not a songwriter, but when I make my art I can tell too, it’s like a weird gauge for my headspace at the time I was writing it.

MK: Yeah. I feel like looking at old journals is a really good way of seeing. It puts you back into where you were at. I’ll see stuff I wrote at 14 and I’m like “Oh my god.” It’s like parts of you are there.

LS: Absolutely. Like instantly most of the time it’s sucking you back into that moment.

MK: Yeah, exactly. And a lot of time I’ll take lines that I had written a while ago, I’ll try to get into that mindset when writing it. With “tooth fairy,” the line for “tooth fairy” existed a long time ago, but the situation it’s about got brought up when I wrote it. So it was one of those things where the person indirectly reappeared in my life and so then I wrote the song about it because of that. But I don’t know if it would have necessarily come out of hiding if that situation hadn’t happened.

LS: Yeah. It might have been there for years more.

MK: I’m sure there’s so much stuff sitting. My phone notes are like an endless pit of chaos and lists that I never finish and then forget about and then make new to-do lists with the same things on them.

LS: Oh, that’s gotta be everybody’s notes app. Because mine is a mess. Every time I try to organize it I’m like, “I’m just gonna leave it because I can’t. I can’t make sense of it.”

MK: There was this one time I was at a friend’s show and my friend who produces my music also produces her music, and I had gotten hit with some intense emotion and was standing towards the back of the room, writing in my phone notes, and I looked from across the room and he was like “What are you writing?” And I was like “How did you know I’m writing?” and he was like “I saw yellow, I know the iPhone notes app” — from across the room!

LS: That’s so funny. Well at least you guys are in sync, you know?

MK: It’s so funny.

Art by Maddy Sutka featuring photos by Alex Lyon

LS: I always like to ask people this: What to you is the definition of a perfect album? Like an unskippable, and you don’t have to give me just one; if you have more than one, that’s fine too.

MK: Ugh. That’s so difficult, um. I feel like it’s… I feel like it changes because depending on where I’m at… I don’t know. Wait, I have a playlist of the best albums, wait. One moment please. [Laughs] Garden State soundtrack! That’s like half a joke but… Super, super basic but Three by The Lumineers, I really, really love. I think the topics of it hit really hard. Oso Oso’s record — I think it’s called Basking in the Glow — but that album I go back to every once in a while… I like Circles and Swimming by Mac Miller. If I listen, I will not be skipping any songs on it. Especially Circles; there’s some songs on there that are just like, so ridiculous. I feel like those are my recent, slightly more recent releases.

The 1975’s debut album is so good. If I’m in a mood, you know, for that record I won’t skip anything. And there are albums that even if I am in the mood, there are still songs that I’ll skip, right? But I feel like, depending on the place that I’m in, there are certain albums that, if I’m listening to them, I’m just listening to them, and that’s also all I’m gonna listen to for a minute. I grew up listening to a lot of Santana too, so I won’t skip anything on a Santana record… any time I listen to anything by him I’m like, “how does he play the guitar like that? Holy shit.” And I love Taylor Swift, so anything by Taylor Swift.

LS: Isn’t she coming out with a new…?


LS: …A new album, right?

MK: Yeah, she is!

LS: [Laughs] You were like, “YES!”

MK: I’m excited about it. It seems like from what I’ve seen, she’s gonna do another whole record thing with the making of background too, which is what she did for Folklore and Evermore, which I really like. Because I love The National, and Aaron Dessner and his brother are both ridiculously talented — so getting to see the way that they work, like the way that they did with Folklore with The Long Pond Sessions, was really cool. I think of hers, Folklore is probably the closest to a no-skip album… that’s such an unpopular opinion because I feel like every person who loves Taylor Swift says that Red is her best album, and I like Red, there’s just a — but also, did you hear the vault track with Phoebe Bridgers off of Red?

LS: I don’t think I did.

MK: It’s so good. It’s called “Nothing New.” She wrote it during the timeline when she was writing Red, but with Phoebe featured on it for the re-release. That song is a no-skip album.

I feel like the biggest thing is just… any album that is sonically good, right? And has something to say, and has a consistency across all the tracks, depending on my mood, would be a no-skip album. So there’s a lot of that. But there has to be a consistency whether that’s the lyrics or the production. Like, the way that The 1975’s, I think it was their sophomore album, I Like It When You Sleep, the production literally went into each other for each song. That’s enough of a consistency in my brain, it doesn’t have to be lyrical. But some kind of consistency, the person having something to say, and it sounding decent. [Laughs] But very general and like, widespread. But that’s me.

LS: What do you hope that fans or even newbies listening to “tooth fairy” for the first time, do you hope they get anything in particular out of that experience?

MK: My biggest consistency is just wanting people to feel a little bit less alone if I can. So whatever experience they can relate to, I feel like that applies to every release or track that I put out, is the hope that they feel heard or seen or less alone or something they might have not felt a couple minutes before, and I think that applies with “tooth fairy” too. And also just like, knowing that you don’t owe anyone anything, you know? “tooth fairy” is kind of indirectly a little bit of a narrative about second chances, and third and fourth and however many, and you don’t have to know if you would give someone a second chance even if the opportunity comes. I don’t know, I still don’t. You know? I haven’t decided, and that’s also fine. And I’m also telling myself that at the same time.

Be sure to check out Mae’s new single “tooth fairy,” now out on all platforms. You can also keep up with Mae via the links below:

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