Porches bassist Maya Laner makes her own chill alt synth pop as True Blue

By day, Maya Laner plays bass in Aaron Maine’s wildly popular synth-pop band Porches. By night, she writes and records music of her own, under the moniker True Blue. And while it doesn’t exactly break down that cleanly—she usually plays Porches sets at night, and often records music during the day, or whenever she has the time, you get the idea. Her work for Porches and True Blue are totally separate: “It’s almost like you have yourself, and then you just open up a pocket over here and pour a little of whatever you want into it, and then it’s something else,” she says.

The origin of the name True Blue are unclear, but it has something to do with the visual symmetry of the two words, and how they sound a bit like a spell. Laner’s music is incantatory. The five songs on her debut EP, Edge Of, which she self-released this February, call to mind furtive love (from “Bad Behavior”: “I caught myself holding your hand/Under the table”) and magical spells (from “Edge Of”: “I want to know that you still care/Under your pillow/A lock of my hair.”) In some ways, it makes sense that Laner plays with Porches: her own sound is similarly danceable, and synth-heavy. But her lyrics are deeply personal; confessional even. It’s almost as if you can tell she writes and records them in a closet whose walls she lined with satin fabric. (Which she does.)

We spoke this month in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the 23-year-old is based. She had recently returned following a tour with Porches, and would be heading out with them again the following week, to Europe.

MATT MULLEN: Did you always have the sense you wanted to make music?

MAYA LANER: Pretty much. I had a creative upbringing. My mom was a dancer, and my dad was into music, and played a lot of instruments. I grew up in Oakland, California. When I was really young my family started going to this hippy-dippy performing arts family camp called Cazadero. We went every summer, until I was in my teens, and it was literally hordes of Bay Area families doing wacky rock band classes, and weird dancing and arts and crafts classes. I was always in the rock band with, like, 16 other guitarists.

MULLEN: What happened after high school?

LANER: I moved out to the East Coast for college. I did two years at Bennington College, this kind of cult-y school. There are no rules there, nobody gets in trouble for anything. And there’s a lot of super wealthy students, so it’s basically chaos. I liked it in some ways, but I was lucky that I had the opportunity to drop out.

MULLEN: What was that opportunity?

LANER: Joining Porches.

MULLEN: How did that happen?

LANER: When I first got to school, I would do shows where I would play guitar and sing. It always felt wrong to me because I wanted to be doing something different but I didn’t know what that was yet. My group of friends was all obsessed with Porches and Frankie Cosmos, and so I became really into both of them, too, especially Frankie. And then one day in the cafeteria, my friend was like, “Guess what, I Facebook messaged Greta [Kline], and she’s going to come play at Bennington, and I want you to open the show!” So I opened for her, and we hit it off. We kept in touch, and randomly one weekend I went and stayed on her and Aaron’s couch and walked around the city by myself. Eventually Aaron asked me to join the band.

MULLEN: How nervous were you?

LANER: I was so nervous. I had never played bass before. But mostly it was exciting, because it was also a really exciting time for them. They had just signed to Domino.

MULLEN: How did True Blue come about?

LANER: True Blue technically began a long time ago, sometime in college. I started making really spacey, stoner-y, synth-y songs to beats off a friend’s Casio. That’s when I had the realization that I was interested in beat-driven music. I didn’t really know how use any recording software, I was just using GarageBand, doing whatever. And then, after making a bunch of songs like that, my younger brother—he wants to be a music producer—was like, “Let’s get this going.” He helped me get Ableton, and I started learning how to produce in Ableton, and make my own beats.

MULLEN: Where did the name come from?

LANER: True Blue? I forget, I think I thought of it while I was babysitting. For some reason, I’m obsessed with things rhyming, so I like how, because they’re mirrored, they kind of mean nothing.

MULLEN: Like they cancel each other out?

LANER: Yeah, sort of. Their visual similarity turns them into something other than the meaning of the two words together. Does that make any sense?

MULLEN: It makes me think of some of your lyrics. There is this enchanted, spell-like language: a lock of hair, a ring of gold, mirrors. Was that at all in something you were thinking about making the EP?

LANER: I think a lot about spells. The lock of hair thing is definitely related to spells. I just don’t want anything to sound whimsical. That’s my worst nightmare.

MULLEN: Is it?

LANER: Sort of, I feel like it’s so easy to get pigeonholed into that zone by yourself and by others. But I do feel like I’m a very witchy person, a very empathic person. I feel other people very strongly, which I think is important to my music because a lot of the time, it’s like, not about anything specific, it’s a distillation of a feeling or an atmosphere. A psychic once told me I’m a baby witch, which is a really funny thing to say, but I sort of believe it.

MULLEN: So how does this inform your music? Or your writing?

LANER: The way I wrote this EP is I kind of went crazy. Not like a trance, per say, but to write music I have to get into a zone, and I have to be completely alone. I have this little basement studio in my apartment that I use to write and record. It used to be a closet, and I put satin on the walls. There’s a lot of potential to make things sound better in the mixing process, so I don’t really worry about the details of production too much, I worry more about the substance.

MULLEN: How has the reaction to the EP been?

LANER: I finished it in July of 2017. I was like, “Now what the fuck do I do with this thing?” I put a lot of myself into it, and also financially. So at first I was like, “Well, I have some industry connections now from the Porches, maybe there’s an opportunity for a label to put it out.” But I spent too long sitting on it. Then I was on tour, and I told my manager, who is also the Porches manager, “I just want to put it out, fuck everything.” So, it just came out while I was on tour. I feel like people have been really liking it, which feels good because I have some confidence issues, so it’s good to have a little fan on the flames.

MULLEN: There’s a lot of vulnerability in putting out your own stuff.

LANER: So much. It’s crazy.

MULLEN: Is that why it’s not in your own name?

LANER: I’ve never thought about it like that, actually. That’s never been the main reason, but could be part of it. True Blue is not fully attached to me and my person. It’s another entity. It always has to be me, because it has my soul in it, and comes from me, and I want to take ownership and responsibility for it, but it’s almost like you have yourself, and then you just open up a pocket over here and you pour a little of whatever you want into it, and then it’s something else. Not different characters, but different parts of the self, and it can sometimes help to give those parts of self different names.

MULLEN: Have you been writing anything new?

LANER: Yes! It’s going well. I have some songs that are pretty finished, and I’m really excited about them. I’m starting to think about how I want to move forward. I would really like to stay away from labels and the music industry for as long as possible, because I feel like the second that happens, you have to make compromises, and I want to get as far as I can before I have to make compromises. I want people to be coming to me for the right reasons. In my brain, I’m just going try to execute my vision for as long as I can, and then hopefully I’ll find a label who will let me do exactly what I want.