San Francisco-based Maryam Qudus, better known as DOE EYE, has been making quite a splash in the music industry in the past two years. It all started with a four-song demo she recorded before she started her first semester at the Berklee College of Music. One of the album’s tracks, the first she ever recorded, “I Hate You,” was picked up and showcased on Live 105, one of SF’s most prominent radio stations. Shortly after, Fuse TV and Alternative Press took notice…and then Billboard. Last September she released her sophomore EP, Hotel Fire, recorded by big-time songwriter and producer John Vanderslice… who recently spent a significant amount of time with DOE EYE, recording her debut LP, which is looking at an early 2014 release date. Despite all of these accomplishments, Ms. Qudus still seems quite down-to-Earth, and happy to indulge in the simple pleasures of Western life. When we chatted yesterday, she confessed, “Right now I’m just at home, hanging out. I was out running errands all day, preparing for tour, but I’m currently drinking a smoothie in my pajamas.”
I’m quick to ask Maryam about the highlights of her relatively short career, to which she replies, “I feel like it’s been one, big highlight, these past two years. The first song I ever recorded and released got picked up by a major radio station and then I was getting a lot of write-ups on blogs and then things like Billboard and MTV followed. It’s just been so busy.” However, when it comes to her first full-length, she’s a bit less sure of how to characterize it: “I think I’m still figuring out what the record has become, because we just finished recording it. It first started as an EP, but then I was like, ‘I don’t wanna do another EP. I wanna do a full record.’ It forced me to write for a really long time, like six or seven months straight of writing and recording.”
I’m hesitant to characterize DOE EYE as, “blue-eyed soul,” as it seems far grittier and less restrictive than such a title would imply. “Indie pop” also doesn’t quite work, because it’s not nearly that glossy and potentially superficially “fun.” Maryam Qudus has all of the soul of the passionately disenfranchised outsider, but also the quirk that can get the average youth to ponder their own existence… even if for just the length of a pop song. I’m not really sure where Ms. Qudus fits into the realm of music, but that might, perhaps, be the most admirable and beneficial thing about her aesthetic.
As far as inspiration goes, Maryam tells me that she’s inspired by classic pop artists, like Frank Sinatra, but that there are also a lot of recent artists that have influenced her: “I love a lot of contemporary artists, like St. Vincent, The Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips, James Blake. Those are just a few off the top of my head, but I’m inspired by them because they seem to be doing something really special.” She also tells me that she’s very into the arts and music scene of San Francisco: “San Francisco has a great scene. I’m really proud to be from here because there are just so many great artists and there’s just so much support.” When I ask her if she has any particular favorite local peers, she tells me that her producer is someone that she’s a big fan of, but she also quite likes artists who aren’t quite at his level of fame: “I really love John Vanderslice. He’s an amazing artist, but on a slightly smaller scale, there’s people like k.flay – she’s a good friend and just really amazing.”
Maryam has admirably high goals when it comes to expanding on her relatively brief career. I ask her about her fashion sense, which is quite impressive, and she tells me, “As an artist, I would also like to be a fashion icon, as well. Onstage, I try to be more bold with my fashion statements. I really love people like Karen O, who clearly doesn’t give a fuck about what she looks like and how she’s perceived, and she’s recently been wearing this amazing Elvis-inspired suit…” But, as far as her everyday fashion is concerned, Maryam tells me that it’s a little more haphazard than one might expect: “My fashion inspiration changes depending on how I’m feeling. I’m really inspired by 1940s and 1950s fashion and I’ll have two or three months when I’m feeling really girly and I’ll just wear dresses every day, but then I’ll have two or three months when I’m feeling really boyish and I’ll just wear jeans and combat boots and shirts.”
DOE EYE is about to embark on a handful of live dates (that bring her out to as far as Ohio and North Carolina), starting with a September 22nd stop at San Francisco’s Brick & Mortar Music Hall, for which she’ll be performing a set of her own material, in addition to her take on The Arcade Fire’s Funeral. She tells me that, “Every show is kind of different,” and while local shows might include a larger band, including strings, that for the further-away dates we can expect her constant band at their best: “It’s just the four of us. And we’ll be bringing the energy up… then bringing it down… then bringing it up… I think it’s a really cool experience.” Although DOE EYE currently has no dates planned near the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, there’s a good chance we’ll get to see her in the near future. I ask her about what she has planned for 2014 and she laughs and tells me, “I can’t really think past the release of the album, at this point, but I see the next year as being a lot of touring and playing shows and writing the next record.”
… Finally, I decide to ask Maryam about her musical moniker… something I’ve debated questioning her on, as my guess is that it’s something as simplistic and spur-of-the-moment as one would guess… However, although simplistic, her response strikes me as far more profound than I could have hoped for: “It’s a nickname a friend gave me before I ever started this music thing… But, since then, it’s seemed quite appropriate… It has to do with just vulnerability and innocence when it comes to the music.”