Soft birdsong is the first sound to appear on “Wilderness,” the opening track of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Maya de Vitry’s debut solo record, Adaptations. This subtle chorus from nature recalls the secluded Pennsylvania cabin retreat where the former Stray Birds leader camped out to write a good deal of the album, set for release January 25th.
Though the album’s setting is decidedly wild, de Vitry’s songs still grapple with and confront the human condition in the present moment. Drawing on her years with the folk trio the Stray Birds — which disbanded in 2018 — de Vitry’s songwriting balances her intensely personal, microscopic style of storytelling with a straightforward, accessible delivery.
“I kind of give the audience the benefit of the doubt,” she explains. “I think that just because they may not have experienced something that I’m writing about doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to connect to it and relate to it.”
“Anybody’s Friend,” co-written with singer-songwriter Ana Egge and premiering today, was inspired by an eye-opening trip to Cuba. “It was a turning point to observe people who took pride in whatever they were doing,” de Vitry recalls, “because it was helping society to function. The idea that ‘people are worth what they produce or consume’ haunted me when I first heard it, and it still haunts me.” Observing a society that didn’t hinge on unregulated capitalism was consciousness-shifting. The central hook of the song, “Let’s teach our children they’re good enough,” comes bundled with the implication that we have likely failed in that regard.
“I’m interested in alternatives to that [idea],” de Vitry says. “Children, their humanity isn’t based on their achievements or dominance. You don’t have to do anything to be worthy of living. You don’t have to prove your worth. You don’t have to be ‘good enough’ or ‘beautiful enough’ to occupy any space. To breathe.”
Elsewhere on Adaptations, “Go Tell a Bird” contains a similar message within a message, challenging everyone to realign their priorities around love and empathy. “I’m asking people to examine their hierarchies, examine the idea of freedom and the idea of a nation and the idea of a border,” she says.
Also inspired by Cuba, “You” is a subdued, gorgeous meditation on human connection that can cross all manner of barriers; “Anyone at All” is a rollicking celebration of checking the hell out of the rat race; and “My Body Is a Letter” examines agency and sexuality predicated on openness and relinquishing shame.
While de Vitry admits she puts concerted effort into making her own intentions, and the messages within those intentions as clear as possible, she didn’t overthink the process when she was writing for Adaptations. “I felt like I was finally just uncovering songs that were going to exist regardless,” she says. “It was very spiritual. That’s how personal a lot of this writing has become. I just trusted the songs and I was learning to trust myself through trusting the songs.”
That instinct, to trust the songs, to step aside and let them do their own talking, is the most compelling aspect of Adaptations — and the key to de Vitry’s renewed energy as a solo performer.
“So much of the process of ending the [Stray Birds] and the process of writing these songs was led by feeling,” she says. “And, honestly, by my instincts and my body and my creative soul. They were just seizing me and pulling me forward. What I was beginning to write and encounter was pulling me towards life again, towards possibility, and the unknown, while not being afraid of that or afraid of transformation.”