A few years ago, Maia Vidal and her band mates in Kiev seemed to be poised for pop stardom. The teenage punk trio, which also included fellow Ithaca High Schoolers Sylvie Froncek and Taylor Quan, landed a high-profile gig in a soda commercial that aired during “American Idol” along with dates opening for Bad Religion and even a Warped Tour stop.
It all came to an abrupt end in 2005, when Vidal decided to graduate from high school a year early and spend the ensuing year in Central American. She also left behind music for nearly three years.
“I had been playing violin for 11 years and then there was the rapid rise and sudden end of Kiev,” Vidal said earlier this week. “At 18, I just dropped everything. I was thinking, ‘I need to take some time off, this is who I’ve been for way too long.’
Vidal shifted her focus to visual art, studying at Corcordia College in Montreal. But last year, she found herself singing along to her favorite band, Rancid, and got a new musical spark.
“I was harmonizing sweetly to these songs that are really shouted,” she remembered. My friend and I were laughing at how funny it was, then I thought it would be fun to record it. I had been experimenting with GarageBand, and one night I thought up the whole thing.”
That “whole thing” is Your Kid Sister, which Vidal brought to Trumansburg’s the Rongovian Embassy in Trumansburg earlier this month; she’ll stop by the Wildfire Lounge Thursday, June 25. Johnny Dowd will open.
“Your Kid Sister was this persona I dreamed up: your kid sister finding your Rancid records and then singing along without any preconceived notions of punk music, just taking them at face value. Which in a way I kind of do now, because I’m not punk rock and I’m not aggressive as I was then. Now I take it as music and tunes. I was thinking of as a naïve younger persona that just discovered these things and just played them.”
Vidal’s recording experiment led to an EP, “Poison [5 Rancid Songs That I Love],” which contains her quirky takes on Rancid songs such as “Poison,” “Not to Regret” and “Let Me Go” backed by accordion, fiddle, xylophone and more.
“They’re sweet melodic, kitschy toy versions of these punk songs, so I was thinking what instrument should I use, and I realized they would be perfect with accordion. I didn’t have one, but my parents did in Ithaca. So when I got back home, first thing I played was ‘Poison’; I figured out the buttons based on the song. I went on from there to xylophone and then violin, which I had played 11 years, but never used on any projects.”
You’ll notice that Vidal is wearing a wolf hat in her press photos. “The wolf hat is just tied in as an inside joke to Rancid, because one of the albums the songs come from is ‘And Out Come The Wolves.’ So it was supposed to be, put on a wolf hat and be waiting for wolves to come around. That was the initial spark.”
Once she finished the EP, Vidal got the idea that she should let the guys in Rancid know about it. “I had this far-fetched fantasy that I would record these five songs and then I would contact Rancid and they would ask me to go on tour on them.” That didn’t happen, but there was good news to come.
Last summer, Vidal took an animation course at Cornell. She chose to make a video of one of her Rancid covers, and then post it on YouTube, where it caught the attention of Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong.
“He wrote to me and said ‘Are you Your Kid Sister? I love you.’ Which was basically the best thing that’s ever happened to me, because they were my total idols since age 15,” Vidal said. “We talked on the phone, and he was really supportive of my music and said I had captured the integrity of the songs, which was a fantastic feeling to get recognition from him. And he was a really nice guy, too. We stay in touch, and he encouraged me to keep doing it.” (You can see Vidal’s videos and hear her songs at www.myspace.com/yourkidsister.)
Vidal never intended to play out, but once she started performing again, she realized that she needed more than her five Rancid songs to flesh out a set. So she started writing again, and was pleased with the results. “It continues to be Your Kid Sister, with sort of the same musical treatment, but it has evolved, since I started playing live and with other musicians, she said. “The two sets of songs go along with each other, but they’re kind of different.” She’ll be recording them this summer.
Vidal, 22, recently returned from Barcelona, where she has been living since completing a semester abroad in December. She’ll officially graduate from Concordia on June 23; until then, she spending her time touring around the Northeast and Midwest. “The idea was to stop in every place where I had a friend I wanted to visit, and set up a show,” she said.
She’ll then return to Spain, where she had been studying film and where she has found a new musical support system. “I started meeting musicians and playing in bands, and now have a lovely musical family and friends with recording studios,” she said. “It’s the ideal place for a musician. It’s really open there. It’s not the music culture capital that Berlin or Paris is, but in terms of meeting people it’s been amazing. There’s this weird ease that I didn’t have anywhere else. I thought I was going to leave there for a second, but then my musical family said, ‘Oh no, you’re not.’”