Doe Eye, by Robert Alleyne

“I think I was getting stuck,”  says Maryam Qudus, who releases music under the moniker Doe Eye. We’re talking about the period just before writing her second album, b-room, and how approaching the album was not straightforward. “I found it really difficult to start writing songs in a regular pop structure,” she says. “I just wanted to get out of the box of making a standard, structured pop or indie rock song.”

Her previous album, Television, was an ode to indie music. It was a record that explored the limits of the genre: from the beautifully sparse "Just Kids" to the fierce intensity of "Do It For You." Sometimes it was dark, at other times it had a dystopian sultriness to it. It was diverse and exciting album. Yet here she was, a few years later, trying to find a creative spark, or inspiration, for her next record.

While working on the follow-up to Television, Qudus found herself drawn to ambient music; a genre she fell in love while watching movies and listening intently to their scores. “I started to experiment with ambient music because I've always loved listening to [it]. I've always loved film music,” she shares. “Ambient music is so unstructured; I found it a great place to start getting creative again.”

She dove in, and in the spring of 2017, she released an entire album of ambient music. b-room is a sonic cacophony of shapes and sounds which paint pictures as emotive and vivid as a watercolor hung high in the deYoung. It is music that sucks you in without realizing; each time I listen through I hear new sounds, and new layers. The smallest changes, such as switching headphones, or the different listening environments can alter the way it sounds. It is a gentle record that matures and reveals new perspectives with each listen.

“The thing that I love about creating ambient music is that it feels very instinct-based, and very emotion-based,” she explains. “As I was making the songs...and something sounded cool, the next part of the song just was happening based on instinct,” says Qudus. The process felt like improvisation. It was freeing. “On a standard pop song, you know that this is my verse, and now the chorus comes...it was nice just to do something that wasn't so structured like that,” she says.

“The songs started to bloom on their own as I was making them,” says Qudus. “[Ambient music] is very patient — you can take your time, and the song can be as long as you want it to be, or as long as you feel like it needs to be,” says Qudus.

I mention Ludovico Einaudi and a performance of his at London’s Cadogan Hall. Before sitting down at the piano, he explained that every performance he does is unique because he lets the music come to him. Qudus immediately sees the similarity between that approach and ambient music, where for many performers do not play from their record. “They'll bring up their synthesizer, and their modular synth, and their sample pad, and they'll just create stuff live. Maybe they rehearsed it a couple of times. Maybe they've thought about what they're gonna do, but, for the most part, it's all new, and then it's kinda gone,” she says wistfully.

When not making her own music, Qudus is helping others make music as a recording engineer at San Francisco’s Tiny Telephone studios. “I got into recording and engineering because I was working on my record and after I was done, I was sad that I wasn't still there at the recording studio making more music,” she says. “As an artist, you make a record, and then the recording process is finished, and you never go into a recording studio again until you make the next record,” she explains. Qudus enjoyed being in the studio and exploring its limits, so she started to teach herself.

“A recording studio to me is used as an instrument. I think from there; I realized that I want to be here more. I want to help other bands make their music as well. So I started to learn more,” she says.

Earlier in our conversation, we speak very briefly about her time a Berklee College of Music. The revered institution which includes Quincy Jones, Esperanza Spalding, Aimee Mann, and St. Vincent among its alumni. However, after just one year, Qudus left. “I think Berklee taught me a lot about musicianship and how to be a leader,” she says. “[It] definitely taught me a lot about how to be creative as well. But… I think the most important thing about being a musician… is just going and doing [it],” she says.

“A big thing I learned is you have to just go for it and do it...Maybe you're recording a friend's band, and you're learning your way through it. Then, eventually, you're like, ‘Whoa, I'm getting better at this. Things are sounding cool,’” she says. “The way it's influenced my music is huge because I understand so much more about the recording process than I did before. I have so many more things that I know that I can do.”

“When I started with my own music, I wasn't always engineering and/or producing it. Somebody else was,” says Qudus. “I was working with people that I trust, but when you don't have the language, or the understanding, it's hard to communicate what you want.”

Gaining more knowledge, and a better grasp of the associated lexicon has helped to free her creatively. “Now that I do understand that, I feel that I can pretty much make whatever I feel like I want to.”

“One of the favorite things that I learned how to do...is throwing random noise in your music,” she shares gleefully. “Throwing it in their randomly and seeing how it works — a lot of the times it's magical!”

“It doesn't always go how I imagine it in my head,” she jokes, “But, for the most part, I feel like I can come close to what I would like to try to make,” says Qudus.

Having made an indie album and an ambient album, and having experience as a recording engineer, I ask Qudus where she thinks she’ll go next on her musical journey. “I think my next record [will have] a lot of influences: electronic music, some influences of punk music, but still dreamy at the same time,” she shares. A dreamy-electronic-punk album sounds like an adventurous concept. One wholly suited to a self-starting go-getter like Qudus.