1. Name? Delia Alexandra Zwetlana Mayer.
2. You were born in Hong Kong, moved to Switzerland, studied in Vienna (& New York), and then went to Zurich and Berlin (while off-duty from your around-the-world career). Which of these places, if any, do you call home? Honestly, home to me is more a concept than a physical place. My family has roamed the globe for much of history, skipping between countries and continents. Just two examples: my great-grandfather was born in New York, grew up in Chile, and moved to Berlin and my great-grandmother was born in Lodz, Poland. By coincidence or destiny, they ended up in Switzerland. Nomadism is in my DNA, and I identify home with anywhere I can spend time with the family and friends I love, though they are spread across the hemispheres. That said, I do feel most rooted in Switzerland, land of my childhood and my daughters’ main home.
3. Where do you spend most of your time now? Due to the Covid travel restrictions, I am based in Zurich at the moment, with occasional jaunts to Berlin. But Iike most of us, I spend most of my time on Skype.
4. There’s an interesting story about why you switched from piano to singing. It had something to do with a crocodile?! Is this true!? Can you tell us about it? Actually, it was a caiman! Before we moved from Hong Kong to Switzerland, my father had lived in Borneo. He missed the jungle, so would bring home all sorts of exotic animals when we were young, including three tiny baby caimans. One, named Jaco, lived with us for almost 30 years. Jaco nipped my right hand once, and I was forced to stop playing the piano while the wound healed. During that time, I started singing to avoid going crazy.
Photography by Markus Nass
5. When did your love for singing and songwriting turn into a career?
Before social media, it wasn’t easy for a teenager to jump start her career, even a teenager with a compelling story like a caiman injury. My career trajectory is much more indicative of the time in which I came of age. I started studying classical voice at 18, and my professional singing career began after I graduated from a performing arts school in Vienna. Years later, I knew I had an album’s worth of original songs in me that I was ready to share with the world, but, in the meantime, I had always worked as an actor.
6. You have now acted in quite a few films. How did you shift from music to this new creative outlet?
My acting career and my singing career have always worked in tandem, curling around each other like a double helix and developing in symbiosis. For each role I interpret it musically, finding a unique rhythm and sound that can’t be expressed solely by words, and I approach each piece of music I interpret through its lyrical and emotional content.
Photography by Giorgia Müller 7. You have also added other forms of creative expression to your repertoire. Can you tell us about your recent event with Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich? “The Snow Queen” is a contemporary reinterpretation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale that includes actors, opera singers, and an orchestra. The storytelling component is via the spoken word, but it must fit organically with the musical component, making it a compelling challenge that bridged my love of acting and music. I am especially fascinated by projects that combine art forms and straddle boundaries.
8. What else are you working on right now? I have a number of exciting projects in the works, including feature films in Israel and Switzerland and an album that combines storytelling and music, but it seems so out of step with these Covid times to talk about the future. This pandemic has changed the trajectory of our lives and careers, and it feels like we are riding the brakes and have lost our sense of direction. Though I have amazing things set in the future, right now I am focusing on slowing down and taking time for reflection.
9. Where do you find inspiration for all the things you do- the songs you write, the roles you play? I am a natural observer and inspired by everything that surrounds me, from the tiny to the majestic. What catches my attention most are the infinite ways humans try to wrap their heads around their own, and others’, existence. Anything action or inaction is an attempt to deal with success or failure, dreams, or survival, and a million other existential circumstances. Picking up a leaf from the street is an expression of how you deal with your world. How you blow your nose reflects how you view your existence. As an artist I need to have an observant eye, and I take the time to notice and absorb these details.
Photography by Markus Nass
10. You released an album in 2006, These Days. What was it like working with your brother to co-produce the album? And with creative parents, too, have you and your family worked together a lot? Working with my brother was an unplanned, yet fortunate, accident. I showed him my songs, and within minutes we were discussing how to produce them. We are close, despite being different in our approaches and our view of the world as male and female. Though our way of listening and creating music is similar. We understand each other musically, and luckily siblings don’t have a lot of filters when it comes to feedback, so we could cut right to the heart of things.
11. What has been your favorite media to work in or favorite project to work on? I am still very much in love with “Unorthodox“ especially since our director Maria Schrader was the first German woman to be awarded an Emmy as a result. I feel like it was a groundbreaking project which impacted audiences worldwide, and it is a huge honor to be part of a series nominated for eight Emmy Awards. I have performed “The Seven Deadly Sins“ from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill several times, and the piece has become a part of me. I love performing with a full orchestra in front of a large audience as much as I love intimate camera work or a small recording session in the studio.
12. Your website bio jokes about your future occupations as a neuropsychologist, truck driver, and lifeguard. Are these careers you have thought about in the past, or was becoming a professional creative process? Humor puts things in perspective, and, though I think that art is an excellent way to interact with the world, there are equally important paths that also allow for expression in different ways. I was once set on becoming a biologist and worked on researching great ape behavior, but creative expression through art won out. That said, my work in behavioral science influenced my worldview, and how I approach performing, so there is a lot of overlap between my right and left-brain passions. At the end of the day, acting is not such a far stretch from studying the behavior of great apes, right?
Photography by Ayse Yavas
14. And your instagram and website? My social media motto is “smile - it confuses people.” You can follow me on Instagram @deliamayer and on Twitter @OfficialDeliaM.
Interview by Alison Hernon, Editor-In-Chief, PhotoBook Magazine