YB TALKS: Maya Mae18-02-2021 • Interview, Music
Yardbird Talks continues! In samenwerking met Jägermeister en hun #SAVETHENIGHT project – waarmee ze het nachtleven op verschillende manieren ondersteunen in deze uitdagende tijden – schijnen we ook in 2021 weer ons licht op getalenteerde jonge creatives en artiesten die naar ons idee het verschil maken. We spreken met talent waarvan de wereld het bestaan moet weten, met verhalen waarvan we hopen dat ze jullie inspireren. Dit keer spraken we met de getalenteerde singer-songwriter Maya Mae. We spraken over haar begindagen als artiest, hoe ze langzaam maar zeker een goed team om zich heen bouwt en de ups en downs die horen bij het zijn van een muzikant. Foto’s door Floor Besuijen. Interview door Natascha Sommerhalter. Makeup door Niké Donker en styling door Gina Christiaens.
Hi! I’m Maya Mae, 21 years old. I am a singer-songwriter and a director.
That was at age 17, so quite late I guess. I’ve had singing lessons since I was about nine years old, so I did sing, and I’ve done musicals and those kinds of things. I was always busy with performing and singing, but writing my own songs just never occurred to me in a way, or maybe it did, but I just never dared to do it. For me personally, it felt like a huge step to make, because what if whatever you write is stupid, you know? Especially when you’re young. So honestly, I started when I was 17. I tried it, and gosh, it wasn’t that good, but you know, you grow and you learn. That’s when it all started to get a little more serious because before that I was just posting covers on Instagram. But through that, I met people, they contacted me and said let’s hit the studio, let’s make something, create something. And I thought, well damn, I’ve never done that before, I don’t even know how that works, but let’s do it! So at age 17, I finished high school and I wanted to take a gap year because I didn’t know what to do. I did know I wanted to sing, obviously, but I didn’t know where to begin. I just thought okay, I’m going to just post covers and try to write or try to freestyle something. Later I met a lot of producers, and I don’t work with them anymore, but they were really important for those first years of development.
I think Ashraf who at the time worked at Studio Beng Beng in Rotterdam. We made a lot of music together in the first years of my singing career. So, we wrote our first songs together and he really helped me to get to know myself in that way because it was all so new. He was just really important for me. Later on, I met Nicolas Kanza and he actually really sparked something within me. We were definitely on the same wavelength and this is like one or two years later, but that’s when it started to get even more serious. So back then, it was just a lot of experimentation. I mean it’s always experimenting, but in those first years, I really had no clue what I was doing.
Honestly, I have no clue, literally. Something must have inspired it, but I woke up one day and I thought to myself, yeah, this is it. The name just felt really soft but edgy at the same time.
Right now, I would say contemporary R&B mixed with a little urban pop. I love R&B, but not only the old school R&B you hear. The genre variates nowadays, and there’s a lot of these different subgenres. One can be a little bit more soulful and the other a little bit jazzier. I think that right now, I’m also figuring out my sound, so I’m not certain yet of what it’s going to become because I only released three songs. But I would say urban pop because there’s also a lot of pop-y inspirations found in my music. Music is really fluid, and you’ll feel like changing because a person keeps on changing and so will the music. I do think, however, that I will always stick to R&B because it’s the most heartfelt for me. That’s my core, but I do think there’s a lot of experimenting to do within that genre.
Besides my parents, I think the first artist that really inspired me was Aliyah, and that’s that real R&B you know. I fell in love when I saw her, I was like, I want that, I want to be her, I want to do that. Later on, it was The Weeknd. I really fell in love with his mixtape “House of Balloons”, and “Trilogy” was also so good. I was really into that dark kind of music, to the point where when I first started making music, that was the kind I wanted to make. Where there would be this really dark and sinister feeling to it. Those first projects of his, made me feel so weird and it had such an intense effect on me that I wanted to do that. Not per se this, but I really wanted to make people feel. So that really inspired me to make music that can be felt. Music has to have soul and character, and The Weeknd did that so well. You can either hate or love the music, but what he did with his artistry, is incredible. And he still continues to do that, he is changing himself constantly and when he wants to make those changes he adapts everything and it’s insane.
To me, pop music is a more structured genre, where you find there are more rules in the way songs are made. It involves simple, yet effective and catchy melodies and relatable lyrics, and this translates into this kind of wonderful simplicity. It’s more straightforward and I can love that, I really enjoy those anthem kinds of songs. Musicians that I love would be people like Conan Gray, or if we look at the biggest of the biggest, it’s artists like Billy Eilish, or Ariana Grande, and I can definitely enjoy that. Ariana, I seriously love, I am a big fan! I think that for the people who don’t do their research and just want to listen to a hit, they find pop music and think, yes, this is amazing, it’s great. And although I am a music freak, I can love the simplicity of it. So, I’m trying to figure out how to merge that kind of simplicity with complexity in my music.
I love the part when the chords have already been figured out, and you find this amazing, great melody on it. It just fits right in, and everyone in the room just gets that dirty, disgusting look on their face, you know, that’s the biggest compliment ever [Laughter]. That’s the best part to me, the moment when it all clicks, when you have the foundation of the song because the melody is so important to me.
Important things, but it also depends on what mood I’m in, in that moment. And you know, I can write a stupid love song if I feel like it now and then. However, what means the most to me, is writing about my own struggles that other people might resonate with. It just feels more real to me to write about such things. And you can make the song sound however you want it to sound. Okay, I’m going to spill a little bit, but in my next EP there’s a song about a fear of mine, but it’s such a happy song. The song sounds so happy, but the lyrics, if you really listen, it’s like damn girl…[Laughter]. It’s more real to talk about your fears or maybe your biggest dreams, your biggest hopes. I think there’s always one person out there for whom it will resonate. So, I think that just hits me the most. And there are obviously other significant things like feminism, which is also important to me because it is a personal struggle of mine because I’m a woman. So, I think it comes down to my personal struggles and hoping that people can resonate with them. You can feel so alone sometimes, and I think we’ve all experienced that feeling when you’re listening to a song and you’re like, was this written for me?
It is a male-dominated industry, like most industries, but it has been really good to me actually. Within this industry, I have made sure to surround myself with people that really appreciate me, see my worth, and truly want to work with me. You know, they see me as an artist and nothing less, nothing more. Obviously, also something more, I mean, I’m a human as well, but you know, I am an artist when it comes to business. So, I think it’s just really important to surround yourself with those kinds of people who have their hearts in the right place and want to grow with you instead of making money off of you.
Well, when I was 17, and finished school, I got in touch with Thom Bridges and he actually really changed the game for me. He introduced me to Thomas de Raad who owns the record label and the publishing company that I’m with. Newamsrecords is the label and Tommy Advice Publishing is the publishing. So Thom introduced me to Tommy and I only had demos that were not the best, but I had just filmed and created my first video for leave me alone. That was on a zero-dollar budget and I showed it to them, and they were really impressed and were like, how did you do this?!
I think it might’ve been my drive that really triggered him, in addition to the talent that he saw in me. From there it just went really fast. We got to working together and planned many things and have learned so much from him ever since. He invited me to writers’ camps and all, and it was really a game-changer for me because I just learned so much about music and got to know new people. It was just really refreshing, and to this day it’s still so good. We have a nice bond and I’m honestly so grateful for all of it because when you see, upcoming artists being signed to the big labels, you know, everyone’s impressed and they’re like, whoa that’s amazing. But what they don’t know is that those people often really struggle, because those big major labels, they just throw money on you and hope that something happens. And if it doesn’t happen, they’re not going to run for you the way my label runs for me. No, they’re just not going to do that. So, I think the smaller labels that are wanting to grow with you are way better. Small labels, obviously the people that I work with, have connections and they connect me to people. That’s really important, but the bond you have with someone, the mutual understanding between the two of you, and what you can create together are even more important.
My passion for creating videos and visuals is as big as my passion for music, so I give my all to both. I really would love to do that more this year. I’m actually really excited to start my own little company in that, as a director. It’s going to be really tough and it’s going to require a lot of hard work, but I really want that to be, maybe not as big of a role as music, but still something I am busy with, always. What I would love to do is direct videos for other artists and later on, do it for big artists. I hope it just grows in sync with my music.
I feel like it is becoming more and more important by the day. I have a really difficult relationship with it because I feel it is a place where I’ve met so many other creatives, and my network really grew because of it. I got where I am today because of it, literally. It has been very important to me as an artist, but honestly, in these times I really need to monitor myself, not to go on it for longer than one hour. It’s become so automatic and it’s not okay. So, I have a love-hate relationship with it. Let’s just say that. I’m really thankful for a lot of the things that it has brought me over the years, and I will continue to pick out those positive things, and just focus more on them. But that also means staying away from it most of the day.
I think just creating songs that make me happy, listening to it, and thinking that’s a great song. Because the process of making music, involves me loving a song one day and hating it the next day. I never even listen to my music that is out right now, because I’m already so focused on the next project, and you’re always in this sort of rush because you’re always making new stuff, and the new stuff is always going to be more enticing than the last work. I’m trying to enjoy the moment more and just be happy with the song and then share that so people can feel that. I think that’s success for me, but also just even making the small steps. We tend to forget what we’ve already accomplished and tend to look at the road ahead of us and what work there is still left to do. I know that has made me really depressed, thinking in that way, thinking it’s not good enough, it’s never going to be good enough and I need to do more. Being that hard on yourself is no good, so I think we should see success in a way that the small things, even the baby steps that you take are a step closer to the things you want to achieve. It’s still a success. It’s really important to remind yourself of it.
Read your contracts and know what it says. Don’t sign anything just like that. Hire someone or try your best to sit with someone who has the knowledge. If you don’t know what it says, that’s one thing, but if you also don’t know what you can demand, you’re missing out. You can demand things, and they’re not going to put things in a contract that you actually can demand.
I think right now, I’m really struggling with making no money in this industry. It’s really hard and makes it difficult to see yourself as an artist from time to time, while you’re juggling two side jobs and trying to progress in that world and move forward. It can make it really, really hard to keep that faith in yourself. People always have this image of you when you’re an upcoming artist, and they hear your music and they see how many listeners you have and are aware of the things you’ve done. They think you must make some money with it already. And I’m like, no, I’m literally hustling two side jobs. It is demotivating in a way, and sometimes when you get demotivated it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that can be hard. Nowadays, with all the people that are making music, and there are seriously a lot, so much is being released every day and it makes it even harder to stand out. But you gotta have faith in yourself. Honestly, it’s the people that don’t give up, who are going to make it.
That there is pride to be found in being a woman, and to many people, this may sound like okay newsflash, but honestly misogyny is a real thing. It’s real and it has been real. People need to be aware of that. That’s why woman empowerment has to be there. It’s necessary and I’m honestly just trying to set that example, maybe for women who need it, to pave your own way and do you. There is no shame in being who you are.
Positions by Ariana Grande. I’m such a pop hoe [Laughter], I love it so much!
Paradiso, I’ve had some great memories there! I experienced HER’s concert there and it was just really special. The venue has such an intimate vibe, and those are the settings I love the most.
What I hope to accomplish in 2021 is simply being able to perform and connect with people again. Besides that, releasing my EP and enjoying the hell out of that process!