'An Interview with MAYA' / Jared Gibson
MAYA (a.k.a Maya Arjuna Shanti Guecia-Weiss) and her singular brand of neo-soul rebukes categorisation. Her latest single ‘Blackout’ explored the discombobulating effects of identity loss, with its success launching a writing getaway to New York. Jared Gibson spoke to the Melbourne songstress about her quad cultural background, genre agnosticism and secretive new mixtape.
You have a rich background of Australian, African, American and Austrian heritage. Do you draw from these cultures in your songwriting?
Yes, I try to. It kind of comes from a subconscious place. My grandmother has been through a lot of trauma so I feel sometimes I write from a place of people coming together and sharing happiness. Just trying to make peace music I guess.
Given all these influences, how would you describe your sound for those who have yet to hear you?
I would say it’d be pretty soulful and real, with elements of electronica and acoustic. I like to call it electro-soul if that can be a genre. I want to cultivate a sound that’s cohesive but I also make music in every genre.
Was making music with your father from a young age a vital part of your own musical career?
Yes! We still play together now. He’s a rock legend in my head so I really honour him for raising me with music and now I get to play with him so it's kind of this amazing feeling. He’s from New York so he’s very acid rock, and grew up in an amazing time in the 70’s. He fed me blues and I grew up playing with him in his band, we would just jam on the blues. It was how I first learnt how to sing and then he would introduce me to all the music legends like Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, [Led] Zeppelin and Aretha [Franklin]. Every week it was like “here’s a new album, here’s a new artist” and now I’m so grateful because I know all this music. People don’t expect someone my age to have the kind of repertoire I have.
Your latest single ‘Blackout’ was released late April to huge critical acclaim, later releasing a stunning music video to accompany. How long has this project been in the works?
I wrote the song last year but we wrote it very fast as I had to get it out. I thought “this is so relevant!”. Then I workshopped it again basically a month before the single came out. I just wanted to get something new out and it was very relevant to how I was feeling. I think releasing music you’re into is really important, though it's hard to do that sometimes. Then you can sing it and really feel it and people know that you mean it.
‘Blackout’ tells a story of escaping a dark reality to a lighter, safer space. Is songwriting a therapeutic way for you to let go of negative experiences and energy?
Yes, I must say since writing ‘Blackout’ I’ve barely had any blackouts! I think it's the best, it opens you up to remembering that feeling and honouring it. It’s like a tattoo; it stabilises that time and it makes you live with it. It’s nice to just get it out.
You must be so proud to have your song ‘Nothing Like This’ featured in a Creative Victoria Clip. How did that opportunity come about?
I wrote that song when I was 17. It was the first single I ever released and at the time people looked at me and were like “I don’t know about this song, it’s a bit weird”. Honestly at the time it was a little too glitchy and no one really got it. Now I’m a member of Music Victoria and they just picked it out of a selection. I’m so grateful, it’s amazing to see it on the runway. I love that with music. How you can have no big push at the time then it just comes into the sound people want and it goes everywhere. I’ve seen it happen with so much 90s hip-hop at the moment.
You’ve recently been in New York, writing up a storm. What can you tell us about that experience?
That was amazing. I got to work with people at a calibre that I’m so grateful for. I made some really funky music. I’m just going through a point in life where I really want to create exactly what I feel in myself and hear in my head. Until it's at that point, I’m holding back on releasing it. That’s because at the moment I’m proud of what I’ve created but I do think I’ve got a big vision and I don’t want to exhaust people on the wrong content. So I’m just working away at the stuff I recorded in America. I’m going to go back next year and fix some of it up.
But I also do want to work a lot in Australia and actually cultivate a bit of an audience for myself in Melbourne. Australians have a tendency to get successful here and then pack up and leave. I understand why our music market’s smaller but I would really like to rise up here and party with some of the people I know who are killing it right now so I’m going to chill here over summer.
What’s next for Maya?
I’m in the studio currently making a mixtape. That’s going to feature some really great up and coming Melbourne artists that people probably know or don’t know (sic) - either way you better know them soon because they’re that good! So I’m making that mixtape and I’m just going to slowly release that. Next year I’ll see where I go with the big singles. I’m basically just staying gathered and creating what I hope will be really great music to come.
Cover image: Shervin Lainez