RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW LONDON ARTIST MAYA YENN
Hiya Maya – that rhymes! Thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.
What made you decide to become a solo artist?
I’ve always loved music and making music but I think the particular appeal of going solo is the autonomy you get, especially if you’re independent. You don’t have to compromise on your vision and you can make music that’s totally authentic to you. That said, I do miss working collaboratively and would love to partner up with other artists and see what we can create together.
Introduce us to you and your musical history?
I’ve been making music for a while but only plucked up the courage to put out my first single last year. My debut single started off as a “spooky beat” I made for TikTok at Halloween that went viral and later became a song about anxiety. My second single was actually a song I had written a long time ago and the music video for that got selected for the British Independent Film Festival. The latest single, ‘Better Luck Next Time’ is very upbeat and bouncy sounding but tells the story of a guy on a plane as it’s down over the Atlantic as an analogy for burnout and the climate crisis.
What’s one question you’re sick of being asked when interviewed?
Probably “what got you into music?” just because it’s really difficult to answer. There were lots of factors and it wasn’t like there was one singular moment where it all fell into place. It was listening to my Mum’s favourite music growing up like Kate Bush, Bowie, etc., learning to play piano, being a creative kid, learning how to write songs, and lots of other little moments in between that got me more and more excited about making music and now here we are!
Do you subscribe to any conspiracy theories?
I don’t think so – although I’ve always wondered if Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Chris Pine are all secretly the same person.
Did you buy anything you don’t need in the pandemic?
Of course! I’m weirdly obsessed with parma violets and I bought this monster pack of them online that took me months to get through. It made lockdown go by a little faster though!
What useless party trick do you have?
I can do circus tricks with a diablo like swing it around my leg or my arm and whip-catch it mid-air. Doesn’t come up too often though because people rarely have diablos just hanging around.
What was the most fun you have had on stage?
I did my first performance in two years the other week and it was so affirming to experience a live setting with an in-person audience again. I think that was the most fun experience I’ve had just by virtue of it being after such a long period of being confined to my house and away from people haha!
What was the worst experience on stage?
This is going back a bit as I don’t think I’ve especially had an especially bad experience since but when I was at school we did a “Best of British” concert and I think cos they thought I was a bit weird I should do Kate Bush cos they thought she was weird too – I mean I was weirdly flattered, I love Kate Bush! So I sang Kate Bush while playing piano in one hand and glockenspiel in the other and I could feel the parents watching me in this judgey way. I looked up and the mum of a kid I’d known for years was literally rolling her eyes in disgust. You’d have thought I was doing an Ozzy and eating a bat on stage from the way she reacted. It crushed me for a while, but I realised life’s too short to worry about the people who don’t get what you’re doing as an artist and if Kate Bush is weird then I wanna be weird!
Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about?
I love rap. Tyler the Creator, Tierra Whack, and Audrey Nuna are all on constant rotation for me.
If you had to describe your band/music to an alien how would you describe it?
Pop music for the apocalypse.
What makes you stand out as a band/artist?
I think I’ve got to a point where I have a clear sense of my own sound, I’m not wedded to any particular genre or style but I’ve found my voice and feel pretty confident making music that feels authentic to me. I also live loop and live trigger in my live shows so that it adds an extra performative element to the show, you know? You’re watching me in real-time recreate these songs from scratch which, when I pull it off, can be pretty fun!
Right now, what’s pissing you off the most?
Not having enough time and money to work on fun stuff like music videos! It’s an expensive business and as an independent artist, you have to either fund it yourself or find inexpensive workarounds. It was just me and one other person that shot the last music video and that was really hard, it took months of work and to be fair it paid off because it got nominated for Best Music Video at the British Independent Film Festival! But it would be so great to eventually have more hands-on deck!
What’s your favourite song to play live and why?
It’s either ‘Better Luck Next Time’ or a new song I just finished writing and performed for the first time last week called ‘Sour Grapes’ which is about growing up and realising adulthood isn’t the easy-breezy, fun-filled experience where you have total autonomy all the time like you thought it would be as a kid and now you’ve got to pay bills and take the bins out every Tuesday. I’m definitely making fun of myself a little bit in the song for being a kind of a brat but also earnestly frustrated with how hard being an adult can be.
I hear you have a new single, what can you tell us about it?
Well in a literal sense, it’s about a guy on a plane who’s so focused on work he’s still trying to get a report done despite the fact his plane is going down over the Atlantic. But really it’s an analogy for humankind’s self-destructive behavior; our culture to work until we totally burn out and how our actions as a species are also destroying the world around us.
It’s essentially a song that takes that old phrase “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” as an analogy for the way we treat people and our environment, except in this case the deck chairs are a report with a deadline and the Titanic is a plane going down over the Atlantic. I just feel like as a species we’re always so obsessed with “progress” and that tunnel vision is so pervasive that we miss the big looming iceberg up ahead in the form of burnout or climate change, so I wanted to write about that.
Talk me through the thought process of making the single, what were the influences?
Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra were actually the starting point of the song’s sound and it became more alt-pop as Michelangelo (co-producer) and I worked on it. The first arrangement was just the vocal, a brush kit, piano, double bass, and brass – basically a traditional swing song. It’s taken on more eclectic elements as we’ve developed it and now those jazz influences are much more subtle. Michelangelo really learned about the darker aspects of the sound with his production choices which gave it an entirely new character, it just gave it this way more sinister energy.
What was the recording process like?
The way Michelangelo I work is I record and fully produce the track, then he gets hold of it and fully produces it his way, the final product usually ends up somewhere in the middle of both of our versions but for ‘Better Luck Next Time’ we had a really hard time marrying up the jazz sound with the alt-pop sound. It just wasn’t working to have both styles represented equally in the song so the swing elements took a backseat and it was a good lesson not to try to wrestle a song into something it’s not. I’m really happy with where we arrived, it’s undeniably an alt-pop track now but there’s still a whisper of the jazz version in there if you listen closely that serves the haunting feel of the song.
Would you change anything now that it’s finished?
I actually don’t think I would! The only thing I’d like to do is record a separate speakeasy-style version of the song with a live swing band as that’s how the song originally started. I’m really happy with how the song ended up as this bouncing alt-pop track, but I definitely think the original version has a certain charm, and recording a crooner version with live jazz musicians would be so cool.
What are your plans for the year ahead?
We really want to make a music video for ‘Better Luck Next Time’ but in the meantime, I’m already working on my next single!
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
Yeh just to say that “‘Better Luck Next Time’ is out on all streaming platforms from 17 June 2022 if you want to give it a listen and you can find me on pretty much all social media platforms as @maya.yenn – I would love to know what you think of the song! Hopefully, we get a music video out for it soon too so keep a look out for that…