Maya Yenn is a singer-songwriter-producer located in the United Kingdom. Her haunting first album was a huge hit, and now she’s back with a sultry new album of glitchy electropop, this time with a darker subject matter.
What follows is an exclusive interview with Maya in which she divulges all the details regarding her most recent work ‘How Much Sadness You Can Swallow?’
What is your real name?
What’s your official Showbiz name?
How did you get into music?
My Mum bought this very old and rickety second-hand piano when I was a kid and before I knew the first thing about music theory or how notes worked I was spending hours coming up with little compositions and songs. I just loved the language music gave me to express thoughts and ideas. I think that’s what’s amazing about music, to me it’s just emotion + magic.
In terms of my producer journey, I started producing songs on Audacity (which is a really basic program you can download for free) when I was 15 and have slowly upgraded from there. Now I have a full home studio! Producing is another level of magic for me, I’m constantly impressed with how one small production choice can completely transform a song.
What field or genre are you into and how would you describe it?
I listen to lots of different types of music, people are always surprised when I say I have a real soft spot for rap, I love how playful it can be! But I’d say the music I’ve made so far is in the alt-pop sphere. I think there are shades of R&B in there, and maybe a bit of dream pop and dark pop? My main influences definitely come from alt-pop, R&B and indie, although there are others.
What were your first project and the people you worked with and which year?
My first single, “tiptoe” came out last year (2021) and started as a spooky beat I made for TikTok. It went semi-viral and I ended up writing, producing and engineering the full song myself. I think I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, but now that I’ve done that, I’m really excited to work with other people. I started collaborating with another producer on “How Much Sadness Can You Swallow?” And we’ve continued to work on tracks together following that. It’s been such a great experience and made me really excited to collaborate with other artists too.
Who or what inspires you or motivates you? And why?
I find if I sit down to make a song that sounds like something specific, it won’t happen. Usually, I have a story or image in mind when I’m writing and then I build the rest of the song from there. I’ve written songs inspired by nightmares I’ve had, characters and stories I’ve invented. That’s why reading a lot of books, watching films, theatre, poetry and music definitely helps with songwriting!
Any role models you look up to? With reason(s) why?
I’m a huge fan of FKA twigs. She also came from a really rural part of the country (she’s from Gloucestershire, I’m from Staffordshire) and moved to London to pursue her creativity. I know people use this term a lot these days, but twigs really is a true icon.
She always has complete artistic integrity and her vision and dedication to her creativity are staggering. She’s been through some really difficult experiences but still shows up and creates something beautiful. I’ve honestly got nothing but admiration for her! She’s just incredible.
What do you look out for in this line of business?
I really want to collaborate more with other artists. Working alongside Michelangelo on the production for “How Much Sadness Can You Swallow?” has been so artistically fulfilling, so it would be really exciting to get to work on more collaborative projects. I’ve done a couple of remixes for people (unreleased for now) but it was some of the most fun I think I’ve ever had in the studio!
What are some of the challenges you face in your career path?
Definitely have to be your own cheerleader. I don’t have a big team around me, which on one hand is great because I have creative control of everything I make, but it also means I need to make everything happen myself. So it takes a lot of time and energy to get all the elements of a project ready.
I work on every aspect of what I put out myself, I write and direct my own music videos, write and co-produce my own songs, curate the cover art etc. I’m very thankful when I can get help with those things, not least of all with my partner and long-time creative collaborator, James. He’s taken every photograph and shot every music video you see, and so much more behind the scenes. There is so much that wouldn’t exist without him!
There are currently only 2% of credited producers that identify as female or non-binary and I feel that acutely as a female producer. It can be hard to be taken seriously or seen as competent as my male counterparts and I often feel the need to work even harder to prove I’m just as good and it’s pretty exhausting. I need to remind myself I’m here because I love making music, and it’s as simple as that – forget the rest!
How do you feel the Internet has impacted the music business?
I definitely owe any success I’ve had to the internet. I started putting out music during the pandemic so getting the word out on the internet was the only way I could get anyone to hear it. I think like pretty much everything, the industry had to adapt to an online-only world during this time and a lot of that is here to stay.
Honestly, I think it’s really exciting. Social media platforms like TikTok are really levelling the playing field when it comes to new artists finding their audience and that can only be a good thing.
Do you have any advice for aspiring songwriters?
Everyone says to keep writing, which is definitely good advice, but it’s also really important to keep listening, watching, and absorbing. I always read poetry before I set out to write music for example. Go see films, theatre, live music, art galleries, read books and poetry, you’ll be surprised what inspires you!
And if you’re an anxious person like me and the thought of writing an entire song feels too daunting, write a stream-of-consciousness and see what comes out. When I free-write like that I usually find about 70% of what I come up with can be developed into lyrics for a song.
What is your current project about?
My latest single, “How Much Sadness Can You Swallow?” was actually inspired by a nightmare I had years ago where I woke up in this old house and couldn’t remember who I was or why I was there. I was banging on doors and windows to try and escape but nobody could hear me and I realised I was in a hellscape living the same day over and over again, my memories wiped overnight. It was completely terrifying! I had to write about it to get it out of my system.
The music video, which premieres on YouTube on Friday 18th March, follows the story of a woman hell-bent on ending an alien invasion as she sprints through the English countryside towards a crash site where something strange has fallen to earth. Struggling to resist an onslaught of psionic weaponry as her reality is distorted and her memory is eroded, she eventually arrives at a mysterious object that has appeared on the horizon.
I’m a huge fan of sci-fi for its uncanny ability to pull our own humanity into sharp focus in this icy, delicate way like no other genre can and the music video for “How Much Sadness Can You Swallow?” is very much a love letter to sci-fi cinema. I really wanted to get the details right so even though it took some time to make and get right I really hope it’s worth the wait!
What are your hobbies?
Honestly, pretty much all my free time revolves around music, but I literally just finished baking some cookies though so there’s that! I do love illustration and used to want to be a children’s book illustrator when I was a kid. I think if I wasn’t a musician I’d be a visual artist of some kind.
What do you do aside from this profession?
I actually work in a law firm! Everyone is always surprised to hear that but it’s genuinely a really nice place to work and everyone there is incredibly supportive of my music. I’m very lucky to have that.
What is one message you would give to your fans?
Thank you so much for the support, kind messages, artwork and joy you bring to the often lonely process of recording music alone in my room! I can’t tell you how meaningful it is to get that kind of feedback and encouragement.
It’s a fast-moving world so the fact that anyone is willing to take time out to listen to a song I’ve made or a music video I’ve worked on is wonderful and so appreciated.