MEET: Maia Miller-Lewis
Get to know Maia Miller-Lewis. She's performed in front of 600 people for the Guilty Feminist Podcast, she's been on BBC Introducing and she's also just ridiculously stylish. Most importantly however, her voice is absolutely stunning. It harks back to an earlier era, it's raw, genuine and gets you right in the gut. The only thing that matches it is her songwriting. Read on to find out more, we promise, it's glorious.
Tell us about yourself?
I’m a musician and a writer, but it’s very DIY music. So basically, it’s just very much me and my piano. I’ve done gigs around Bristol but my biggest performance to date was when I sung one of my tunes on the Guilty Feminist podcast. Deborah Frances-White (the woman who hosts the show) liked one of my songs that I wrote for International Women’s Day and that’s how I ended up singing it.
So, do you do a lot of gigging?
I’ve gigged a fair bit. I’ve done a few Open Mics and I did Seedling Sessions at Leftbank as well, that evening is basically a night where they put on 3 artists and everyone has a 25 minute set. In September I’m also performing at a spoken poetry night called Cut The Crap.
How would you describe your music?
It changes depending what I’m listening to. I’m influenced by a huge variety of genres but I would say that it’s mostly a jazzy, bluesy rock.
What interests you right now?
Frida Kahlo, Florence and the Machine, the Manchester 90’s music scene, they’re always hugely influential. I’m also really into Benjamin Clementine right now, but I’m not a big muser so a lot of the way I write is inspired by things that happen to me, rather than things I’m listening to. So for example, the last song I wrote was about a chat at the pub with my mates. I instantly came back and wrote a song called ‘Single Minded Little Boys’. It was so cathartic. I also go to a lot of Art Exhibitions. In Manchester there’s this amazing museum called the ‘People’s History Museum’ which I love. Aside from the music, I’m also a writer. I’m currently writing a book about growing up where I grew up. It deals with issues of sexism, feminism, racism, everything like that. I’m trying to explore the idea of tackling these issues whilst growing up in such a small contained environment. Then, of course, there’s Radio 4 which is the wankiest thing I could say but it’s very close to my heart.
What work are you doing right now?
I’ve just come back from Womad so I haven’t been back long. I’m mainly trying to give myself time to do my own thing right now. I have so many tunes that I haven’t given enough time or space to yet. Right now I need a few days where my feet are on the ground. Then I’m off to Edinburgh Fringe.
What does it mean to be creative?
This is really hard to answer because, right now, it’s a big unanswered question for me. It goes back to the question of what I want to do with my life. I don’t particularly love my Politics degree. I can be in the academic world but it’s not something that gets me up in the morning. I really want to be excited about my course but I’m not because, to me, it symbolises a complete absence of creativity. It’s so difficult when you’re in a place like Bristol and creativity is all around you but you feel disconnected from it. Both my parents are artists, my Dad is a painter and my Mum is a Ceramist. I think my teenage rebellion and response to that was to be practical. Now I get to 20 and i’m like, shit.
Is there anything you know that you do differently to most people?
That’s really funny you should ask that actually. Yesterday I was with my friend and we were doing henna. They were drawing some lovely patterns and I decided to draw a window looking out on a hill. I think that encapsulates it really; I’ve always grown up slightly to the left. I also think, I’m different musically in that I don’t listen to a lot of music. I couldn’t have a 5 hour conversation about Bob Dylan like some of my friends. However because of that, it means that whatever I do is mine. My aim is that no one of my songs sound the same; I think i’m in a good position to do that.
Who is the most influential person in your life?
My Mum and Dad, fundamentally. I’m an only child and I grew up very close to my mum. I never understood people having role models who they don’t know, because in some way then they’re just figments of your imagination. With my Mum and Dad I know their imperfections but, with that, I can learn from them. They’ve given me as much support and love as they could.
What motivates your work?
I don’t think it’s necessarily a motivation, it’s a need. It’s a way to express things that I can’t consciously process or talk about. When it’s in a song, I can put the emotions in a box and still access them, Sometimes it’s nice; I’ll be feeling something and I won’t know what it is or why it is that way and then I’ll sit down and write something, even if it’s just one sentence, and I understand myself a bit more. It’s quite organic.
Do you find challenges trying to market yourself?
Yes. Definitely. My biggest challenge is that I’m not a producer. I’m good at writing the bones of a song and getting it to the point that I can perform it but, getting beyond that, I need a producer. Time is also a challenge. Bristol is very academically demanding, it can be hard to shut that off. It can be really hard to try and do both. I don’t want my music to float away.
Is it easy to find contacts as a creative?
It’s easy to chat but collaboration is hard. Trying to motivate others and giving away creative control over your baby, your art, that’s really hard.
What’s the happiest moment of your career?
It would either be performing for the Guilty Feminist podcast or being sat in the garden, around a fire, with my Mum and Dad and listening to BBC Introducing playing one of my songs. That was brilliant. My mum’s eye welled up.
What do you want from your career?
The ideal with every musician is that you can make a living off music alone. My short term aim though is to record an album. I have so many bedroom tunes but it goes back to the production point.
What’s one thing you personally think would improve your career?
First and foremost, it’s production and working with other musicians. I can write songs but I can’t always play them and it’s so frustrating. One of my friends plays the harp and another plays the bass. I’m trying to slowly drag them in.
What are the next steps you would like to take?
I would like to be doing more gigs, but specifically sets where it’s a 2 hour gig with 6 performers or something similar. The thing about doing a set where it’s just you for an hour is that it is great in terms of learning how to perform but, then again, you’re not really learning because you’re not seeing how anyone else does it. You’re never learning from each other.
How do you want your audience to see you?
I’m not an ‘Adele’ type singer but I love how she is on stage. She has this fucking-hell voice but then when she stops, she speaks in this really broad London accent. You know that’s who she is. I think that’s the thing with music, when you write deeply personal lyrics you have no choice but to be yourself. I don’t want to be forgettable. I don’t want to be one of the singers in the charts who comes out with a really catchy song but then in a week is forgotten. I want people to think about what I say. My Dad’s a demon for it, he never listens to the lyrics. My lyrics are social commentary, they’re me looking out of the coffee shop window and thinking ‘what’s she doing?’, ‘what’s he doing?’. It’s fair enough to create catchy tunes, I’ve done it, but you never feel as proud or as invested in them. I’ve noticed that I feel less nervous when I’m putting across a catchy tune. Essentially, it’s because I’m less invested. I think fundamentally, with music, you need to care. You need to put enough of yourself in it that you are nervous.
Which is your favourite song you’ve written?
I have 2 favourite songs. The first one is ‘Into The Sun’ which I wrote last year, before coming to University. I wrote it when I was walking around the park, and then I wrote some more on the piano. Whenever I hear it it takes me back to that time. That’s important for me. The other is called ‘Should I Go’. It’s the first jazzy, upbeat song I’ve ever written. It’s not lyrically upbeat, it’s about anxiety and not knowing whether to stay or leave when you’re in a crowded room. I just love the beat of it, it gets you right in the gut.
When you’re feeling down what’s your best way up?
Wine. Laughs. Also, going for a walk, I enjoy being by myself. As an only child I have a whole world inside my head that no one else is ever going to understand and sometimes I’ll be walking around the park and getting a little tune stuck in my head and then, by the end, nothing seems as bad. So that’s what I do. I also do crosswords. I am only twenty, I promise.
What’s your favourite piece of Art?
My favourite film is either Pride or Chef. Me and my Dad have watched it looped. We just love watching the food. It’s also such a beautiful film, plus the Havana/Cuba music in that is fab. In terms of art, I’ve seen so much with my mum and dad, but I guess, in terms of personality, I find Tracey Emin fascinating. I don’t like her politics though. Also if you go to the Tate, there are these amazing Jackson Pollock paintings. There are 3 of them on the wall and they're absolutely mental. If you keep looking at them for twenty minutes you’ll keep noticing other details.
We know, right? She's awesome, so awesome that we wanted to do everything we could to help. You may recall Maia mentioning her problems with production, well, we've sorted that. Stay tuned to see how we helped Maia and how we can help you too.