19-year-old MAY-A is far ballsier than you are
In 2015, a young Maya Cumming was hitting the streets of Sydney, performing whatever music came to her at the time. Fending off disgruntled shop owners attempting — and on occasion succeeding — to ban her from performing in front of their property, Maya quickly became familiar with the often unrewarding world of busking.
Fast forward to today, after a slew of single releases and a record deal, MAY-A – as she is better known to music fans – continues to tighten her stranglehold on the Australian music scene. Her previous single Apricots landed in the top 200 year-end countdown of Australia’s cult radio station, Triple J and her latest single, Time I Love to Waste, acts as another confessional and self-effacing diary entry disguised as an effortless, cruisy tune.
We caught up with MAY-A to discuss all things music.
Are you the type of musician who refreshes reviews and sites after releasing a song or do you release it and ignore your phone for a while?
I’ll listen to the song once it's released and then I'll just try to not look at it until the end of the week. I listen to what my friends are saying, but I don't like tracking the streams and stuff like that. I think that’s really unhealthy.
Are your friends the honest type or will they always just say they love it?
My friends are all in the music industry, so they’ll be honest — or they’ll say, “Oh, I like this one, but I’m more excited for that one to come out,” and I’ll say, "Same!"
So, none of them have heard the single? Or do you run it by some people in your friendship group beforehand?
On the Hottest 100 Countdown night, I was with a bunch of my music friends and we all got really drunk and played each other a bunch of our demos, which was fun. I felt as if I were at a Spotify listening party or something. Everyone had their turn to play their music, so they've heard a couple of songs and The Time I Love to Waste and they seem to really like it.
I feel as though being drunk as well is probably the ideal situation because everyone's a little bit loose-lipped with that honest feedback, right?
Fully, and the hype that happens is unmatched. If a beat comes in that you aren't expecting for someone else's song, everyone just loses their shit.
Were there a lot of good responses to Apricots? Because it blew up.
Yeah, there were heaps of good responses. I got a lot of messages where people said, "Oh, I really liked the song. It helped me with this and this," which is cool because I'm used to being recognised from YouTube. I used to do YouTube videos and every time that I get recognised people say, "I love your YouTube videos!" to which I'd say, “Cool, thank you.” [laughs]. Because I stopped doing them I just wonder how the f*** do people still remember me from that?
I got recognised a couple days ago and they said, “You sing Apricots, I love that song!” I said, “Oh my god, oh my god - it’s from a music thing.” That was really, really cool.
So, you were busking when you were 13 or 14. Was it as daunting as it sounds?
I was quite young. It was never a full-on thing. It was always random. I think the first time I went busking, my Mum said, “You’re a cute little kid and you can play the saxophone, so stand on the beach and do something random — play All the Saints Come Marching in.” That was when I was eight or nine.
I used to go out with my friend Izzy and we’d play the guitar for hours in Bangalow, where we lived. Apparently, we got kicked out of one of the storefronts for "disturbing the customers inside."
You said that the first time you realised you had a crush on a girl, you wrote a song about it, so is songwriting a therapeutic diary entry?
It’s very much like a diary entry. It can be confusing because I don’t really know how I feel until I’ve put it into a song. That used to make it a lot clearer. Before I didn’t know what was going on in my brain, so I’d just write all of it down. Then it’d come out in the song and I’d step back and look at it and say, “Oh, that’s how I feel. That makes a lot of sense.”
There are a couple of lyrics that are quite self-deprecating. Are these emotions that you feel on the regular or is it a fleeting thing that you get out of your system once you've written it down and sung about it?
It’s very self-deprecating. There are tones of that throughout all of it. But I think that’s just me vocalising my insecurities that are constantly there. It doesn’t mean I’m always sad. It just means there’s just always a weird self-worth dynamic in my brain.
I’m always going to think that I’m irritating, or I said something wrong, or someone doesn’t like me, and I think that I’m really grateful for being able to put that in a song.
So how do you go with separating that? If you’re singing a song, and you’re not necessarily in that mindset, does it bring back certain memories? Or are you able to just sing the song?
Oh yeah. If I’m writing a song and a specific line related to old emotions comes to my brain, but it still sounds cool, I’ll say, “No, no. We’re not going down that road.” If we go down that road, the whole song’s going in that direction, and I’m going to get to the end of it and tell myself, “Damn it! I thought I was over it.” [laughs] It’s just the mind playing with itself, going in circles.
I guess that's the downfall of using music to vent because then it keeps you in a stranglehold forever, doesn’t it?
Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it really gets something out. I’ve never really written an angry song before. It’s always been sad, happy, or very love-struck or longing for something — a place, a person, or something like that.
A dude once backed into my car and I was crying, and there were a chain of events, and I got to the studio and I was so over it. I was on my way [to the studio] and I was just so mad. So, we wrote a really angry, heavy guitar song — I’m pretty much screaming, but it felt so good. It’s probably never going to come out but it was needed.
How many songs do you think you’ve written to vent, that you don’t want to release?
The thing is, all the ones that are 100% genuine and real to me, I’m very split between wanting them out there...because I know that it’ll help people get through certain things. They’re the scariest ones to release. There are a couple about my family — and I wrote one for my therapist but I still haven’t sent it to her — and those ones are harder to release, but they’re probably the most important ones to put out there.
For the UK crowd, which Aussie musicians have you been listening to that you’d recommend?
Merci, Mercy is definitely one of them. She's incredible. Also, Nick Ward makes incredible music and so does Chris Lanzon. I feel very protective of them, even though we aren’t even really close friends. I’ve just loved their music for so long and I just want the best for them. I can see the potential and I want them to f****** skyrocket because I think that they deserve it so much.
Time I Love To Waste is out now
Photographer Jess Gleeson
Interview by Louie Costello
Subeditor Primrose Jeanton