Born in Philadelphia, Maya Solovéy spent her early teenage years living in Ecuador and Spain before deciding to record her first album at age 17. From there, she went on to record her second two years later, switching things up slightly to create a piano-pop EP with a distinct Indian flair.
Realising she had bigger dreams she wanted to pursue within the music industry, she made the move to New York City, the place she now calls home. Upon releasing her self-titled trilingual album in 2007 and, later, her EP Forte in 2012, she toured Europe extensively and is now looking forward to the release of her new album Blue Heart on October 28th.
As she gears up to perform an album release show at the iconic Rockwood Music Hall in New York this Sunday, October 9th, Maya kindly agreed to this interview to chat favorite songs, dream gig-line-ups and her mixed views on social media.
PW: Please describe yourself in five words.
Maya Solovéy: Calm, multifaceted, sarcastic, nurturing, quiet.
PW: When did you first realize you wanted to be a performer, and did you have any other career ambitions prior to that?
MS: I remember the exact moment -- I played my first open mic the summer I was 17. It was a crowded noisy bar. I did my first song a cappella, and the entire place fell silent as I sang the song. That was it for me...
PW: Which bands and artists influenced you growing up, and have those influences changed over the years?
MS: I was greatly influenced by 60s and 70s folk growing up -- artists like Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell and the like. As I’ve grown up, I also tend to gravitate to other folk and pop artists that I think were also influenced by these kinds of artists. As far as singers go, I love the music of Lhasa de Sela, Sybille Baier, Feist and Elis Regina. My musical tastes have also expanded a great deal to the worlds of Brazilian music, Indian music, and instrumental music such as classical and jazz, but I see a less direct influence on my writing from these genres. They are more of a pure enjoyment for me, where I don’t have to think too much.
PW: Is there a band or artist you might say you're similar to?
MS: I certainly get compared to a few, though I’m not sure how similar we are or not. My favorite and most honored comparison is Lhasa de Sela, but I get Feist, Regina Spektor, Fiona Apple -- even Mazzy Star came up recently, referencing a Christmas album I did.
PW: Who or what most influences your song-writing?
MS: A lot of songs begin with a very specific influence of a particular song that lands in my head and heart for a moment. These things can be from all over the map. I can be influenced by a song or an artist I rarely listen to, but it makes a mark on me that particular day. I usually have something from the song in my head, be it a melody, a production hook, or even just a general vibe. I often begin with that, and then it usually takes its own direction. Some songs I can definitely say come out this way, and I can point to the specific songs that influenced it. But sometimes songs also come from nowhere that I can readily identify. Song-writing is a weird combination of things you already have in your head while responding to the things that are spontaneously coming out of your head, into your voice, hands, and pencil.
PW: In your opinion, which is the greatest song ever written and why?
MS: To be honest, I am not sure I can answer this question. You could point your reasons to the technical or academic, saying that a song hits all the right points melodically or lyrically -- The Beatles nailed this over and over. Or you could point to the emotional, which is purely subjective to you and your own emotions that day. A lot of Paul Simon’s songs hit me anytime I listen to them; the way he weaves his melodies and his poetry together, like in “Kathy’s Song”, or “Song for the Asking”, or many others I could mention. Some of the best songs aren’t even “songs”. One of my favorite pieces of music for example, is a 40 minute field recording a friend of mine made in India, of a monk singing his morning prayers. The greatest song ever is the song that speaks to your heart that day and gives you what you need in that moment, whether it be solace, joy, energy, truth or sadness. It is the best song for that moment, until that moment changes, and with it, the song. I’m not trying to be pompous here, it’s just that the greatest song, for me, changes all the time.
PW: You're playing Rockwood Music Hall on October 9th. How does it feel to know you'll take to the stage in such an iconic building?
MS: Rockwood has certainly become the one of the premiere venues in NYC, and I’m thrilled to be playing there. They opened right around the time I moved to New York 12 years ago. One of my first gigs here was there, in fact. I met Ken Rockwood then, and I was touched by what a genuine and kind man he is and how much he loves music. I’m so happy to see how much they’ve grown and have really become a pillar of the downtown live music scene. I’ve never played Stage 2 before and am really looking forward to it, especially the piano, as they have a really beautiful one. I haven’t played piano live in about seven years, I think, so it’s a very special occasion to say the least. An album release is just that -- a release, and it’s very cathartic to share this thing you worked so hard on for so long with all the people you know and love.
PW: The show is to celebrate the release of your album Blue Heart, out at the end of the month. Without giving too much away, what can you tell me about it?
MS: Well, I can tell you that it’s very much a full, robust, expansive record with a fair amount of testosterone. I was the only woman working on this thing as far as the eye could see ... except for the one day when Taylor Cannizzaro, my cellist, came to play on the song “Further West” -- that was a beautiful day. It has a “band” vibe to it for most of the songs, since it was a product of a moment in time when five of us came together: myself, my producer Bassy Bob Brockmann, Hank Sullivant and James Richardson of MGMT, and Robert “Chicken” Burke of Parliament Funkadelic. We hunkered down in a cabin upstate for six days, choosing, arranging, and rehearsing songs, and then went into the studio for 6 days to record the album. The album has a few intimate moments, too, when I recorded a couple songs alone in full “live” takes.
PW: Do you have a favorite track on the collection, and, if so, which is it and why?
MS: I have a couple for different reasons. I love how the productions on “Blue Heart” and “Body Language” or “Cachorro Quente (Hot Dog)” came out. But, if I had to choose one, it’s probably the most unsuspecting one, which is “Better”. It’s the most personal one to me and probably most representative of me as an artist, if you look across the range of my work.
PW: What are your other upcoming performance plans?
MS: There’s a good chance I may be performing at a festival in Tbilisi, Georgia called Artisterium in November, but, believe it or not, I still don’t know yet. I have some gigs here and there -- not full on “band” shows like the album release party at Rockwood, but a couple house concerts, including a bossa nova duo show with my husband up in Western Massachusetts -- that’s a different thing I do altogether. I’ve also written some songs for a couple plays, both by the playwright Erik Ehn, and they will be premiering soon. One is in Providence, RI on October 20th–30th, and the other will be in New York, at La Mama Theater, December 1st–18th. So, while I won’t be personally performing, it will be wonderful to see and hear my work performed by others.
PW: Which four bands or artists (who can be living or dead) would you most like to share a stage with and why?
MS: While I would most certainly be terrified to share the stage with my heroes, I have to say these: Paul Simon because he’s my songwriting idol; Johnny Cash because then at least I could sing harmonies and be useful; Bon Iver because his music has really pierced something in me, and I feel again, maybe I could contribute some vocals that might be useful; and then perhaps Fleet Foxes because I always kind of wanted to be a part of “a really cool band”.
PW: How has social media impacted your career, and would you agree it's a necessary tool for bands and artists today?
MS: Honestly, how I feel about social media vacillates quite a bit. I think it’s most useful as a big rolodex of all the people you’ve met or want to meet and can access somewhat easily. It’s a great tool to reach people, of course, and for them to reach me, and it has the potential for big impact. But, most of the time, I think the results are lackluster in comparison to our idea of what they could or should be. I participate in it, certainly, and I think it’s good for sharing things are can be digitally consumed, but I don’t know how much it actually gets people out of their houses to do things. I also think it’s potentially harmful to the creative process. You look up from a Facebook wall binge and think: “where am I, and what have I been doing?” To answer your question about whether artists should be on there, I will say yes. But, if I’m honest, I wish I had the balls to not be on there -- or rather, I wish I could afford to not have to be.
PW: What does the rest of the year have in store for you?
MS: Besides a bit of travel, playing some more shows solo and with my band, whom I absolutely adore, I am actually excited to start making another record. It really is true that, as soon as you’re done with one record, you’re already past it and ready to move on to the next. I have so many songs that I still want to realize more fully, and the recording process is my favorite place for that. Contrary to my past records, which were mostly made in studios with my producer, engineer and mixer Bassy Bob Brockmann, recently I have learned to record by myself, produce things from home, and engineer others who come to play on my music. So the next record will probably be a longer and more solitary process, but I definitely feel ready for it.
PW: Finally, then, where would you like to see yourself five years from now, and what's your ultimate ambition as an artist?
MS: I would like to feel even more happy and settled in my music than I am right now. It is the greatest gift in my life, besides the people I love. I would like to feel like I am being as genuine as possible and as true to what speaks to me as I can be. I know this question could be the place for career checklists, but, in the long run, whatever happens or doesn’t happen, I want to feel satisfied with my work, with myself, and the choices I’ve made. I want to honor the thing that is inside of me to the best of my ability and be happy and content in the process of doing so.