GRAZIA: Congratulations on your forthcoming EP, Last Year Was Weird Vol. 2.0. What have you learnt since Volume 1?
Tkay Maidza: “I think I’ve just improved honestly; I think I’ve learnt to trust my instincts and [I’m] also learning that songs aren’t done the first day or the first week that you make them. It’s always going to be an ever-evolving process and only you know when you’re done so don’t just let stuff go because of a deadline or something… I just feel like as you’re getting older you have to be really careful with your intentions and how you release music if you want to build it up in a good way as well.
Your new single, ‘Shook’, has received international acclaim. Can you tell us where the inspiration for this song came from?
TM: “Honestly, the producer I worked with Dan Farber, he was making the beat in session and I had the hook “yeah I got em all Shook”, already written. I always have a bank of ideas on my phone and sometimes you might go to a session and not know what to do in the moment but I can look through the folder of old things I have written. That was one of those moments where he made the instrumental and I was like wait, I have something that’s perfect for this and it just worked out really well.
That was in February last year, and then I came back in September and I had the verses written out. We recorded the verses and then I think it went from 30 percent to 80 percent in that second time we met because he added all the breaks and transitions and all the movement underneath.”
Listeners have picked up Missy Elliot vibes from the song. Is she someone who has had an impact on your music?
TM: “Not all the time, but I definitely grew up listening to her and I feel like that kind of music to me will always be timeless because it sounds so natural and organic and it’s so well made. I think she was so ahead of her time. She’s definitely a good person to look to and learn from because what she was doing no one else was, and that’s part of the battle, being fearless and going for what you believe in.
You entered the music industry nearly a decade ago. How has your music changed since then?
TM: “I was making dance music when I first started but it was like rap over dance music and then I guess I went into a more pop leading sound where I was singing and then after my first album I started to listen to a lot more soul music which is what I grew up listening to. I just felt like that would fulfil me more, doing what my heart really felt like doing.
“This new project is like a bridge of old me and who I want to be.”
You’ve been praised for breathing new life into Australian Hip-hop. How does this genre differ from that of overseas Hip-hop?
TM: “It’s a different sound. People here have different stories; the thing that makes music from different places of the world so unique is the experiences of where you’re from. It’s just the culture that makes it so different. I’m not similar to another Black girl from America or to another Black girl in the UK and that’s what makes them unique and that’s why Australian Hip-hop is different. We have grown up with so many different influences. There’s a lot of new artists here and you can tell their more influenced by American music or by UK music but that’s because that’s their culture. At the same time, you are still exposed to so many different things day-to-day that isn’t what you see overseas and that’s why we are different.”
On Twitter recently, you wrote, “Starting to find comfort in being an outsider.” Is this something you’ve struggled with in the past? How do you think it contributes to your music?
TM: “I grew up travelling. My parents work in mining, so we’ve always moved, and I think in high school I always felt, I’ve always had two best friends or if I did have a lot of friends it was ones here and ones here. It’s never like I have a group where I belong to, I’ve never really felt like I belong anywhere. Coming into music, when I did so young, it was like ‘Oh, she’s 16, she’s African, she doesn’t make music that sounds Australian.’
“Everyone is always pointing out how different I am and I’m very introverted.”
The music I make and everything I do is so loud but if you speak to me, I value smaller interactions than bigger interactions. So, you just won’t see me around a lot of people. I’ve never really felt like I do fit in, in that way and maybe it’s a good thing. I feel like I’m introverted so it’s not like I speak to a lot of people or throw myself out there. But I feel like a lot of people tell me I’m always different and I don’t fit in. But then also that’s your strength and also in some ways it’s a strength when I’m winning but it’s not really cool if I’m not.”
How does that translate when you are performing on stage? Have you ever struggled having to step out onto the stage? I saw you live at Field Day in 2016. You were so confident and went out there dancing and busting out all of the lyrics. Did you ever struggle with that initially?
TM: “I feel like my body language was probably shy when I first started and, yeah I was probably nervous but I’ve always found it really fun and I feel like when you brainwash yourself with your own lyrics and you think about what you’re going to do in each song, there’s not enough room to worry about what other people think in the end. Because you’re just trying to make an experience and whether people like it or not from the outside doesn’t matter because I’m so preoccupied with so many things, like trying to remember the words and make that great and just entertaining myself on stage at the base level. I’ve always believed that if I’m having fun and someone is watching, either they’ll enjoy it or they’ll be like why is she having so much fun and I think that’s a better reaction from someone then [thinking], ‘Damn she was so awkward and weird, and she forgot her lyrics.’ So, I’ve always tried to make the worst performance that I do really great, I’m still moving, I’m still smiling.”
The visuals to every release are always so vibrant and so impactful. What is the process for creating the concepts surrounding these?
TM: “I generally like to have a lot of colour; I feel like that’s what makes me very unique. I’ve always been very colourful. The stage version of me is very colourful. The first EP of last year was very green and for this one I wanted it to be more pinks and purples, oranges like a sunset vibe. I made a lot of mood boards and concepts before pursuing it with directors.
For ‘Shook’ I made the whole concept up. The video is meant to be an intro for the project as well. I wanted to wake up in the future and shifting through a radio trying to find where I am and the reason why I wanted it to be a radio was because I feel like my sound is eclectic and I feel like listening to radio is also eclectic. You never really know what you’re going to get.
I think it’s just having a lot of time to think about it and make mood boards and I really made sure that I articulated my concepts first before I went out and gave people ideas because no one is going to know what you want more than you.”
How has the pandemic and social distancing changed how you create these productions?
TM: “I feel like I would’ve made a lot of videos and content in LA – you just have a pool and endless resources over there. So, I’ve just had to be more self-sufficient. ‘Don’t Call Again’ was shot in my bedroom and I had to film it by myself it with my iPhone and I had to set up the green screen and the lighting and I had Jordan who directed the video dialling in every now and then to see if I was okay. So, I’ve had to be very self-sufficient and motivated internally to make things happen.”
You wouldn’t think you had to do that all yourself in that video either.
TM: “Oh, thank you. By the end of it I thought, ‘Oh my God I hate green screens.’ After the edit I was like, wait, I filmed all of that by myself and I looked at so many cuts before we added the animation. It was just getting the placement and being happy with the shots even though I was like ‘Oh God, I’ve looked at myself so many times and don’t even know if I look okay in this anymore,’ because I’d seen it way too many times. But I was so happy with how it worked out and I think I just had to put my ego aside and say, ok cool, look at yourself as if it’s someone else otherwise you’re just going to be going back and forth forever.”
In light of the health crisis as well as the Black Lives Matter movement, what was your mindset going into the release of this EP?
TM: “It’s been a whirlwind for sure. I feel like being home I’ve had more time to just think about who I am and who I want to be. I have so much time to rest and look within. When the Black Lives Matter happened, it brought up a lot of trauma and events that I didn’t feel the weight of at the time but looking back I was literally mourning the person I was and I brushed it off because it felt better to do that and to make other people feel comfortable for making me feel uncomfortable because when people say offensive things and you know they just don’t understand it’s always just better to be like, ‘Oh haha’. It’s just better to forget about it.
It was just thinking about all those things that happened growing up, it was very traumatic and honestly, I went to the protest the day before we shot ‘Don’t Call Again’ and I almost just didn’t want to do the shoot.
“I felt so heavy and down and you get into this huge pool of existentialism and just start wondering about what is life.”
It’s been interesting. Whenever I’m having conversations with people I’m constantly checking in with myself to see if what I said was offensive. I have a lot of time to critic myself and say, ‘Wait, am I being irrational in this exchange’, or how can I be a better person? I feel like even just shifting through a lot of relationships and asking if I really need to be friends with this person.”
Where do you want to see yourself in 5 years’ time?
TM: “I’d love for my project to grow and have Last Year Was Weird as a brand and a company where I can exist in the fashion world and throw events and do all the things that isn’t completely centred around music, I feel like I would just like to do a lot of things and stay really busy. Then I’d also like to be in a place where I am creating and not worrying about time and money and worrying about who likes me and who doesn’t like me. I just want to create and feel free doing that and be happy and not chasing things.”
Tkay Maidza’s new EP, ‘Last Year Was Weird Vol 2.0’ is out now. For more from the artist, visit her website here.