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An interview with... Maya Delilah

SWX, Bristol - 27/02/2024

Maya Delilah is a singer-songwriter and guitarist from London. During lockdown, she built up her fanbase online through livestreams and TikTok content, playing original songs and posting short guitar covers and related content. She’s always been open about the misogyny she’s faced as a young woman rising in the music industry, using her platform to encourage other girls to pick up a guitar and beat the stereotype. We caught up with her backstage at SWX in Bristol, ahead of her support slot with FIZZ, to discuss tour life, learning your instrument, being an artist in lockdown and the female experience within the music industry.

Hi Maya, thank you so much for joining me for a chat! How are you? 

I’m good! Thanks for having me for a chat! 

So we’re in Bristol ahead of your support slot with FIZZ at SWX tonight. How are you feeling about the show and do you have any expectations for the set tonight? 

I’m really excited! This is the fifth show of this tour and it’s been quite a mixture of audiences so far. Like there’s been both chatty audiences and silent audiences. I mean, it’s scarier, but I prefer the silent, more quiet audiences, obviously, so I’m hoping for that, but I feel like Bristol is a really lively city, so you never know. But I’m really looking forward to it! 

Have you had a chance to explore much of Bristol today? 

A little bit. I was actually here at the weekend as well, and my sister went to university here so I know the city somewhat. And I love it! If I didn’t live in London, I would choose to live in Bristol, for sure. 

So how are you finding tour so far? 

I’m loving it so much - it’s probably the funnest tour I’ve been on. They’re such a great band and so welcoming and so lovely. And so funny! I really look forward to coming in for soundcheck everyday and just hanging out with everyone and getting to do the shows to such nice, supportive audiences. 

How have the crowds been on this tour? 

They’ve been good for the most part. It was a bit rowdy in Cardiff, but yeah, they’ve been some really really great crowds. Dublin was a really good crowd, as was Manchester. Just like super super welcoming and supportive, and it’s just a really nice community that FIZZ have to perform to. 

How are you finding touring life and have you learned anything from this tour so far? 

This is my first tour that I’ve done completely by myself without any of my team with me, and it’s actually been really great. And it’s showing me that I can do that, and I can play without a band, which is boosting my confidence a little bit. I slept on a tour bus for a couple of nights and that was an experience! Really fun, really cramped. But yeah, I’m having a really good time! 

On your Instagram yesterday, you said that you’ve always dreamt of people shining their phone torches during one of your songs. And you mentioned how it’s happened every night of the tour so far. So how does it feel to be playing the shows and how has the reception been? I personally can’t believe how far you’ve come since your lockdown livestreams and it’s so nice to see! 

Thank you! Yeah, it’s been so magical. I went to like a huge charity gig when I was like 13 or 14 with my mum at the o2 Arena and I remember Ed Sheeran played a song and the whole arena did the torch thing on their phone, and it lit up, and I didn’t know that was a thing until I saw that concert. And I was so overwhelmed and that has stuck with me ever since. And I’ve always been like, ‘I want that to happen at a show.’ and yeah, it’s seemed to happen on the last song of every set at the moment! It’s just so magical and I love it because it just kind of stops me from taking any of it for granted, having those moments. Good vibes. 

Do you have any pre-show rituals? 

I do, I listen to Everything by Michael Buble. I sing along to that maybe like twice to warm-up because it’s got all the range. That’s pretty much my ritual. 

What was it that inspired you to go into music and at what point did you realise you could make a career out of it? 

I started playing the guitar when I was eight, and that’s actually something I’m quite reluctant to say because we had this workshop at school and Amy Winehouse’s piano player came in and was like ‘I didn’t touch a piano until I was 24, look at me now!’ and I feel like a lot of people ask me how old I was when I started and I’ve been playing for like 13 years, so I feel like it kind of discourages people. But then I went to a music school and got really inspired by my other classmates and then decided that I wanted to go into it full time because I was just having such a good time. And I didn’t look back. 

How did you find getting into the industry and having that dream, but then trying to make it reality? 

It was interesting. I think I was really lucky having gone to music school and having so many friends who were doing it as well and being able to go as friends to events and make connections, meet people and work with new people together. And there was a lot of that which I really liked because I always liked doing stuff with other people and I fell into the right groups. I was quite lucky with who I met, and like the places that I put myself into kind of ended up having people that I ended up working with for years. I always find it a weird one because I don’t really know how it all started happening, it just kind of did. 

Can you remember the first song you ever wrote and what it was inspired by?

I wrote a song with my friend when we got lost in a park. And we wrote a song called I Am Lost Hear My Scream, and it was actually a really dark song, but yeah, that was the first one. 

What was your first encounter with music? 

Well, my parents always played a lot of music in the house. It’s like a very musical household. And I started playing music out of jealousy for my sister. And then I went to Africa, and started listening to all of this African music and there was all this harmony in African music, which made me really inspired to try and make my own version of that. So I got home and got a loop pedal and I started building harmonies like that. And that was the first thing that really got me into composition and feeling inspired to [make music]. 

You mentioned how you got into guitar, but what was it that drew you to that instrument and how did you learn to play?

My sister started and I thought it was really cool. I was a tomboy at the time and I was seeing all of these stereotypes, and I realised quite quickly that the guitar was a stereotype for a boy to play. And I decided that I wanted to do that, and was quite like, ‘let me rebel as an eight year old’. And then I think I came to it quite naturally because I decided not to learn it in a theory and scales, classical way, because I tried that with piano and it didn’t work. And that made me learn a lot faster and I got quite good quite quickly because of that method I was doing. Then when I went to sixth form and to the BRIT School, that stereotype popped up again and all of the musicians in the year, like all the guys were electric guitar players and a lot of the girls were singers or acoustic guitar. And I was like ‘right, time to buy an electric guitar!’ And then I just became obsessed with it and I got obsessed with being as good as the guys, so practised a lot. 

What advice would you give someone trying to learn guitar or any instrument?

It’s a tricky one because there’s so many people that thrive off of theory and the more structured way of learning. But if you find that that doesn’t work for you, don’t get discouraged. Like learning the songs that you want to learn by ear, I find that’s how I learned and I think it’s more fun. And more of a fun challenge. Just finding musical friends and playing with your friends and having fun with it helps to take the chore away because I think when parents make you learn instruments as a child, it can feel like a chore. I think as soon as it becomes that, you’re not going to find any joy in it. So try and take that away as soon as possible. 

You’ve mentioned before about how you didn’t really know theory and pretty much just learned by ear. Did you ever feel limited by that and what was the learning process like for you? 

I’m really dyslexic so I can’t read black on white. So reading sheet music and tab was kind of a no-go for me from the start. And I think I just found that [learning by ear] might just work the best or like visually learning through watching someone else play it helped me. I think the more that I did it, the more I really started to crave the accomplishment and the feeling of finishing a tune. I would just pick solos that I love people playing and try and do one a week or something, not putting too much pressure on it, but trying to just learn the things that I like to listen to by ear. And it was kind of like a game. 

Is there anything that you wish you could have changed about how you got into music and the learning process?

No, I think I’m stubborn, and I think if I can really dissect it, I know that I’m limiting myself in certain ways. I also don’t play with a pick, which is the normal way to play. And I know that that limits certain techniques like speed, but my aim isn’t to be the best guitar player, it’s just to play with feeling and I think as soon as I’m trying to put strict methods on it, then I’m gonna lose that feeling. So I’m quite happy with the way I’ve done it. 

With that in mind, how would you personally describe your sound and musical style?

I think it’s a mixture! I always say a mixture of soul, pop, jazz and blues. Yeah, I’m gonna go with that. 

What advice would you give to any young women trying to get into the music industry, especially since it’s notoriously male dominated?

I would say it can be challenging and it can still be challenging no matter what stage you’re at. But I think if you build the people around you, whether they’re men or women, whoever you have around you, as long as you trust them, you will know why you’re in it and you’re doing it for fun and you’re having fun with it. That’s the most important thing. And don’t be discouraged by the men, because at the end of the day, no-one can do exactly what you can. 

You mentioned BRIT School and the balance of the class - how did you find that as a young woman trying to break into the industry and if it was a struggle, how did you overcome it?

Well, they were all really supportive and all really lovely and that helped. I think more than anything in that scenario it was very inspiring and encouraging. I think that if you take all of the challenges of it as motivation, then it can be fooled into something really good. I think it’s kind of like the more women I see defying it, it feels more like a community and it’s really lovely, and such a nice thing to be a part of. And there’s so many other women in the music industry who are going through the same thing. So if you push through and find those people that you can do it with and can have a rant about it with and learn from it then it makes it easier. 

It’s quite a similar question, but I remember some of your earlier TikToks where you were speaking about the misogyny you faced as a female guitarist. How did you deal with that, and again, do you have any advice for anyone in the same situation?

That’s a tricky one because I try to call out as much as I can. I’ve definitely had my fair share of like a lot of hate comments and stuff, and there’s only so much you can kind of talk about and I think not giving into that much is good, because that’s what they want. But there have been circumstances that I have spoken about online, and I think that the way I tried to do it is try and be like ‘don’t just assume’, because a lot of it is assuming, ‘that I can't do something because I’m a woman.’ And it’s just like having a conversation, asking me how long I’ve been playing, what I do, am I doing it as a job. If you see me with a guitar, don’t just jump to the conclusion that I need help. And like there’s been circumstances that I’ve put online where a man has kind of stopped me in the street and been like, ‘oh, you should set up your guitar this way’, and that really annoys me. It’s like just ask me, ‘how have you set your guitar up?’, don’t just assume that I need help off the bat, because I can see that someone’s trying to help, but it’s not going to be well received if you just think I need help before you ask. 

What do you want to see changed within the music industry to make sure that this isn’t something that continues?

I think the more women who get into the music industry and kind of fight all of that… I think that’s the thing. I get a lot of messages from young girls asking for advice and saying that they’ve picked up a guitar and they’ve started and they want to be in the music industry, but they are scared. And I think that just the more people that kind of go fuck it and jump into it and bridge the gap by speaking out about it, the better and more people will feel competent to join. 

You’ve recently released the single Actress, can you tell me a little bit about the writing and recording process of that please?

Yeah, that was a really fun one! I wrote it in LA with my two friends, Josh Grant and Trey Campbell, and Josh was the producer as well. We first started with the chord idea, and then spoke about how it would be cool to make it sound like an old school sample, we were listening to some references for that and just kind of had fun messing with it. It was like kids messing around with music energy for a lot of the time in that session, which was so much fun. Trey’s an amazing songwriter so came up with a lot of the lyrics really fast. It’s kind of a blur because it was one of those songs that came out really quickly and it was all done within a day. Trey mentioned the word ‘actress’ and then I was like ‘I want the song to be called ‘Actress’’, and we had written a draft and then shifted it around to focus on that word. I took it home back to London, I did the guitar solo from London and then sent it back. 

So you’ve released three singles: Actress, Necklace, and Silver Lining. Are those songs part of a bigger project and if so, can you tell me a little bit about it?

I can’t talk about much, but two of those three songs are going to be going into a project that I’ll be speaking about shortly. 

What do you prefer releasing, singles, EPs or albums?

I think bodies of work, for sure. Whether it’s an EP or an album, I really like coming up with an overall theme, idea and visuals to do with it. Singles aren’t really my vibe but do what you’ve got to do. 

So your last EP was released in 2021 and it’s called It’s Not Me It’s You. Can you tell me a little bit about the making of that project and what influenced it?

Yeah, I mean it was all about heartbreak and is about a break-up. It was actually really nice because I had been finding it really hard to write just before my break-up, then it happened and I was ready. So all of those songs were written within a month of the break-up and it was really nice to have something to really focus on and get all of my words out exactly how I wanted them without having to speak to the person that I wanted to say them to. It was literally like writing in a diary, iit was very therapeutic. It’s always a weird one to realise that people are hearing you say all of your thoughts, but I mean break-ups are so universal, so it’s nice to be able to write stuff that I’m kind of sure that people can relate to. 

Just more generally, what’s the writing and recording process for your music like?

I have been working with a few different producers recently. I’ve been going down to a lovely studio in Devon and have written a chunk of my next project there and it’s been a completely different process for me. Everything’s been recorded on tape, like in the olden days, and I get to pick people to come down, Stephen [Barnes] being one of them for one of the tracks, to write and record. And it’s kind of like a little retreat. You go with like five days and write the songs and record them with the band, as they were written kind of in the days, and yeah, it was really amazing. Martin [Luke Brown, FIZZ] has come down for all the trips and I’ve also been working with a band called Aquilo from London, and been doing lots with them. It’s been really nice to kind of start working with a few different people and learn different ways to make music. 

What’s it like working creatively with people that you’re good friends with and how does that help with your creative process?

It’s really fun. I really like it because I’m not someone who writes in their bedroom. I always like to write with other people, I get too distracted otherwise. And I get really inspired; even if I’m not feeling particularly creative, if I get into a room and someone else is, then it can easily snap me back into that creative mode. And I really enjoy it and it’s always a nice laugh. Then to come away with a song that I have written with someone that I really love as well is really nice. 

Where do you take inspiration for your music from and do you take write about things you’ve experienced personally or base it on other people or characters?

I get inspired by so many genres, that is a bit of a problem, and I think you’ll hear that in my next project that it is a bit chaotic and all over the place. I just get inspired by different genres and artists all the time and I like to bring elements of that in. I’m not trying to restrict that anymore because I used to be really concerned about having sounding really cohesive and like one style, but I think that’s not what music is about. It’s about making whatever you feel inspired to make. I did a project a couple of years ago that will probably never see the light of day, all written from other people’s perspectives, because I didn’t have much going on in my life. When you go into a session, they’re like ‘what’s going on with you?’ and you’re like ‘oh nothing, everything’s really good’ and it’s like you’re not gonna have anything to write about now. So it was nice to put my head into someone else’s mindset. Now, I still have stuff that I like to write about that’s going on in my personal life, and it’s always really therapeutic. It’s been a mixture. 

I kind of mentioned this at the start, but you’re an artist who’s “journey” I was quite invested in during lockdown. How did you find the process of building a fanbase when in a situation where you can’t play shows and actually meet the people that were listening to your music, and having to promote yourself on social media? 

It was so weird. I actually think that it felt such a community at that time, that I don’t even know if I feel it anymore. It was kind of backwards because I wasn’t seeing anyone in person and it wasn’t like translating to an audience, but I still really felt that there were people watching and it was growing. I worked really hard… probably a bit too hard, my work ethic went through the roof a bit. I think it was scary not knowing if it would translate, but during my first headline show coming out of lockdown, it was amazing. I was so scared no-one would show up or it would just be friends and family, but I couldn’t even see my friends and family in the crowd. I always think back to that time when I’m thinking about social media and how I’m presenting myself and wanting to have that kind of relationship with my audience, because yeah, it was great, and really nice to feel that support during that time. Yeah, such a weird one. 

It kind of feeds into my next question about musicians having to become content creators and promote their music online, which is essentially what you were doing in lockdown. Did you ever consider this when going into music and have you ever felt a pressure to interact with your fans?

It wasn’t something I considered at all. When I started, I thought I’d just make music and perform, if I got that lucky. I have such a love/hate relationship with it. I’m really grateful for what it does for my career, but I’m reluctant to do it because it’s not natural for me. I think it becomes natural when I get into the flow of it, but when I’m in focused mode and creating music or I’m on tour or I’m doing something where I don’t have that much time and capacity to make content, I find it really hard to do both at once. I can’t really split my time very well with that. But I really love the community that I’ve built up and I want to keep it going. It bears pressure, that’s for sure, because it kind of feels like clutching at straws a bit sometimes and wanting people to stay engaged. Also, I know that a lot of my following has come from guitar videos, and don’t realise I’m an artist as well, so trying to translate those people and it’s hard to juggle [all the content types I make]. But I’m trying to see it as a fun challenge. And the people who stay when I post stuff about my life or my artistry are the people that I care about and hopefully care about me. It’s a strange balance that isn’t quite there. 

What’s it like now being able to meet these people who have been following you for so long and be able to play for them?

So, so nice. When I see people either singing along or saying my name or like anything like that, it makes me so happy and it makes it all feel worth it. Like I love the job, but it’s still hard at times, and I think moments like that is just mind-blowing. 

You’ve used your platform a lot to encourage more girls to pick up the guitar and stop stereotyping guitars as masculine. What was it that influenced you to use your platform for that and have you seen any impact so far?

I’ve had a lot of really lovely messages about girls saying I have inspired them to pick up the guitar, which is like the best thing I can hear. I think that as soon as I started posting about playing guitar, I started receiving hate comments. And I think that did surprise me at first, but I just didn’t think about it that much. I think it didn’t necessarily surprise me because it makes sense I would. But I think as soon as that started, I felt it was an important thing to talk about. And since doing that I’ve been getting nice messages and people saying they got a guitar for Christmas and they’re excited. They’re still scared but they’re gonna give it a go and stuff. And that just makes me wanna talk about it even more. 

You have such a cool style and aesthetic as an artist which feels really distinct to you - where do you take your style inspiration from and the aesthetic choices for say your music videos?

I’ve always been very big into fashion, probably because I went to a uniform school, and I just love all the other creative aspects that come with being a musician, like videos, fashion and merch, just so many different things, and I love the idea of tying it all up into one world. I find it quite hard to keep it in a world, but I think my go to is Tyler The Creator and how he’s built his whole artistry, world and fashion, and I always get so inspired seeing anything he does and I wanna be able to do that in my own world.

Why do you feel fashion, style and aesthetics is so important within music? 

Because it’s another way to express yourself and I think that for me personally, if I’m a fan of a band or artist’s music and I look into them and I see that they have an aesthetic and they’re really sure of themselves and they present their personality a little bit, maybe not too much, but like you can kind of see who they are as a person, I’m much more likely to be like a proper, proper fan of them because I feel like there’s a slight wall that’s been taken down and I feel like that’s quite important. And I think if you’re trying to build something that’s not just like digital and listening to just the music, I think it’s important and just such a big part of expression. I feel like it’s really fun to dive into that. 

Maya Delilah is currently on tour with FIZZ in the UK and Ireland. 

Where to find Maya Delilah:

Instagram: @mayadelilahh

Twitter: @maya_delilah

TikTok: @mayadelilahh

FaceBook: mayadelilahh


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