For some musicians, having your work sampled in one of the most iconic hip-hop songs of the past decade would be all the artistic recognition one needs. Not so for Maya Jane Coles, an electronic artist and DJ who has been putting out work of excellent caliber both before and after her track "What They Say" was made ubiquitous thanks to a certain Miss Nicki Minaj and a track titled "Truffle Butter."
Tomorrow, Coles will be releasing Take Flight, her much-labored-over sophomore LP, a double album that will definitively stand as her most immersive work to date. But the 29-year old isn't sweating it; she spoke candidly with us about crafting the full-length, facing down sexism in an industry renowned for it and the role of electronic/dance music in the ever-shifting landscape of today. Read our interview below.
You’re back to release your second full-length album under your own name. How does this LP differ from the last?
I’d say it carries my same essence and personality, but there is a definitely progression and my productions have matured a lot more. My first album was more about me making a statement, as I felt like I was kind of stuck in the smaller scene of underground House and Techno when the music I produce actually spanned a much wider range of genres, including the more Pop/Trip Hop stuff and more song-based compositions. Comfort was to kind of show that I wasn’t just about one thing. Working on Take Flight was my chance to step back and merge the many worlds of music I enjoy working in and showcase it all through a journey of 24 tracks.
You’ve said critics were surprised by how melodic Comfort was. Have you kept that emphasis on melody with Take Flight?
Yes definitely. I think the compositional side of my productions have progressed and matured a lot more, and creating melodies is actually what I have always enjoyed the most, so my productions will always contain that strong musical element.
You work under different projects and cover plenty of different genres – is this differentiation between your own name and other aliases important to you?
I love writing, composing and producing music. It’s what I enjoy doing most in life and I create so much material that crosses over so many different styles that it would be virtually impossible to release all under one name/project. That’s mainly why I like to create aliases and work on production for other artists as well. It just make sense. I just want to be able to have an outlet for all the different styles of music that I like working in.
The "Truffle Butter" sample in particular opened you up to a more mainstream audience who might not be deep into the dance music scene. How was that experience?
I think opportunities like that are fantastic because so many young people literally just take the music they’re fed and never branch out into listening to more leftfield stuff even if they have the potential to like it. I’ve come across so many people now that have told me they got into listening to House music because they loved “Truffle Butter,” realized that it was originally sampled from something else and that opened the door to a whole new world of music for them. For me, that gives me a true sense of accomplishment, because at the end of the day I get the biggest sense of satisfaction when people who wouldn’t necessarily think they’re into my style of music realize they like listening to my productions.
I love expanding people’s musical horizons, because daytime radio can be so generic and people get sucked into listening to the same crap all the time. Sometimes it just takes one simple little thing to actually inspire people to branch out a little more. I can totally relate because when I was much younger I really thought I hated dance music. That was purely because the commercial house music I’d hear on the radio and on music TV channels just wasn't my thing at all. It took me being exposed to more interesting House and Techno just by chance to suddenly realize that I actually really liked dance music.
You’ve been away for a few years and the new album is extremely expansive – was it important for you to take that step back from releasing officially?
I’ve been touring non stop for those years so I wouldn’t say I’ve necessarily been away from the scene. It’s just difficult to release music constantly while also constantly being on the road. I wanted to make this double album perfect so I put in the time, but it just happened to be majorly spread out whilst being away with gigs so much. I wouldn't say it was actually a choice to put releasing music on hold. Also the beginning of this year was extremely intense and one of the worst, with my mother passing away, and other stuff so things were on hold for a while. It’s really important to step back in certain moments and you have to put some things before others.
A lot of conversations around dance music generally are heavily trend-driven – the ‘death of dubstep’ narrative is just one example. How do those conversations make you feel – do they affect your output?
To be honest, I’m usually totally stuck in my own bubble when it comes to the music I produce and the music I listen to, so I don’t often have much of an interest about what’s on trend or find myself having those conversations. I do find it interesting though, and you definitely hear batches of releases that all sound exactly the same released around the same time, and you can tell that a certain distinct type of track does especially well. Some people only know how to copy others and some people are just subconsciously over influenced by what they hear rather than having a sound of their own.
Venues keep closing, making it more and more difficult to book shows. Do you see these closures impacting emerging DJs?
In a way, yes, I guess it does have some sort of an impact, but things always change and evolve and now there are a lot of other ways for people to hear music that weren’t as available in the past. Yes there are way more venue closures, but at the same time there are so many newer ways via social media and other digital platforms for emerging artists to spread their music and make an impact.
You’ve talked in the past about being pigeonholed as a woman – even at the level you’re at, do you still see it happening?
I’ve never really found it that important to focus too much on the fact that I’m a female. I feel like if you make a thing of it then it becomes a “thing.” For me personally, gender has always been one of the last things on my mind and I would much rather let the music do the talking. It was definitely surprising at the start to see how many people often got shocked that I would do the entire part of the composition/production/mixdown process on my own, but I don’t think women are pigeonholed as much these days.
Generally though, if you think about it, women have been oppressed for so long in any industry, it just takes time for a shift to happen to create more equality in any field, but I feel like it’s slowly happening now. It’s just things don’t change over night. It's the same for racism, homophobia, xenophobia etc. If you think back even just 15 years and see how different people’s mentalities were then, think how much more progress and equality we cab reach in another 15 years.
You’ve already claimed respected slots at the likes of Fabric and Boiler Room. Do you have any other goals you’re still keen to achieve?
I’ve still got a long way to go until I reach my goals and dreams. DJ’ing is just a small part of what I love doing. I’ve got so much I want to do as a producer/artist (in the musical and visual sense) that this is just the beginning for me.
Maya Jane Coles' 'Take Flight' is out on August 25. Order it right here.
For more of our interview features, check out our chat with rising Danish rapper Noah Carter right here.