16 years after she first stormed the charts with her self-titled debut, R&B maestra Mya returned to the spotlight this month with a brand new EP cut and crafted for the lovers.
Aptly christened ‘With Love’, the singer bills the set (which she has deemed a prelude to her global chart return) as a treat for the army of loyal fans who have stuck with her over the years.
Ever eager to ask the questions you really want answers to, That Grape Juice caught up with the ‘My Love Is Like…’ belter for a candid chat.
Having experienced the bright and dark sides of the “industry”, the 34-year-old was both equipped and ready to offer fascinating insight into the past, present, and future of her layered career.
Check out our exclusive interview with Mya below…
Transcribed by: Josh Wexler
Sam (That Grape Juice): Mya! It’s great to speak with you.
Mya: Thank you! It’s great to speak with you as well.
There’s so much to discuss, but a useful starting point is your new EP ‘With Love’ – which hit iTunes recently. Tell us a little about the project and what fans can expect from it.
Well the project was a gift to my fans on Valentines Day. The reason for this is because Valentines is all about love. This date marks 16 years ago that I released my very fist single. So I’m sort of doing this as a celebration of myself as well. 16 years is a long time. But it’s to the fans in particular who have been there and are hungry for new music, and it has more of a love theme.
You mentioned during a recent press run that it’s a taster of sorts for your US return – which we’ll definitely delve into shortly. But, to “return” one must have “gone away” – which you did.
After the handling of your last planned American LP ‘Liberation’, you spread your wings and decided to focus on the international market. Were you exhausted with the US circuit?
Well it’s not that I ever abandoned America. What I’ve done is a new business model being an independent. What I’ve done is, maybe, one exclusive project for Japan, which was limited contractually to their territory, which was ‘Sugar and Spice’ in 2008.
I’ve since put out other projects digitally without the support of any major label or huge financing- it’s all just digital. So if people have not seen or heard (my music) on the radio maybe the perception is that you’ve gone away to Japan? Haha. But I still make music that’s available to the United States (and the rest of the world) digitally via iTunes. ‘Kiss’ being the last, in 2012. (For that particular record) there was a worldwide release physically through MyaMya.com, and the album was made available at all of my shows too.
All in all, I’ve never stopped; I never took a “break”. It just takes a little longer when you’re an independent and funding everything, and performing to pay for everything.
Liberation saw a lot of delays and ultimately didn’t come out. Thereafter you parted ways with your label. For those not in the know, what exactly happened during that period?
Motown Universal was the label that I was signed to at the time, and I was coming off of Interscope, which was more of a Rap and Rock label that started to become Pop. So I transitioned within the Universal system to Motown to begin work on ‘Liberation’, which was designed to have an R&B and Pop sound. However trying to figure out the right radio single and get the right radio support behind each song eats up a lot of budget, and it also pushes release dates back.
It was set for worldwide digital release, however towards the end of 2007 they pushed the album release date back one more time. Yet, because Japan is ahead of time, and because the United States forgot to tell that territory “Hey, we changed the release date again.” My album leaked all over the Internet because Japan had it. I didn’t want to go through a lawsuit; I didn’t want to spend time in court. I just said, well, I spent some time working on the album, so I’ll just be independent with the advice of a lawyer and just do it myself and see where that takes me. And then Japan loved ‘Liberation’ so much, because they were serviced it on iTunes, that they wanted me to come over there and do more stuff. And that’s how ‘Sugar and Spice’, my first independent project, was born the following year in 2008.
We know you’re cooking up a new album – geared towards the US market. What inspired your decision to “comeback”?
It’s always important that I create music independently first, so that it represents who I really am. With many forces involved that don’t quite know who you are as an artist it can get a little tricky and interference can possibly affect the integrity or quality of the project. But at the end of the day, I’d love to be married to the right partnership whether that’s a label, whether that’s a brand, whether that’s an investor.
It’s really just finding a way in this newfound music industry. It’s totally different from when I first hit the scene. It’s making sure that the project gets the attention as well as the exposure that my fans expect it to have to make it look as if it’s an official release. There’s so much digitally happening.
So after all of the merging of the labels, and after all they’ve been going through transition-wise, I wanted to wait until everyone was settled and it looks like things are settling in the music industry for label merges. And now is a healthy time where I’m in a great space creatively as well as them being at a professional settled space where we can entertain those possibilities. But at one point it was a little too risky and messy for me to do that, and that’s why I’ve been just doing things independently.
Who are you working with on this project? What’s the sound? Release window?
Well, I’ve stayed in the studio (laughs); I also have my own studio so I have (recorded) all kinds of genres of music. I don’t stop recording, so I have all kinds of compilations done already. It’s just about the smart move and what the fans remember, what the fans usually want to hear, the core base, and serving them in proper doses so that it doesn’t get too confusing. Definitely 2014, for sure, I’m most certain of that whether it’s feeding them singles on a regular basis or feeding them with a real EP that’s not surrounded around a holiday, an actual project, or an album. I would personally like to release an album in a major way if it’s going to be a worldwide album with physical distribution and that takes proper alignment.
I’ve been working with a lot of folks. PJ Bianco is one, obviously Yonny who was on this current EP, he actually executive produced with me. Chuck Harmony, who has the title track on ‘Kiss’, Tricky Stewart, a lotta folks that I’ve been working with.
With that said, would you consider signing to a major label?
Of course! Absolutely. I’ve never been opposed to that. It’s just about the right time, bringing the right thing to the table. I think, absolutely.
(Speaking on the notion of the “right” deal)
Today’s industry has seen a lean towards 360 deals – with major labels now having their slice of branding and sponsorship. What’s your take on this shift? Is it advancing the industry or taking advantage?
I think the industry is in an incredible state. You cannot operate off of the old model. The advances for artists don’t make sense anymore, the big budgets doesn’t work like that anymore. Album sales are at an all-time low, the capability to sell physical units is still there, but fans want content. If you don’t have the budget to create content, whether that be videos, documentaries, movies, reality shows, just something, then they won’t know that it exists. There’s so much on the Internet at our disposal that you have to stand out. You have to have a platform and a pedestal to be noticed and to exist.
So the industry cannot operate the same way that it used to because there’s so much more in abundance that you can get lost in the shuffle. But, there is an advantage indie artists often have over major (label) artists because there’s direct outreach to your fans. You get their opinions before you release something or put lots of money behind a song or a video, and they can be a part of the whole experience. It’s all about people at the end of the day. There are some pros and there are also some cons, but I think we’re in a great state as long as we’re operating with a newfound mindset professionally and creatively.
Switching things up a bit, what would you say your most embarrassing moment has been?
Well it’s always embarrassing to fall on stage. I’ve had wardrobe malfunctions, but it’s never been severe or too revealing or on a major platform where millions are watching. But I would say the most embarrassing thing is falling on stage… onto someone in the crowd and it being on YouTube. That’s not sexy.
‘My Love Is Like Woah’ and ‘Fear of Flying’ are That Grape Juice’s favourite Mya single and album respectively. What are yours?
My favourite Mya single would probably be ‘It’s All About Me’. I think it being my very first single of my music career has contributed to that. I also love performing that song live with a live band.
My favourite album would probably be ‘Moodring’ because there’s so many genres of music on there. That would have been my favorite major release.
In the seven years since you released in the US, a lot has changed. We’ve had the rise of Beyonce, the explosion of Rihanna, as well as the introduction of a host of new female talent. Who are some of today’s divas that you enjoy most?
Most recently I really liked Emeli Sandé, I really like her lyrics and her music, her message. I’ve been listening to Aloe Blacc as well.
It’s just incredible, the fusion of music now and the different genres that are intertwining. The fans and general public are not prejudiced to what segregated audiences maybe 10, 15, 20 years ago when everything was divided. But there are artists of all genres collaborating together, and I love where music is. I love where artists have gone because there’s no box. That’s absolutely where I’ve always been as an artist and a person, so I’m excited.
You have a Grammy, a string of big hits, and – for many – were the first of the new generation to show shades of Janet Jackson with a new age twist. Yet, still a lot of your fans feel that you are “underrated”. Do you feel underrated?
No, because I’m not ever really looking to be rated. I just want to make sure that I provide and serve. That’s what I like to do. I just don’t feel that I’ve had my moment to do what I know that I’m capable of doing. Whether the music component has been right, I don’t think I’ve ever had the music the way I need to have the music.
I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to do things, but usually at the direction or ultimatums of the people funding it. Which I understand is the business. But creatively, I haven’t had my moment to do what I do best the way I know how to do it. So I just think people haven’t seen the best of me just yet. The best is yet to come and I feel like I’m just beginning. I’ve also evolved as a person and as an artist, but I don’t want to focus on being underrated or overrated. But I’m glad that people appreciate talent.
In coming back to scene, what are some of your main goals?
My first main goal is to make sure that I’m honest in my music and that I’m a good person in my life and my profession. That will allow me to serve the people the way they need to be served, with goodness, with a good character, and great music, something that means something, something that’s alive.
The second component would be to make sure that the business is right. And that means that, hey, everyone eats, but we have to sacrifice in order for everyone to win. We have to make compromises. I think that the essence of being an established artist, people always want to overcharge you, but that eats into the budget of actually being able to do a music video or do things with your fans. People can take advantage really quick. But a team is a part of that business and making sure I have the right teams around me that get to the bigger picture so that I can do number one.
The template of how to sell music has drastically changed – with TV, more specially reality TV, emerging as a great vehicle (i.e. for the Tamar Braxton’s and K. Michelle’) . Is reality TV an idea you’d ever embrace?
I am so open-minded. If it’s right, it’s right. If the business is right, the business is right. If I have control, and not in a diva way, to make sure that what I’ve worked for in 16 years is preserved- cool! I’d love to be a part of the editing of a reality show, because you already know you can get thrown under the bus really quick (laughs). But yeah, I’m so open-minded to doing a reality show as long as it’s right. I think they’re pretty entertaining and fun!
Rounding up, what message for female acts looking to break into today’s music business?
First, in particular for my girls, I would have to say speaking to yourself in a positive manner at all times is very important. There will be so many people who will make you second-guess yourself. But spend a lot of time by yourself. Whether that means writing and taking at least 20 minutes to an hour a day, if you have the time, for yourself just to write your thoughts down for clarity so that you are never swayed in the wrong direction.
Speak up, and if you do speak up make sure that it’s done in a respectful manner. People are so quick to call you ‘diva.’ It’s how you approach things. Speaking up can be very intimidating for anyone, but also on the other end it’s how you approach these things. But you need to speak up about things you’re not comfortable with because it can haunt you. Like doing things that you don’t want to do, whether it’s the wrong song or wrong video, how you speak up when you speak up is very important.
Two, getting educated about the business and assembly. A lot of men are producers, a lot of men are engineers, a lot of men you have to work with. A lot of men are the executive producers, or the CEOs, so surround yourself with a lot of women because that can get tricky too with guys in the industry. Especially if you’re young, or if you’re attractive in any kind of physical way the gift becomes a curse in this business because guys will try to use that to their advantage. Just speaking to my ladies right now. But get involved and get acclimated by speaking to other women with power, do some research, and learn how to do as many things as you can. Whether it is engineer, whether it is doing your own makeup, whether it is picking up a new skill with an instrument. Those things come in handy, but business more than anything so that you can draft your own contracts, do your own negotiations, so that you can pick up the phone and know what terminology is if you have to start booking your own shows. Whatever it is, you’ve got to become a hustler and multi-faceted and multi-dimensional.
And, obviously, being grounded and loving what you do is always important. And doing it for no other reason than that it’s making you happy.
What does Mya want her legacy to be?
I hope to be a vision of light and shed some empowerment for many people, not just females, but males. And give hope, as well as share my personal ministry and testimony of the ups and downs. Not everything is what it appears to be on the outer surface, there’s so much. To share that with other people to make their lives better and enrich it in a certain way so maybe they don’t have to go through the same struggles, or actually know what the right route is for them to take personally so they don’t fall short. Just to be a teacher and getting people to a happier place sooner just like my parents and my teachers did for me.