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Tkay Maidza on Overcoming Her Growing Pains

With a brand new EP under her belt, Tkay speaks on growing up in the spotlight, coming into her own and part two of ’Last Year Was Weird’.

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The transition from teenager to adulthood, for most, is hard enough on its own. Yet for someone like Tkay Maidza, the experience has the added pressure of a persistent musical spotlight. Breaking onto the Australian music scene at just 16 with her instant hit ‘Brontosaurus’, the young artist was soon playing to crowds of thousands at national festivals like Splendour in the Grass and St. Jerome’s Laneway. In 2016, at just 19, she released her debut album Tkay and then in 2018, put out EP Last Year Was Weird Vol.1, the first of a three-part series.

Like it’s been for many artists, 2020 has not been a year without difficulty for Tkay. A tour supporting Princess Nokia was cut short, and her music production adapted to a new life of isolation, a prime example her iPhone-filmed music video for ‘Don’t Call Again’, featuring Kari Faux. However, the expunging of physical freedom proved only as a slight hurdle. Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 has just been released and is an eclectic exploration of Tkay’s growth in the public eye.

Talking to Tkay is talking to someone with no hesitation, she laughs between answers with an unwavering openness and upbeat attitude, traits that make their way over onto this most recent edition of Last Year Was Weird. We got the latest on her upcoming release, what it’s been like growing up in the spotlight and how weird years can be incredibly relatable.

Hey Tkay, how’s your 2020 been so far?
It’s been good! I started off the year shooting ‘Shook’. We signed the deal with 4AD which has helped a lot ‘cause I feel like it’s so important for me to have a team overseas, to make things work better here. So that was a good booster. And then I toured with Princess Nokia, just before the pandemic really started, but we obviously had to cut it short, because they started closing a lot of the venues and stuff. So yeah, I mean I’ve just been home with my parents for the last four months. A lot of work has been done! I’m kinda surprised by it because for the most part I’ve felt like “What am I doing? Is this going to be done?” But we finally wrapped things up and it was better than I expected. So I feel like a lot of stars have aligned despite just being in my bedroom for four months.

Going back to Princess Nokia, I was actually going to ask you about that! How was it? It must have been amazing!
Yeah, it was really amazing! I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. When you tour with a lot of headliners it’s always like, this makes sense but I felt like this really made sense to me. It was a dream tour to be on. She was really great, she was really nice, she was very supportive and excited. That’s also really rare, to have the headliner like you, really. Yeah, I was really grateful, to be honest.

Yeah, nice! So let’s talk about the EP Last Year Was Weird Vol. 2! Going back to Volume 1 I felt it had really bittersweet energy about it. It’s all about growing up and loss of youth, and then with this EP [Volume 2], I noticed that you kinda talk about being a bit more mature, like you know what you want. Would you say that’s accurate?
Yeah, it’s super accurate. I feel like the first project was about manifesting and realizing what I wanted to do, and also I was just reflecting a lot. At that time I was really questioning the company I was keeping, on the business side, the path I was on and who I was as well. That’s pretty normal for when you’re in your early 20’s and you’re like “What am I doing with my life? Where am I going? What does this mean? What’s the point of everything?” 

And with this one [Vol. 2] I think because the energy of a lot of the songs is a bit more uptempo, it was about bridging that vision and being like cool, I’ve looked within, it’s time to ‘shoot my shot’ and be more assertive, while still looking within and figuring out what lessons I’ve learned. I feel like I’m just meant to be a bit more introspective than I was and I feel like I just want to set intentions. I always want to learn more about myself and the people I’m around so I feel like I’m just becoming more comfortable in speaking about that and just going for it and making my decisions.

Yeah, it’s kinda like a quarter-life crisis going into your twenties, isn’t it?
Oh Yeah, definitely!

I know that when you started you were around 16, and you came out with ‘Brontosaurus’. I remember seeing you at Splendour maybe 2014/15, and thinking, “wow, she’s so young”. What’s it been like growing into an adult in the spotlight?
It’s definitely a fast life, I feel like I’ve been falling into so many situations without overthinking it and that’s probably why I’m here. I’m always like “cool, I’m gonna go do this,” and then I just commit to it. I might have a lot of people being like, “what is she doing? Or why is she doing that?” But over time I’ve always just backed whatever decision I’ve gone into. The only time I really get to think about whatever I’m doing is probably just before I release what I’ve been working up to. The pressure really hits me when I’m about to put out a project. Like right now I’m thinking, “Wait where am I?” but I do remember when I was making this project I was really excited about it, I just have to capture that energy I felt when I finished the music. 

Yeah, honestly it’s been interesting growing up in the public but, if anything on the music side, I just do whatever I feel like and I’ve been lucky to be able to convince people to come on a journey in that sense. As a person, I feel like the only thing I don’t really like is the privacy issues. That’s probably the one thing that’s irked me. It’s just very weird trivial things that people always find interest in talking about, but I’m learning to come to terms with that I guess.

Some of the themes on your EP seem pretty personal like in ‘Don’t Call Again,’ ‘You Sad’ and ‘PB Jam’. Is there a certain relationship or experience you’re talking about?
Yeah, with ‘Don’t Call Again’ when I first started writing it, I had one relationship in mind but then over time, it wasn’t about that anymore. It changed its meaning. For me, it’s about a lot of relationships I’ve had and it doesn’t have to be love either, it’s business relationships too. That’s what I had to think about when I was finishing it ‘cause sometimes it’s not always just one situation that makes up a song, there’s a lot, it’s always like a general consensus. It’s the buildup of so many events. ‘You Sad’ was fun to write. I felt like I was being petty. The way I think about a lot of things is just kind of petty, I feel like I am a petty person. I’m always about manifesting and inner peace but there’s that duality of me that’s like, “Wait, why is everyone so annoying.” Like ‘24K’ is also me being like, “Mind your own business”. So yeah, you could say they’re about specific things but I honestly think they’re about broad events that are very similar.

I read in an interview that with your debut album Tkay you said that you didn’t like who it portrayed you to be and you thought you could do better. Do you feel differently about this latest trilogy of EPs?Yeah, I feel like I’m more honest with who I am and sonically it makes more sense. When I made Tkay it was more dance and it was more pop, and to be honest, I don’t listen to a lot of pop music and if I do it’s very selective. When I made that project I was just going into a lot of sessions and I think my argument is just because I can do it, doesn’t mean it’s good. Even if it was really great I feel like I was madder at the fact that I just had so many people being like, “This is amazing’, and I was like, “In what sense?” The music I’m making now is more in line with where I want to position myself as a person. I would listen to a lot of these songs if someone else released them. I wouldn’t be embarrassed posting about it. I wanna be proud of everything I do.

Yeah, it’s interesting, cause I think a lot of young artists try to put out as much music as they can at the start of their careers, they don’t really think about that.
Yeah, it’s a tough thing to do because obviously you want to win. You want to be really successful, and sometimes in order for you to be successful you have to compromise, but there are also things that I don’t have to compromise. I’m just trying to be the best version of myself and ultimately live in the world and be comfortable with who I am. But also I definitely want to be successful and perform at a high level, and actually make a difference to culture and the society that I’m in.

I noticed that there was a theme of wings throughout this EP, you were wearing them in ‘Shook’ and then they were in ‘Don’t Call Again’ and then you have a song called ‘Growing my Wings’. Is there a story behind that?
I think I’m just very spiritual, honestly. If you ask me what colours I’m attracted to, you’re probably more inclined to see me wearing white. When I’m speaking, I’m always speaking about angels and demons and all those things. So I think when you’re thinking about visuals and how to amplify it, in a lot of these situations it’s very angels and demons. We could get really cool wings that would be really epic and you know, just try and make an aesthetic and a world. I think it’s a theme that’s going throughout all of the EP’s but I think it’s more subconscious than me being like, “And in this EP we’re going to wear wings and then this song is going to be like this”. It’s not that elaborate, I listen to the songs and do what feels right, it’s not like a four-year plan. 

So I know your video for ‘Don’t Call Again’ with Kari Faux was made in isolation. What was that process like and what was it like working with her?
Working with her was really easy, she was really quick and pumped and super collaborative and cooperative. I ordered the green screen and I had to set it up. I was lucky that I had a month or so to get used to it. So I was setting it up every now and then and just filming and getting the lighting right. I filmed it on a tripod with an iPhone, no crews. The director was phoning in every now and then being like, “Hey, are you okay?”, which was great. It was a fun experience but I think I’m very traumatized from it. [Laughs] If the lighting was wrong, the white balance wasn’t right, I had to rebalance and refilm. If I was looking away in any of the shots, I had to refilm it. It was a really cool lesson, I feel like I’ve learnt more and now I appreciate having a crew of people there doing all of those jobs for me. And same with Kari, I think she was also traumatized cause she was like, “There’s so much to do!”

No, it came out really well, I loved the animation in the intro!
Oh yeah, that’s me as a cartoon.

So I know you wanted to expand ‘Last Year Was Weird’ as an entire concept, you have a clothing line as well. How do you want to expand that further?
I would obviously like to create a line that’s not just merch. I wanna branch out and make shirts, just more elaborate, like a fashion brand, and I want to collaborate with a lot of artists in fashion and in music. It would be cool to create a hub where you can tap in and exist and have this outlet for other people to grow. When you look at brands like converse, they are their own thing but then they have cool collaborations and events. It’s this whole experience and I want to make it an experience so people feel like they’re a part of something. I feel like the title is so relatable and a lot of people look at it and think 2020 was weird and 2019 was weird. It’s a really good opportunity for people to have something that they love. It’s not even about the music or liking me, I just want it to be another safe space for those people that have a tough time or have weird experiences. They can wear it, go to something, speak to people that go through a similar thing but express it in a really cool way, of wearing cool clothes or whatever makes them feel good.

I feel like with Volume 3 you’re going to have a lot to write about in regards to ‘Last Year was weird’ with 2020.
Yeah, well we’ve kind of nearly finished it, to be honest. I have two or three more songs that I need to finish, that I will probably try and fit in. I feel like the way I write isn’t so on the nose, like I feel like it’s still ambiguous enough for people to interpret it in their own way. So yeah, we’ll see how it goes. I’ve literally had the songs already picked out.

Will it continue to follow those themes of growing up and establishing yourself?
I feel like this is more about embracing. A lot of the songs are empowering. There’s a track that we made called ‘High Beams’ that’s about embracing. You’re literally going into an upper ashram of yourself, the songs are very like, “Okay, I’m being”. I feel like the first EP [Vol. 1] was “I want to be”, and then the EP [Vol. 2] that’s coming out is like ‘Hey, I think we’re actually getting there’ and then the third ones like “Okay, it’s making sense now”.

Well, it was great chatting Tkay and good luck in the future!
Thanks for having me! Thanks for the support!

Follow Tkay Maidza here for more, check out her EP here and stream the video for ‘You Sad‘ below.

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