She has released a “DJ-Kicks” that looks to be the canned session of the year, she is preparing a debut album and - in the interim - she has shown herself to be the most interesting woman on the current house circuit. We spoke to Maya Jane Coles before her stellar session at Sónar 2012.
Maya Jane Coles’ stunning rise is no coincidence. You can tell that she’s ambitious and has very clear ideas; she knows that she’s talented, but above all, she’s a worker from head to toe. Since she was a teenager, she has known that she wanted to produce music, and she didn’t stop until she made a niche for herself in the trenches of British house. In 2010 she released “What They Say”, the instant classic that finally catapulted her to underground stardom. Along the way, she won the respect of the house spectrum and the hearts of the bass community (she also produces dubstep under the alias Nocturnal Sunshine).
Now she’s touring around the world and she has just released a juicy “DJ-Kicks”, but she wants more. Far from resting on her laurels, she’s wracking her brains to make her debut album clearly reflect a musical vision that is much wider-ranging than it might seem at first, and she comes to each one of her sessions with a dedication that has little to do with media spotlights. Fed by a passion for music, she has managed to position herself in the centre of the industry before even turning 25. But the most important thing is that she has the world at her feet. Before her performance at Sónar 2012 we spoke with her about her beginnings, her tastes and motivations, her “DJ-Kicks” and her ideas regarding her future debut album.
"One of the things that I hope my album will show, when it's finished, is that there are many sides to my production"
How and when did you first start producing your own tunes? I've read you were first a producer before you started DJing. What led you to finally start spinning records?
I first started producing my own music when I was about 15. I was making hip-hop and trip-hop at the time. I got into house much later, but I produce many different genres now. I first learnt to mix vinyl and started DJing house when I discovered the underground house and techno party scene in London 7-8 years back.
Although your sound is pretty rooted in deep house, coming from the UK, I guess you were also in contact with the so-called “hardcore continuum” growing up. What would you say are the main influences on your earlier (and even current) sound?
Whilst some of what I do is deep house, I also make techno, dub, dubstep, pop and everything in between. Some people who are fans of She is Danger and Nocturnal Sunshine probably know and prefer me for my dubbier productions. One of the things that I hope my album will show, when it's finished, is that there are many sides to my production. It’s definitely not going to just be a deep house record. The music I listen to is broader than deep house and, again, I think those more eclectic influences will be reflected in the album too.
After some releases on Dogmatik, your career changed drastically with the success of “What They Say”. How was it to suddenly be the centre of attention, being so young and a newcomer to the scene?
I've been making music for years. That's what I love to do. I try not to let anything else distract me from it. I am really glad and humbled that so many people seem to like what I do as a producer and DJ, but it's making good music that is most important to me and I never want to lose my focus on that.
How has travelling around the world and being known to a growing number of people affected you as a person? Can you still be “you” when all this happens?
I always try to be me; I can't be anybody else.
You're about to release your “DJ-Kicks”. I think the mix showcases a really wise combination of the deep and “elegant” side of house and a certain rawness that comes from the 2-step/ garage spectrum. Do you agree? Was that your first idea?
Thank you. I just wanted to make a really good mix that showed different aspects of what I play out and listen to, as it's more than just deep house. I wanted it to stand up as a mix in its own right that could survive outside of the club too. I got everything I wanted in there; some new tracks, some tracks people might have heard before. And some tracks that I felt seemed to have been overlooked by many and deserved some more attention.
In the same way, to what extent is the mix a sort of extension of what you play live? Do you tend to plan your live mixes or does it just depend on what you feel like once you’re up in the booth?
I always like to add new tracks to my mix to keep things fresh and inspiring for both myself and for the crowd, and each crowd and party is different, so you can't pre-plan too much. With the mix, some of the tracks there I would play out, but some of tracks are more in there because I felt they suit the mix better but are maybe not the right tempo or vibe for when I am playing out.
The tracklist mixes well-known names with up-and-coming and pretty unknown producers. What are your methods for minimising the time you spend digging and maximising the result?
There are no shortcuts; I just listen to a lot of music.
You have also included a new track from your dubstep project, Nocturnal Sunshine. Are you working on new material for it? Can we expect any releases soon?
My main focus is my album, but I am sure you will hear more from that alias in the future – there will be a Nocturnal Sunshine remix of Karin Park coming out soon.
I think you have the ability to transcribe a certain spirit of old-school house into a more contemporary language without falling into a pastiche. How important for you is classic house? Do you feel that the “soul” component is crucial to your music?
I think 'emotion' to me may be a better term for what I think is crucial to my music and it doesn’t matter if it's dubstep or house or whatever music I make. The best tunes just flow through you; something happens that’s special or it doesn't. I scrap hundreds of tunes I start and only put out what I am most satisfied with.
After a pretty busy 2011 in terms of releases, so far 2012 has been quite calm as far as new productions of yours go. Besides the DJ-Kicks, do you have any releases in the pipeline?
Dogmatik just put out “Watcher” as part of an EP, which was the first label that ever put out my stuff. There is more coming, but my main focus right now is getting my album done and dusted and sounding exactly how I want it to.
"Every set I do, from a small club to a huge festival, I want to make as special as possible for everyone there"
I especially like the Carly Simon cover you did with Alpines. How did that come together? Can we expect more pop-oriented productions from you in the future?
You can expect anything from me really! I don't want to put myself in a box or be put in a box by anyone else. If something is interesting and I think something good is going to happen, then I will at least try it. There are a lot of people I am interested in working with and as an artist I want to continually challenge myself and evolve. That's what keeps things fresh and me excited and satisfied in what I do.
You’re working on your debut album, as far as I know. Can you give us any hints about what direction it will take? Is it going to be similar to the sound of your EPs or are you looking for a more specific thing (in terms of, for example, making it more suitable for home listening)?
It’s definitely not just an album for the clubs and is quite song-based, with more vocals in it than I was expecting when I first started it. It’s been a long but really rewarding process. I could have put out an album before now, but you only get one chance to have a debut album, so I wanted to get it right and feel good about it. I hope people enjoy it.
Besides finishing your album and continuing your tour around the world, what are your immediate future plans? Also non-music-wise.
All sorts of things, most I can't give away just yet. More production for others is definitely on the horizon, but in the main it's mainly summer festivals, Ibiza and finishing the album that are my world at the moment.
You’ll be playing this year at Sónar. It’s going to be the first time you play there. Is it going to be special for you? How do you approach a set in a big festival like Sonar, do you think much about it?
I've played at an off-Sonar party before for Dogmatik, so I kind of know what to expect and I'm really looking forward to it. Every set I do, from a small club to a huge festival, I want to make as special as possible for everyone there, so I hope that people are going to have a good time.