Over the years, 19-year-old Maya Cumming aka MAY-A has risen from her roots in Sydney to become one of Australia’s promising new talents. The former wannabe internet star has traded her small screen dreams for the pop star lifestyle. Following a fateful interaction with 5 Seconds of Summer’s early mentor, who shortly became her own manager, MAY-A has garnered widespread attention thanks to her breakout hit Apricots.
On her latest single, Swing of Things, the dynamic creative ponders over “life without that person” as she pulls on her upturned emotions of a relationship that devastated her friendship with her now girlfriend. The swirly chorus charts MAY-A’s tugging back and forth with her feelings: ‘Once you’re gone, I’ll want you back / I’ll pick you up but leave you stranded / Only want what I can’t have’. The hit song shows the teen transparently exploring her romantic state in a new unfiltered phase.
Now, with a brand new EP on the way, we caught up with the singer to hear more about her unconventional journey into fame and how she found freedom in exploring her artistic image.
MAY-A it’s nice to finally meet you, even if it is virtually! How have you been?
I’m good, I’m a bit tired but other than that all good. I’m waiting for my pasta to arrive at my house because we’re in lockdown. Sydney is in a full-blown lockdown and I haven’t left the house in two weeks.
Have you been working on anything special while in lockdown?
My housemate is like a florist so we used the most ridiculous amount of daffodils that you could possibly find and put them all in different spaces. We even projected pictures of daffodils and it’s super trippy. It came out really good and I’m really happy with it.
Following your new single, we have to ask, have you gotten back into the swing of things?
I’m in a bad way… I’ve gotten back in the swing of things. The song is about getting back into life without that person and I’ve gone into life with that person again. Stupidly, like a year later, and I’m like ‘Oh god’, so I’m gonna say probably not at this point!
You first started creating content on YouTube under the title ‘heyit’smaya’ before moving ahead solely with a music career. Are you grateful for the creative change?
It feels really good to be out of the YouTube world. I really wanted to do something creative, but I didn’t really know what it was, and I fell into YouTube. It was really fun for me at the time. I didn’t wait super long to come out, but I think being a teenager on YouTube and sharing my whole life on there. I was not myself at all, even though I was trying to be really open. I was not being who I really felt I was at the time. I’d been doing music the whole time that I’d been doing YouTube, but I just didn’t put it up anywhere or say anything about it.
I feel 100% myself with music. It’s really hard for me to go back and watch those videos because I see someone that is trying to please people and be themselves. I’m really grateful to have had that experience then, so now, I just don’t care when it comes to music. This is how I feel and this is who I am and I’m so hell-bent on being honest and real so at least when I look back and I’m like, ‘Oh, that was cringe’, well, it might’ve been cringe, but at least I was being real about who I was at the time.
Do you feel like you have more control of your art (and narrative) when it comes to music, compared to YouTube and social media?
It was a mixture of who I was and trying to give people something that I thought they wanted to see. I would never write a song now just for the idea of what someone would think listening to it. I would just write a song about how I feel. I’ve removed myself so far from YouTube that I don’t resonate with that being me. The difference with music is that you write songs and you have to wait so long for them to come out that by the time they come out, it’s not as risky anymore. When it’s something like sexuality, it’s still pretty risky in some senses, but I didn’t really feel that nervous about Apricots. Everyone in my personal life knows that I’ve had this girlfriend for a long time and I don’t really give a shit if anyone else has something to say about it, because they’re not people that I value the opinion of like random people saying ‘Well, I don’t like you anymore because you’re gay’.
When I was doing YouTube, I thought I was gonna be doing it forever. I actually thought that I would be 30 years old and making videos. Even when I was writing my hundredth song, I was still like, ‘No, I’m not a songwriter that couldn’t be me. I couldn’t do that.’ I never fully acknowledged that it was going to be something that I got into. It honestly wasn’t until I got signed that I said, ‘Okay, maybe I can do this’, and now I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
What’s a music-related interaction that has stuck with you?
I’d always written songs for as long as I can remember. There’s songs in books that I wrote when I was five. The day that I met my manager, I had just moved to Sydney and I saw this singing school and I walked in and started talking to him. I would have been 13. He said I can audition. I was thinking ‘I’m not gonna get in here. There’s no way. I’m just gonna, I’ll probably blow it,’ and he was looking at me really weird. I was just like, ‘Oh, God, I can’t sing. He’s going to tell me to leave’. I stopped playing the song and he goes ‘I wrote that song’. I played Beside You by 5 Seconds of Summer. He had helped develop those boys. It was so random, like a weird fate moment. I kept going back to that studio every day after school and, eventually, he started managing me, and we’re still working together.
As a new upcoming artist, what has been the biggest barrier you’ve faced so far?
I’m still trying to figure out what fashion I want or if I want to look more masculine, present more feminine or solely go one way. I’m trying to find some sort of style, while already doing shoots. There’s not a time to figure it out and then go for it. I’m kind of chopping and changing between different things as it’s going. I think that’s been difficult. Sometimes you get back from shooting and you think I should have said something. I currently have a queer stylist and that’s really important for me. Having someone that completely understands that side of me and how I want to present myself in that way. Figuring out when to put your foot down and say no has probably been the biggest challenge. I know exactly what I want, I know how I see it. I know it sounds strange, but you just have to trust me.
I’m really blessed. I have a really inclusive team at the moment. My management team is equally female and the males are LGBTQ+. A lot of the people that I work with are queer or POC. I’m really happy that it happened because it’s the people that I surround myself with. I work with a lot of my friends because I live in a really creative space. I grew up in a performing art school as well, so a lot of the videos that I make are with my best friend. I’ve just been really lucky. I have a girl band, which is an all-queer girl band. I’ve been thrown into their lives as well and get to meet their friends and their older queer friends, and we have these cool conversations about what queer life is and how different is for each other. It has been really awesome.
Your EP, Don’t Kiss Your Friends, is out soon. What are you excited about most for the release?
Just getting it out! It’s been so long. The first song was written when I was 16 and the last one was like last year. It feels like it’s been just building for so long. I’m excited to just release it so I can move on. Whenever I used to hear artists say ‘focus on new music’ I didn’t understand because you’re always going to be going to the next thing, but it’s not even that. You hold on to the emotions that you had in those songs until you can let go of them because you’re finally past that point. Having to keep bringing up all those songs, emotions and feelings when they’re so old, you get into this weird time warp in your brain. I’m emotionally ready just to move on. There’s a lot more that I’m going to have to move on from after that as well. I’m really, really excited for the EP to exist and for people to have their own opinions on it, and experience it in their own life.
You’ve been working on this EP for quite a while and it charts a lot of your own personal growth. What does this EP mean to you?
The collection of songs is following a relationship with this one person. In the first songs, I didn’t even realise that I was gay and it’s really funny to go back and listen to it. I just had absolutely no idea. Apricots is the next track which is when I start figuring out what was wrong. The Time I Love To Waste is a song that I wrote for a girl that ended up becoming my girlfriend. The Swing of Things is about that falling apart. Central Station is about me saying I need to move on, but then Daffodils is me coming back around and thinking ‘Maybe I messed up, maybe this was my fault’.
I feel like it’s one solid follow-through of that relationship, which is really cool for me to go back and look at because it wasn’t an intentional collection of songs, but it was exactly what I was going through. Don’t Kiss Your Friends is that whole concept saying we could have avoided this whole situation if we just stayed friends, but then the EP wouldn’t exist, so maybe do kiss your friends.
You recently collaborated with Baby Queen for American Dream which we absolutely love! How did that crossover come about?
I’d heard one of her songs on Tik Tok. I heard Internet Religion when I came out and then Baby Queen had another song called Want Me and I was like this is fucking cool. ‘I wish that I was pretty so that I could turn you on’ that’s so insecure, but so open as well. The way that she structures lyrics was awesome. We just started talking on Instagram. She’s such a cheeky person and has got a good sense of humour so we got along pretty well. I heard American Dream and we ended up re-tracking the second verse and sending it over. It was so funny I was in the studio for three hours to track one verse because I could not stop singing in a British accent. Physically I couldn’t hear the track, because every single time that the track would play, even though the voice wasn’t in it, I would go back into an English accent.
If you had to name some top favourite artists – who would be your immediate go-to acts?
Probably Lorde, Dominic Fike, and Taylor Swift. Three huge ones for me. Perfect Places by Lorde is such a beautiful song and A World Alone as well. It’s so hard to pick one. World Alone is brilliant. A song called Socks by Dominic Fike is so beautiful. It’s one of my favourite songs. I can’t even pick a Taylor Swift one. Her entire catalogue. Ivy by Frank Ocean would have to be a huge one for me.
So, your fantastic EP is on the way, but what else have you got planned?
I’ve got some really cool support tours coming up. I’m really fucking excited about them. The EP is coming out and then there’ll be a single towards the very end of the year or beginning of next year. I’m really, really, really psyched to have it coming up. I put my fucking heart and soul into all these music videos for the EP, so if you want to get the full context of the whole creative go and watch those.
Don’t Kiss Your Friends is out August 6 via Atlantic Records.