In conversation with Maya Delilah about jazz and ‘Harvest Moon’
Music Editor Mahnoor Imam interviews Maya Delilah on the release of her new cover, Harvest Moon on the record Blue Note Re: imagined II.
With swooning vocals, dazzling guitar skills and an impeccable, elusive quality to her music, Maya Delilah’s music presents a special, soulful quality that’s difficult to find in contemporary artists today. In this interview, we discuss musical inspirations, gospel chords and organs in songs and vocal style.
Mahnoor Imam: Do you cite any classic jazz singers as inspirations?
Maya Delilah: I’m not a massive jazz-head so I kind of just come across random jazz songs and get inspired. Ella Fitzgerald, of course as a go-to! I go to a lot of small live jazz gigs around London and have a lot of friends who play jazz and get inspired off of them. It’s more kind of what I go and see live rather than specific artists that I listen to.
MI: How would you describe the UK jazz scene for newbie jazz fans?
MD: There’s so many types of jazz- there’s nights of small jam nights of jazz trios or big experimental jazz nights. You can kind of find it all. Jazz is becoming much more contemporary as well. There’s the Love Supreme Jazz Festival which has much more commercial jazz mixed in with the hardcore experimental jazz- all the different realms.
MI: With your cover of ‘Harvest Moon’ by Neil Young featured on Blue Note II, it starts off quite slow and then has a punchy twist halfway into the song. What was the process behind creating that song?
MD: ‘Harvest Moon’ was covered by Cassandra Wilson who signed the song to Blue Note so I was going into more of a rendition of her song rather than a cover of Neil Young. Cassandra’s version starts very slow, fluid and free-tempo, I thought that the first half should kind of give that vibe. I wanted a switch up and feel more groovy. It kind of came about because we were trying to think of all the ways we could switch it up from being slow and fluid. I’m happy we did the switch-up!
MI: How did you decide on your vocal style for this cover? Did you want it to have soft, crooning vocals which are quite significant in jazz music or did you employ your own specific routine?
I wanted it to sound very fluid and smooth in the beginning because I wanted the switch-up to be as unexpected as possible. I wanted people to kind of feel like they were going to sleep in the beginning and then I wanted it a bit more jazzy and sassy with more soulful harmonies.
MI: Would you say you grew up in a musical family or were introduced to music by friends?
MD: My parents aren’t musicians but they played a lot of jazz while I was growing up and they love jazz which meant I love jazz. I went to the BRIT school for Sixth Form which had a lot of jazz musicians and my band is made up of two players who are predominately jazz players- they opened me up more to the world of jazz as well. Through them, I’ve got to know lots of jazz players and gone to all these jazz gigs and introduced to new jazz artists.
MI: With the genre of soul music, is that something you encountered by yourself?
MD: My parents played a lot of soul as well- they played a very eclectic mix of music when I was growing up because I think soul just spoke to me more just cause it made me feel something more. I feel like you can find soul within so many different parts of music so I tried to make my guitar-playing sound as soulful as possible so it has more emotion in it and can maybe speak to people more.
MI: How would you describe your song production process?
MD: If I was trying to make it sound more soul, I wouldn’t have it too over-produced. I’d have it sound more like a live rendition of a song, have more gospel chords and more dynamic range.
MI: When creating a song, are you on top of every aspect, from production to vocals or do you tend to work more in a collaborative fashion?
MD: I have a soul producer at the moment called Steven Barns and I work with him predominantly alongside other producers as well. Steven and I know exactly how to get down what we want to get down because we’ve been working together for so long. He’s realised how much I want the music to sound emotional!
MI: What’s something you wish you spent a little bit more time on as a student?
MD: That’s a tricky one for me because I learn in a very untraditional way and I do everything by ear. I don’t have any theory knowledge and I can’t read music but I wouldn’t change that. It’s different for everyone and if you’re a jazz musician you’re most likely based on theory because it’s very particular and there are a lot of rules. I’d say if you don’t want to get too heavy into jazz, forget about the rules sometimes, listen to it and get to know it more in your head than on a piece of paper because music is supposed to be felt and not structured out, in my opinion.
MI: Is that how you learnt to play music as well- by ear instead of playing by the rules?
MD: Yes, all by ear- I don’t know any of the rules! Which is kind of scary at times and if I’m thrown into a jazz jam with jazz musicians who shout out a key, I don’t know what I’m doing. It takes me a second to figure out where I am and then I can do it! I think I’d much prefer it to know not any of the rules.
MI: Leaves you more room to experiment and create your own thing as well! Would you say there are any modern artists you’d cite as inspirations? Is there a particular style you would say helped to influence your music?
MD: I never know exactly how to say it but I always say it’s a mixture of soul, jazz and pop. For guitar inspiration, my main inspiration is Derek Trucks and John Mayer. For vocals and overall production inspiration, a band called Vulfpeck and Anderson Paak.
MI: With Anderson Park’s duo, Silk Sonic, there is definitely the ‘70s soul vibe we were talking about! Is there a particular aesthetic you want your music to have?
MD: I definitely want it to have a particular aesthetic, I’m very picky with that! Not particularly the ‘70s- maybe one day! I like everything to be very cohesive with videos, art, songs and concepts.
MI: What would say are your three favourite albums of all time?
MD: Voodoo by De’Angelo, Live in LA by John Mayer and Malibu by Anderson Paak.
MI: How do you find performing on your Youtube channel? Do you prefer performing in bigger, live venues more?
MD: I prefer bigger live venues more, definitely! I love being on stage and the energy from the crowd. I’m working on my stage presence at the moment and trying to build up more energy. I have predominantly slower songs than high-energy songs, so I’m trying to incorporate more energy because I like a high-energy show. Working on that currently!
Maya Delilah’s new single ‘Harvest Moon‘ is out now via Universal Musical Operations which features on Blue Note Re: imagined II coming out on 30th September 2022.