Notorious for conceiving every element of her sound from the ground up, including the artwork that contextualises the journey, Maya Jane Coles doesn’t falter with her ambitious sophomore effort, Take Flight. From the moment you’re greeted by the surreal, monochromatic illustrations of her album art and the brooding synths that lead album opener “Weak”, you know that you’ll be spared the sonic Stevia that woefully sweetens mainstream electronica, instead presented with a complex soundscape that’s dark, raw and encourages you to chew all the way through its 24 tracks to reach satisfaction and nourishment.
A few years have passed since we last caught up with the British-Japanese DJ-producer ahead of ZoukOut 2014, but Coles lets us in once more to share on her monumental new album, performing to the camera for the first time, and addressing a popular theory about a hidden meaning in one of her latest songs.
Hey Maya! Take Flight is certainly your most expansive work to date with a whopping 24 tracks. Considerably longer and more diverse than any previous release, what were some of the greatest challenges or lessons learnt in putting the album together?
I just make so much music and a lot of it never even sees the light of day. I guess you can only have so many releases out at once without over saturating the market. Over the years, I was finding more and more tracks stacking up on the side every time I would work on a release, whether it just be singles, EPs or full-length albums. So, this time round, it just made way more sense to put out a double album and really fit everything that I wanted on one release. I wanted to make a statement. I never just work with one style. There was just no way I could fit the current stuff I’d been working on onto just one disc without compromising quite a lot. The album isn’t about hit singles; it’s a very personal musical journey that I want people to be able to listen through from start to finish, and hopefully something that will still be relevant for years to come.
The listening experience begins in a very trip-hop sphere, and progresses towards house by the end of the second disc. However, they’re all tied by the same textured, dark thread. Did you have to get into a particular headspace to channel this sound, or did it manifest itself unconsciously?
My sound really isn’t something I specifically try to achieve; it somehow just manages to come out the way it does. Even if the genre, style and tempo are completely different, I can’t change my personality within the track. I guess that’s a good thing? Haha.
The album artwork you designed for Take Flight is also quite intriguing for its depiction of one’s consuming thoughts, and feels somewhat at odds with the album’s positive title. Can you tell us more about this?
I love drawing and painting. I’ve always been into really dark and unusual illustrations. I also love Japanese design, characters and manga-influenced stuff. My drawings are a mash up of all those things, darkness mixed with cuteness. It’s all for fun, there’s nothing too serious behind it. I just love the juxtaposition of dark and light. Just like my music, I guess!
The music video for “Weak” marks the first time in which we see you performing to the camera. What spurred this decision to open up to your audience, at least in the visual sense?
It just happened to be the first time I made a music video for a track that had me singing in it (apart from “Comfort”, but the video for that was a completely different concept and collaboration with Jonas Lord, so it didn’t make sense to have me in it). All the other tracks I’d made videos for previously had other people singing on them, so I would only play a brief cameo part.
The last time we spoke with you, you mentioned that you weren’t comfortable with the idea of singing live. Do you still feel the same way, or are you more comfortable with the idea now that you’ve put yourself in front of the camera?
No, I don’t really like performing live as a singer, so I don’t really feel the need or want to tour around doing that. I much prefer DJing as a means of performance. I love to use my voice as an additional instrument when writing and producing music, but performing live is a completely different thing for me.
Some have noted that “Pulse”, going by the repeating line of “no turning back now”, may be linked to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last year. Is this the case? Do you feel that event had a lasting impact on the electronic music community?
That’s an interesting take on it. I actually made that track before that awful incident happened, so that wasn’t the case, but it’s been really sad seeing such negative situations occur in those kinds of spaces. It just doesn’t make sense for that kind of violence to occur in spots that are supposed to be a place of lighthearted fun, togetherness and also just a safe place for people to be in. Just more obvious proof that America’s gun laws really need to be changed.
In today’s electronic scene, and most noticeably in EDM, saccharine lyrics and upbeat compositions dominate charts and DJ sets. Why do you think ‘darker’ sounds – like The Prodigy or Faithless, for example – have taken a backseat?
Hopefully the cheesy EDM thing is just a phase and darker, less generic sounds will come to the forefront of the electronic scene once again. Everything goes in cycles, and people eventually get sick of the same thing. All the really young kids that are into the extremely mainstream stuff right now are going to want something different in a few years. Everyone needs an initial introduction to certain genres of music. Usually that’s whatever is thrown in their face by mainstream TV and radio. It takes a second for a lot of people to do their own research and seek something different or better.
The last time we spoke with you, you mentioned your interest in scoring a film. Are you any closer to making that happen?
That’s something I would like to do later in my career, when I’m not touring heavily or working on a million projects. It’s 100 per cent on my to-do list, though!
Lastly, when can we expect you back in Singapore or Asia?
I would love to visit soon, and I’m pretty sure it will happen in the not so distant future!
Take Flight is out now via I/AM/ME records. Physical releases available at the official Maya Jane Coles online merch store.