The last time we talked with Maya Jenkins (under the stage name Maya J), she had just released her first single “Symptoms of You,” a few months prior. The actress/singer-songwriter born in Los Angeles, California knew from the beginning that she was going to be an artist and storyteller. Regardless of the obstacles that came (and continue to come her way), Maya J continues to go on with her signature big-hearted spirit. “I hope that when people think of me, they think of strength, kindness, good music, inspiration, and I definitely want people to think actress too,” Maya says.
After “Symptoms of You” she released her sophomore single “Come Find Me” which features what she identifies as her most autobiographical lyric, “I already know I love you.” “In that lyric, I was addressing the soul mate of mine that is out there somewhere. Wherever he is and whoever he is, I love him already, we just have to find each other,” she describes the lyric.
Since then, Maya has been working hard on multiple projects including working with the channel Freeform to get her previous single “Tell Me” as a promotional song for their show Famous in Love. “I love Freeform, Disney, and ABC and completely love everyone there and my relationship with them,” she starts about how the relationship began. Maya explains how the head of A&R at Freeform reached out to her with an offer to write a song for the new adult network. “I was immediately excited because for a network executive to love my previous music like that and trust me to give them a song was amazing. The song turned out great and honestly was my favorite creation process with music that I’ve ever done.” She compliments the Freeform music department and her producers for helping her with the creative process of the song and making the experience so beneficial for her.
And just a few weeks ago, Maya released her latest single, “Like You.”
“My new single, ‘Like You’ is inspired by a handful of different people and feelings. The overall feeling is of not wanting to be anything like the person that produced the feelings that are described in the song,” Maya explains about the song. Finding inspiration in taking the high road, the song can prove timely when negative responses can come so easy. “The world really is full of people who try to tear you down in many different types of situations, but the fact is, you can choose to be nothing like those people,” she says. “I choose to distance myself from the negativity and put-downs of those people. Really, it’s about [the] strength of character.”
Maya reflects on herself through the reflection of other’s actions and not only how they can affect her but also how she can choose to respond to them. “My relationships with others have most certainly affected how I see myself and who I want to be. I’ve learned through interactions with others and became firm in my belief that I want nothing to do with a lying person. I’ve seen it way too much, and I know I’m not willing to deal with it,” she explains how the message of this song personally speaks to her everyday life. “I make sure to give others the truth in me, and I try so hard to show integrity and honor because that is an element in the world that I truly believe is lacking.”
I make sure to give others the truth in me and I try so hard to show integrity and honor because that is an element in the world that I truly believe is lacking.
Being an independent artist requires a lot of finessing in terms of making music and especially for a self-proclaimed perfectionist, behind the scenes can be more stressful than listeners know. For “Like You,” Maya admits that the production process was extremely difficult. “Honestly, I go down this road because I have my own individual vision for all of my music. Since I write all of my songs, I have a specific vision for the sound recording from the very minute I’m done writing it. I am also picky about how I want it to sound because I strive to be as best as I can.”
“Production engineers don’t always understand that and it can be extremely hard to communicate those ideas to someone outside yourself,” Maya continues quipping that the experience makes her see why Kanye stays in a bubble by himself. “When you rely on yourself, it’s harder. I have to make sure the product I release is the best possible thing it can be. Business of any kind can be stressful, but it’s always great at the end when you’re able to do what you got into it for–to entertain,” Maya looks on the bright side.
Delving deeper into composing her own music, we discuss the hardest, most surprising, and most rewarding elements of being an independent artist all of which Maya takes away so much from.
“There are a lot of people that don’t honor contracts, try to rig contracts, attempt to or actually do take your music away from you, and claim ownership of something they do not own. I dealt with that recently, but I try to focus on the positives in the same situation,” Maya explains pointing out that the hardest thing is how much the business side of music affects the actual creative process of music.
“The most surprising; writing songs is somewhat of a natural talent for me. I’m not trying to toot my own horn at all, but it is interesting because I never thought I’d really be a songwriter.” Music has always been a part of Maya’s life. Not only singing before she could speak, Maya took music lessons from an early age including being in an arts school where she played the violin and learned music theory from the age of nine.
She reflects, “Even though all of that happened and music is in my blood, I started writing songs a few years ago as a way to start revving up my singing career while I wasn’t on set in the acting world, and now I’ve progressed to writing songs and performing them for networks like Freeform.” With excitement, she adds, “That’s insane, in a good way!”
I still am the same actress with the love of storytelling. I just am able to happily add songwriter to the resume.
“Writing songs comes easy to me, and while growing up, I never thought that this would be such a big part of who I am. It is now. I’m a songwriter and it’s something I can be proud of. It proves that life hands you awesome things that you never planned on,” Having this realization helped Maya realize the significance of letting life take the wheel and not sticking directly to the original plan. “Life is life. You play with the cards you were dealt,” she says. “I still am the same actress with the love of storytelling. I just am able to happily add songwriter to the resume.”
In our previous interview when discussing her songwriting, Maya explained the significance of storytelling and experience in her music which continues to play a role in her artistry. “The most surprising thing I’ve been inspired by is a guy that I didn’t even like. I was thinking just recently about a guy I was around for a bit who inspired an entire song and it’s honestly such a great song. I can’t wait to share that one,” she laughs.
Having been compared to artists like The Weeknd, Jhene Aiko, and Lana Del Rey among others, Maya’s use of passionate, urbane, and polished lyricism and instrumentals help mold her into a talent that is complex and reminiscent of past and current acts, “Right now, I’m inspired by a lot of industry veterans, as well as indie artists. I’m inspired by deep lyrics and also melodies with beautiful harmonies. As far as artists I’m inspired by, I’m continuously inspired by Sade because we have similar vibes. I also am awed by Sia’s brilliance and honesty in her music. Skylar Grey gets me too because her ballads are so beautiful.” Pairing with her own personal sound and artists she’s inspired by, Maya would love to collaborate with Rihanna or Justin Bieber and smiles as she hints at a song she already has set aside in case Lil Wayne, Big Sean, and/or Nicki Minaj would like to do a rap feature.
“My sound is very smooth, it’s sultry, and it comes from an emotional place,” she explains about how her sound is reflective of her and the way she carries herself. “In my music, you can hear strong emotions. As a person, I have strong emotions. I go through the day off of feelings in life, and even though I’ve been through some not-so-great things, I try to stay as sparkly and confident as possible. That isn’t surface talk either,” Maya points out about how her ‘stay sparkly’ mantra focuses on resilience and looking on the bright side. “I carry myself in the most confident way that I can, even though sometimes I feel the exact opposite.”
If you are told you are ‘too bold,’ don’t shrink back, because everything good that has happened has happened because you are ‘too bold.’
The confidence that Maya exudes in her music also shows growth and an ongoing maturity. “My music is growing and evolving just like I am as a person,” she says. “I can even hear my voice maturing sometimes when I compare my first record with my newest record. I’m not so sure how my style will change, but you can never say never. I hope my music always connects with people and allows feelings to be felt. It will always be emotional and hopefully ambiguously relatable,” Maya adds.
Currently putting an extra focus on her acting career, within the next year, she looks forward to and feels an excitement in taking on bigger roles. “I just got the audition/meeting of a lifetime and even though I can’t say what it is for, I can say that my heart will be racing when I meet with this producer,” she hints at a role she’s looking into right now. “It’s been a dream for such a long time, so just wish me the best,” she exclaims with a smile.
Another project she has in the works, Live Out Loud, is still in pre-production. “It’s taking so long to get off the ground, but we have high hopes for it,” Maya explains about the coming-of-age dramedy about the lives of artistic high school seniors outside of high school. Playing the lead role, Maya shares that she can’t say more than that. “Other than that, my music will always be floating around and ‘Come Find Me’ has a little surprise for later this year. ‘Like You’ will be re-released with a music video also,” she shares for what we can look forward to with her.
“The best advice I’ve ever heard in my entire career is to remain true to yourself. I know that sounds cliche,” she interjects. “But listen; you are who you are and you were put on this path by God or the Universe (whatever you believe in) to do what is actually on your path. If you are told you are ‘too bold,’ don’t shrink back, because everything good that has happened has happened because you are ‘too bold.’ Bad stuff is automatically going to come to everyone–that doesn’t mean you change your personality.”
Looking back on the worst advice she’s ever heard, it follows along those similar lines of saying that instead of making bold choices and stepping outside of the box, to stay as Maya says, seriously realistic. “That was meant to say that my dreams and goals are too big. Not true. I am me, and I am enough. I don’t need to fit into the mold,” Maya explains for why that advice didn’t work, adding as a closeout, “If I did, I wouldn’t be doing this interview right now, would I?”
Maya J’s Mini-Playlist for Readers [Listen Here]:
1) “Like You” – Maya J
2) “Try Me” – The Weeknd
3) “Bad Intentions” – Niykee Heaton
4) “Just Luv Me” – Britney Spears
Those songs all have similar vibes and fit well on a playlist together. They’re all my type of songs too, especially as far as composition.
“Like You” is available on all streaming platforms.
(photo cred: Glitter Rain Entertainment)