Name: Maya Jane Coles
Occupation: Producer, songwriter, audio engineer, DJ
Current release: Maya Jane Coles' new album Night Creature is out via I/AM/ME.
If you enjoyed this interview with Maya Jane Coles and would like to find out more about her and her work, visit her official homepage. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I’ve always had the impulse to create from as early as I can remember. When I was a kid I wouldn’t go anywhere without a sketchbook and would constantly be drawing and making things. I guess the impulse to draw transitioned to making music when I was 14/15.
Whether it’s real life experiences, imagination, dreams, all those things play a part in my creative outlet. Anything that shifts my mood in some sort of way eventually gets channelled through my music and art. Then I hope for the outcome to be something that can shift another person’s mood in some way.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Most of the time I actually prefer not to have too much of a concrete idea before starting my creative process. It does depend on what I’m working on but if you plan too much it’s never really going to end up being the exact thing you had in mind and you also end up creating too many limitations and boundaries along the way.
The creative process should be free and not too rigid. It’s more fun that way and I find I come up with more unique ideas and sometimes happy accidents.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
For me the most important thing is knowing that I have a large window of time ahead of me to work in. The longer the better. If I know that I have to cut off in an hour or two then I will rarely ever get into the zone and relax into the process.
There’s nothing worse than finally getting stuck into an incredible idea and then having to step away from it prematurely.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Ideally, I just have to feel relaxed and be in my own space. If there are a million other lingering things I know I need to get done then I can’t get stuck in to my creativity so usually it’s just getting those things done first so I can have a clear mind.
Coffee and natural energy drinks are always a bonus.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Melodies, bass-lines, chord progressions etc tend to just come to me, I never feel like I’m thinking too hard about it or or like I’m trying too hard to write. Usually it’s so instant that it feels like it already exists in my brain and I’m just putting it down.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I think it’s a bit of both. I like to have complete control over the final end piece but sometimes you have to just let the music lead you and it can be fun when you don’t quite know where it’s going to end up.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
I know this feeling too well. I’m constantly saving alternative arrangements of tracks whilst I’m working on them. Often one track will eventually split into 3 completely different ones.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Working on music and art is like complete meditation for me and a guaranteed way to reset if I’m feeling anxious or stressed. I definitely feel a sense of healing when I’m in that state. I feel very lucky to have that kind of connection with my creativity.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I know a piece is finished when there isn’t a single element of the track that I am sick of or that bothers me. That’s the hardest place to get to. When the mixdown feels perfect and not a single sound sticks out. When I know I could listen to the track a hundred more times and still love it. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting to that point.
I’m never making music for other people I’m making it for myself. So as long as I am obsessed with what I’ve made then I’m happy. If other people like it then it’s a huge bonus.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
Sitting with the track is a very important part of the process for me. Having some time away from it and coming back to it with fresh ears is important. Usually I’m happy with the compositional aspect of it but always have so much to tweak on the technical side and sometimes there are things I can only hear after I’ve stepped away from the track for a bit.
Reaching the finish line can feel never ending at times but then you just have to be strict with yourself and force a cut off point.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
Every step of the creation of a track I do myself (unless I have a vocalist top lining it). The mixdown process, I also see as part of the art and would feel like I was cheating if I got someone else to do it. With electronic music at least. It’s way too personal.
The mastering on the other hand, I only do if I’m prepping ideas to play out in the club or something. Mastering for vinyl pressing or for the correct spec for iTunes etc I would get a mastering engineer to do.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
By the time an album of mine is released I’m always already working on the next record so I don’t think I’ve ever felt that before! I don’t think there’s ever a time when I’m not working on some sort of release except occasionally if I’m relentlessly touring and don’t physically have the time. But even then I do try and work on the go.
As long as I have my laptop and headphones on me I’m always creating something.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I mean I guess it’s all relative. If coffee makes someone THAT happy then maybe they would get the same buzz that I do when I make a track that I’m obsessed with. (laughs) But for me there’s absolutely no comparison to that amazing feeling.