An Interview With Singer-Songwriter MAIA SHARP All About Her New Album ‘Mercy Rising’ and More!
Get to know the singer-songwriter, Maia Sharp! Her latest album, “Mercy Rising” will be released this Friday, May 7th. The lead single out already is “Backburner.” Prior to this new music, her songs have been recorded by a variety of artists including Bonnie Raitt, Cher, The Chicks, Terri Clark, Trisha Yearwood and Kathy Mattea, Lisa Loeb and more.
The last song on “Mercy Rising” is called “Always Good To See You” and it was written for a podcast called SongWriter (https://benarthur.com/songwriter). It was created and hosted by Ben Arthur. The show pairs an author who reads a piece or story and a songwriter who has written a song in response to that story. Cheryl Strayed and Maia shared an episode of SongWriter after Maia requested Cheryl. Cheryl read a column from her New York Times bestseller list book Tiny Beautiful Things called “The Ordinary Miraculous” and Maia wrote “Always Good to See You” in response. Cheryl and Maia’s SongWriter episode will be available later this month.
Maia also writes for an organization called Songwriting With:Soldiers (https://www.songwritingwithsoldiers.org/) where she sits down with active duty service members/veterans/first responders and/or their families and turns their stories into a song.
Connect With Maia Sharp Online Here: WEBSITE
Learn more about Maia Sharp in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! So what has this past year been like for you and your music?
Like everyone I’ve had to adapt in countless ways, trying my best to keep optimism high and anxiety low. It’s been challenging but it led me to some cool human connection things (ironically) that I wouldn’t have otherwise done like starting a Patreon page.
Was it strange or relaxing to take a step back from in person shows?
At first it was more relaxing and I was fine with it. But a few months in, I was jonesin’ hard for the experience of live music regardless of my role, artist or audience member. I’m going to have a whole new appreciation for it from now on.
Let’s talk about your upcoming album, “Mercy Rising” set for release in May. What was it like putting it together during the pandemic?
I’m so glad I got it tracked at the end of 2019, before the lockdown. One of my favorite things about making an album is getting talented humans together in a room. I called my friend Joshua Grange, a masterful guitar player and owner of a killer studio in Nashville called Resistor. I’ve been coming here for years so I had some drummers and bass players in mind but when Josh told me he had just worked with Ross McReynolds and Will Honaker and how the 3 of them locked in immediately, that took away the “yeah they’re great but are they great together?” question.
How is this your most confessional offering to date?
Well, the year leading up to recording Mercy Rising was full of the most life changes I’d ever known and that was before the pandemic. I moved to Nashville, leaving California where I had lived all my life, my marriage of 21 years ended and I was living some bizarre combination of stuck and adrift. These songs were written about that and, thankfully, ended up being the way I got through and moving forward in this new place.
How would you say moving to Nashville from LA affected your music?
That’s yet to be seen. I didn’t have much time here before it really didn’t matter where I was living because writing sessions went virtual. I’m about to start the in-person co-writes again so I’ll let you know.
How did you go about choosing “Backburner” to be the lead single for this collection?
I’m so bad at choosing singles I always ask friends I trust in the business to help with that selection. “Backburner” won the survey and it’s a fun song to sing so, if it does get some attention and I have to sing it over and over again, I’d have no complaints.
What was the inspiration for this track in particular?
My co-writer Anna Schulze and I were talking about compartmentalizing and how it can be an asset but eventually that s**t gets out of its compartment and makes you deal with it. That’s where “when I put you on the backburner, you set the place on fire” comes from.
How would you say that it prepares listeners for more songs on “Mercy Rising”?
I think the thread that runs through the album is the writing style and vocal delivery. If listeners like those elements in “Backburner” they’ll probably dig the album. Everything else shifts a little (or a lot) from song to song.
I’d love to hear about writing “Always Good To See You.” What was it like being paired with writer, Cheryl Strayed on the podcast episode, SongWriter and how exactly did that lead to the creation of the song?
My friend Ben Arthur, creator and host of SongWriter, called and asked if I wanted to be part of it. I’ve always liked Ben’s work and the format of his podcast is such a cool idea I didn’t hesitate to say yes. He asked if I had a wishlist of authors and Cheryl’s book “Tiny Beautiful Things” had been a staple for me in that previous year of uncertainty, feeling a little crazy and, like I said, stuck and/or adrift. I thought it was a pipedream but then he GOT Cheryl and it was a scary and awesome challenge being paired with her. I love how her writing is conversational and multi-layered and I knew I had to approach the song that way. Her piece “The Ordinary Miraculous” from her book that I had read so many times Tiny Beautiful Things centered on how, well beyond her mother’s passing, Cheryl felt and saw the ripples of her mother’s life in her own. In the piece (from her Dear Sugar columns) one of those moments is when Cheryl’s daughter wears a red velvet dress her grandmother (Cheryl’s mother) bought for her at a yard sale years before. It made me think of my ex father-in-law, my uncle, my grandma, my little cousin and all the quiet reminders of them that show up if I’m paying attention.
I understand that you have written for many incredible artists. Can you talk about what that was like for you and who really stands out the most to you?
The songs I’ve had recorded by other artists were never written with them in mind unless I wrote with the artists (like with Lisa Loeb, Kim Richey, Edwin McCain, Terri Clark and Art Garfunkel). I gotta say, there is no higher high for me in this business than finding out an artist I love has chosen to record one of my songs. Bonnie Raitt was a dream come true. The Chicks and Trisha Yearwood just blew me away with the care they took with the songs they chose. Ever since Cher recorded one of my songs the same year I made my first album I’ve been on a mission to keep both endeavors going; making my own albums and getting my songs out there so others might give them a life too.
I’m curious what it was like writing for others while also working on your own music. How did you juggle/balance that?
I learned early on that when I sat down to write a song with its future in mind, like if it was for me or someone else, it just clouded the process. Now I just write and figure it out after I have a piece of work I want to share with the world one way or the other.
I was just reading about your involvement with the organization, Songwriting With Soldiers. What an incredibly brilliant idea to put music and their stories together! What has that experience been like for you?
Working with Songwriting with Soldiers has changed my life. I don’t usually say things like that but, you’re right, the whole premise is a brilliant idea and those sessions are transformative for everyone in the room, subject and songwriter. I feel very fortunate that this songmaking thing I do allows me to witness an incredible level of bravery and the effect that telling a hard true story has on the person who shares it and everyone who hears it, including many who thought they were alone until they heard those words.
How often do you get to work with them?
About twice a month.
Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be a musician?
I was lucky to grow up in a musical house where I saw first hand that being a musician was a viable choice. My dad, Randy Sharp is a great songwriter/musician/producer and mom (Sharon Bays) and dad sang together in bands for years.
What do you think motivates you day in and day out? How has that changed over the years?
I genuinely love what I do and I love that every day is different. The changing combinations of writing, recording, Songwriting with Soldiers, Patreon and basic life stuff keep things interesting. The loving what I do and the every day being different hasn’t changed but the ways and places I get to write have. It’s even cooler that the experiences and opportunities are changing too.
Growing up, how important was music in your life?
It was the center of my house growing up. I would tinker on all of the instruments lying around but it wasn’t until junior high that I got serious about an instrument and it was saxophone of all things. I majored in music performance on sax but about halfway through college I realized I wanted to write songs. I started out trying to emulate those writers I grew up listening to like dad, Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt, Ricki Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne.
If you weren’t a musician today, could you see yourself doing anything else?
I used to think about other more financially secure career choices, especially when I was on the road working my ass off making about 3 cents a mile. But, every time I thought about it a little voice crept in saying “come on, you know, you’d eventually be miserable and you’ll always wonder what would have happened if you stuck with it.” So, here I am. Sticky.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
How many ways there is to pursue it. Making my own albums, opening for artists that are playing my tunes, producing other artists…I never saw Songwriting with Soldiers coming and it’s had a huge influence on me. I never thought I’d be a teacher of anything but now I co-teach the NYU Summer Songwriters Workshop. Whenever something sounded new and scary I said yes and that’s led to some really cool surprises. I struggled with self confidence early on and still do sometimes. I fully admit that in a new situation I can act as if I’m all Zen about something and inside I’m terrified. But every time I do that and I get through it I get a little more confident about everything, musical or otherwise.
When touring resumes hopefully later this year, where are you most excited to perform at?
I have a cool list of intimate clubs I visit when I have a new album out. One Longfellow Square in Portland, ME, Club Cafe in Pittsburgh, Hotel Cafe in LA…those are just a few of my faves. I can’t wait.
Where are you excited to see an artist perform?
At this point, anywhere. Basement East is right down the street and the The Ryman is always an experience. Those will probably be my first two go-to’s.
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
I just hope they connect with it, directly or implicitly. I feel like I left it all out on the field with this one.