Maya and I arranged to meet at ‘Moorish’ – Norwich’s main falafel joint – for this interview at 1, but both of us are a bit late.
When I finally get there, she’s still nowhere to be seen, so I quickly dash to the ‘Birdcage’ to use their toilet. I open the door and, what do you know, Maya Law’s name, sitting at the top of several others, is staring right back of me on a poster for an upcoming event.
Five minutes later Maya – wearing a baggy burgundy jumper, making her way through the spitting Norwich rain – walks in. Everyone behind the counter gives her a warm welcome. They turn the music down for us and jokingly offer to play Maya’s new album, Her Or Him.
We haven’t even sat down, and yet Maya’s sheer eminence in Norwich is already there to see. This is a place that recognises local musical talent, bursting with a kind of creative, bohemian culture, and the 17-year-old clearly lives at its core.
“Everyone knows each other, so you just – whenever you’re doing a gig you know everyone else who’s there, who’s playing and stuff. Like Zach [Lambert], CABRAKID. People are just very closely knitted together.”
This is what everyone says about Norwich. You could spend five minutes by the markets and spot at least ten familiar faces. For some, that’s a torturous prospect; but for Maya, such connectivity has created a platform from which her musical life thrives. Take It From Me hit over 2,000 plays in less than 24 hours after its release and 4,000 after three days, with hundreds of people bombarding her Twitter mentions, showering praise on the new track.
The starkest illustration came with her album launch last month: a packed venue, all her friends there – alongside many fans – singing the lyrics from Safe and Sound as she rounded off the most memorable set of her life. Maya’s eyes light up at the memory. She smiles and looks at the floor, reflecting on that evening.
“It was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It was incredible. They’ve done everything for me, and I wouldn’t be doing the things that I’m doing if it wasn’t for them.”
And when I tell her to pick out one moment to relive before she dies, I already know the answer.
“I think it would have to be the album launch. The moment of singing Safe and Sound – the last song of the album – in front of everyone and everyone singing it back to me and holding hands with Allergy Kid. That would be it.”
Everything Maya does appears to be serenaded by other people. I’d met Maya a handful of times before this interview, but this is the first time I’ve seen her without company. One thing struck my mind preparing for this interview: when a gig is done, or her friends have left, and it’s just Maya, in her room – how does it feel?
“I hate it. I’m really, really dependent on company at the moment. I’ve been writing about that a lot. I used to be very content with being alone – like, I loved it, and I could spend hours by myself.
“And then I joined college and surrounded myself with people that I liked, and all of a sudden it was like: I’m going to have to see these people every day. When you go to college and you have that stage where… I had a lot of stuff going on and I needed people to, like, distract me from it.”
And yet, for all its importance, Maya’s relationship with Norwich only tells a fraction of her overall story. Before diving in to music, I wanted to know more about her background, and we immediately go down the path of her Israeli roots.
“My mum is half Israeli and my dad was English, so we were very much split between the two families. Obviously that means I have a very divided culture in terms of – like, I don’t enjoy either culture, because they’re so different. And you have to deal with people being like: ‘Ah you’re half-Israeli’.
“A lot of people have the idea that Israel is very calm, but then you have people just ripping Gaza apart – which is 100% true; I’m not disregarding that. But also, a lot of people don’t take into account that when you’re in Israel it’s not like a calm environment at all.”
Listening to Maya talk about her Israeli background, it becomes clear that this sector of her life has been more influential than anything when it comes to forming the girl that sits in front of me right now. It’s an area she explores in great detail, doing so a slightly sombre manner. Such a background, she notes, has even had implications for her musical career.
“I was made to realise that, at some point, I was going to have to deal with the whole Israeli thing. I had a meeting with this guy – he’s sort of like a manager – and he said: ‘I don’t want to bring anything negative into this but you’re going to need to deal with the whole Israel thing.’ And suddenly I was like: Uh, I’m going to have to deal with this ‘disadvantage’.”
This is a gloomy upshot of Maya’s dual heritage, and one that I didn’t expect. But as the interview goes on I begin to realise that this duality embedded in Maya’s persona makes sense in the context of her music.
There are, of course, two parts to each person: one that everyone sees – a kind of modified, public face. And then there’s the real part – the part we struggle to show to anyone but ourselves. But as you listen to Her Or Him, that authenticity – that raw, truly powerful part of Maya’s personality – comes to life, so much so that the Maya I hear singing feels like an entirely different person to the Maya sitting in front of me, smiling and leaning back in her chair, talking in a half-engaged, half-relaxed manner.
“Really?” She says upon hearing this, in a higher tone than usual. In the 30 minutes that we’ve been speaking, this statement has pricked her attention the most. She leans slightly forward and looks at me for a moment, simultaneously fascinated and reflective, weighing the idea up in her head.
“I don’t know… I don’t get that vibe – maybe it’s because… yeah I’m definitely more comfortable when I’m singing, so even if I’ve had a bad day I’ll have a gig and it’ll all suddenly be fine. It’s always a happy place, regardless of what’s going on.
“I think the most important thing is that you make sure it’s your own voice and then people will like it.”
For most people, music is an outlet – a place to escape and, to paraphrase a really overused and corny Bob Marley quote, feel no pain. And for Maya, music has given her a chance to explore herself, to make sense of her own world. Perhaps this is why she views Take It From Me – a song that explores the struggles of growing up as a bisexual – as “special.”
“I remember writing the line in Take It From Me that is the ‘gay’ one and, um, being like: wow, I’d never say that in front of anyone but I’ve written it down. I remember singing it out loud.
“I was sent the instrumental, I sang along to it, and the first thing that came out was that line. It was something that I was hiding for a while. But I’m proud that I did it eventually. I think when you start speaking the truth it comes out very easily.”
For a while, though, it wasn’t easy.
“I think it was something I internally struggled with because I’m not very patient and I wanted to know what I was now, but I had to wait to figure it out.
“I was never bullied in high school or anything like that. I think sexuality is something very difficult to explain in terms of the fact that I could say I’m bisexual, and I could go for hours explaining how I feel about each person, but it’s never very specific.”
But music, she notes, provided a clearer, more refined understanding of her own sexuality.
“Writing it down and seeing everything that I thought was much easier.”
This is, at least in my opinion, what characterises Her or Him above anything: an unreserved, truly crystalline reflection of Maya herself, brought to life by a voice mixed with intensity and blunt sentiment.
But it should be noted that Her Or Him was not crafted by Maya alone. When I mention Allergy Kid, one half of CABRAKID and creator of the instrumentals for each song on the album, her eyes light up once again.
“Allergy Kid is the most incredible man that I’ve ever met. He’s so talented. He makes that whole thing (the instrumentals for Her or Him) and he does it so quickly.
“And once we’d finished it I’d tweeted asking for people to send me instrumentals and he just sent me loads more and said: ‘I’m your instrumentals guy; don’t get them from anywhere else.’ And now he’s at Bristol studying music production and, um, hopefully we’ll be involved together. He’s so talented.”
So, what next for Maya? And what next for Allergy Kid? Will they end up making more music together?
“Well I’ve got this new thing happening at the moment. Like, I don’t think I can speak about it too much right now. I’ve already spoken to people about Allergy Kid still being involved because I wouldn’t like to be alone – he’s like the best person ever.”
But whatever happens next, Maya can look back on the past year and smile.
“I wasn’t going anywhere,” she says when I ask her to sum up where she was this time last year, shaking her head slightly. “I was not doing anything productive at all. I was doing – I was recording shitty acoustic songs on my Mac and putting them out. And if I got 100 plays I’d be happy.”
And where, I ask, is she now?
“Now I have an album and I’m going to do this thing that’s really cool that I can’t talk about,” she responds, almost disbelieving of it herself. “There’s more music coming with different people and it should be very big and exciting. Hopefully next summer. There’ll be something out.”
Listening to Maya talk about ‘this thing’, you sense that Her Or Him is far from her zenith, but perhaps just the start of something bigger.
By Leo Nieboer, 18 (@leo_nieboer)
Follow Maya here: @mayalxw
Listen to Her or Him for free here
Buy Her or Him for £4 here