We recently caught up with Mya for an interview on Instagram Live. During our conversation, we discussed some of the great singles she’s been releasing, how she keeps her style so genuine, how she’s been thriving as an independent artist, the 20th anniversary of her “Fear of Flying” album, getting signed to Interscope, memories of her debut album, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You’ve released a bunch of new singles this year and are always so confident in your direction. You seem to have a way of effortlessly meshing the 90’s style with some of what’s current. How are you able to do that so successfully?
Mya: As you can see right now, I’m in the studio, so I don’t often come out of the studio unless I’m touring. *Laughs* I’m also an engineer, I get the freedom to be able to create songs at my luxury. Whatever I feel like. I have so many songs in the archive unreleased. I like to do that before albums are released to keep people happy. I also kind of serve an idea of what’s to come. It’s something to do, it’s something to keep people happy, and more now than ever before, especially because we are all stuck at home in a new world. *Laughs* Also because I’m independent, I have the freedom to release whenever I want to release, whatever I want to release without having to follow a specific format or sound.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You also seem to work with producers who fit your style. We’ve seen MyGuyMars on a lot of your songs, and we love that you recently linked up with Louis York. Talk about knowing your sound.
Mya: Well it’s more of a vibe personally with people that respect and are talented and know music. That’s really important when you are working with an artist, to know what key is best, how to play instruments, so that something can be crafted for that artist. I really love music, so working with musicians/producers has always been a dream. That hasn’t always been the case at the major label system. Sometimes it’s more about the big name than about the music and that’s fine. But it’s really just music at the end of the day. If it works it works. I have so many different songs and some are just going to stay in the archives and never come out! Sonically if it doesn’t feel right, then it’s not going to see the light of day until I get it right.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We loved the song “You Got Me” Part II you gave us earlier this year. That was a song that really showed us you know the direction that your fans want to hear.
Mya: Well that song is definitely an homage to the 90’s and some of my earlier influences. In that song, I have an interpolation of Jodeci’s “My Heart Belongs to You” and Bobby Brown’s “Tenderoni” and then the essence of Aaliyah on the verses with the falsetto delivery. I really love the 90’s sonically. Bink, who produced “The Blueprint” for Jay-Z, he did that production. What I did to color that with more musical arrangement was go deeper into the 90’s by aligning with Chucky Thompson. He’s a musician as well. That balance is everything. I know it when I hear it. I handpicked that track in its early stages when I met with Bink at Virginia Beach in the top of 2020.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You’ve built up such a movement since leaving the major label system over a decade ago and became an independent artist. Talk about that success you’ve had.
Mya: Well the success is just keeping my brain on! *Laughs* Staying sane and staying in love with music and being a good person, at the end of the day. There are a lot of people pulling at you in this world. There are a lot of agendas of course. To create a world and a space where I remain the same as a person and grow and evolve as a human being, making sure I protect what I fell in love with as a little girl. To put love into the universe has been the goal and that’s how I define success. I fill myself up with all goodness and then I’m able to share a cup that overflows! I’m just getting started honestly. The independent journey was first introduced to me with some Japan albums. Then the mixtape which was more of hip hop. Then EP’s. Really more so taste testers for fans to bite on for Valentine’s Day or anniversaries. You’ve also got the albums “TKO” and “Smoove Jones” which were traditional R&B albums. We’re headed in many different directions ahead. I’ve finished one album already while in quarantine, and we’re already working on the other one. Actually last year MyGuyMars started working on a couple of different projects. We always stay working in the studio between tours, we are just musicians. There’s so much to give and I’m so excited. What’s next is even more amazing than what you’ve got before! It’s just timeless and it’s uplifting.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It’s refreshing to hear how passionate you still are about music. How do you stay so in love with music?
Mya: Music is therapy for me too. It’s free until it’s time to pay for it! *Laughs* It’s just self-expression and an art form that allows you to put your feelings to paper and share it with the world. It’s also an energy and life force that can alter your mood to be either stable, reflective, you can feel soothed, and comforted in it, you want to dance to it, which is also a nice escape for our everyday lives. Or you can feel you are being propelled to heal in a different space. There are so many different great things about music spiritually that I love that make my day better. Literally I have to have music on all of the time. I craft my own playlists for certain times of the day and certain instances of life. Like my road trip playlist is different than the one I’m cleaning my house to! The one that I go on runs with is completely different than the ones I’m taking a bath to. It’s the soundtrack to life and it’s a mood and a vibe and it’s energy. Energy is what we are as living beings.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Your second album “Fear of Flying” celebrated it’s 20th anniversary earlier this year. What do you remember about creating that album?
Mya: I remember falling asleep on the microphone standing up! *Laughs* Someone recently asked what was the most weird place I’ve fallen asleep and that was it! We were grinding in the studio for that album. My most memorable experience was working with Wyclef Jean. He is such a comedian and he is so spontaneous as a creator. He’s a really great guy. Everything he does is quirky, it’s genius, it’s musical, and he actual gets into the artist and what they want to say. Working with Jerry Wonda with Wyclef was also great. I felt like I had big brothers around protecting at all costs, but we could have fun too.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Which version of “The Best of Me” did you prefer? The original with Jadakiss or the remix with Jay-Z?
Mya: It varies. For the clubs it’s the remix. When I’m performing with my band, I love a nice bossanova with the original version. It’s more musical.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Earlier this year we interviewed Darryl Pearson who worked on your debut album. He kind of gave us the story of how that came together. What do you remember about the experience of creating your debut album?
Mya: I first went to Philadelphia, I was taking the train from New Carrolton, Maryland, and Union Station in Washington, DC. While in college at Maryland University, College Park. I would go back and forth and I would stay on Callow Hill. The first producers I worked with on the album were Myron and Alex. At the time, Pink was up there, we were working with the same producers. I met Pink when she was known as Alicia, we were both 17 years old. It was just a grind. I’d go by myself, my parents were working parents and I was very grown at that age as far as responsibility is concerned. I started teaching dance and mentoring girls at 14, and performing as well as a tap improv dancer. I was a really responsible teenager with a vision and it was to change the landscape of my family’s future financially. That’s still always the goal, to provide. Getting to Darryl Pearson, that was the second phase. After the first couple of demos were made in Philly. Darryl Pearson and I were introduced to each other by Haqq Islam at University Music Entertainment, the independent label I was signed to in Washington DC. He also simultaneously had Dru Hill. In 1997 they debuted. They also had Pure Soul which was a girl Gospel group. Darryl started doing the production in Baltimore and he’d come to DC and we would record on his VS880 into his laptop, just to get ideas down. Then we would go off to Atlanta all together, Dru Hill and I along with Darryl and Haqq Islam, and the Nation of Islam down there would look after all of us. That is where we locked out at Silent Sound studios to finish the album. Darryl was already connected with Missy Elliott and Jodeci and Timbaland and Ginuwine, from working down there in Virginia Beach. So we got a Missy feature for the album through Darryl Pearson. He produced the very first single with Sisqo “All About Me”. He did “Movin On” as well, our second single, and he has a couple of different cuts as well.
YouKnowIGotSoul: We didn’t realize you were signed to an independent label before signing to a major label. What was the moment you signed to the major label?
Mya: Well, I was signed to University Music Entertainment through my second album. They got us our major label distribution deals and record deals. Meaning Dru Hill at Island Records, myself at Interscope. They also had Terry Dexter out of Detroit. They were a production house hub. They scattered all of the producers and made sure the sound was right. It was sort of like a Motown situation. All family, all different types of acts. Haqq Islam had a great ear for R&B. He had the ear for all of us. He knew when the albums were ready and what producers we should go get. Those demos were shopped to the major labels and we got our deals through University. I was signed to Interscope directly after my second album. I don’t know what type of business had gone bad, but it says legally in my contract with Interscope Records that if the sub label, meaning the independent label I was signed to, has an termination or breaks ties with the major label, I get directly signed to Interscope. So that’s what happened for my 3rd album. So I was then shipped off to A&M Records which is how Ron Fair and I started working together. We worked first through “Lady Marmalade”, but Interscope was a Rock and Rap label. I was producing an R&B/Pop album. It was a genre Interscope didn’t specialize in and I was sort of a test dummy. So I technically wasn’t signed to Interscope at all on my first album, it was just an experiment to see if it would work.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What was it like being at the height of your career in the early 00’s? We still remember that run you were on from “Case of the Ex” to “Lady Marmalade” to “My Love is Like Wo”.
Mya: I was just so busy I really didn’t pay attention too much. Touring constantly, doing what I was supposed to do. It wasn’t ever a matter when those types of things happened and celebrating. It was rehearsing for the next show or traveling here and there and doing interviews, and doing the free shows you need to do. *Laughs* I’m so thankful and grateful. I was built for the grind of it. I love to perform but I can’t really speak on anything negative, I was just making sure I made my stamp and that I was proving as the first R&B artist on Interscope that belonged there and I was just as tough as the rap and rock guys.
YouKnowIGotSoul: For so long you’ve had your own label Planet9 and done it yourself. What is your pomo plan like for your music? A lot of artists just focus on radio but it seems you go in other directions.
Mya: It’s so different nowadays because traditional application doesn’t apply anymore. You can still put up $250,000 to go to radio, but that doesn’t guarantee the song will get played. And that’s what it costs for one song. I put that money towards maybe a project or music videos or all myself. There is no label to give advances. It’s really my own grind. So I choose whether or not I will promote or shoot a video for a song, depending on the state of the world or what the fans really want, or what I feel is worth it. It’s more so me pouring money into projects. If God forbid something happens to me tomorrow, there is at least legacy left behind and a full body of work. That’s my mindset and it will promote itself. I just pour my money into the music really. Then a little bit of marketing here and there. Just this year I finally put money into marketing through innovator, which gets the songs out to mix shows and DJ’s and radio placement. It’s real low key. At least for my whole independent journey I’ve only done projects for the fans. Whether it be in Japan or the mixtape ratchet crowd or the Love EP’s and albums. That’s just been me and the fans. The best is yet to come, I say that every year because it’s true. I haven’t even given the best of me, talent wise, song wise, composition wise. It’s coming soon and I’ve been working on what’s next for years. I’m so excited because I’ll be releasing an amazing heartfelt ballad like you’ve probably never heard me sing like this. I just love music and I hope that people love it as much.