Maya Jenkins’ story is quintessentially L.A. The singer, songwriter and actress who goes simply by Maya J, spent the early part of her life in South Florida and was singing and performing for years, but it was a move to these parts that coincided with the whole thing becoming more serious. She was auditioning for parts when she arrived here, and she started releasing music in 2015.
Her life, therefore, has been eventful thus far. Which is great, because it’s all fodder for her songwriting.
“The inspiration for my music is a combination of my thoughts, my experiences, my observations — just the musings of a brown girl,” J says. “I would consider it a fusion of pop, chill and indie — that sultry R&B vibe. But definitely a fusion, just as my personality is. Very different.”
Recent single “Hurricane” is proof of exactly that — polished pop production combined with an earthy, sultry soul vibe.
“The theme for ‘Hurricane’ is basically a metaphorical conglomeration of a loving story, a love that goes back and forth,” J says. “It’s using metaphors of a hurricane because I did grow up in a hurricane environment. That’s my clever play on it. I grew up half my life in South Florida, and when you get to that summer feeling, you get all the hurricane warnings happening. So that’s my clever bit of play out of my previous life.”
Her sound, she says, has naturally evolved as she has grown and also as styles have shifted around her. But the general vibe had remained relatively consistent.
“My music tastes go all over the places but at the same time, no matter what, I want it to be emotional,” she says. “So I think in that way it’s stayed constant. But it’s definitely evolved in general.”
J’s blossoming music and acting careers are part of the same thing, according to the artist. Two sides of the same artistic coin.
“I tend to feel like they go hand in hand a lot,” she says. “It’s hard when you have a bunch of things to do on either side — when you have to film a video for this or you have to finish this song, go record, film — it’s all different but I feel that there’s a similar essence in it, in that you’re creating art. So for me creating art feels like the same thing all around, and it feels good to do because I always thought that the world would be void without it. So my mindset combines them.”
Naturally, there’s been some crossover. After all, both industries have a strong presence here in the City of Angels. That manifested itself when J was asked to provide music for the Freeform network.
“After my first two singles were released, and after I had my first major radio play, I got a call from an executive at Freeform asking me to write a song for one of their shows,” she says. “I didn’t know which show it was for, so I actually just gave them one of my songs. They ended up loving it, and the executives were really nice. It ended up being on Famous in Love, which was one of my favorite shows at the time. That was a fun surprise.”
J’s own acting experience up to now has amounted to a series of indie projects and shorts as she continues to work to get ahead in the notoriously unforgiving Los Angeles TV and film industry.
“I haven’t touched the surface of what I feel I can do acting wise, and that’s why it’s exciting,” she says. “The more it grows, the more I have to talk about and the more I can show that side of myself because so far people really only know me for music and I’m excited to do more film and TV.”
It’s all much easier in L.A., she says, obviously due to the fact that it’s all happening here. That said, location hasn’t really counted for much during the ongoing lockdown, something that has taken its toll on J.
“It is scary — I know a lot of people are emotional about it,” she says. “Sad and depressed. It’s not really good for anyone. But for me personally, it’s been very scary. The not knowing. The fear of, ‘Oh no, am I going to get this? Am I going to give it to my family? Am I going to get sick? How’s it going to affect my career? Can I do an acting job? When they call, what’s going to happen?’ But it has given me time to sit down, think, gather more thoughts and be still. Because being still and having patience was something that I was never really good at. My perspective has changed. I’m more concerned with health than I am with superficial things, and I think many people are. It’s a trying time, but I think I’ve gotten a lot of work done. I’ve been very productive, having to stay at home all day.”
She certainly has been busy; she’s following up the release of the “Hurricane” single with an album, soon to be released though with no definite date yet.
“I’ve had the name for so long,” she says. “It’s just a whole album of emotion and what people are feeling, whether it’s love, heartbreak, your illnesses, your loves — whatever it is, it’s all Symptoms of Life. So that’s the name of my album. It’ll come out whenever it’s ready and the time is right.”
For now though, she’s focused on the single and the accompanying video.
“Provided we all can get through COVID-19, the ‘Hurricane’ music video is coming out this summer and it’s interesting because we filmed it completely safely,” J says. “It’s coming out right during peak hurricane season, so that should be fun. More music is definitely coming out shortly. One thing I haven’t said yet is ‘Unconditional’ is a ballad that I’ve written for my Symptoms of Life album, which will drop next, after the ‘Hurricane’ video comes out. My manager and I are excited for a film project that’s possibly on tap. That’s what I have. The rest is unknown.”
Maya J’s “Hurricane” single is out now.