Maeta is in a crowded New York City nail salon when she hops on our Zoom call. I tell her that I, too, had to go to the nail salon but the terrible air quality — caused by the Canadian wildfires — quickly canceled my remaining errands. “Is that why it’s so gloomy outside?” she asks. Her tone can be read as nonchalance but beneath her initial reserved nature is an unlying warmth. It’s the same warmth that makes her new EP, When I Hear Your Name, a sensual journey of lust, affection, sex and emotional longing. Alongside collaborators The-Dream, Lucky Daye, SZA, Kaytranada, and RocNation labelmate Ambre, Maeta creates a steamy world inspired by one last fling with a lover.
When I Hear Your Name, which was released in June, is very much indebted to ‘90s R&B classics such as Sade’s Love Deluxe and Janet Jackson’s Janet — albums that explore love and desire in intimate ways. “I think intimacy can be more than sex,” Maeta said. “It’s just being in a place where you could just be laying next to somebody in bed for hours, silently, comfortably, no need to talk. You’re just comfortable in each other’s presence.” Her longing for intimacy from a committed partner, while also having the liberty to explore her femininity, can be heard clearly in the first single,“Through The Night” featuring Free Nationals. The seductive tune, which contains songwriting credits from Lucky Daye, features lyrics such as “I know what you want I know what you’re thinking / And right now, I don’t mind / I’m tired of being alone” that perfectly encapsulates the EP’s narrative of yearning for a toxic lover — even if it’s just for the night.
Maeta, who is from Indianapolis, has been developing and experimenting with her sound since her debut release, 2019’s Do Not Disturb. Describing her childhood as “very free,” her parents’ music taste was a formative influence on her. But strong narrative was the key, listening to songs from master storytellers like Corinne Bailey Rae, John Mayer, and Keyshia Cole. In middle school, she started posting covers on YouTube and Instagram. By the time she reached high school she was career-focused: she was home schooled for the last three years and she landed a development deal with Roc Nation and left for LA right after graduating. Spending the next few years in writing camps and vocal lessons, Maeta created her own musical family, making connections with Ambre, Libby Frank and powerhouses like Kaytranada and Skrillex.
Maeta calls When I Hear Your Name, which follows her 2021 album Habits, her most personal work to date. But the journey getting here hasn’t been easy. The evolution of her persona as a singer and songwriter has been constant and emotionally exhausting. “I got in a fight with somebody the other day because they’re like, ‘Why are you so emotional all the time? Why can’t you just have a fucking good time and stop being so deep?’ It’s like, I don’t know, but it’s annoying for me too. It drives me crazy.”
Okayplayer spoke with Maeta to discuss her new project When I Hear Your Name, living in an intimate dream world, and exploring the idea of love through her personal inspiration.
Photo Credit: Brooke Ashley Barone.
The interview below is lightly edited for length and clarity.
Okayplayer: Is sex a spiritual action for you?
Maeta: Oh, yes! I think it is because I honestly do believe in soul ties. There was this man that the project is about, and I just kept going back to him. I swear I became addicted to him. And I think it was a spiritual thing because it’s like, “Why do I feel this so deep?” So I definitely believe in it. But I don’t know, because I’m not the kind of girl that just goes around with random men. I don’t judge it at all, but I’ve never been like that. But I’m like, is there spiritual energy exchanged when it’s just somebody you don’t care about? So I don’t really know, but I believe in soul ties for sure.
How often do you find yourself lost in a dream world? How do those dream worlds help you when collaborating with others or crafting music?
That’s my biggest issue in life. Because I fall in love with fantasies. I think that it’s realistic, and it’s not. I just also don’t do things or I don’t finish things until I got what I wanted. I’m not good at being like, “OK, fine. Didn’t work out.” If I want you, I’m going to have you. Sometimes, it’s so unrealistic. I just live in that dream world, though, so it gets me in trouble. But it’s more fun. I wouldn’t want to be logical and realistic all the time.
The biggest part of my music is my little dream world. All my songs are fantasies. My first two projects, I wasn’t really living the life that I was singing about, but I just was manifesting it through the songs. So I think it’s a huge, huge, huge part of my music. I’m dreamy. I love to sit here, fantasize, think and daydream all day, and think about all these different scenarios. That’s just what my music is.
Maeta – Through The Night (feat. Free Nationals)www.youtube.com
Speak more on the process of working with the songwriters and producers on this new album.
It all happened organically. I’ve developed a relationship with the various songwriters and producers over the years. Kaytranada and I would just work really well together. I think that I sound good on his beats because I just float on top of them. Since “Questions” is four years old, we just had it in our song safe. Then, last minute, my A&R was like, “Let’s add this.” I was so happy because we’ve been holding it for years. But, yeah, none of them people were really planned.
James Fauntleroy is another person I’ve been working with for a few years. He’s always been so nice. When I was in high school, I did online school for a year. I stayed home, and I would literally listen to his demos all day. Then, when I got signed, my A&R introduced me to him. He’s just been working for the past few years. I just sit there and watch him in awe. He’s a genius. He’ll write a song in 30 minutes.
Ambré and I have been working for years. One of my first sessions was with her. Honestly, I think it was like my first or second session ever since I got signed was with her as a writer. We just got along. Then she got signed to Roc Nation a little while after. We’re just label mates, but we’re really friends, and I love her. She’s been so generous with me over the past few years, letting me have some amazing-ass songs.
When I first got signed, they had me in the studio every day for months. One of the songs that I cut was “Anybody” with SZA. It just didn’t make sense at the time to put it out, but now it just works. I’m so happy. That one’s the oldest one on this project.
Who is the muse or influence behind this album?
Basically, the project’s about this man that I keep going back to. It’s just something about him. I love him. Whatever. We’re not meant for each other, but it’s something. Probably a soul tie or something like that. But we went on this little trip to an island. We got away and got to just live in the fantasy world for a few days, and be together and pretend like it could work. The project’s based on that trip, and it was just so beautiful. It’s an escape. We just were drinking the whole time, having sex, all that good stuff. So I based the project visually. I added these birds in some of the songs that I heard at night. So the project’s based on that trip and that getaway with something that’s bad for you.
How does your muse/partner feel about this vulnerable album that touches on your personal relationship?
I don’t think he cares. I think he loves it because it’s an ego boost for him to be like, “Damn, I got this whole project about me.” But I don’t do it for him, I just do it for this, what I’m going through. He definitely watches the interviews, listens to podcasts, and all that stuff, and knows I’m talking about him. But he loves it. It’s so irritating, though, because he’s not doing podcasts and interviews and I can just hear what he’s thinking all the time.
Photo Credit: Brooke Ashley Barone.
Do you consider yourself to be an R&B artist?
I consider myself an R&B artist. I think that I want to, in the future, just branch out and try things. I want to be a pop star one day, but currently love R&B. I don’t like limiting myself to one thing, so I’m going to try everything. I’m going to do country one day. Maybe I’ll do some rock stuff.
Would you say this project is an extension of who you are or the alter ego you’ve created?
I think it’s definitely an alter ego. I do have this sexy, sexual, passionate, sensual side to me for sure, and a lot of people say they get that energy from me. But I think that, end of the day, I’m a country girl from Indiana that is awkward and just weird. I’m such a tomboy sometimes. So it’s an extension of me. I think it’s definitely part of me, but it’s not all I am. But it’s a huge part of who I am. I’m an emotional girl, so of course that’s me. But it’s definitely an extension because there’s so many different sides of me.