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Living at a Higher Frequency with Tkay Maidza

We chat to the LA-based, Australian artist about meeting Kaytranada at the club, Low Frequency Men and her new album ‘Sweet Justice’.

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When I saw Tkay Maidza at Splendour in the Grass earlier this year, she wasn’t shy about her reasoning behind leaving Australia to make it in the cut-throat fame circus of LA. 

“I feel like I needed to grow overseas in order to grow here,” she’d said, “a lot of people here were giving us bad feedback where they were like, ‘she doesn’t matter anywhere else, why do we like her?’ And then when I left, I felt more people cared.”

Of course, she’d made the right choice. Not because there’s nothing here (even though sometimes it feels like it) but because the Australian music industry is tricky. When you’ve reached that glass ceiling, like Tkay did, it can leave you asking, ‘What next?’

And in LA, the place that Tkay has called home since 2021, she’s shown that sometimes the best way up is out. She’s made new (and a few famous) friends, started dating a new guy (who we joke is a nepobaby because he’s the son of a member of the 90’s R&B group Colour Me Badd) and cut a few lingering people out of her life who no longer served her or her music. She’s collaborated with JPEGMAFIA (who she has a soft spot for), met Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa on tour, and hung out with some of the best producers on the planet (Kaytranada included).

It’s another growing phase for a young artist who is famous for documenting her growing phases in past projects. Her Last Year Was Weird trilogywhich consisted of three EPs released over three years – captured the coming-of-age story of someone on the precipice of fame. It was about love, growth, and figuring out who she was and what she wanted to do. 

With two years passed since Volume 3, she’s returned with her Sophomore album, Sweet Justice – an encapsulation of her time in the US and where she sits now mentally. Not only is it a bid goodbye to her younger self, but also to musical relationships that no longer run the lines of her own musical taste. “It’s my glory run,” she tells me, or in other words, it’s her rebirth. From the first track to last, her quick-smart lyricism and diverse sonics that span funk, R&B and pop give birth to a story that’s free of self-doubt and restraint and about welcoming new friends. Some of those friends are even on the record: Amber Mark, Flume, (the aforementioned) Kaytranada, Stint, Lolo Zouaï and Dckwrth.

With Tkay back in LA after a performance at the inaugural SXSW in Sydney, we chat about meeting Kaytranada at the club, misogyny in the music industry, low-frequency men and her new album, Sweet Justice.

How’s the last few months been since I saw you at Splendour?
Um, it’s been tough, it’s been like, interview after interview. I’m doing a lot of stuff to do with my career, but I’m not necessarily making music which, honestly, is weird to me. Because I can’t speak about my past whilst trying to plan my future, you know. So that’s been really interesting. But other than that, I’ve been good. I’m just trying to stay balanced and keep the schedule going. 

Are you still dating the Nepo baby?
Yeah, he’s actually in my lounge room right now [laughs].

[Laughs] Oh true. Well, I was listening to your album this morning. I really love it. The sounds that are on it are so diverse. But I feel like you always do that on your projects.
Yeah, for sure. I mean, that’s how I listen to music. I feel like there’s a lot of artists now that do the same thing. It’s not weird at this point. I feel like when I first started releasing music, it was strange. But now it’s kind of normal. And I’ve accepted it. 

Because this is the first album since the Last Year Was Weird trilogy. I was wondering where this album sits on that journey.
To me, it’s an evolution of what I’ve been trying to do for so long. For me, it feels almost like a glory run. And I didn’t want to overthink it. When I first started working on this album, I was really sad because I had lost so many friends moving to LA. And I had to accept that and realize that maybe we weren’t all meant to be on the same path. 

Like friends through music or just because of the distance?
Like friends through music, and also just lifestyle changes too. It’s like, ‘I like spending time with you, but I feel like I bring way more to the table’. And I have higher-quality interactions with other people. And it’s not like, ‘you don’t give me anything’, it’s just like, ‘there’s nothing to talk about anymore’.

I feel like that’s a very natural thing for your 20s.
For sure. But it’s really sad because you’re kind of like, ‘I thought we were gonna do this together forever’.

I actually read that when you moved to LA, you kind of split ties with a lot of people because they were making music that you didn’t necessarily want to make.
Yeah, I think who I was working with before, they wanted me…I don’t even know what they wanted me to make. It was almost like they wanted me to just do whatever made me happy. And then they were happy to cash grab on it. And it was weird because when I’d send the songs that I really loved, that’d be like, ‘Oh, no one likes house music’. I’m like, ‘what?’

Do you think you’re quite particular when it comes to what you’re looking to do with your music and who you want to collaborate with?
Yeah, for sure. I’m very specific. And also, I just want to work with people that I really like as a person. 

Why were you in those positions in the first place [collaborating with people she didn’t gel with]?
It’s almost just by association. You’re in certain circles, and then after a while, you’re just like, ‘Wait, I don’t totally like this’. You know, I would go to parties or whatever, and I’d run into Kaytranada and literally see him every few weeks, and I’d be like, ‘Why am I not working with them?’

I was gonna say Kaytranada’s a huge collaboration.
Yeah, it’s so sick. We have so many mutual friends. So I had run into him so many times. I’m just like, how have we not? This doesn’t seem possible. But from what I was told, it seemed impossible for so long. And I was like, I literally see this man every three weeks at one a.m.

So, at LA house parties?
Yeah, just like random clubs or just parties. He’s out. He’s always DJing. And it’s really cool energy. So there was that realization from that point. I was like, ‘Maybe I’m not an outsider; this is my circle’. And the people that were surrounding me were the outsiders, because they didn’t really like going to the same parties as me. 

I guess there’s that thing where [certain] people just naturally gravitate towards each other.
Yeah, exactly. I was like, This feels good. 

So when did you kind of get in the mindset for writing this album? Or when did you know you were going to write it?
Honestly, like the moment where I was like, ‘Alright, this is it’. It was September last year.  It hasn’t been very long. Yeah. And it was basically done in February, but mixing and XYZ, just takes long. I had a lot of demos for a while. I think. I had like 60 demos. I chose five of those. And then I made like, 20 new songs and I picked 8 of them. 

Where were you kind of coming from sonically with this album? Because, like I said before, it’s so diverse. Like there’s one song that sounds like a TLC or Destiny’s Child song.
Right. I just wanted to be like future nostalgia.  It sounds like something you’ve heard before but it’s almost not. It sounds familiar, but you can’t really put your finger to it. That was what I was going for. There’s a lot of elements of Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, Anderson.Paak, Kendrick Lamar, TLC, and Rihanna.  It was all the old hits that I loved to listen to when I was a kid, but it’s my own twist.

My favorite song though is ‘Won One’. When you listen to it, you’re like, ‘This could be a love song’. But it’s actually about misogyny in the music industry.
Oh, for sure. It’s that but also that weird in between where you have a friend and they just don’t really understand what’s going on. A guy friend specifically. It’s about people taking advantage of you, honestly.

You’ve obviously been in the music industry for a while – 10 plus years. Has your experience with men in the industry kind of changed in that time? Has it gotten better?
Um (laughs) honestly, in the last year and a half, I just work with women. When I moved to LA, I lost like 10 kilos. I looked so different. And I personally was not accepting that image of me, I just felt like I was still that silly girl. And I feel like a lot of situations that really hurt me were friends sexualizing me, and I just didn’t understand what was going on. And it is literally that story. But I didn’t see it for eight years. So I moved to LA, and everyone’s like, ‘Oh, my God, you’re a hot girl now’. And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ But now, today, I can accept to some extent that I am a hot girly. and it’s important to know that to protect yourself. 

How does Kaytranada kind of fit into that ‘I’m not working with men anymore’.
He’s a girly (laughs). Everyone I’ve worked with on this album I feel so safe around them. And it’s just been interesting to learn the different archetypes of characters, and you can just definitely tell through the people they work with – they work with female artists, I work with really cool rappers, the work of big rappers, pop artists – And you can tell how respectful they are, and how fluid they are as a person. And there’s just other people that aren’t as evolved. That’s just what I’ve learned. 

I’m sure if you moved from another country, you’re at a lower frequency. And as you grow and shift your life, you’re like, ‘Oh, I think my life is good right now’. But you’re at that tier of a high frequency. But there are low-frequency men that appear to be high-frequency, that do dumb shit to you.

They’re very good at masking it.
Exactly. So I think that’s what I went through. And now I’m just like, I’m hanging with the homies, and I was just, like, no contact with everyone.

[Tkay suddenly disappears – I think her phone died – her agent lets me know I have one more question. She appears again with her camera on]

Oh, look at you. You’re gorgeous.
That’s my nepo baby boyfriend in the flesh (laughs) [points camera to boyfriend]…He’s like, leave me alone.

Okay, last question. So you’ve collaborated with amazing people like Amber Mark, JPEGMAFIA, and Kaytranada. And then you were on tour with Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa. But out of all of those people, what’s been your favourite experience?
It has to be between Billie and JPEG. They’re such real people. They’re so personable. They’re funny; they point out their flaws. And they’re so excellent. I love that so much about them. Because you just learn that it’s not that serious. And you can be so excellent. I really appreciate the way they are. Because it allows me to be weird, you know?

Follow Tkay Maidza here for more and stream the new album Sweet Justice here.

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