This weekend, days before Maya Piata's EP release show at Independent Bar & Kitchen, the artist escaped to the Oklahoma woods to get her mind right. She places a high premium on emotional intelligence and spiritual alignment. Nothing could stop her from being the best Maya she could be for her show.
Piata talks about her music pursuit as chasing destiny. There were heavy storms as she drove toward Oklahoma, and she could barely see 50 feet in front of her on the bridge over the Red River while 18-wheelers rumbled in nearby lanes. Then, in an instant, she felt the impact of crunching metal, tires and nerves. Her car slammed into the railing over the river. Walking away with only bumps and bruises, Piata contacted a friend for stretches to do while she waited for the tow truck.
"I had to get right for my show," she says.
Piata's enthusiasm for her future is palpable. She describes her sound as "sunshine-soul," a qualifier bordering on hokey if it wasn't so spot-on. In Piata's music, joy extends beyond the arrangements of chords and notes and into the buoyant registers of her voice. Her upcoming five-song EP is titled Vernal, meaning a spring awakening. The lead single, "Same Way," is an effervescent shower-anthem, delivering Whitney Houston callbacks and I-can-do-it-on-my-own clap-backs.
"Obviously I have influences, but I'm making a conscious note to not sound like anybody else," Piata says. "I have something to say."
The song never remains static — it shimmies and shakes around you.
"I wrote that song in my bedroom on an acoustic guitar," Piata says. "When I brought it to my producer, Corbin Winkfield, I wanted it to be more bright. For the record, the whole idea is to represent the growth of me as an artist and individual. When we started producing it, Corbin pulled from dance act Chromeo and a lot of influence from Whitney Houston's 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody.' It feels like a firework."
The record surprises in all kinds of nuanced ways: a guitar solo at a time when guitar is largely absent in pop music, a stretch of saxophone to remind us of smokey '80s dance clubs. The ability to blend multiple influences comes from Piata's New Orleans heritage. She moved to Texas during Hurricane Katrina and in 2015 traveled to New Zealand, where her mom scored her an audition in the competitive singing show Homai Te Pakipaki. While a contestant on live TV, Piata announced that she was going to release an EP, surprising herself.
"I spoke it into existence," she says.
Soon after, she did a radio tour in New Zealand, where people began to be recognized her as a contestant.
"People would recognize me, like, 'We heard you on the radio yesterday,'" Piata says. "That taste of the dream life of being an artist, the affirmation that your songs are great was really addicting. That moment was a gateway drug."
Once back in Dallas, she says, "the blocks just started lining up." She chose five of her favorite songs written in journals and performed them at a talent show at the University of Texas at Dallas, where she was studying business communications and management. That's where she met her future producer, Winkfield. Through other chance encounters, she met the rest of her band. Piata used her business degree to manage her band while practicing in her parents' garage.
"I learned the ins and outs with bad contracts," she says. "Being an independent artist, I have had to wear multiple hats — manager, booking agent, accountant — while learning the ins and outs of distribution and rights. We put out one record where we did everything ourselves. Then I analyzed, 'Where do we wanna be?'
"I looked at what areas we faltered in and saw our PR could be stronger. So instead of me wearing all the hats, I ended up finding Amber LaFrance of CultureHype. I researched who she was and what her team was like. I saw she's the one we can partner with, and she's also cool as a person. We can be numbers to each other, or we can be humans to each other."
While many artists venturing into electronic and R&B music are embracing dark experimentation in sound and image, Piata isn't afraid to be pop.
"Creating a distance between listener and artist isn't something I subscribe to," she says. "It's hard for me to be vulnerable in real life, but as an artist, it's my main goal to be very, very raw."
Piata describes "Same Way" as the brightest song on the EP. Other songs embrace a jazzy structure, and others are built around strings. She wanted the album to represent her as a whole person.
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"Corbin and I didn't go into [it] thinking 'Whats' cool?' or "What will people like to hear,'" she says. "When I made the first record, at the end of the process I was proud, but I thought, 'I don't hear anything like this on the radio. Will people even listen to this?' I had to get out of my own head.”
Piata's mother, whom she describes as her best friend, stepped in with some right-on-time advice.
"I told her, 'I don't know if people are going to play this, Mom,'" Piata says. "She asked me, 'Do you like this?' She stopped me there. That's all that matters. These are songs I sing in the shower. These are my diary entries. I made this new record with the same mindset. I'm not doing this for anybody else. I think that's the most beautiful way to go about these things."
Maya Piata's EP release party is at 7 p.m. Friday, June 8, at Independent Bar & Kitchen. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Rei Altru and Ronnie Heart also perform.