Local R&B Singer MAZ Preps for Her First Official Release

click to enlarge BAYLEE BADAWY
Baylee Badawy
Local R&B singer MAZ says that she's been creating since birth. Her mother was a portrait artist and her father a producer, so it would seem almost predestined that she would always follow a creative path in her life. She was always auditioning — mimicking her favorite artists at the time, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.

"It wasn't until high school when I started to try and carve my own aural footprint," she says. "I didn't release anything as MAZ until my 21st birthday."

MAZ credits her father for constantly exposing her to music at such a young age.

"Yeah, he was a producer and actually rapping back then, but we got robbed," she says. "After that he just bought equipment to DJ. So music has always been in my life. He's still deejays now. Growing up, I never really had a curfew because he would be up all night playing loud music. So that kind of got me into being up late and creating. My brothers and sisters are creatives too so we would just be up and making music videos and stuff. We would put on performances for our parents and grandparents. I was writing songs at a really young age, probably as soon as I learned how to write. I remember seeing an AA/BB line pattern and as soon as I figured out how to do that I was making Halloween jingles. I also remember remixing 'Misty Blue' over a Monica beat with my older brother."

Although MAZ comes from humble beginnings, she's determined to not let that throw her off course as she pursues her dreams.

"I'm not wealthy, and I'm not from a well-off family," she says. "I started working at a really young age and hustling even. I used to get big boxes of candy from GFS and sell them saying that they were for school when they were really just for me. I was selling mixtapes at school in the 5th grade. I had jobs that would pay me under the table. Another obstacle is trying to find out balance but I can make enough money to support myself and also fund my dream. The hardest part is finding that balance. That's the main stressor when I'm traveling and making these leaps and trying to pursue these opportunities and then you can't pay your bills. You wonder if you should just become a normal person and get a job. What's more important, stability or nourishing my dreams and my soul?"

MAZ's sound has a spaced-out, devil-may-care quality to it that at times feels like a musical acid trip.

"I call it ethereal, psychedelic R&B, she says. "I don't really want to lock myself into a box, but I can't really help it. It's kind of hard for me to escape the fantasy element because I'm always living in my head. The music is always been a form of escape for me, and I'm living a more dreamy version of the reality that I'm in."

Some describe MAZ as a combination between Erykah Badu and the Weeknd, but there are other influences that have shaped her sound as well.

"I do love Erykah, and I do listen to The Weekend, but since my dad was a DJ, I heard it all," MAZ says. "I have some rock influences, I have some R&B influences. R&B is probably where the bulk of it will be. When I got into high school, I started to get into more alternative stuff like Massive Attack. That's the hardest question because it really does range. The way music is for me, it also depends on my mood. Ron Isley is another influence. I remember riding with my dad, and he would always play some player type music."

Slated for a Jan. 27 release, MAZ's forthcoming album, Pale Moon EP, was recorded in Cleveland, Atlanta and Detroit.

"This is my first official project," MAZ says. "I had always done singles so far. It took me probably about a year-and-a-half. I worked with Ethereal from Awful Records, Caleb Stone in Detroit and also Cleveland natives GFMW & Believe. The way it started was crazy. I just had one beat from Ethereal from when I was in Atlanta. I wrote to it and asked if he wanted me to record up here and send it back and he told me to come back down and do a project together. So I went to Atlanta for two weeks and slept on his couch. We didn't even have any hot water. We were struggling, recording, getting fucked up at night — it was lit. The thing with creativity is that it comes in waves and you got to be ready when the wave hits."

While MAZ enjoys singing, her greater joy comes from writing, and she hasn't ruled out the possibility of writing songs for others in the future.

"Yeah that's my favorite part," she says about songwriting. "I feel like my release was made to tell my story and my perspective. Even though I've always been a singer and I like to sing, the writing was the part that felt the best. It feels like I'm communicating directly to the listener, like they can relate to me and not just the song I'm singing. It makes it a better connection for me."

In anticipation of the EP, MAZ filmed a video for the song "Hideaway" that was directed by Jean Coneja and shot by Jesse Heath.

"We filmed it in California," MAZ says. "I was actually going out there for a performance and I needed a makeup artist. My girl put me in touch with this girl on Instagram. I sent her an email just to get a quote, and she wrote back saying how she had listened to my music and just had to shoot a video for it. We emailed back and forth for a couple months to get the overall vibe. I went out there with a very small budget, but she made it work. We took four days and we made the video. We both had amazing teams. It was a positive experience — I got to be the protagonist in my own movie that is soundtracked by my own music. It was so surreal."

On Friday, Jan. 27, MAZ hosts a listening party at Red Space. DJs Corey Grand and Jams Davis will spin, and there will be a photobooth on site.

"I might perform one song, but I don't know for sure," MAZ says. "I think I may just play the album through. I have a show coming up in February. It's a funny thing, I'm pretty confident when I'm on stage and performing but when just playing my music for people, that's when I feel most vulnerable — almost naked. I may just give my thanks to everyone and then duck off in a corner and vibe."

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