Maiah Wynne is Mystical, Musical, and Making Waves
An interview with singer-songwriter Maiah Wynne
Maiah Wynne is one of those musicians it’s impossible not to like. Down to earth, friendly, and inspiring, she’s attracted fans across the many cities she’s lived in from Missoula to Portland. She also makes lovely indie-folk music, plays over fourteen instruments, and sometimes performs with butterfly wings. I was lucky enough to chat with Maiah about her love of butterflies, how she deals with criticism in the music industry, and what advice she has for her younger self.
What inspired you to become a musician? When did you start playing music?
I have always had a love for music. I would sing in my sleep as a kid—and often still do—and I always have a song in my head. In many ways it has been a gift and a curse not being able to turn my internal jukebox off. I remember really feeling that rush of inspiration and magic for the first time when I was three years old. I was carefully pressing piano keys and realized that three notes I found sounded really good together. I memorized those keys and the next few days built on them finding more keys that sounded good with them. It was an amazing feeling and that moment has stuck in my memory all these years.
I started taking piano lessons soon after that. I think my parents saw how much I loved it and wanted to support that love of music. I stopped taking piano lessons a few years later, but as I grew up that passion grew inside me. I was always at a piano learning and writing and performing. It was an emotional outlet that allowed me to truly express myself in a world where I felt like I wasn’t being heard.
I did choir and band and asked for drums for my 13th birthday. I gleefully unwrapped them in the attic of my house where I would spend a lot of time over the next few years releasing more emotional energy listening to heavy rock and processing all the teenage drama a girl goes through. My grandpa gifted me his old mandolin that same year showing me some chords and many days I was home alone after school I would climb up on a chair and steal off the wall the old classical guitar my dad never played.
I was addicted to the feeling of making music. I sang loudly when no one was home. It wasn’t perfect. It was far from it, but it allowed me to grow as a singer and songwriter in a place without outside influence or judgment. I have taught myself over 14 instruments and I am still learning more.
I never want to stop learning how to be a better musician, singer, songwriter, and person.
You iconically wore Butterfly wings in at least one live performance I saw. Where did the idea for that come from?
I love butterflies. They are a symbol of working hard for positive change. I think it is a great metaphor for what I want to do in the world: work hard and make a positive difference in the world. I first wore the wings in Missoula, MT for my very first performance at a cute local coffee shop called “The Break” when I was 15. I saw them in a costume store and fell in love with the idea of wearing them while I performed, and I guess it stuck because I have been wearing them ever since. I don’t always wear them depending on the show (and the space) they are so big and I tend to knock over things if I don’t have enough room, haha. They are pretty beat up. They have been all across the country with me.
What’s your approach to composing songs? Do you ever collaborate with other musicians?
My songwriting process is at the whim of my inspiration. I have written songs in my dreams before: woken up with that energy inside me and an entirely composed song in my head. Sometimes I have conversations with people about the world and I get really inspired about a topic and I go home and it flows out of me. Sometimes while I am noodling around on an instrument I suddenly feel that inspiration in the chords I am playing and run with it. A lot of the time I will finish the song right then and there.
It is like an explosion. Sometimes I have to take more time with it, I have an idea for a chorus but nothing for the verse, so I will leave the idea for a few days, weeks, or months even, and then come back when I feel my brain going back to it. I try not to ever force a song. I have definitely forced songs before and they never turn out as good and I don’t feel as passionate about them when they are finished. There are always exceptions to the rule, and I think a lot of it has to do with how I am feeling and my emotional perspective at the time.
I love collaborating with other musicians! I have some really cool collaborations I am about to release with local musicians and a couple secret upcoming collabs with some really huge musicians that I am so excited about. I am always looking to work with more people, it is exciting working in new genres and with new voices and sounds.
I have taught myself over 14 instruments and I am still learning more. I never want to stop learning how to be a better musician, singer, songwriter, and person.
What inspires your lyrics?
Everything. I am an over-thinker. I think about everything all the time and often space out mid-conversation because I can’t stop thinking. But, it allows me to come up with a lot of lyrics and ideas for songs! I try to write about things that will help people or topics that I feel passionate about.
The songs I am most proud of deal with issues like mental health, sexual assault, PTSD, breaking stereotypes, and keeping going when things are hard. But I also write a lot of silly songs, and I have written more songs than I care to admit about my dog. (Who hasn’t.)
I read you worked on the crew of the western film and wrote a song during a 20-minute break that became an end-credit song. Are you still involved in film and acting or has that had to take a backseat to your music career?
Yes! “Lefty Brown” was an incredible experience. I am still involved in film and have some movies coming out in the next couple years that I have acted in, but it has definitely taken a backseat to my music career. It has been great in a lot of ways because there is so much cross over between the film and music worlds and I have gotten so many opportunities for my music in film by working and acting in films. I hope one day to be able to balance them better. Work on an album, work on a film, release the album and go on tour, go work on another film (a girl can dream.)
If you could give any three pieces of advice to your younger, musician self, what would they be?
1. Everything will be okay. (I don’t know if that really counts as advice but I think young me needs to hear that.)
2. Be true to yourself and the music you want to make. Fads come and go in the music industry, but nobody can be a better you than you, and that is what makes you special.
3. Take time to smell the flowers. Hug the trees. Pet the dog. Love yourself. Breathe.
You mentioned in an interview that there can be a lot of hate and criticism when it comes to music. How do you deal with that and stay positive?
This is something that so many people struggle with. People can be so harsh when it comes to music and it’s near impossible as a musician to avoid some form of criticism or hate. It’s hard for me still, but the way I have learned to handle it is to acknowledge it and then let it go.
In the end it’s just one person’s opinion in a sea of opinions, no less or more valid than any other, and it will pass just like everything else. It’s hard not to dwell on that one negative comment. It’s hard not to take on those words and repeat them in the mirror. Every day is a battle for self confidence and acceptance. Surrounding myself with people that support me and lift me up has had a huge influence in my outlook on those things and just generally learning to let those negative moments go.
Be true to yourself and the music you want to make. Fads come and go in the music industry, but nobody can be a better you than you, and that is what makes you special.
What do you like to do when you’re not playing music?
I like to go on hikes and walks. I play Magic the Gathering with my roommates and binge shows like iZombie, Jessica Jones and Stranger Things. I try to find ways to do good in the world. I have recently been looking for ways to reduce my plastic waste (I found these sweet reusable dishwasher safe ziplock bags), I paint, even though I’m not great at it, and enjoy just relaxing and cuddling my dog.
What does feminism mean to you and why is it important?
Feminism to me means a more accepting world for both genders. Feminism is about creating pathways for women in the world where there weren’t before, and it means doing the same for men. It should be okay for women to be in jobs of power, for a woman to be the president, for a woman to be a CEO, for women to wear what they want, to get an education, and to be respected etc., and it should be okay for men to be makeup artists, stay at home dads, to be emotional and sensitive, etc., and to still be respected.
It is a much more complex issue than what I can touch upon here, but feminism is something that I believe all people should unite behind to create a better world for everyone.
Let’s break stereotypes and stop putting people in boxes. Let’s stop hindering peoples potential. We are all human. We are all equal. We all deserve to be seen and accepted for who we are at our core.