Writing by Molly McKew
I meet Maja at Crafternoon in Melbourne’s Brunswick, which turns out to be a cafe marketed at kids. Maja has made it her regular regardless, and she takes me to a quiet table out the back, where we make use of the paper and coloured pencils provided. On the menu is an array of fun kids meals like coco-pops mixed with rice bubbles (the Billie Jean) and grown up meals, such as the bacon and egg butty that Maja orders while I remove my winter layers.
We very quickly start talking about star signs (I am a Libra and she’s a Gemini), dating Aquarians, Sex and the City, and being sensitive, before I realise that 30 minutes has passed and we have barely acknowledged the reason we were here – to talk about her music.
I first encountered Maja when I saw her play at the Thornbury Local a year or so ago. During her performance, my friend Chris and I quickly became both gobsmacked and teary – her songs were lyrical and honest, and voice emotive and bold. Originally from Brisbane, Maja released her first self titled EP in 2016, and soon after, her second, ‘Still Bleeding’. Her songs have pop, soul and blues influences and are laced with intricate and well crafted harmonies. Her new new single, ‘Woman I’ve Become’, is a (warning) addictively stirring track about being unashamedly yourself and rejecting fantasies projected onto you – ‘Don’t you wait for the woman of your dreams / she’s crying out to be heard and to be seen’.
The title turns out to be a good summation of our interview. I am fairly groggy on a Monday morning, but left feeling totally perked up after a super affirming and effusive chat about growing into your individuality, accepting yourself, and all things creativity. Throughout the interview Maja references Mari Andrews, the Instagram famous illustrator (who Ramona loves!) and reads me poetry from the notes section on her phone.
Maja made the move to Melbourne in 2017, after being brought up in Brisbane via Serbia, where she was born, and lived until she was 6 years old. As a kid she knew without doubt that she was going to pursue music, and after studying music and composition at the University of Queensland, she successfully immersed herself in the Melbourne music scene. Since then, she tells me, she has grown a ton as a songwriter and as a person. “People have been supportive and it feels like people connect with my music, partly because it’s a big scene, there’s something for everyone … Everybody has been so receptive, generous and opinionated. I like that people say what they’re feeling in Melbourne!”
It was in Melbourne that she began to write and perform poetry. It’s been a huge challenge, because “you just have words, there is nothing to hide behind.” Maja started out using poetry as a tool for songwriting, but it has become somewhat of a dual creative outlet. Poetry is a means of expressing things she can’t say in her songs: “I wrote this line that I say in my poetry – “false advertising in what we are meant to be / and how my breasts will never compare to hers / because sexy isnt a way of being but a way of looking / and I’m sick of looking outside myself.” She pauses, then laughs. “I can’t say it like that, I just can’t talk about my boobs in my song!!”
I ask her what her lyrics and poetry are motivated by – and whether feminism comes into the creative process in a conscious way. Maja tells me that she talks and thinks about romantic relationships and the dynamics between men and women a lot – hence her love for Sex and the City “the first season, so good!” Feminism is a byproduct of reflecting on these experiences and interactions with men. As for most songwriters, her lyrics come out in times of intense feeling, whether it be rejection, reflection or lust. But she also likes to write about relationships in general – she wrote a poem recently about two of her friends getting married, reflecting on marriage and singledom.
‘Woman I’ve Become’, too, was written as a result of a blurry friendship/relationship that was becoming a negative one. “I guess it was a direct response to this unhealthy relationship that I had. We were just friends but it was me being told ‘you should be like this at this stage of your development’… I wrote it really really fast, it just came out of me.” The song is about evolving at your own pace, and the people around you appreciating where you’re at. “There’s a lot of self discovery in that song, and a lot of ‘let me be myself now’ … it’s unapologetic.” That’s the beauty of songwriting for Maja – “that you can take something really crap, a bad situation, and can turn it into something beautiful and poetic, is just the nicest thing”
We move on to talking about our feelings, and more precisely, the innumerable amount of them. We discover that we are both highly and openly emotive people (and fans of crying in public), and agree that there is so much strength in feeling your feelings fully, and being empathetic – “your strength is your vulnerability” says Maja firmly.
It’s taken a while for the singer to accept those parts of herself as positive. She recalls times when she wished she was ‘tougher’ and less sensitive – more of a “chill girl”. “I would have these things I would call breakdowns, when something went wrong I would just have to feel it and cry, and I used to think, why can’t I just be like a man, why can’t I just get over it and get things done? And I realised that that’s never going to be me.” I moan with frustration – the desire to hide the sensitive side of myself in favour of a tough girl image is all too familiar. But as Maja says “understanding that your values and integrity is more important than being liked is so much more important.”
And it’s an ongoing battle – even for someone who has made her groove in the Melbourne music scene – and when it’s clear that the only way is up. “Everytime I release music I have this terror, this vulnerability that you’re going to be judged. And everytime I think ‘this time it won’t happen’!”
I leave feeling inspired to sing, or write poetry, or do something unashamedly me. Battling insecurity, for everyone, is an ongoing battle – but it’s worth it – because listening to and making music that gets to the depths of human emotion is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
You can see Maja perform at:
Co-Ground Brunswick Goodbye Party, Brunswick – 18th of August
Drunken Poet, West Melbourne – 22nd August