On her sophomore album Can You See Me?—out April 3 on Black Hen Music—Vancouver’s Maya Rae communicates with immediacy and commitment in her voice that few artists attain, even though she’s just turned 18. She was hailed as a jazz prodigy from the age of 12, releasing her debut album Sapphire Birds two years later. Naturally, she’s matured a lot since then, and Can You See Me? demonstrates that in its more rootsy songwriting approach, overseen by Juno-winning producer/guitarist Steve Dawson.
They connected through a demo he received from Rae, and plans were quickly made to record for a week in Nashville with a crack young band Dawson assembled that included The Birds of Chicago on backing vocals. Done live off the floor, there was only one vocal retake over the course of the five-day sessions.
That level of performance is a reflection of Rae’s ability to convey both confidence and vulnerability through her voice. Her intention with Can You See Me?, she says, is to offer listeners a message that promotes one’s authenticity that will translate to hope and empowerment.
Maya Rae officially launches Can You See Me? on April 19 in Vancouver at Frankie’s Jazz Club, with further live dates to follow. Stay up to date by going to mayaraemusic.com
What was the process like making Can You See Me?
It was a very collaborative process making this album. We went down to Nashville and recorded the whole project very quickly, with all the musicians completely receptive to the material. Everyone pitched in their own ideas to each song and it was definitely a team effort.
What song on the record are you most proud of and why?
I think I'm most proud of Mountain Angel. I started writing the chorus of that song when I was 10 years old and just never got around to finishing the song. While we were preparing to go into the studio for this new album, my brother and I ended up finishing the song—six years later! It was a very sensitive topic to write about when I was 10, so it felt like I’d come full circle when we finally finished it.
How would you describe your artistic evolution so far?
I started singing and playing a lot of shows in the jazz scene when I was around 13. I love jazz as a genre and have been so lucky to be able to meet such incredible musicians and people along the way. I started writing music when I was about nine years old; however, I really started writing a lot more these past few years. Throughout high school, I was a lot more inspired to write music due to the many ups and downs you go through during that time. I've started to incorporate a lot of my original music into my shows now, which has been so special for me.
What's been the biggest change in your life over the past year and what are your goals for 2020?
The biggest change in my life over this past year was probably graduating high school early and starting to really focus on my career in music. My goal for 2020 is to continue writing music and release as much of it as I can. I'm so eager to get my original songs into the world, and I can't wait for audiences to hear them.
What's your best touring story?
I played some jazz festivals in 2018, and I had the incredible opportunity of opening for my longtime hero Sheila Jordan. She is now 91 years old and still singing and gigging all the time. Sheila has influenced me in a number of ways, and she is really one of the main reasons I play jazz. That was definitely one of the most memorable moments I've experienced so far on my musical journey.