LA Transplant On Being Out In Music City
Maia Sharp was born to write and play. The daughter of songwriter Randy Sharp (who wrote hits for everyone from Linda Ronstadt to Blood, Sweat & Tears), she came up in the LA music business, where her undeniable talent earned her record deals and covers by folks like Cher, Bonnie Raitt, and The Dixie Chicks. We chatted with Maia prior to her brief return to California, where she’ll be doing two shows next week: in Sonoma County on Friday, and in Modesto on Saturday, in support of Bonnie Raitt. [Ed. note: both shows have now been canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.]
CQ: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us! You live in Nashville. How are you and your loved ones doing after the recent tornadoes?
MS: I got very lucky. I lost a tree and some fence (and power…still) but starting just one block down that wasn’t the case. So scary. The way the community has rallied together with volunteer groups and benefit concerts is inspiring and a beautiful thing to see in my new home town.
CQ: You moved to Nashville recently, right? You’re originally from Southern California, and your musical background seems just as much pop and rock as it is country – so what made you decide to relocate to Music City?
MS: Nashville has been through a lot of changes since I started visiting on writing trips about 20 years ago. There’s a strong Americana/Triple A contingent now that feels more like my style than the Los Angeles film and TV placement writing. And the song first mentality of the town has always attracted me to it.
CQ: What’s it like being out in Nashville? Do you find it to be different than California?
MS: Funny, I used to find it very different; it was tough to find a healthy meal, there was a lot of talk about church and it was just easier to keep my politics and sexual orientation to myself. But so many Californians and New Yorkers have moved there for the same reasons I did that it’s more like California than ever. Not all Nashvillians would agree that’s a good thing but it is definitely where it’s going. I got a place in a part of East Nashville that feels a lot like Silverlake in LA and half of my block works in the entertainment industry so it felt like home pretty quickly.
CQ: Has it been an issue at all in terms of the Nashville music industry? You’ve been an out artist and writer for quite awhile now – have you seen things change?
MS: I have definitely seen things change in that California way where people just care less if you’re gay or straight but, as a Triple A artist (not country) and a writer for other artists, I don’t feel like I was ever personally discriminated against because I’m gay. I have a friend who was signed to a major label country deal and when they found out she is gay they dropped her. They blamed the market and their projection of the fans not wanting to buy a gay artist. So stupid.
CQ: Is there an LGBTQ music community in Nashville? Do y’all know each other? Mary, Chely, Brandi, Ty, Shane, etc. Some kind of support structure? Gatherings, secret handshakes, queer country mafia?
MS: Ha! Well, I haven’t met everyone on that list but we are all 1 degree of separation. There could be a secret handshake and queer mafia. I might need a little more time in town before they let me in on that secret. The cool thing is that Nashville 2020 is more likely to have a gathering of straights and gays and no one asks or cares. There’s a women’s bar in East Nashville called Lipstick Lounge that attracts a bunch of straight people too just because it’s cool and they want to be seen there. That’s a step forward.
CQ: As a writer who’s writing for a wider audience, who are mostly gonna be straight, how do you approach what you want to say about love and relationships? Do you take the audience into account? Have you ever changed anything you wanted to write because you knew that the audience was mostly gonna be straight?
MS: I thought a lot about this when I was just starting out and came to the conclusion that I still believe, the more gender neutral it is the more accessible it is to men and women, straight and gay. I’ve also never gone for themes that point out traditional male or female traits. I think that’s more of a country thing. I try to tell a personal story in a way that is open enough for any listener to put him or herself into it. So with that (usually) in mind I’ve never had to change a lyric to suit a straight audience. I do have a song on my upcoming album called “Nice Girl.” The line is “you’re gonna make some nice girl miserable someday.” It sounds like I’m saying it to someone but really my recent ex-wife said it to me. It was actually really funny. She said it and I just looked at her and she said “you’re going to write that down for a song aren’t you?” and we laughed our asses off.
CQ: What about as a performer?
MS: As a performer I might tell the story I just told you about my ex wife or not depending on the room. Usually I do just tell it and it’s fine. In my 20’s I probably would have leaned toward not telling it. Now, unless it just feels wrong I put it out there.
CQ: Conversely, have you ever had an queer listener in mind either when you were writing or performing?
MS: Not particularly but the perspective of some of my songs is that I’m singing to myself or a love interest past or present so I guess in that way, yes, I’m thinking of a queer listener.
CQ: You have a project with another writer/performer, Anna Schulze, called Roscoe & Etta (named after your guitars – love it!) You put out some recordings and toured a bit. Are you planning more shows with Anna?
MS: Yes, we made a full length (self-titled) album in 2018 and an EP last year called Blessings, Curses, Anchors & Wings and toured around both of them. We really enjoy working together. Our skill sets compliment each other well and we bring new layers out of each other’s writing and production. We have some songs started for another project that we’re planning on finishing up at the end of the year. This year was for my solo album and Anna to focus on production and film and TV placement in LA which has gone well for her. Then we’ll come back together for another project with these new experiences and contacts.
CQ: You’re doing a couple of shows soon in California, one in Santa Rosa and another one, supporting Bonnie Raitt in Modesto. What was the impetus for this short jaunt back to your old stomping grounds? Any special plans for these shows?
MS: The impetus was Bonnie calling asking if I would like to open the Modesto show. Easiest decision I’ve ever made. Once I booked that I called my friend Teresa Peter to see if we could do a show the day before. Teresa and Amber hosted a Roscoe & Etta show last year that was so fun I wanted to see if I could come back around (but just as me solo this time).
CQ: Thank you for chatting with us!
MS: Thank you!