Maya Jane Coles produced, engineered and mixed debut album “Comfort” in her home studio, played every instrument, performed vocals and designed the artwork. And according to her manager Steven Braines, the 25-year-old DJ/producer turned down a $750,000 major-label offer for the album, opting instead to work with Kobalt’s label services division to start her own imprint with the self-affirming name I/AM/ME.
“It’s always been quite cut-and-dry for me,” Coles writes in an email — she doesn’t do phone interviews, and isn’t particularly interested in press. “I want and have always wanted to just make the best music I can possibly make, and enjoy making, and be 100% creatively free when doing so.
“I have a close team around me who I respect, and I want to be in charge of my own destiny,” she adds. “It always amazes me how many people don’t seem to have any kind of final approval in major areas of their own career.”
Since her first song release in 2008, Coles has evolved into a prominent star among house heads with her sensual, vibrant and deeply psychedelic take on dancefloor rhythms. She’s also taken on the underground dubstep community under the moniker Nocturnal Sunshine. She’s played more than 30 countries in the last 18 months, doing coveted gigs at festivals like Coachella and Sonar. She’s remixed such acts as Massive Attack and the xx, contributed to the longstanding “DJ-Kicks” compilation series and offered not one, but two sets to Pete Tong’s “Essential Mix” series. She has accumulated 10 million combined YouTube views, more than 2.5 million SoundCloud plays and 165,000-plus Facebook fans — all before releasing a proper artist album.
“I’ve seen [Maya] go from really intimate, underground communities that knew her when she was coming up. Now, more mainstream festivals are taking notice,” Coles’ North American booking agent Mariesa Stevens says. This year, Coles became the first artist from Stevens’ Liaison Artists to play Coachella. She’s also slotted to make appearances at events like Wavefront in Chicago and Bestival in the United Kingdom later this summer.
Stevens and the other members of Coles’ team have formed an intimate and hardworking core devoted to helping the artist execute her creative vision. The other components of the “family-style” unit include Braines, PR agent Neil Bainbridge and a few delegates from the William Morris Endeavor booking agency, which handles international dates. Braines, Stevens and Bainbridge have developed close relationships with each other and Coles herself; they travel together, hang out together. From Bainbridge’s perspective, the camaraderie has allowed Coles to assume most of the responsibility for the direction of her career. “I believe the closer the team and personal relationships, the greater the understanding and respect for the artist’s wishes,” he says.
Most of the constituents of Coles’ inner circle have flourished and evolved with the artist. For example, Stevens reports that Liaison has “grown quite a bit over the last few years” since she joined Coles’ management team. “When you have an artist like that on the roster, it’s certainly attractive to other artists. People have a lot of respect for her, so I’m sure that from her own suggestion and what she brings that I’ve definitely gained a lot of artists since signing her.”
Coles inaugurated I/AM/ME in late 2012 with her EP “Easier to Hide,” on which she branched out from her roots in dancefloor-oriented formats by tinkering with pop-leaning vocal hooks. The forthcoming album “has a lot of varied musical styles in there,” she says. “I wanted to show that as a producer and artist I am not about one thing only. It’s always interesting to work outside your safe zone and try different things.”
Coles is even keen to explore new artistic roles, perhaps as a pop producer along the lines of Quincy Jones or Timbaland. “I just want to be able to make great music. If I really liked what someone did or I had a strong idea about how I would like to take them somewhere new musically, then it wouldn’t put me off if they were a popular artist,” she writes. “I wouldn’t compromise or change my music to suit the pop world, but I think there’s always room in the pop world for something a little different.”