Having spent his early years growing up on a boat, without a specific country to call his own, Michael Gibson has firmly established a presence in the local hip hop scene. Mikey Mayz, as he is these days becoming well known, talked with Lana Andelane about his recently released debut album, ‘Alpha’.
Having settled in NZ as a child, British/Tongan Mikey Mayz cites musicals and Disney movies as his earliest musical inspiration.
“They got me singing in the first place,” he says. “But actually pursuing music and recording, was when hip hop came into my life… that whole 2000-2006 era was my fuel to get into the industry.”
A love for West Coast hip hop is evident in ‘Alpha’, his own recently released debut album.
“I used a lot of synths that are very West Coast as a theme,” he explains.
The album’s seven tracks feature input from some leading hip hop talents. Discussing the inspirations Mayz is quick to credit his audiences.
“‘Alpha’ came from doing a lot of live shows, trying to connect with the audience… I know people love a nice beat, so I put a lot of effort into what beats I chose, and got a lot of good producers in there to make sure the final master was epic.”
The album showcases Mayz’s unique sound, a smooth amalgamation of RnB, hip hop and soul influences.
“I found a blend of the soul and the hip hop which gives my singing tone a cool feel. I’ve found a lane, that bouncy hip hop with the rhythm of RnB …that’s my niche.”
The new year has also brought professional changes.
“We used to have a manager, Matt [Pula], who’s stepped off to pursue his own dreams and goals. As of 2017 we manage ourselves… everything that you see which we post is done ourselves.”
By ‘ourselves’ Mayz is talking about Juvenile Music Group, a collective of artists headed by himself, Donell Lewis and Sesh. The collective is not a record label – the artists are all presently unsigned and rely on themselves to promote, distribute and create hype around their music.
“You need people with the same goals around you to push forwards. Donny and Sesh set a standard for me… they give me feedback. If I can impress them, I feel like I can impress the fans.”
“It’s scary, but I have so much control over my music and direction, which can be compromised by getting into a label… I enjoy having the freedom to release music when and how I want.
“We’re always looking for people to work with that have the same drive and goals, to help us and relieve some of that stress… even little things like a poster can take the focus away from music,” he candidly explains.
Mayz’ film school background, with a post-production major, has been helpful not only for the creation of music videos, but also in terms of audio recording.
“We record with the basics… we’ve managed to find the blend that captures the perfect recording sound with Logic.”
Growing success was evidenced in 2016 with two tours, multiple international support slots, and the popularity of singles including Solid (featuring Façade) and Sunshine (featuring Sid Diamond). He also quit his 9-5er in order to focus on making music. Discussing the creative process behind his collaborations with other established artists, Mayz demonstrates how important it is to think about all aspects of a song – strategically as well as creatively.
“I always do the song first, then they add their own thing to it. With Sunshine, I wrote it then left Sid a 16-bar verse to do his thing. When thinking who to put in that gap, always think strategically… Will it get as much hype? Will I enjoy the guy who’s on it? Can I take this collaboration and do tours with it?”
“I give [collaborators] a lot of guidelines on what I expect… but let them do their thing, because I know I wouldn’t want to be micromanaged. I do my thing, they do their thing… like Donny [Lewis] recorded his part in Aus [for the track Winning]…but I trust he’s gonna kill it.”
Of course the choice of producers play a large part in creating his sound and success. Edy, Elkco, Façade and Styleztracks have credits on the new album.
“They give me a canvas – their role is as crucial as mine. The whole song is based around their initial progression of chords… their idea sparks the whole song.”
The album title has a poignancy for Mayz.
“As a whole project it was supposed to be my foot in the door. Like, ‘Take this guy seriously’. It had to be epic quality, epic music, good melodies… something you can play from start to finish.
“I’ve already started on my next project, called ‘Bravo’, but right now the future is focusing on ‘Alpha’, pushing it and touring, promoting online… Online is where we make the most money from sales. For solo artists these days, without a record label, distribution deals are the way to go.”
Asked about challenges he has faced in his career, Mayz reveals a surprising modesty.
“I don’t like praising myself… I struggle with having people compliment me, like there’s only so much I can say to make someone feel my gratitude.”
He concedes that despite being a performer, he is highly introverted, breaking the common stereotype that hip hop artists are over-confident and cocky.
“The only place where I’m 100% confident is in the studio or on the stage,” he admits with a smile