by Silke Hartung

NewTracks New Artist: Sophey Maye

by Silke Hartung

NewTracks New Artist: Sophey Maye

Hailing from a rural township in the Waikato, singer-songwriter Sophie Brown is now living in London. An NZ On Air Development grant meant she was able to receive help with production and mentorship from Natalia Sheppard (Tali), which resulted in her new single Phase, released under the artist name Sophey Maye. NZ On Air Music included the energetic pop track on their February NewTracks compilation. 

Hi, what’s your given name, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

Hi. I’m Sophie Brown. I’m a 19-year-old musician from Hamilton. I grew up in a small town called Morrinsville where I discovered my love for music singing in the school choir and busking in the streets. Ukulele was my first instrument, I remember learning You Are My Sunshine at the age of 10 and feeling like a proper musician. I soon moved onto the guitar where I began to write my own songs and here we are!

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

A major influence in my musical development was my high school music teacher Lynn Jamieson from Sacred Heart Girls’ College Hamilton. Lynn fostered and expanded my love for music, opening my eyes to several different avenues within the music industry; songwriting, composing, musical theatre, barbershop and producing. I spent many hours in the music suite before and after school, during breaks and the occasional maths class! Not only did she pass on her musical knowledge, she showed me how to be a confident, resilient, and empowered young woman in the industry.

Any other projects that we might know you from?

You may have seen me open for Tami Neilson at the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival in 2021, which certainly has been a highlight to date. Playing support for Summer Thieves at Raglan Roast in collaboration with NZ Music Month and opening for Jenny Mitchell on her NZ tour were also moments I ticked off the bucket list!

In 2022, I was awarded a grant by NZ On Air’s New Music Development scheme where I had the opportunity to initiate a collaborative project with industry professional Tali (Natalia Sheppard). We spent many hours in the studio, to create three tracks, two of which we co-wrote together. Tali produced these tracks with additional mix’s from Tom Lee (Lee Mvtthews) and Harry Charles. The first single released from this body of work is the track Call My Name followed by the recent release of my second single Phase. Finally, the third track Taboo will be released in the coming months, bringing this awesome project to a close.

What’s the background to your connection with Tali? 

In 2022, Tali visited Sacred Heart Girls’ College to run a songwriting workshop with the music students. I shared with her the first draft of my song Taboo and we instantly clicked! Tali felt connected to the song, and I felt connected to her. She then invited me to her studio, and we went on to record the song as well as write and record two others with the support of NZ On Air.

How has your writing evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

When I first began songwriting, at the age of 12, I wrote in a folk and singer-songwriter genre. As my knowledge of music expanded and experience in the recording studio grew I discovered the countless possibilities within my sound, which ultimately led to a genre shift in my music. Tali’s influence as a DnB artist is evident through my music, which is now infused with electronic pop elements whilst still staying true to my singer-songwriter roots.

How did you choose to go with Sophey Maye as your artist name?

Growing up, I was always referred to as Sophie May, so it felt natural to have it as my artist name. Unfortunately, there was already a Sophie May out there, so the spelling had to be tweaked!

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

Recently, I made the move to London and opened for Kiwi pop singer-songwriter Kylie Price at the London venue Green Note in Camden. This venue has hosted Amy Winehouse, Ed Sheeran and Leonard Cohen, all of whom are huge inspirations to me. To share my stories on the same stage just as they did was certainly a pinch-me-moment!

What makes Phase stand out for you as a single?

Phase is a high energy, emotional, pop track. It’s a toe-tapper and earworm. When I first introduced Phase to my friends and family, I would catch them off guard singing the hook, “I got to go, I got to go,” which I think is a good sign!

What is the story behind Phase?

Phase is a combination of emotions, stress, confusion, and desire to break away when everything becomes ‘too much’. These things I have felt as a young person, navigating my way as a teenager into adult life.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

My favourite moment of the single is a lyric in the first verse, “blue sky, so high, let’s get lost not found”. For me, this lyric paints the desire to escape the monotony of everyday life. Specifically, “let’s get lost not found” speaks to what I’m sure is a universal feeling of wanting to break free from societal expectations.

Who did you record the single with and where? 

Phase was written and produced in Tali’s home studio Reign Recordings. Phase in its original form was a track Tali made several years prior. She played me the track and I heard myself in it. We decided to re-imagine and re-work it into what now is Phase. We stripped the original lyrics, altered the melody and worked with the original guitar track, crafting a new, fresh song from its foundation. I’ve never made music in this way before, as my regular process starts with me sitting on my bedroom floor with my acoustic guitar. It was an awesome, new experience!

What would you like listeners to take away from hearing the song?

Phase is about my own hardships during my teenage years, and I’ve found it very cathartic to listen to. I hope that in relating it to their own experiences, my audience can feel the same way when listening. At the end of the day music is all about feeling something, and that is my goal as a songwriter.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

I think the key to a good single is choosing a track that can be widely understood or appreciated by multiple demographics. Since releasing my music and working alongside Tali, I have a better understanding of target audience in music. As a young person I find that songs written about specific experiences will be well received by a more niche audience (typically listeners aged 14-24) and are better situated in a EP/album format. Whereas a song with universal ideas like Phase can be received by a larger demographic and is therefore a good choice for a single. Spotify For Artists has been a useful tool in understanding my audience, and I take that into consideration when writing and making these decisions.

Who else is in your team?

I have a wonderful team supporting me. My producer Tali, management by Pippa Ryan-Kidd (IMNZ Chair) and Tarquin Shaw-Young and distribution service from Noise Hive.

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should look out for?

The final track Taboo from my collaborative project with Tali will be released in the coming months and is something to keep an eye out for! I have a selection of upcoming gigs in London and information about these can be found on my social media pages.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song. 

  • Paige: Aquarian
  • Eve Kelly: Summer Lovin
  • Marianne Leigh: Crazy GF

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others out there?

This is my first time applying for NZ On Air’s NewTracks, so I feel very lucky that Phase was selected! Looking at the list of amazing artists I was selected alongside, many of which I have looked up to for a long time, is a great feeling!

However, I’ve had my fair share of rejection in many other aspects of my career. I always remind myself that music, like any other art form is subjective and something you love won’t always be someone else’s cup of tea. Who can really know what’s ‘good’ and what’s not? You just have to keep going and trust that the art you create is valid and valuable and will find its audience!

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

The Spotify podcast Women in the Music Industry by Rob Wells is a great listen for a spark of inspiration. It shares stories of women breaking barriers and making their mark in an industry that has long been dominated by men.

The 13th Floor provides good content about upcoming musicians. I was lucky enough to feature in their blog when Call My Name was voted song of the day in 2022.

Any last words?

Big thank you to NZ On Air for the NewMusic Development fund! Phase wouldn’t be here without the incredible opportunity – it’s a full circle moment now Phase has been chosen for the NZ On Air New Tracks compilation.

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