At just 20 years old Mae Challis’s voice is deceptively strong, having become more raw and sultry on her latest single release, Is It Strange? than her win at The Next Big Thing competition in 2014.
There’s an obvious decision to evolve the acoustic-driven sound of her early performances, and behind the dreamy, romantic vocals of Is It Strange? a riptide of sonic texture erupts, grounding her vulnerability down to earth with distinct maturity and rhythm.
Following the well-travelled and overly-populated singer/songwriter path it can be daunting and treacherous trying to carve out a sound so distinct from the millions who have gone before you, and whilst Challis’ music isn’t groundbreaking her songs and lyrics are an intelligent offering to the current musical ether, with just enough angst and emotion to keep you hooked.
Gef caught up with Mae on the eve of her music video release to discuss her creative process and her involvement at the fore of the Manx music scene…
GEF: Hi Mae! Thanks for chatting with us. Let’s get straight to it. When did you first get into music?
MAE: I have been singing along to the radio in my parents’ car for as long as I can remember. I started playing the guitar at the age of six and piano at the age of nine! I’ve always loved everything music has to offer and I still do now.
GEF: Listening to your earlier songs compared with your more up to date stuff, how would you describe the evolution of your sound?
MAE: That’s a good question. At the moment, live, I’m mainly acoustic, which I love. I know my songs are quite pop sounding, but I wouldn’t want to call myself pop. I like to think I’m a bit different to what you would expect to hear when you say pop. It’s pop… but with some punch!
GEF: Pop-punch, I love it. What sort of music did you grow up listening to and how has that inspired the stuff you create?
MAE: Growing up with ELO and Queen I would say Jeff Lynne and Freddie Mercury are both huge inspirations to me. I take inspiration from everywhere, but influence from no one in particular. I don’t want to sound like anyone other than myself.
I would say that I take inspiration from people around me a lot more than I take influence from any single artist, from stories I hear to the relationships between people. I just do my own thing when it comes to the music part.
GEF: So what’s the process of song writing and recording like for you?
MAE: I’m sure any other music maker would agree with me when I say that it’s different every time. There is no strategy and everyone has their preference, and that preference will change, depending on the song. Every song has a different process, sound and story.
There aren’t really any fixed rules in the creative process. That’s my experience anyway. I usually start with words, and shape music around what suits them.
GEF: What is it that’s made you pursue a career in music?
MAE: The passion and the satisfaction that I always get when I perform to people. I didn’t do great in school academically, but music was always something I was good at.
It’s a good feeling to know that I have a skill that other people enjoy just as much as I do.
It’s magic, in fact.
GEF: You recently played at the inaugural Gef Presents… in June of this year. Being Manx, what does it mean to be part of a growing, local music scene?
MAE: It’s so important. The music scene here is huge and thriving. We all support each other and it’s like being a part of a big family. Recently there has been noticeably more opportunities being created for local talent to be able to show off, and it’s really fantastic to see. I’m very proud to be a part of it.
GEF: You’ve already got such a vast repertoire of original songs. Which of them speak to you the most?
MAE: For the most part, my favourite will always be whatever is the most recent song of mine. The new ones are fresh and I’ve not had a chance to get too used to them in any way!
I have a song called ‘Side B’ which hasn’t been released anywhere properly. I uploaded an acoustic version to my YouTube channel a few months ago. I always enjoy performing it, it’s an incredibly raw and honest song, and those songs are always the best to perform.
GEF: What’s in the pipeline for you in the foreseeable future?
MAE: My acoustic album dropped earlier this year, Mae Challis Live at Bath and Bottle, and I have a gig this weekend in Valletta, Malta at the beautiful Pjazza Teatru Rjal.
My single, Is It Strange? Featuring Joe Roscoe is available on iTunes and Spotify, and it will also be getting radio airtime on BBC Introducing and BBC Lancashire. The video for Is It Strange? Is now on my Youtube channel.
You can watch Mae’s incredible full performance at Gef Presents below…
You can buy ‘Mae Challis Live at Bath and Bottle’ from Bath & Bottle, Douglas; Rehab², Douglas; Sound Records, Douglas; Secret Pizza Co., Castletown; Celtic Gold, Peel; Shalee, Ramsey; or online at www.maechallis.com.