You might not notice it, but Santa Cruz’s Maia Rowan had a cold when she recorded her new album Fantasy. It’s not that she planned to sing with a cold—she didn’t plan the recording at all. It was a surprise Christmas present from her parents. Rowan’s voice coach Charlee Graham found an opening at Music+Arts Studio in Memphis and got her in.
“I happened to have an opportunity to record stuff on really short notice,” Rowan says. “My voice coach has a connection with a studio. My parents and that voice coach talked, and that [it would be] a Christmas present and birthday present and basically an entire year of gifts to fly to Memphis and record an album.”
So on New Year’s Eve of 2019, she flew out to Memphis to record several songs, even though she was feeling a little under the weather.
It was an intense, emotional experience recording these songs. When she performed “Woman,” a song that vents her frustration about sexist laws that restrict access to abortion, Rowan’s vocal coach met her at the door with tears in her eyes. Not just because of the profound lyrics, but also because of Rowan’s raw performance.
“I heard about abortion laws in Alabama and Georgia and I got mad,” Rowan says. “I don’t think that a courthouse full of old white men should be deciding what women do with their bodies.”
Rowan has been writing songs since she was 9. Before that, she’d been playing music for as long as she can remember. She recalls a story of being little and going to the library with her parents. They had some sticks set up that you could hit to create rhythms. She didn’t want to stop hitting the sticks, so her parents had to bring them home to get her to leave.
The songs really started to flow when she was 13, after she spent considerable time messing around on a really old keyboard. The more she learned how to play the keyboard and piano, the more competent she felt as a songwriter.
Of the eight songs she recorded at the Memphis studio, she decided to release six.
“It was never like, ‘I’m making an album,’” Rowan says. “It’s just like I’m writing songs.”
The album is raw and affecting as it veers from the personal to the political—“Fireworks” is about thinking someone is cute, while “Standing There” is about the Parkland shooting.
“That freaks me out because, as a student, I don’t want to be in that situation. I deal with fear a lot of the time by writing about it. That song is just, ‘We need to do something about school shootings,’” Rowan says.
Shortly after she finished the record, live music stopped due to the pandemic. So she held on to it for a while, but ultimately wanted to release it before her 17th birthday. Some of the songs on the record go as far back as when she was 14.
“I still connect with them,” she says. “And a lot of these songs I’ve definitely improved or would have done differently, but I think the songs worked. One of the songs I cut, it’s too old for me to connect with. It felt angsty almost. It didn’t feel like where I am now. But all the songs that I put out, I feel connected to.”
For more info, check out maiahrowan.com.