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M.I.A. - Maya In Australia

Author: Mikolai
Friday, 21 September 2007
For British born M.I.A., recording an album is only half the battle. Once the music is done it’s time to deal with the artwork, conceptualise the video, argue with the record company and then answer inane questions from lazy journalists. Still, it beats being a hooker in Kings Cross... Interview by Mikolai.

The “hooker thing” is how Maya Arulpragasam, better known as M.I.A., managed to get herself into London’s prestige St Martins Art College.

“I was at the bus stop outside the college and loads of really cute people were coming out and I was like ‘What’s that building-’” she says. “I wanted to get into art school anyway, I was trying to learn film, but [St Martins]’ the hardest college to get into – like 16,000 people apply for 20 spaces. So I kinda went in there and emotionally blackmailed them into letting me in… I was ‘Look, if you don’t let me in I’m gonna be a hooker in three years in Kings Cross.”

It was while at college that Maya met Elastica’s Justine Frischmann. The pair got on famously and when it came time to provide artwork for Elastica’s second album Maya got the call. Ultimately, she ended up following the band around the U.S., videotaping their exploits and directing a videoclip for the band. Inspired by what she saw on the road and encouraged by her new friend Peaches, Maya purchased some cheap equipment when she got back to London and set about recording a six song demo. One of the first songs she completed was Galang. Within the space of a year the track would see her go from obscure British artist to cover star of international magazines and a poster child for the mashing of music genres in the UK underground. The release of her debut album Arular in 2005 cemented that reputation.

Two and a half years later, Maya is back with a new album Kala. And while she could have taken the easy option – the record label was looking for a big budget crossover release with Timbaland at the helm – she’s stuck to her guns and kept things lo-fi and in-house. While megalomaniac isn’t the right word for it, there’s no doubt that Maya likes to retain creative control over as much of her work as possible. Something increasingly difficult, given her ever-growing prominence and the demands associated with it.

“When you actually finish [the album], that’s when it gets really hard – the next sort of two months is the hardest period, I mean for me, because I do all my own artwork and stuff like that,” she says. “So those two months, that’s when you’re thinking about the artwork and putting it all together and you have to go into artist mode, you have to think about videos and your workload actually increases by threefold and, you know, you stop having the luxury of being able to think. It’s ‘Let’s roll out of bed and make some art’. And then you’ve got a hundred people going [adopts nagging tone] “Hi – deadline! People in Timbuktu need artwork’.”

WHAT: Kala / Plays Parklife
WHEN: Out now through XL/Remote Control / Sunday 30 September