written by Daniel Coston
from the February 2017 issue of Tangents Magazine
“She’s the future,” said a friend to me after Maya Beth Atkins’ performance at the Levine Children’s benefit concert this past December. On that night, the 16 year old singer, writer and guitarist took three of the biggest hits of the 1970s band Heart, and owned them in a way that went way beyond her years. While the set that night was a revelation to some, to others it felt another big step for someone that was already gathering attention at such a young age.
Maya Beth was literally born into music. The oldest child of longtime Charlotte musician, and currernt Charlotte Checkers keyboardist Jason Atkins (Jason also often accompianies his daughter at her shows), Maya Beth was singing and performing her own shows by the age of 13. Whether it’s been a song from Pink Floyd, or one of her own songs, there’s a sense that Maya Beth Atkins is going to accomplish even more than what she has done in such a short time. Atkins answered questions about her career to date via email.
Tangents Magazine: Your dad is a musician. Do you remember when you first took an interest in music?
Maya Beth Atkins: I think I've always had an interest in music. Even when I was little, I'd always be singing something. My first memory of making music is probably when I sat down at my dad's keyboard and picked out "Lean On Me" and sang along.
Tangents: How much of your parents’ record collection has influenced your tastes in music?
Atkins: Oh, a big chunk of it. When I was in middle school I was very into Pink Floyd, namely the Wall album. My parents exposed me to all kinds of music, so my tastes are pretty broad. There's not much I don't like.
Tangents: How old were you when you first started performing?
Atkins: Oh man, I think I started performing when I was about ten or eleven years old. I played Michelle Branch's "Everywhere" for a music lessons concert. That's my earliest memory.
Tangents: What has been your most memorable gigs, to date?
Atkins: I think my favorite gigs have been the 70s and 80s tributes at the Neighborhood Theatre. I mean, wow.Those shows were my favorite because one, I love 70s and 80s music, and two, the energy was just so raw and real and it was such a rush. Both performances were really profound, like I had found my purpose and what I was meant to do, you know? They'll always have a special place in my heart.
Tangents: What would you say are your biggest influences as a songwriter, and guitar player?
Atkins: My biggest influences for both songwriting and guitar are probably Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, respectively. Beside Fleetwood Mac and Nirvana, Gillian Welch just has this really bittersweet yet gritty mood to her lyrics that I'd love to emulate in my own music. Rawlings' guitar style is unique and it's unpredictable but it flows, right? It's bluegrass-y and folksy but it rocks too.
Tangents: Your shows has been a mix of covers, and your own songs? What’s easier to play? Your own songs, or someone else’s?
Atkins: It depends, honestly. Sometimes it's more fun to play covers, because I just love to play songs that I like. It's fun to have people know the songs and sing along. It's familiar. But I also enjoy playing my own songs and putting them out there for the world. If I'm especially proud of a particular original song, I'll have a lot more fun playing it.
Tangents: How would you describe the scene in Charlotte, and the places that you’ve played?
Atkins: I would describe them as just very genuine. I know nowadays music has turned into more of a trend or a look rather than what it actually is, which is music. Charlotte just really, truly loves music and you can tell wherever you go, whether it's a cafe or a night venue, that it's a very real and raw city. I love it.
Tangents: What themes would you say pop up most often in your songs?
Atkins: I've been told my music is a little on the dark or sad side and it's not a lie. I write a lot about substance abuse, heartache and tragedy in general. Those subjects appeal to me because they aren't false, they're real and I've seen what damage they cause. Every person knows what it feels like to hurt, so it's a very human approach to music.
Tangents: What was it like to play the Double Door Inn during its last week?
Atkins: It was bittersweet, I think. I was really honored to play before it shut down, but it was also sad to look around and see all the history it had and the memories the patrons had bound to it. I loved the Double Door Inn.
Tangents:You recently covered Heart at the Levine Children’s benefit. Were those hard songs to learn, or sing?
Atkins: Oh my god, those songs were insane. They were super complex music wise. Heart wasn't kidding around when putting down tracks. Ann Wilson's vocal range is really broad, so it was really hard to sing. Despite that, the entire performance was a blast.
Tangents: Do your friends at school know about your music career? Are they supportive?
Atkins: My friends are aware and they're super supportive! They'll come out and see me time to time or ask if I've written anything new. They're very sweet people and I'm really lucky to have them in my life.
Tangents: Anything that I should ask you about?
Atkins: I'm also interested in writing and drawing. Anything to do with story telling, really. I hope my music speaks to people and tells stories.
Tangents: Finish this sentence. At the end of the day, Maya Beth Atkins is…..
Atkins: ....slightly uncomfortable with this question.