.Soul Searching on Mahawam’s ‘Hot Pressed’

Oakland musician Malik Mays explores and expresses a state of being

The songs on Hot Pressed, the new EP from Oakland’s Malik Mays—who records and performs under their musical identity, Mahawam—continue to explore the intersection between their inner world and the reality of living in the world as a queer, Black artist. The songs on the EP are arranged with an impressive blend of styles: rock, pop, R&B, rap and a bit of jazz.

“I’m not really looking to do any one particular thing with my music,” Mays said. “It’s an expression of where my head and my heart are at the time I begin writing a song. All of my influences factor into how I’m able to musically express that state of being.”

Mays initially created most of the sounds on Hot Pressed using a MIDI keyboard and a computer. They follow in the footsteps of the first Mahawam EP, Is an Island, composed in the wake of their HIV diagnosis.

Island was about a singular subject,” Mays said. “It was songs I’d written alone in my room. Hot Pressed is the reverse, with individual songs being written with overlapping themes. It’s also more collaborative. I worked with my bandmates, [keyboard player and vocalist] Natalyn Daniels and [guitarist] Derek Barber, to craft the tracks. It was co-produced and mixed by another friend, Aki Ehara.”

“I Killed A Hesher Once” has a chiming guitar hook, an R&B bass line and a complex hip-hop beat. Mays sings of the pains of rejection, mitigating their anger with humorous asides. The title tune is a rocker, with an R&B backbeat and sustained guitar notes adding to an atmosphere of repressed rage. Mays sings about the realities of their life and the tension they feel passing “happy” people on the street.

“It’s honest and simple,” they said. “It wants people who aren’t in tune with their rage to ask themselves if distance from anger is peace, or a blind spot. I didn’t have a concept, as much as a feeling, when I was writing the song. It makes more emotional sense than narrative sense.”

Mays added, “My songs don’t fit into a specific box, but in Oakland, there’s space for what I do. When people come up to me after a show and say, ‘I never heard anything quite like this,’ it has a big impact on me. It lets me know it’s worth it to continue to make music.”

Born in North Carolina, Mays grew up shuttling between Texas and Arizona with their mother. They picked up violin in elementary school, took guitar and piano lessons, and sang in the high school choir.

“No one else in my immediate or near extended family is an artist,” Mays said. “I started writing songs in high school and that pretty much set me off on my course. There was something profound about my relationship to music. My feeling was, ‘I’m gonna stick with this.’” 

They started out using guitar and piano to compose, but in high school they discovered the possibilities of electronic music. “I convinced my mom to buy me a copy of Magix Music Maker,” Mays said. “It was not user-friendly and I found it mostly frustrating, but that was my first taste of making electronic music.

“I started putting tracks together and became pretty obsessed,” they said. “Then, I discovered Fruity Loops [a digital recording program] and Ableton, which I’ve been using ever since.”

After a few years taking creative writing courses at Arizona State University, Mays began studying production at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Gilbert, Arizona.

“I moved to Oakland to complete an internship I needed to get my degree,” they said. “I worked at Different Fur Studios in San Francisco, and decided to stay here after [the internship] was over. I didn’t know anything about the Bay Area before I moved here, but I’m glad I came. 

“There wasn’t a single moment when I said, ‘I’m gonna be a full-time musician,’” Mays continued. “It was just the thing I liked to do best … I just hope to continue to make music that’s fun and rewarding. When I’m making enough money to not need a day job to survive, I’ll call myself a full-time musician.”

Mahawam will appear at Eli’s Mile High Club, 3629 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland, on April 27 at 8pm. Other acts include the Seshen and Dani Offline. ‘Hot Pressed’ is available at: mahawam.bandcamp.com/album/hot-pressed.


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