Ask avant-pop singer Maisy Kay to single-out her music idol, and she’ll immediately name-check Freddie Mercury, that glam-rock icon with an unabashed love of cabaret. But ask her whom she’s dreamed of sounding like, and she’ll just as promptly reference softer, torch-ballad legends Whitney Houston and Celine Dion.
Those two influences may seem antithetical, and that’s kind of the beguiling appeal of Maisy Kay—an iron-lunged ingenue whose voice effuses theatricality at some moments (her achingly cathartic debut single, “Enough”) and tenderness during others (the nightingale’d, optimistic-pop of “I Look to You”). “I used to think I had to be confined to one particular thing,” she says. “But that’s not really who I am, in any aspect. I love variety. I love changing things up.”
That dexterity in singing and songwriting has served her well. In less than five years, Maisy Kay has gone from a kid harboring starry dreams in Claverley (a hamlet in the English countryside) to a buzzy talent poised to break out in Los Angeles. As fate would have it, she has been working on the bulk of her debut album with Stuart Brawley, the producer/engineer behind Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love. “At first, I didn’t know where I wanted to go with my voice or style. Stuart really helped bring out the beltier side of me,” she says.
Her first recordings can be traced back, rather sweetly, to her mom’s home recordings. “I was trying to sing ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep, and it was a bunch of made-up words,” she explains. From there, Maisy graduated to crooning Disney tunes to anyone (or -thing) that would listen. “I was always singing,” she explains. “That song from Mulan, ‘Reflections’? I would dress up in my outfit and sing it to my dogs!” If that weren’t compelling enough proof that she was fated to become a musician, she fully envisioned her destiny during a family trip to London, when her parents took her to see The Phantom of the Opera. Blown away by the performances, she knew in her gut that she would do that, too. After that, she says, “I actually took musical-theater vocal lessons.”
A self-taught pianist, Maisy wrote her first song—well, technically a whole play—at age 10. “It was about a dragon. And a girl coming on a pirate ship to this new island,” she recalls, laughing. The play was performed by Maisy and her schoolmates to an audience of proud parents. “I couldn’t really imagine singing something that I hadn’t written,” she explains. To this day, Maisy eschews the pop world’s tendency to recruit an arsenal of songwriters and only performs her own compositions. Many of them are penned daily around 3 a.m., her overactive mind waking her from slumber, willing her to write.
“I normally do lyrics first,” she says. “And ‘Volcano’ is one of the most emotional pieces I’ve ever written.” The love-tortured track makes spectacular use of her vocal range, a bittersweet triumph that proved so emotional she actually cried while