Three projects later and a loyal fan-base under her belt, rising London singer Ella Mai has made an impression on the R&B world that can’t be ignored. Mai first appeared on the scene under 10 Summers with her Time EP in early 2016, a small but powerful body of work packed with nuanced lines about losing love. She then dropped off her Change EP in late 2016, which followed the same short format but instead with anthems about discovering love and the excitement that comes with meeting someone new.
Fast forward to 2017, where the talented singer is now traveling the world on Kehlani’s SWEETSEXYSAVAGE tour, Mai has managed to release her third EP, READY, which is her most polished work yet. Maybe it’s her consistency that we love so much — the fact that she’s a reliable source for getting complete strangers through break-ups. Maybe it’s her sheer honesty that keeps us interested — that she shares her own intimate rollercoaster of love so candidly and then bounces back with messages of self-love and self-respect. There are plenty of reasons why Mai’s music resonates with us but most importantly, she’s true to herself and her music shows that.
We were lucky enough to speak with Ella Mai while she was on the road, running low on sleep but somehow still full of energy during our call. You can get to know the talented singer in our interview below and catch her alongside Kehlani and Jahkoy on June 17th in San Francisco for the SSS tour.
So, how’s tour going…
Ella Mai: The crowds have been super receptive and all of us on the tour are kind-of like a family. Having that support takes the pressure off of performing every night, especially when you have people behind you who believe in you. It’s been tiring but great though & I’ve been enjoying myself.
How has the touring dynamic been between you, Jahkoy and Kehlani?
It’s been really amazing. We all say we couldn’t ask for a better set-up. Kehlani puts on an amazing show regardless. From start to finish, the show is a really good one for R&B fans. Even just off stage & being around them, I’m a huge Kehlani fan and a huge Jahkoy fan. It’s been great being around genuine people who love doing what they do as much as you do.
What have you guys been doing on tour off-days?
Some cities there’s nothing to do because we’re on the outskirts. A lot of the time you’re literally just trying to sleep because it’s so tiring. But when we were in Detroit we went to the Motown museum because that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. That stood out the most.
You dropped your third EP, READY, at the start of the SSS tour. What was it like debuting new music & then hitting the road at the same time?
If people don’t know me already, that’s the project they know me by now. It was cool to see how people were responding when the project dropped. “Anymore” was already out before the EP came so it’s been good seeing the response pick up. It was perfect timing.
Your music touches on how we treat each other in relationships and the ups & downs of love. I find your content so raw and honest, in a way that any girl can relate. What inspires your content?
To be honest, it’s just me. I don’t want to write about stuff that I don’t know anything about. I just write however the beat makes me feel which comes out as honest because it’s just stuff I’ve been through or I’ve seen my friends go through. I don’t like to plan it too much because I feel like it takes away the creativity of it.
How is Ready different from your last two EP’s? Each project has shown growth.
Time and Change were quite black and white. Time was like ‘forget you’ and Change was about meeting someone new and having fun. Ready is not so black and white though, it’s the grey area where things go up & down. It starts off lovey-dovey and ends more cutthroat with “Anymore”. I just wanted to make something that wasn’t so ‘in a perfect world’ because relationships aren’t so black & white. There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s different in that way.
How has the interaction been with your fans on tour?
It’s been crazy. After the shows, I go to the merch booth and meet the fans. So many people tell me, ‘you helped me through this break-up’, or ‘I wasn’t even going through a break-up but I can just relate’. I even had one woman the other day tell me that my Time EP helped her through her divorce, which was so powerful to me. I was so glad I could help and my music could ease that a little bit. Another girl came up to me in Denver and she was crying. It’s been cool also because men relate too but to have women tell me I’ve helped them through something, means I must be doing something right.
Who have been some of your influences on a songwriting level?
My mom used to listen to Lauryn Hill religiously, especially The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album which is one of my favorite albums of all time. I just love how raw she is. She’s an artist who is extremely honest in her music. So when people tell me my lyrics are honest, it’s a huge compliment for me.
Who did you grow up listening to?
I grew up listening to a lot of Chris Brown, also Jazmine Sullivan, Destiny’s Child, Brandy, Monica, Aaliyah — definitely all that 90s R&B. U.K. wise, the R&B scene was never really that strong when I was growing up, so the only person that I can really say that was in my time was Craig David. I loved his albums.
My parents are huge jazz fans also so I grew up listening to a lot of jazz. That’s actually the reason I’m named Ella, my mom named me after Ella Fitzgerald. My brother was named Miles after Miles Davis. So you can tell my parents were huge jazz fans.
What’s next for you after tour?
Once tour is over, it’s album time. The EP’s are done. I wanted to do three EP’s so people could get familiar with my sound and get to know me. Next will be an album. I don’t know if it’ll be this year or next year.
Lastly, do you have any advice for artists just starting off?
As cliche as it sounds, I’d say never give up. I got discovered off of doing 15 second Instagram covers and I feel like that’s a testimony in itself. I was singing other people’s songs on Instagram and that’s how DJ Mustard found me. I know it gets discouraging especially now with social media, because it feels like the competition is more in your face. As long as you believe in yourself though and who you are, and what you’re doing — something will come through. You just have to be patient.
Purchase tickets to the Sweet Sexy Savage tour on June 17th at the Bill Graham Civic Theater here. See you there.