“Don’t give up on your stupid, stupid dreams.” – Masha
That’s the motto of Latvian-born vocal powerhouse Masha who chose those same words for the title of her 2013 EP Stupid, Stupid Dreams. The daughter of a skilled guitar player, she has been harnessing her powerful voice since she was 11. A music fan at heart, her favorites include Esthero, P!nk, and Sarah Jaffe. She has worked with six different vocal coaches since her early start which no doubt helped carve out her unique sound, which can be described as soulfully haunting yet fiercely powerful. She promoted that voice through YouTube and was soon discovered by seasoned songwriter Claude Kelly, famous for his work with Kelly Clarkson, Bruno Mars and Whitney Houston. “Fate brought us together when I was 14, and the rest has been history.”
Masha’s meeting with Kelly took her to the legendary Blackbird Studio in Nashville where she and the famous songwriter were joined by Nathan Chapman, a music producer who earned his cred working with Shania Twain and Taylor Swift. “The first day I met him, we wrote ‘Ugly.’ [That collaboration] solidified our relationship.” “Ugly” was inspired by a breakup. “Love and heartbreak,” says Masha, “are the soul to everything I write.” “I’m a Gemini so my emotions are so all over the place.”
The same goes for her lifestyle, as when she isn’t performing, the 23-year old divides her time between the Nashville studio and her base in Brooklyn. Masha admits that performing in New York City is worlds apart from performing in Nashville, but seems to have it under control. “I typically handle a rowdy New York City crowd by telling them to shut the fuck up or I just start talking about masturbation!” The singer performed at South by Southwest this past March and has since been gracing cities across the US with her powerful voice. Production on her next album will begin this year and she will be going “a bit out of her comfort zone” sound-wise. The main ingredient in the future of Masha’s career is that she doesn’t give up on her stupid dreams – and she has no plans to do so anytime soon. She’s currently working on her next album scheduled to come out this year.
The Untitled Magazine: How did you get started in the music industry?
Masha: I started taking vocal lessons at 11-years-old. I went through about six different vocal coaches since then. Fate brought me to Claude Kelly when I was 14, and the rest has been history.
UM: How did you end up in Nashville?
M: I went to Nashville to work with Nathan Chapman. The first day I met him, we wrote “Ugly” which basically solidified our relationship. Us three working as a team was magical, and so much fun. That’s how I ended up in Nashville. I love that place so much. I actually want to live there one day.
UM: What was that cultural shift like for you?
M: Well, being from New York, it’s really pleasant to go somewhere where everyone is so genuinely nice. And no matter who you meet, they’re all just so insanely talented. It’s amazing. I love that place with all of my heart. Plus Blackbird Studio, where we recorded the whole EP is the most amazing, inspiring studio I’ve ever been. Shout out to John and Martina McBride.
UM: Do you remember the first time you performed in front of an audience?
M: It had to have been at a talent show that my first vocal coach put on when I was 11. I was incredibly nervous. Sweaty palms, all that.
UM: What was your breakthrough moment?
M: I’ve had a few breakthrough moments, where you have revelations of yourself as an artist, and human. The first one, which really set the tone to my professional life, was meeting Claude. I wouldn’t be where I am without that dude. Another one that had a profound shift in my mind was when I went into the office of the president of a major label. Sang for him, and about 20 of his office minions. I sang my ass off, and after that I had this feeling of, ‘I know I can do this now.’
UM: What is one of your favorite songs you’ve ever written?
M: My favorite song I’ve ever written to date is “You Brought Love.” It’s a song that hasn’t come out, yet, but I’ve sang it at numerous shows. “You Brought Love” is about my family’s journey immigrating to the US from the Soviet Union. My parents’ struggle and story is absolutely amazing. They should write a book one day.
UM: What inspires your songwriting?
M: My surroundings inspire my songwriting. The people I meet. The heartache, the shit you have to deal with everyday as a struggling artist. The fact that I’m a Gemini. My emotions are so all over the place. I get a lot from there. Love and heartbreak is the soul to everything I write.
UM: How would you describe your sound?
M: I wish I could [describe it]. I’ve been experimenting a lot recently on my sound. Going out of my comfort zone and doing things that I’ve never attempted before. There are some songs that are incredibly sad and open, as well as heavy rock, angry 90s chick. Which is very telling of my personality, I’m up and down. My music reflects that.
UM: Who is your favorite contemporary musician?
M: I’ve really been into Sarah Jaffe as of late. Her song Clementine has been on repeat for months.
UM: Which artist – past or present – has influenced you most?
M: Man, that’s a hard question. I would honestly have to say Esthero. As soon as I heard a song of hers for the first time when I was 16, she was my idol. Her voice is just insane. I think my favorite thing about her is the emotion. I can listen to “My Torture” for hours, and just cry. I also spoke to her on the phone once when I was about 19. It was at a point in my life where I didn’t know what I was doing. I hadn’t been to college. My career was all over the place. So I reached out to my idol OVER MYSPACE. So embarrassing. But she actually responded, and told me to call her. We had a two hour long conversation while I was in the parking lot of a community college in my car. It was really profound to me; I’ll never forget that.
UM: If you could collaborate with any musician in the world, who would it be, and why?
M: P!nk. Hands down. I’ve seen her live twice now, and literally played her Live at Wembley Arena DVD so much that it doesn’t work anymore. I really respect her growth as an artist. She stays away from scandals, and is able to balance an impressive career while having a cute little family. I really admire her. She’s also just an incredible singer. Her voice makes me melt. It’s perfect.
UM: What was the most difficult performance in your career and how did you handle it?
M: Performing in New York is tough, but I love it so much. New Yorkers are a no bullshit kind of brood. If you can hear a pin drop while you’re singing at a bar, in front of a bunch of New Yorkers, you know you’re on the right path. I typically handle a rowdy crowd, by telling them to shut the fuck up, or start talking about masturbation. It’s hilarious how anything regarding sex will quiet the loudest crowd right down.
UM: You’ve achieved a significant amount of fame for your covers—what do you like most about covering other artists’ songs?
M: It’s fun trying to make the song sound good in my range. I try my hardest to sing them as if I wrote them for myself. Plus I’m a fan of music at heart, so if I hear a song that I fall in love with, I can’t help but want to cover it.
UM: What is your favorite cover song to perform?
M: “Diamonds” by Rihanna. First of all, I just like bantering about Rihanna on stage. Everyone knows who she is, and I love her. Plus that song is incredible. I also have always admired Sia so much. I think if we ever met, we could totally become best friends.
M: I fell in love with that song as soon as I heard it. I just had to sing it. Plus I knew the song would be huge. That of course always helps.
UM: How big of a role has YouTube played in your success?
M: It’s been huge. I’ve gained amazing fans from all over the world because of YouTube. People who have been supporting me from the start. They’re very passionate. I don’t think anyone would come to my shows if it weren’t for YouTube.
UM: What would you call the greatest pop song of the last five years?
UM: Your single “Ugly” seems very personal. What’s the story behind this song?
M: I wrote that song over three years ago. It was after a pretty bad breakup. My first serious boyfriend really did a number on me. He was an awful person, and treated me the way you would expect an awful person to treat their longtime girlfriend. I have no bad blood though, because it inspired a great deal of my EP.
UM: If you weren’t in music, what would you do?
M: I always imagined I would be an English teacher. But now, I can’t see myself doing anything other than sing. I’d hate to see how I’d turn out if that weren’t the case.
UM: How would you describe your personal style?
M: Roll out of bed chic. I really don’t care at all. I wish I was into fashion more. I just don’t have the attention span for all that. Don’t get me wrong though, I love a good outfit!
UM: Have you ever had a mentor?
M: Yes! Claude Kelly. He has been such an inspiration throughout the years, and he isn’t scared of being tough on me. Which I need, because I’m a bitch.
UM: Do you have a personal motto or words of wisdom you live by?
M: “Don’t give up on your stupid, stupid dreams.” That quote inspired the title of my EP. I’m not sure where I heard it first, but it always stuck with me. In actuality dreams are stupid, and you can’t ever give up on them.
UM: This is our “Legendary” issue – how would you define the term “Legendary?”
M: Legendary is something that has a profound impact on our society and culture. Things that people will talk about 100 years from now.
UM: Who would you consider to be your favorite legendary musician?
UM: What are your current projects?
M: I’m currently working on a new EP. I’m really excited and scared about it. I’m going a bit out of my comfort zone, and producing it as well next to some great people I have met since moving to Brooklyn. As well as posting the occasional YouTube cover.
UM: Any upcoming projects we should be looking out for?
M: That EP. And I actually had a small part in an indie film, which to my knowledge will also include a song of mine.
Interview by The Untitled Magazine
Photography by Josh Kogan for The Untitled Magazine
Stylist: Rene Garza
Hair by Corey Tuttle
Makeup by Beau Derrick