Home Music Music Features

Tkay Maidza Is Turning Up for Sydney’s Volume Festival

Rolling Stone AU/NZ caught up with the ‘Sweet Justice’ star to discuss her Art Gallery of New South Wales show and exciting year ahead

Tkay Maidza

Dana Trippe

Tkay Maidza is back in Sydney next month for a standout show at the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s Volume 2024.

She’ll perform at the festival alongside some big names in Outkast legend André 3000, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, and Genesis Owusu in the gallery’s underground Tank art space across three weekends. 

Those are some esteemed names, but it’s no surprise that Maidza’s on the lineup.

The singer and rapper, known for supporting global stars like Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, and Lizzo, first made waves with her genre-bending debut trilogy, Last Year Was Weird, which earned her a 2021 ARIA Award for Best Soul/R&B Release and a 2022 NME Award for Best Solo Act from Australia.

She then unleashed her stunning second album, Sweet Justice, last November. The album earned widespread praise, landing at #8 on Rolling Stone AU/NZ‘s Best Australian Albums of 2023 list, with our review raving about Maidza’s “cheekiness and confidence” as she effortlessly blended pop, hip hop, and R&B with electrifying energy on the record. 

After wrapping up a headline album tour in North America earlier this year, Maidza has a lot going on in the coming months, including a bucket list appearance at Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago after Volume.

Rolling Stone AU/NZ recently caught up with Maizda to discuss her immersive live shows, creative explorations, and plans for the remainder of the year. Read the full conversation below.

Tkay Maidza performs on Saturday, July 13th at Volume 2024, which runs from Friday, July 5th to Sunday, July 21st. Tickets available via volume.sydney.

Rolling Stone AU/NZ. Hey Tkay, it’s super exciting to have you back in Sydney next month!

Tkay Maidza: It’s gonna be really fun. It’s been a while so I’m really looking forward to it. 

Are you excited to be part of the Volume lineup?

I think it’s a very iconic and inspiring lineup. I’ve always wanted to see André 3000 play, so I’m gutted I’m not going to see him. Genesis and Kim Gordon as well. They’re very prestigious so it’s really cool to be aligned with them.

We need the André flutes on a Tkay track! 

Totally! I saw he was playing other festivals around the world so hopefully he’s in LA. and I can go watch him.

It’s a shame you won’t get to see André 3000, but you’ll be heading to Pitchfork Music Festival afterwards, which is also really exciting.

Yeah, if only I was able to stay that week. But like you said, I have to head over for other shows. Hopefully next time. 

Will this be your first time performing at Pitchfork Music Festival?

I played it in Paris last year in November, but it will be my first time playing it in Chicago. I think it will have a different atmosphere. So I’m really looking forward to what that will feel like and honestly, it’s been like a bucket list to even be able to be on a lineup like that. I’m really excited.

It’s such a great lineup. Are there any artists that you’re particularly excited to see? 

I’m really excited to see Jai Paul, I’ve been obsessed with Jamie xx so I’m really excited to see him. I’m also excited about [to] see Sudan Archives. We’re like good friends on the internet so it’d be really cool to catch her show and meet in real life too.

I saw the Sudan Archives show in Sydney last year. It was amazing. 

We always tend to just miss each other by a day when it comes to the festivals that we play. But on this one we’re playing the same day so I’m excited for that.

Can you give us any hints about what you have planned for your Volume set?

It’s been really fun to have a look at what the venue looks like. Usually when I play in Australia I have an LED screen, so it’s a little surprising, but we’re kind of working to use the whole room as the stage to make it immersive. And there’ll be little easter eggs here and there and it’ll lead to a big reveal at the end. That’s kind of all I can say. I think everyone in my show will be on stage together, which I’m really looking forward to. 

You’ve had the chance to tour extensively across North America. How does it feel to perform in cities for the first or even second time?

Like you said, it’s not as daunting, which I think is good because I feel like I’m being something from Australia, especially doing hip hop. Then, when you bring it to America, the first time I came over I was like, “Oh, are they going to buy tickets? Are they going to be welcoming?”

But now, I’m more seasoned [in North America]. It just feels like headlining shows in Australia where you know that the people who come to see you aren’t there by mistake. It’s a great vibe; I feel established in that sense. Also, just knowing certain areas and having friends who tell me where not to wander around in these cities makes a big difference.

What’s on your setlist at the moment? 

A lot of my album that came out in November, Sweet Justice. It’s been really fun playing that and including certain songs from my last EPs before that. I feel like having the album expanded a lot of those ideas. So it’s not just one-off songs – I can have a house music segment that transitions into a trap segment, which is really cool because it amps up throughout the set. I’m going to add a few more new songs for Sydney, so that will be really cool to debut some new stuff. 

How’s it been performing Sweet Justice live since its release last November? 

I think a lot of it is confirmation and reassurance for me because every time I release an album and perform it, I might be like, “Oh, the first time I recorded this song was the first time I sang it, so I didn’t know it.” When I perform it live, since I’m not classically trained, it’s very instinctual. It’s always a newfound realisation that I can do this, and it becomes muscle memory for me. So, what can we do next? It’s always fun to discover something new, and then it becomes like a muscle to you, and you’re like, “Okay, we can go further now.”

You mentioned playing around with new transitions, from house to trap. How did working with producers like Kaytranada and Flume on Sweet Justice influence your live shows? Have you found new ways to perform with their production?

It’s cool because I feel like it just enhances the set’s energy. Also, that solidifying effect makes the songs not sound random in my setlist; it just feels like it was meant to happen. For me, it’s a proud moment every time I get to perform those songs because I look up to them, and they’re amazing artists as well. So, yeah, it’s cool to be like, “Oh, I’m a part of this crew now.”

You described Sweet Justice as a coming-of-age and a rebirth. Looking back, how do you reflect on the album?

It’s a confidence thing for me. It also felt like I ascended from being little Tkay to a more mature Tkay. I think it was just me maturing and trusting my instincts. I have newfound confidence in what I do. It was the first project in a while where I had to trust my own instincts and just go ahead with it, instead of asking a billion people what they thought and following their opinions. So, yeah, it’s one of those moments where you go on a journey by yourself and come out of it feeling like, “Oh, I’ve got my own back because we’re good.”

I think things like that reflect on people. When you look at some artists, you can see a new light to them during what seems like a good moment for them, and how they go about things themselves. I feel like I’m becoming more confident when I work with different producers and experiment. 

I imagine there are heaps of creative opportunities being based in LA. What’s daily life like for you there at the moment?

Generally, I’ll wake up and head to F45 because I was obsessed with F45 in Adelaide. So definitely F45. Then, I have studio sessions every day during the week. At the moment, I’m meeting new people and exploring potential collaborations, which has been really fun.

It’s also cool to have the mindset that if something doesn’t go well, it’s not the end of the world. In the past, when I first came to LA, if there was a bad session, I’d think, “Oh my God, I’m not going to make it, it’s not going to work out.” I think that’s a common feeling for many people coming to LA for the first time – they feel like it’s now or never. But now I’m like, “That session was okay. I can go write a song at home; it’s not going to change anything for me.” It’s just another reason to try again, you know?

It’s always cool to see you jumping on other artists’ tracks. What do you enjoy most about collaborating?

I love it when two people collaborate because I feel like they can bring out sides of myself that I probably never saw. And I think I can show them how the song can exist in ways they hadn’t considered. I just love the idea of two people who really respect each other, pushing each other in different directions and finding that middle ground. It’s always the best when both collaborators are like, “Yeah, this is exactly what I wanted to achieve with you.” That’s the best feeling.

Did you have any goals or intentions you set at the start of the year?

This year, I want to keep the ball rolling. I’m kind of in this rebrand, trying to figure out what to do with different things, so it’s just like a rebirth phase. But I’m also trying to get as much rest as possible and take my time at the moment, just setting up for next year. It’s kind of like a glory run – get some sleep, plot for the next five years kind of vibe – but also don’t rush too much because I’m trying to unlock new sides of myself and try things that haven’t been tried before.

Is there anything in particular inspiring you at the moment, whether in music or otherwise?

Everything that’s coming out right now is really interesting. I find it fascinating how, with TikTok and Spotify added, there are like 100,000 songs coming out on Friday. It’s just interesting to see that there are so many different worlds to exist in. So I’m kind of listening to everything and trying to figure out where do I fit in and how does it make sense for me? It’s almost like the overstimulation inspires me.

Sounds like you’ve got some exciting plans ahead for the next couple of years, keeping things open.

I think that’s the best way to plan – have a lot of options, not loose, but kind of loose. When you’re on your path, you realise what you really don’t want, and then you can write down what you really want, if that makes sense. So yeah, it’s just about narrowing that down, writing new music, and figuring out what the next story is.