Maya Damaris writes a guest edit for Female First
Maya Damaris writes a guest edit for Female First

‘Who’s your favourite singer?’ is a question I get asked a lot. There are many – both male and female - however, as a female singer songwriter I wanted to talk about some of the female singers who were trailblazers for me and made my path possible – because you have to learn about other voices before you can really build your own identity as a singer. I hope that you will be as excited about their work as I continue to be.

When I was a kid, I was fortunate that my parents loved their music – and my mother was very much into Motown and Philadelphia Soul as well as Classical and Blues. I learnt piano, played saxophone, sang in the choir and loved classical music (particularly Opera), though it was through another genre that I discovered one of my greatest inspirations, the Blues legend that is Dinah Washington.

I have a deep love of Motown (who doesn’t?) but around age eight, I remember sequestering my mother’s vinyl records of some of the classic Dinah Washington Verve recordings up to my bedroom and pouring over the sounds that came out of that little record player – it was so different to anything I had experienced before!

Gone were the easy rhyming lyrics and pop phrasing of the singles I was used to hearing on the radio and instead out came a story telling that harnessed all my attention with sheer unadulterated real emotion – and it was glorious! Most people know Mad About the Boy but I would recommend listening to Dinah’s version of Tell Love Hello and This Bitter Earth – they are masterclasses in emotional delivery.

The fact that Dinah had lived in the 1940s and 50s made me convinced even more that I had nothing in common with the modern world and decided to a) completely revolutionise my look by only shopping at thrift stores and wearing 50s style make-up and b) revolutionise my record collection by deciding that only buying records of blues/jazz/70s rock and left of centre grunge and alternative rock would be acceptable from that point on… and though this decision might have been based on the pretentiousness of being a teenager, it actually lead me to a car boot sale where on a rainy British Sunday I discovered Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell.

I bought Joni’s For The Roses album because I had read about her and I knew that she had been at Woodstock (tick) and I knew that people said she wrote great lyrics (double tick).

At school, the only things that I had been really good at were English, Music and being the classroom court jester (#authority issues), so I figured these were the areas on which I should base my future music career (the first two – not the latter).

The guy selling the Joni record to me said I’d probably like Kate Bush too (I had heard some Kate on the radio and thought it was cool) so I took home my new prized possessions. Joni took some getting used to – she didn’t have the sexy verve that Dinah had, or the eccentric effervescence of Kate – but boy could she write and sing stories like no one I had ever heard! It’s incredibly difficult to sing the amount of detailed lyrics that she does without it drowning everything else in the song.

Her ability to draw musical pictures of people and situations has an ease and fluidity that is amazing and her voice has a purity that is very special. I imagine without her there would not have been Fiona Apple (do listen to Fiona Apple if you haven’t – she is wonderful). I would recommend listening to Joni Mitchell’s Harry’s House/Centerpiece track from the Hissing of Summer Lawns album or the Court & Spark album if you haven’t heard her but would like to give it a try – it’s a good door opener.

Needless to say Kate Bush is another queen of my heart – and also a British National Treasure. There’s no one quite like Kate and never will be – albums like The Kick Inside, Never for Ever and Lionheart are sublime and high up in my recommendations for music that touches you in a way that you didn’t think was possible.

When I write my arrangements and lyrics in particular I often draw inspiration from Kate Bush records as she is always unexpected – and that is something I always strive for.

There are so many other women that I could wax lyrical about – Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Bjork, Debbie Harry, Dolly Parton, Stevie Nicks, Tina Turner, Courtney Love, Brody Dalle, Kim Gordon, Patti Smith and Siouxsie Sioux, but I will end on one of my favourite rock singers, Ms Polly Jean Harvey – or PJ Harvey as she is known - because she is a really important rock artist for me and one of my formative influences.

I always went to a lot of gigs and I know what is ‘out there’ amazing and often it’s something even beyond the music. Some performers have a power on stage which is not only electrifying but transformative. Polly Jean has that – her presence and musicianship is amazing, her lyrics are dark, intense and brooding, her music is edgy, raw and grungy (which I love).

Born most certainly from the same magical musical cocoon that Patti Smith came from – PJ Harvey is an authentic British female grunge rock voice in the same way that Courtney Love also defined that genre on the other side of the pond - she’s an amazing guitar player and songwriter and most definitely deserves her place in my homage to some of the great women that have shaped how I write and sing. She’s one of the people that gave me the courage to think that I could write and perform rock music, in what is – most of the time – a very male orientated world.

Check out PJ’s Angelene and A Perfect Day Elise from the Is This Desire album or This Is Love from the Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea album. You won’t regret it.

Maya Damaris has made a compilation of the songs mentioned in this article and other singers that have been inspirational to her songwriting. Listen to them below. Sadly, Joni Mitchell is not available on Spotify.

Maya Damaris is the singer and songwriter for Wax on Water. Her new album, The Drip, is out now.