When a then 18-year-old Melanie Faye uploaded a video of herself sat cross-legged on her bedroom floor playing a song she’d written herself on her guitar, she surely couldn’t have predicted that so many people, including singer-songwriter SZA, would see it. But they did, in their hundreds of thousands. Many have compared her talent and precocious nature to Jimi Hendrix, whose poster watches over her in the clip, as her nimble fingers move across a baby blue guitar.
In this interview, Girls & Glory discuss the inspiration behind her music, her hopes for the future and what it’s like to be the social media’s newest prodigy.
What's your story? Tell me what inspired you to pursue music.
I actually started playing the guitar because of the video game, Guitar Hero 3. It was really influential on me. As far as I knew, none of my childhood friends were into music, but I started playing the game and it just went from there. After that, I went to an arts magnate school for high school, which is where I learnt jazz guitar. Now I’m a sophomore in college studying music, so I’ve met a lot of people along the way that are into the things I’m into.
What influenced your style growing up?
I’m not really from a musical family - music isn’t something that was passed down to me. My parents are both chemists; they don’t play instruments. They did used to play Michael Jackson all the time when I was little, though, and that really stuck with me. I’m a huge MJ fan. They’d play 80s and 90s R’n’B a lot too.
Listeners and publications have described you as Jimi Hendrix-esque in your persona and performance. With that said, who are your greatest musical inspirations?
Like I said, definitely Michael Jackson. Alongside that, Eric Johnson, Guns and Roses… When I play guitar, I tend to mimic a lot of singers. Their gestures, the way they sing. I used to love Mariah Carey and the way she sang. And I do draw a lot of inspiration from Hendrix, so I don’t mind the comparisons.
In the past few weeks you've seen quite a bit of buzz around your music. How are you handling the recognition and swarm of new listeners?
In a way, I feel like I blew up too early. That video was just supposed to be me in progress – it’s not the end game or all I can do. It was just me letting people know what I sound like, nothing was supposed to come of it. So now, all I can really do is perfect my craft, keep posting and keep getting better. It’s cool that people can watch me grow and learn.
My plan for this year was to really practice and work on my EP, and then blow up off the EP in a few months. So, I’m already getting all this recognition but I don’t have any music ready yet.
SZA recently retweeted a 2016 video of you performing original music. Did you ever expect your music to reach such audiences?
I’m not all that excited, it’s just now that I understand the power of social media. When you hold your phone in your hand, you’re holding the world. It’s at your fingertips, and it’s such a powerful tool. So that video blowing up really reiterated that to me.
There's often doubt that surrounds the legitimacy and talent of female guitarists born from the sexism that still exists in the music industry. You're still a teenager and are still coming into your own as a person and a musician. Does that sentiment ever play into your creativity and your actions as a female guitarist?
I feel like this is a good age to be in the business. This year, I really want to learn the business and understand it. Sometimes people will blow up and be really young and they don’t know the business, so get taken advantage of.
If you can really be the best you can be and be truly great at what you do, people can say what they want, but they can’t take that away from you. Once I get to where I want to be, and I’m really amazing at what I do, they can’t deny me and be like “oh, but she’s a girl, oh, she’s only 19”. I don’t even think of myself as a female guitar player – I’m just a guitar player.
What do you hope listeners new and old take from your art?
I hope they take the message away. Each piece has its own story. I wrote one song where I was saying “I try to hold my head up high, but I cry, I do it all the time, because it’s a cold and hateful world”. It’s about trying to be positive and happy but it’s not always that easy. A lot of people want to be hard and act like they’re hard at all times, but I’m just not. When you’re up on stage, it’s okay to be whatever you want to be. But when you get off, that’s when it can be harder to wear your heart and your emotions on your sleeve.
What is your ultimate goal as an artist?
I want to be able to use my guitar as an extension of my personality. A lot of my songs are written from personal experience. I also want to connect with people, and I want my music to take me places. I feel like performing is the ticket to travelling the world.
What advice do you have for other young women pursuing music?
If you’re truly great at what you do and believe that you’re great at it, no one can deny your talent. It’s your power. Your talent is your power.
And also, you don’t have to be anything you’re not. Don’t fight against your body or yourself. Work with what you are, create your own persona and own brand. Don’t be the standard, be you. Celebrate your uniqueness.