Nashville-based songwriter, Maia Sharp, has begun to examine her orientation to the truth in her work in a brand new way. An accomplished and prolific artist, Sharp, throughout her career, has had the ability to write about virtually anything, from a simple observation to using misheard lyrics for her own new compositions. But in recent years, Sharp’s life has changed dramatically. Her marriage of 21 years ended. She moved from her longtime home in Los Angeles to Nashville. She endured a difficult bout with COVID-19 just after a tornado ripped through her Music City neighborhood. To sort through these events, Sharp has looked keenly at her life and written about it clearly. It’s more than therapeutic. It’s invigorating—as if stepping in a whole new realm of possibilities. It’s not that what Sharp wrote before was all fiction, but this new lens through which she’s writing feels fresher. It’s also the foundation of Sharp’s forthcoming new LP (out May 7), which includes the newest single, “You’ll Know Who Knows You” (co-written with Emily Kopp), which is premiering on American Songwriter here today.
“On this album,” Sharp says, “more than any of the other ones, I felt very loyal to the truth. Maybe it’s just because I have more stories in me right now that I feel like I had to get out. Almost every song is very real about what has happened in my life over the last three years.”
The first single released for Sharp’s new record was the song, “Whatever We Are,” which, she says, is written from the aspirational point of view of how she wanted to feel about her life after dealing with many hurdles. But the song carries a bit of personal magic with it too. Each time Sharp performs it, she says, she gets closer to actually harboring that feeling.
“The song is helping to propel me to that place,” Sharp says.
In that same vein, Sharp’s newest single is from the point of view of someone offering an admission to another. It’s about a person indicating to their new object of affection that they’ve been admiring them, noticing them, even examining their personal nuances, idiosyncrasies and subtleties closely out of a sincere or deep affection.
“We wanted to milk that sensual angle,” Sharp says. “It’s from the viewpoint of letting someone know that you have noticed everything about them, that you’re really paying attention.”
Sharp, who first found music at a very young age, was exposed to the records of her parents as she grew up (the Beatles, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell). Her father, Randy Sharp, who is a three-time Grammy-winning musician, in fact met Sharp’s mother in high school where they sang together in a band. In 7th grade, Sharp began to study music in her school. She first took up the oboe and then later switched to saxophone. She remembers an early professional dream, to play sax for the legendary songwriter, Bonnie Raitt—a feat she accomplished many years later. But while she first thought she would only be a player, Sharp eventually found songwriting and fell in love with the craft.
“Early on,” she says, “I never pictured myself as a singer. I only [later] got up on stage because I started writing songs.”
Sharp got hours and hours of reps as she progressed in her burgeoning career. She played her first gig in the early ’90s and has maintained a fruitful dichotomous career in music ever since. While she’s released over a half-dozen solo records, Sharp has also worked with and written for a number of prominent artists, from Keb’ Mo’ to Lisa Loeb and Art Garfunkel. While the job of songwriting can sometimes feel thankless—it’s a fickle career with supreme highs and devastating lows—Sharp loved it and stuck with it to eventually find great success.
“I write songs that mean something to me,” she says. “And I trust that if I feel a connection to it then possibly another human will feel a connection to it too.”
Sharp says she is often surprised at the songs that are chosen by artists like Raitt or The Chicks to record. At times, Sharp will feel she has the perfect idea for an artist, but that’s almost always passed up for a different track she’s written. Nevertheless, Sharp’s songs keep being chosen—and that’s just fine with her. Between those successes, Sharp continues to write music for her solo project. By doing so, she achieves a great deal along the way. In one sense, participating in music allows Sharp to follow through on important personal goals as well as detach from aspects of her life that no longer serve her. But Sharp also recognizes the power music has over her, independently of any creative relationship to it.
“As a kid,” Sharp says, “I was always shy. I always felt outside, looking-in. But then I would hear a song and even if it wasn’t word-for-word about what I was feeling, it would resonate with me and I wouldn’t feel so alone. Like, there’s somebody out there who understands me. That is an invaluable thing. How do you beat that?”
Photo courtesy Maia Sharp