Reaching for the sky with MC Joey Maker

Joey Maker is an independent hip hop artist hailing from Sydney’s West. Joey recently dropped a completely conscious feel in his latest release “Vanilla Skies” featuring Sage. The track is just a taste of what’s to come for this young MC who already possesses a strong performance resume as a live artist. SYS team wanted to nut out what motivates the man who sold his business to become a full time rapper.

We talk in depth about how other creative outlets can help shape your craft, how practising gratitude is imperative in his life and reflecting on his Father’s experience as a prisoner of war. Bree Stewart writes.

So you write this dope track over Mailer Daemon’s beat, your first record, ends up winning you a nation wide rap competition. What do you think made this track go against the grain for the gold medal?

Actually, that very first track was called "All I Need,” produced by my little brother Young Dave and recorded close to 10 years ago. It is pretty insane to me that it's been that long. There was an honesty, an innocence and a hunger in the song as well as a chorus people really connected to - a sense of identity that probably is the most important aspect of music over, say, the technical nature of the writing. It took me a few years to realise that, but in a track like "Vanilla Skies,” you can see the refinement that nearly 10 years of musical growth as well as personal growth brings. Plus, I became comfortable enough in my identity to stop feeling the need to put on an American accent - a huge point of controversy in our local scene, but hey. Be who you are! I loved what I did back then and I love the stuff I do now.

I read the prize was a trip to LA to record a couple of songs - what’s changed Joey with the LA influence?

That trip was definitely one of my life highlights. Recording at Record Plant studios in LA was humbling, exciting, incredible - chuck in whatever hyperbolic words you like to describe the experience, I felt them all. And they were kind enough to buy us whatever we wanted from In & Out Burger too. It was a top shelf experience (laughs).

My brother and I recorded two songs over there. Everything was in place for them to be played nationally, but due to some internal radio station politics I'm not fully aware of, we got back from LA only to find the team we were dealing with had moved on, and the plans fell through. It was a very difficult time and really affected my confidence. I saw the dream I had crumbling, but in retrospect, I can't think of a better growth experience for me. To have something really strike you at your core and get through it, well - anything I achieve now, I've earned 100% for myself, and my skin is much thicker than it once was.

We still have those two songs in the vault, and I love them both. We're actually in the process of reworking and finishing one of the tracks, quite fittingly with an amazing singer originally from LA (Bruce Hathcock) on the chorus. It all works out the way it should in the end.


You’re a Sydney musician, how has the city shaped you creatively?

I grew up on the people and stories that shape the cultural mosaic that Sydney is, and was moulded by the privilege of freedom I was born with. I am unquestionably blessed to have grown up in a city like this. 

I've been in many different parts of Sydney in my life: my childhood around Bankstown, a lot of my high school and later years around Liverpool/Cabramatta, my parents are now in the inner west and I currently live in Surry Hills. At the time of winning the radio competition, it was an awesome feeling receiving a ton of support from people I didn't even know in the west, and really made me feel like I had the honour of representing the area. It's clear in Sydney that the inner west has been a stronghold of hip hop and I'm grateful to have been exposed to the people and the music through Mailer Daemon and others, for sure. 

At the same time, there's a lot of other stories from the city that haven't been told, and it's something I personally would love to tap into more deeply. My dad is a refugee from Vietnam, my mum is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Brit, and that type of diversity is really what makes Sydney a special place. The possibilities here are limitless.

Anyone on the local scene you give props to? Anyone who has been a major influence?

I respect everyone who puts their love and effort into creation. I personally really connect with MiniCoop, who is super talented and works as hard as anyone in the game - production, playing multiple instruments, engineering, rapping. He does it all and seeing his dedication is a massive inspiration to me. I'm fortunate enough to be working with him on my album, and the stuff he's come up with is unbelievable.

I'm also a massive 360 fan. I came across him in the battle rap scene 8-9 years ago - I still remember the day ‘Festival Song’ dropped and I have followed every step of his career. The way he brings genres together effortlessly while still being true to himself is to me really representative of Australian culture - taking bits of this, bits of that, and making it our own. When "Falling & Flying" came out, I remember thinking "this is exactly how hip hop can stay relevant forever.” Not tying ourselves to a particular "sound" or “genre," but adapting and growing with wherever music is going and staying culturally current.

What was it like collaborating with Sage?

That verse is incredible! His flow is out of control. I couldn't be happier with how it turned out. Mailer Daemon hooked it up so I can't take credit for it, but it was a stroke of genius and I would definitely love to work with him again.

To be honest, we actually haven't met yet, though we've spoken multiple times online - a symptom of the modern world, it would seem. I'm trying to get him to close out the set with me at Oxford Art Factory on Feb 5th, so if that ends up happening we gotta make sure we catch up before hand. (Laughs). 

Do you prefer a collaborative environment or do you work best autonomously?

Overall, I prefer collaboration, definitely. The full expression of creativity that emerges when multiple people are bouncing energy off of each other can't be matched. That being said, when I write, I often need time alone. I find I get my best work done ‘on the go’ - on a train, bus or plane. Something about the rhythm/motion is meditative and gets me in the right state of mind. It's hard for me to recreate that calm, flow state where the words just keep coming in a high-energy, dynamic environment, but I'd love to get there. 

In the first few bars of ‘Vanilla Skies’ you compare yourself to those less fortunate, feeling blessed to have a meal in front of you, were you reflecting on anything in particular?

A reminder to myself to be grateful and appreciative of the privilege I've had and continue to have every day. To really push the boundaries of my life, extend beyond my comfort zone, and not squander what I'm lucky to be born with. It's always easy to focus on any detail of your life that isn't going just right, and I'm guilty of feeling sorry for myself way more than I should. But relationship issues? Self confidence issues? Let's put it into perspective. My dad was a prisoner of war, man. I doubt I'll ever endure a day that compares to what he went through for years. I don't have to look far for reminders of how good I have it.

What albums have been pivotal to you?

I'll limit it to 5:

1) Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP. Eminem's peak, the album that got me interested in writing and understanding how to put songs together. You could argue that he's become a better ‘technical’ rapper since then, but his identity is so clear on this album. Every word vividly paints exactly who he is.

2) Kanye West - College Dropout / Late Registration. I can't separate these two out. I can remember feeling my horizons expand at this completely different, raw, honest style of hip-hop, and the soul sound itself that I fell in love with. I really started thinking about the importance of production and digging in the credits of each album I'd listen to.

3) Drake - So Far Gone. This brought me back to music when I was ready to give it up. I must have listened to "Little Bit" hundreds and hundreds of times,

4) 360 - Falling & Flying. I touched on it above, but it really connected with me as the type of Australian music that I want to make, and proved that we can create bodies of work on par with, even beyond what's coming out of the US.

5) Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak. As controversial as it was, it took me AT LEAST a year to appreciate it after my initial disappointment and perhaps even disgust, as it was such a departure. It was so far ahead of its time and has had a subtle but vast ongoing influence on modern music. A lot of the songs are better than stuff on MBDTF, and if he had released 808s later in his career, I'm certain it would have been seen in a different light.

When did you start rapping?

I started writing when I was 15, changing lyrics over songs that I liked, which is how I imagine a lot of people get into it. I continued writing in my spare time and worked on my voice a bit over the next few years, but recording my first song at 19 is what I consider the real genesis. 

Do you dabble in any other creative endeavours?

Recently, I've found poetry quite liberating, as it can remove some of the constraints of rhythm and rhyme that can affect expression in rap. It started as a great exercise to clear the mind, but I've written a lot of stuff I'm very happy with. It's in my future plans to explore it when the music is further along!

Are you compiling an EP or record?

Yeah, I'm committed to 2 Mixtapes and an album in 2016. Music has for too long taken a back seat to my career, but after we sold the startup I helped build, the time is right to reclaim my head space and go all in. I'm working with some killer producers (Cam Bluff, PaperToy, MiniCoop and my brother Young Dave) and the material we have for the album so far makes me very, very happy to listen to. The plan is to get the Mixtapes out ASAP, with the album looking towards the second half of the year.

Who is a dream collaboration for you - either in Australia or overseas?

Making an album with Styalz Fuego has been my dream for the last 5 years. I am going to make it happen.

Finally Joey, What stimulates your soul?

Nothing is more stimulating for my soul than the feeling of connecting with someone else. Whether that's through music, or conversation, or a smile, or written word - that feeling of experiencing life more deeply, of sharing that connection with someone else is what I live for.