INTERVIEW: Ayah Marah (2013)
You’ve heard Ayah Marar’s voice, but you might know who she is just yet. She sang on three tracks from Calvin Harris’ last album (“Ready For The Weekend,” “Stars Come Out,” and “Flashback”) and is the featured vocalist on the club hit “Thinking About You.” After gaining critical acclaim in the UK, her debut album is getting a full US release previewed by the progressive pop jam “Beg Borrow Steal,” which we wrote up here. However, the album is a complete mash of EDM styles, especially when she goes back to her drum and bass roots. Listening to the tracks, you will definitely realize why she is a “Hustle Girl.”
RS: I love the name of your label, where did the name Hustle Girl come from?
Ayah Marar: I am a hustle girl. It originally came from Jay-Z’s song about the hustle girl and from there it turned into Hussle Girl.
RS: Did you learn a lot from creating Lucky Devil Records?
Ayah Marar: I did, I founded it so I didn’t really have a choice. A couple of friends and I were DJs at the time and we used to run a drum & bass night together which turned into a record label. We ended up signing a few guys who are now big on the drum & bass and dubstep scene in the UK.
RS: Such as?
Ayah Marar: Alix Perez, Icicle, and Sabre – all of them have just released albums and I am really proud of them.
RS: That’s awesome! You sang on one of my favorite records of last year, Cheryl Cole’s “Call My Name,” did that come about through the Calvin Harris connection?
Ayah Marar: Yes, Calvin calls me to do guide vocals, which I did for Kelis’s “Bounce” and the same for Cheryl Cole’s song. I think that they just needed to beef it up a little bit with extra vocals so they left mine on there, but it’s her record, I have to give her credit for that.
RS: Are you Irish?
Ayah Marar: No, I am half Arabic/Jordanian and half European/Bulgarian.
RS: Calvin is Scottish, how does that work out in the studio?
Ayah Marar: Calvin is very stoic but hilarious as well; he is a serious guy but likes a good time, usually at my expense, which is great! He is like a brother to me and I admire his professionalism, he has excelled so much in the last few years. He has gone from being a small bedroom producer to one of the top artists in the world; I have nothing but love for him.
RS: How did the two of you meet up?
Ayah Marar: We met at a record store that I used to work at called Uptown Records. I used to work in the hip-hop and R&B section and stand on my feet for about 9 hours a day for 3 pound 50, which is around $5. The only saving grace we had was that we got a few free records at the end of the day, so that was cool. He came in one day with a demo and gave it to me and then ran off. It only had his name and an eMail address on there so I eMailed him and asked him what it was about. He told me that he was from Scotland and had nowhere to stay, and since I had a spare room I let him stay with me and we lived together for about a year and a half.
RS: From there did you start working on demos together?
Ayah Marar: That’s right; we did a song called “Let Me Know” which was signed to The Unabombers’ label called Electric Chair. It was done in a very simple studio where there was no autotune or stacking up vocals; it was literally one take and you were in there. The song is still around and on the internet 10 years later. This single is the 10th anniversary of us knowing each other.
RS: You work across several different genres, like dubstep and drum & bass, to the more progressive house music; do you find it difficult to work with one genre versus another?
Ayah Marar: Not really, I love dance music in general. If it has a hot beat then I love it.
RS: I also read that you are a TV presenter.
Ayah Marar: A radio show actually, I did that for a while. We did a show which we sent back to Jordan where I am from. We prerecorded it to show the youth in Jordan what we listen to in England; they really want to know what is happening on that side of the planet. We did a guest stint on BBC Radio 1Xtra as well, which was cool.
RS: Explain the difference when a male MCs and a female MCs.
Ayah Marar: What do you mean?
RS: I think when a man MCs it’s mostly rapping and with a woman it’s mostly singing.
Ayah Marar: No at all, an MC stands for Master of Ceremonies, as you well know. I started doing drum & bass MCing just after I worked in the record shop, but it is a very male-dominated industry, and unless you are good at what you do you get swept under the carpet. It took a long time to convince the guys that I was worth my salts.
RS: On Calvin’s last album you were on 3 of the tracks, “Ready For The Weekend,” “Stars Come Out,” and “Flashback,” and on his new album you are on one of the songs, did you work on any other songs on besides the one that you sing on?
Ayah Marar: I didn’t actually write the ones on the first album- I just sang the hooks. We wrote this last track “Thinking About You” together.
RS: I get your part in that video where you are on the boat, but what is the rest of the stuff about?
Ayah Marar: I don’t know, I think that it is mostly about love, loss, and naughtiness and what is allowed and what isn’t allowed and kind of pushing the boundaries of sexuality and drug-taking… but the main theme is love.
RS: Tell us about your new album.
Ayah Marar: It was written mostly by myself and a guy named Will Simms, who is French and fabulous, when you meet him you are going to love him. We started writing it together and it took us 4-5 months of solid studio time, day and night. We had to redo the album and put different tracks in because I decided to go back to my drum & bass roots. It is really just a labor of love, and each song is a story and a sensationalized autobiography.
RS: What is the first single?
Ayah Marar: “Beg Borrow Steal.”
RS: Are you doing videos for the songs?
Ayah Marar: Yes, absolutely. We are getting some treatments in for “Beg Borrow Steal” now, but I have already released a few singles in England so some are floating around.
RS: What singles have come out in England?
Ayah Marar: We have “Mind Controller,” “Lethal Dose,” “Unstoppable,” “Follow You,” and “Cross The Line,” which is a bonus track.
RS: “Follow You” was the one that was promoted for the UK club charts.
Ayah Marar: That’s right
RS: How did you react when you first heard the remixes to that record?
Ayah Marar: I loved them; it all happened organically and everyone that submitted mixes are people that we know or friends of friends. Working with an independent label you have the luxury of hand-picking the songs
RS: In the UK what label are you on?
Ayah Marar: I am on my own label, Hussle Girl.
RS: So you don’t need distributors or anything in the UK?
Ayah Marar: We have it all sorted out over there and we are releasing through Radikal Records in America.
RS: How did Radikal Records find you?
Ayah Marar: Funnily enough, Jurgen walked into HMV and spotted my album on the shelf and went into a meeting with my publishers an hour or so later. He had no idea that I was with that publisher and saw my album on their desk and it just all worked out from there.
RS: What is your take on the American dance scene?
Ayah Marar: I don’t know enough about it, Radikal is going to be my first foray into finding out what the Americans love about dance and what I can contribute to that.
RS: What is the inspiration for the hairdo?
Ayah Marar: Ballet, I started doing ballet when I was a child so it has stuck with me and it just keeps it out of my face. We call it a Croydon facelift because makes you look like you have a really straight forehead. It’s a joke, kind of like the girls who wear the big hoops, the track suit bottoms and the Croydon face lift, it’s my throwback to ghetto fabulous.
RS: Like the female chavs?
Ayah Marar: Yes, that is exactly it!
RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
Ayah Marar: Keep supporting independent music cause we need you. Thank you, I love you all!
RS: If people want to follow you what is the best way?
Ayah Marar: You can follow me anywhere, it is just my name at the end of it, Ayah Marar everything.
Interview conducted August 2013 during Promo Only Summer Sessions.