Q&A: Maia Sharp Talks About Being an Out Musician, Her Work with Bill Deasy, & What She Loves About Pittsburgh

Maia Sharp
Photo: Maia Sharp

Roscoe & Etta will perform at Club Cafe on South Side, Saturday August 17.  7:00 PM (Doors 6:00 PM) The show is 21+ and tickets are $13.00.

Maia Sharp came out at age 23 in 1994 and has been making herstory ever since. She’s recorded seven albums and had all sorts of interesting collaborations in the ensuing decades. My partner Ledcat told me that she’s a staple on WYEP. I asked her to do a Q&A with me to promote her upcoming show and explore some other topics. And I’m listening to her discography as I type this.

Your Name: Maia Sharp
Your Age: 48
Your Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

How do you describe your identity? Singer/Songwriter/Musician

Please tell us about your very first impression of Pittsburgh. I loved it from the first visit for the music scene, the people and the architecture, which isn’t something I always notice but in Pittsburgh it’s impossible not to. I met local artist and writer Bill Deasy on a writing retreat in France in 1996 so I already had a friend here before my first gig in the late 90’s which probably helped it feel more friendly from the beginning.

What Pittsburgh creators – writers, musicians, poets, etc – have influenced your work? Is there anyone with whom you’d like to collaborate? I’ve enjoyed working with Bill Deasy over the years. I just learned Kevin Garrett is from Pittsburgh. I’d like a chance to collaborate with him someday.

Please tell us about the first LGBTQ person that you knew and what impact they had on your life. Diane Lindsay played bass in my dad’s band when I was a kid. She would babysit me sometimes and she was (and is) so cool. I remember my parents telling me that she and the woman she was living with were together just like my parents were together and that was perfectly okay no matter what anyone might say. Awesome. I was extraordinarily lucky to grow up in a home like that.

You play multiple instruments, including the saxophone. What do you find satisfying about playing any of your instruments in contrast with singing? Do any of your other instruments beyond your guitar have names?  These days I enjoy playing the instrument when it’s to get a song across so I haven’t been playing much saxophone but it’s still there when the situation calls for it. So far I’ve only named the guitars but that worked out pretty well when Roscoe, my old cranky F hole Gibson acoustic, and Etta, my Gibson ES120T slim body electric became the name of my duo with Anna Schulze. We didn’t want to be Sharp & Schulze or Anna & Maia so Roscoe & Etta got the job.

You recently taped a collaborative show for PBS, Songwriting With Soldiers, that pairs veterans with professionals to write songs as part of their healing and reentry into civilian life. How did you get involved with this project and why does it speak to you? My friend and fellow singer/songwriter, Darden Smith co-founded the organization with Mary Judd. Darden called and asked me if I’d like to be a part of it and as he was explaining what they did, I knew I had to make it happen. That was 2 years and 5 retreats ago and it has changed me in so many ways. Hearing the stories of veterans, active duty soldiers and family members, some of whom have lost their loved ones, and employing everything I have to make a song out of it that is worthy of them is the ultimate challenge and the most rewarding. I have to be completely outside of myself. I don’t exist in that room, only my compassion and however many skills the caffeine has managed to fire up are sitting in the chair across from them and I love that more than I can even explain. I hope the PBS special (airing nationally Oct 25) lets more soldiers that might be interesting in participating in Songwriting With:Soldiers know that it’s there for them.

How does intersectionality inform your music?  I’ve never thought about that…Thinking about it now, my lyric perspective is usually personal but, if it’s a song with a sexual orientation or gender component I’m intentionally vague about how the singer is feeling “kept down.” I like to keep it that way so, in theory, more people could relate to it by plugging in their own experience.

You’ve been publicly out as a lesbian singer-songwriter since your early 20s. How has your decision to live out loud shaped your career path? What advice do you have for younger folx who are trying to forge their own careers as queer artists? I was always out but I also tried my best to not have my sexual orientation be the headline. My goal was always for no one to care one way or the other and from what I’m seeing now, we are closer to that in the music business. I’ve always supported LGBTQ causes but I think because of my “why does it matter” attitude I don’t think it has shaped my career path at all. I would tell younger artists that, even with our current administration, your sexual identity is less likely to overshadow your musical contribution and that, to me is great news.

What is your love song for LGBTQ youth?  “Wandering Heart” from my first album Hardly Glamour

Who are some of the younger openly LGBTQ artists that our readers should be listening to, but might not know about? Lucy Dacus. I’ve had her album Historian in heavy rotation since I got it a couple weeks ago. It’s irreverent and beautiful.

Where can readers find you on social media? Insta is @maiasharpmusic and @roscoeandetta. Twitter and FB are @maiasharp and @roscoeandetta. Roscoe & Etta is playing Club Cafe Saturday, August 17. Please check out my writing/production duo mate, Anna Schulze on Insta @annabschulze.

Thank you, Maia.