Photo Credit: Niki Pretti
While it may take a second to recall, everyone has that pivotal moment that sets them down the path they’re currently on. That moment that sparked a fire inside of them, and for Mya Byrne it centers around a VHS tape. What was on that? Well, you’ll have to keep reading to find out as we talk to the singer-songwriter about everything from going with the creative flow to trans representation to her new album, ‘Rhinestone Tomboy,’ which drops everywhere on April 28th.
Kendra: When did you realize you wanted to be more than a spectator when it came to music and work on your own material?
Mya Byrne: From the first time I ever saw a person play guitar in front of me. In my case, it was a teacher in nursery school. I knew playing music was what I wanted to do, and except for a brief flirtation with being a chef at age 19 when I worked as a sous chef at an artisanal pasta shop, that’s been the path of my life. Every single thing has been in service to art. But it was at age 23 when I truly committed myself to being a songwriter, as many people before had told me I wasn’t good enough, and then I realized they were wrong. And so I decided to just do it.
Kendra: You’re doing it now though and doing it quite well! But before we talk about your April release, ‘Rhinestone Tomboy,’ I gotta say…I want a shirt with that on it so bad! As a tomboy who loves a bit of sparkle, I felt seen! As for the music on the record though, from what I’ve heard you sort of have that balance as well; a little grit, a little more emotion. Do you think about that when writing? Like, “hmm…maybe I need another upbeat one here, a little less this?” Or do you just let it flow and what happens, happens?
Mya Byrne: Honestly, I really do just let it flow. Most of my songs get inspired by little things I see or feel, or writing prompts. Or even funny things I text people; anything can be a hook! I also believe that nearly any song can be done in any context – for instance, “I’m Gonna Stop” was a SLOW country waltz, and it got turned into this Tom Petty-type roots rockin song.
But when I go into co-writing sessions, I definitely have discussions with my partners in those rooms-usually “What kind of song should we write today,” or discuss what kind of song is missing from both our repertoires and try to write that. More often than not, though, it still comes from a line or riff one of us has and then goes off on. I also write a lot with friends over text as a writing exercise, like exquisite corpse style.
Kendra: I’m leaning towards maybe the let it flow because that’s how “It Don’t Fade” came to be. You were walking around and the melody hit you. How long after that walk would you say the song was ready for the world to hear?
Mya Byrne: More than any of the songs on this album, that one was totally complete by the end of the day. I sang the song and improvised 80% of the lyrics into my phone recorder, and then rewrote it for my writing workshop that night.
It took a while for it to develop into a repertoire song. Aaron Lee Tasjan had picked it from my album possibility playlist, and about a month before recording I’d started playing it live. It was one of the first new songs I played onstage after lockdown, I believe, at an outdoor concert. It took a while to really get it right in my brain because that octave swoop on the first couple notes of the pre-chorus psyches me out, to this day.
Kendra: That song has this optimism in it that feels quite necessary nowadays. I know it came at one of the darkest times we faced as a whole. Other than music, what were some ways you kept optimistic over the past few years?
Mya Byrne: Quite frankly, through AA, through gardening, cooking, talking to friends and fellows, journaling, taking stock of little things. I try to make a gratitude list every morning, I take a lot of walks. Honestly, songwriting is a constant outlet and it’s always amazing to me how I can take an awful situation and find beauty in it.
Kendra: We spoke of balance earlier and that came to mind listening to the softer ways of “Lend You a Hand” and then the very rock n’ roll “Come On.” The latter though made me wonder – who are some of your rockspirations in life?
Mya Byrne: Oh my…I mean, when I saw “Jailhouse Rock” on VHS at age 7 I saw my future. Elvis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Marc Bolan, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, David Crosby, James Hetfield, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Steve Cropper, Pete Townshend, and David Bowie are just a few, and more recently I’ve found myself blown away by Jake Wesley Rogers, Allison Russell…I am a big deadhead and Bobby Weir is someone who continually inspires me. But the big one is Jimi Hendrix. He merged genre and expression on guitar in a way that makes me think and feel so hard, so much. More recently I’ve been inspired by Minutemen and Modest Mouse, and I’ll never not love The Band.
Kendra: Time for a side note – So Easter is my favorite holiday and it just passed. Don’t ask me what the holiday is actually about because it’s only my favorite because I love Spring and the candy is top-notch. With that, if you were to receive an Easter basket, what sweet treat and album on vinyl would you hope was in said basket?
Mya Byrne: Teehee! Cadbury’s Mini-Eggs, and Neutral Milk Hotel, ‘Aeroplane Under The Sea.’
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘Rhinestone Tomboy’ out on April 28th, what else can people expect from you as we continue into Spring and soon Summer?
Mya Byrne: I’m going to be playing some really fun shows in California and New York, and a couple of shows I can’t announce yet in Nashville. I’m hopeful I’ll have a booking agent soon. It’s really hard to be an out trans woman in this business, and as hard as I work and as lauded as I am, I still run up against discrimination, often couched in “not the right fit”-type rejections.
So I go where people want to hear me, and in New York, I’m working a lot with a loose collective of trans folks and drag performers as well as my queer country pals on community shows which help pay my rent, along with studio work and the occasional out-of-town or big opening gig.
I simply hope that with all the great attention I’m getting, the dam breaks soon and I’m able to truly get back out on the road, where I belong, in a way that keeps me as safe as possible. I believe in my work and I know others do, too. I’m so grateful for everyone who’s platforming me right now—that includes you, too! Thank you!!!