Sharp “Thoughts”: an interview with Maia Sharp

Maia Sharp headshot

Maia Sharp is one of those queer singer/songwriters who deserve a larger following in the LGBTQ+ community. I mean Britney large. Her songs are beautiful and accessible. Even Cher thinks so! The recent expanded reissue of Cher’s 1996 album “It’s A Man’s World” features her cover of Sharp’s “Don’t Come Around Tonite” (previously only available on the import version). If that’s not enough, Bonnie Raitt has not only recorded her own interpretations of Sharp’s songs but has also brought her on tour as her opening act. Sharp’s latest, her eighth studio album “Reckless Thoughts” never disappoints from start to finish. Maia was kind enough to make time for an interview in advance of the tour.

Maia, 2022 was the 25th anniversary of the release of your debut album. In what ways do you think you’ve evolved as a songwriter and performer?
Oh, my gosh. I hope all the ways. As a songwriter, I’m definitely more loyal to the truth now than I was then. I think I was more craft-forward then. If I found a turn of the phrase, I could make it rhyme. I could set it up and I could make it land. That used to be enough. I’m not coming down on that at all, because I’m still very proud of that early work. It’s probably just because I’ve lived more, and I have more real-life stories to tell, but now I just have too many real things that I want to share, so it isn’t about just finding a turn of the phrase anymore. It’s telling a true story. I think [the organization] Songwriting With Soldiers is a part of that influence for me. I’ve seen the power of telling a true story. Even one that you thought you were the only one who lived it. You’re never ever the only one who lived any human story. Somebody out there has probably also been through it, and maybe they need to hear that you have, too, so they know that they’re not alone. It has become a mission. 

Since “Mercy Rising” [my 2021 album], which was almost entirely ripped from real-life headlines, I’ve been speaking to true things. “Reckless Thoughts” is that. It’s almost entirely true. It either once was true, is true now, or it’s something that I want to be true. But it revolves around the truth. Performance-wise, I got up on a stage because I love writing songs. I realized at some point that I’m going to have to be the artist to get all these songs heard. Being on a stage, being the singer/artist was not where all of this started. It took me a minute to really get comfortable. I’m very introverted. I just want you to hear my songs. I don’t care who sings them, whether it’s me or somebody else. It took me a few years and a couple of albums to really enjoy being on a stage. Now, as you pointed out, thanks a lot [laughs], 25 years later I’m comfortable and I actually enjoy it and I can relax. I feel like the audience and I are hanging out, sharing stories.

I’ve seen you live enough to know that that’s true. It really does feel like a roomful of friends.
Thank you!

You have a long history of being a collaborative songwriter and your new album “Reckless Thoughts” features tunes co-written with Garrison Starr, Kim Richey, Mindy Smith, Madi Diaz, and others. What do you like best about the collaboration process?
I’m always going to go somewhere that I wouldn’t have gone otherwise if I was writing alone. They’re always going to bring something. Every one of those names that you mentioned has something up her sleeves, and also [songwriters] Peter Groenwald and Dean Fields are on there, too. They bring something that they thought of that I never would have thought of. Mindy comes up with melodies where I’m always, “Oh, I never would have gone there.” I didn’t realize how great that melody sounded over that chord until she sang it. Then it always takes me a second to learn it. Her mind just goes somewhere different than mine. Kim’s the same way. I learn something every time. It keeps my songs sounding different from each other. Also, the logistics of it. I finish a song much sooner if I write with somebody else [laughs]. When I write a song alone, like “Fallen Angel,” it was over days and days, rewriting the last verse. I have three lyric versions. I always have to pay attention when I’m printing out the latest one, because I reworked it so much because I was my own sounding board.

Queer performers are also represented on “Reckless Thoughts,” including the previously mentioned Garrison Starr, as well as Shelly Fairchild. As an out artist, how important is it to you to work with other queer musicians?
That’s a good question. I don’t set out to do that. I don’t set out to make sure that I include them on the record. They’re just my really close friends that are extremely talented and I want them to be a part of my work. I just want to work with them. What could have brought us closer as friends is the fact that we’re all queer. That could have been why we’re in each other’s inner circle. You want to work with people that you trust and love and want to hang out with. So, it led to that. But I didn’t think, “Oh, I want to work with queer artists or songwriters.” I just love what they do.

I live in Fort Lauderdale. You live in Nashville, two cities in states in which the LGBTQ+ community is under relentless attack. The uplifting and anthemic “Kind,” co-written with Mindy and Dean, sounds like an attempt to address the issue of the growing rift in the culture. Am I on the right track?
Absolutely! That’s one of the rifts that it’s trying to address. I wrote that in 2019 when Trump was in office. We got together and all of us were cranky AF about the culture feeling like it was excusing unkindness. People were being unapologetic about being fundamentally unkind to other humans. We were all so fed up with that. Whether it was based on sexual orientation or gender identity or race or man-to-woman or color or religion. Whatever it was, it seemed like it was sliding into this new place of acceptability. 

How is this OK? It had felt so peaceful. It felt like we were getting somewhere as a society under Obama. Then it slides back to 1950. We started talking about that. Sharing our mutual disdain for that feeling about where society was heading. Then we decided to flip the script on it. How about we sing something more uplifting? About the people that we want to spend our time with, the parts of society that we respect and celebrate. Why don’t we do that? Once we did that, we started having a blast. We straight up had the conversation. Are we going to list the things that we’re talking about? Like all those things that you and I just said. Are we going to talk about whether you’re gay or straight or white or black? That sounded too simplistic. It’s been done so many times. How do we point it out without coming right on the nose? I think it was Dean that said, “How about that any other thing, other than kindness, won’t matter to our friendship? What are some other things? He’s the one that said, “jalapeno peppers in your ice cream [laughs].”

I’m glad you mentioned those interesting juxtapositions, because in the song you also make mention of “Pepsi or Coke” as an example of the kinds of sides people take. Out singer/songwriter Brandy Clark makes a similar reference in the song “She Smoked in the House” on her 2023 self-titled album. Why do you think those beverages are in the zeitgeist?
[Laughs] I didn’t know that! I’ve got to check that out, find a way to connect on that. I know that Brandy Clark and I have a bunch of friends in common. That was the line in “Kind” that took the longest. “Rich or broke/drink or smoke…” That was what held us up the longest. I think I brought up Pepsi and Coke, because I remember, as a kid, the Pepsi challenge was huge and there were at least five commercials about the Pepsi challenge every day. It was a huge ad campaign. I remember thinking, “If you’re under 30, do you know what the Pepsi challenge is?” Apparently, it’s an ongoing feud, so everybody knows Pepsi/Coke [laughs].

“California,” also co-written with Garrison, about leaving your longtime home behind, reminded me of Joni Mitchell’s “California,” in which Joni sang about the experience of missing and returning to “California.” Would it be fair to say that they’re two sides of the same coin?
Yes, I guess so. She has a wistfulness in her song. Mine is definitely wistful. Every word of that is not just to California, the state I thought I would never leave, but also to my ex-wife, the person I thought I would never leave. It’s her, too. That one hurts. I played it for, and she knows that it’s about her. We had a moment about that. It’s definitely both the person and the place.

Included in your upcoming tour are dates with Bonnie Raitt, who covered three of your songs on her “Souls Alike” album. What does touring with Bonnie mean to you?
Oh, my God! It’s never long enough. It’s always a great experience. She is such a generous soul. Inspiring mojo swagger with humility. How does she pull that off? I don’t know, but she’s so cool. She has become a great friend. We started hanging out right around the time that I first toured with her with a band. We’ve been good friends ever since then. So, I also get to see my friend. That’s the best way to see her. It’s not like she blows through Nashville and maybe has time for lunch or maybe I come to California, and we’ll take a little hike or something. 

We get to be out there; I get to see her and hang out backstage. It’s such a good experience. The only problem is that it spoils me for all other performers. And I’m playing to her audience! I’m a diehard Bonnie Raitt fan, and that’s what those people are in that room. I could just walk out there and be like, “Hey, we’re all here for Bonnie. Hope you like these songs, too, and it works [laughs].

Maia Sharp will perform with Bonnie Raitt at 8 p.m. on April 26 at American Music Theatre, 2425 Lincoln Hwy East, Lancaster. The performance is sold out but you can contact the box office at 800-648-4102. For more information, visit

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