In the end you didn’t leak your album. Why was that?
No I didn’t. Because, you know… I made it without management. There was no pressure, no label, no deadline, no team… There was nothing really. I was ready to release it how it was, and get away and do M.I.A. I finished it, and Genneah came in and helped me master it. And I was like “Hey guys here’s a present, I gotta go now”.
Genneah: It’s great that you didn’t leak the album
Maya: Yeah, she was like “don’t leak it.” But I just gave it to her and said, “I don’t care what happens with it really; if the label puts it out or not it doesn’t matter.” Coz I just felt like I needed to make it, for myself. It wasn’t because I was being forced to make it or anything. So that was that. And now I have to go and do whatever my next thing is. And Genneah said that maybe I shouldn’t just give up on the record like that.
A proper release with a major label etc.
Yes, but I don’t know what that really means. In my mind, I know I just wanna go and take some time out and do something else.
So it’s not a proper war against major labels? Because you said that it will be your last LP on an American major label.
No, because, you know, I could always make music for the rest of my life and leak it and give it to people. And I have done that; I always do. I always give to fans... Even some of the songs on this record have already been released. So that’s not how I would fight the majors — it’s just my way of doing things.
"After you stick up for the shit and scream and protest and do all that, then you get to this point where am I now."
So is this your last album on an American major label because you’re not allowed into the US anymore?
Hum… Yes. I haven’t been for two years.
The FBI is investigating me but that’s all…
Genneah: They’re telling us it’s standard protocol. She has a visa application that’s being processed. But renewing a Visa is usually just a formality…
Maya: It could be many, many things. It could be that I said the wrong things about the wrong people, it could be because I had a custody battle with my ex to come to England and establish a proper family — I went court to leave America, so America was like “fuck you, you can’t come back in”, coz I was like “LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT!” Hahaha! I spent a lot of money to leave America. Coz you know my… Yeah… That was a very complicated situation… I basically had to live there for 15 years. So I left with a fight. So it could be anything: my personal life, my professional life, the label and all that stuff. It could be the NSA people because I say mad shit about them all the time…
It could be the middle finger at the NFL…
It could be the NFL like, they all fucking know each other, it could be all of them, together at a party like, “that bitch, fuck her!” Hahaha! But I think they need me. That country needs me, haha! They really really fucking need me. So in the beginning I was like, “fine kick me out, go, and see what happens”. I would obviously like to be able to go back because of my kids. But apart from that, in terms of being an artist there and stuff, it’s like... yeah, I don’t know… I don’t know how I feel right now.
The title of the album is "AIM". If you had to summarise what you were aiming to do with the album, what would you say?
I think we were going for… Well not we, but Tom helped me to decide. Basically the symbol of the album is Fly Pirate (like a hand shadow forming a dove), which is spirituality. You’ve got knowledge, which is the book, and the wheat symbolises love. And they are just like three things that are very universal, but it kind of seems like quite a punk thing to say right now when everybody is like “hate hate hate hate! borders borders!” So I think to come out with... especially when you’ve been through that — you know I’ve been through... the fight, on every front. Family front, major corporations front, the country front, superpower front. I had to deal with that in America when they did let me live there. Okay, they did give me a record deal and supported me, and “Paper Planes” did well, and they did nominate me for a Grammy. But these are the four positives. There were like 500 negatives. You know like the constant battle, and fighting spaces where you can’t say shit to be able to say it, and there were like many, many consequences to that, people don’t really know…
That’s funny because you fight with spirituality, love and books. It’s quite a peaceful battle. Are you really that peaceful?
I actually am and it works against me, because some people think that I need to… I don’t fight individuals, like on a personal level. My fight is very broad, you know: the perception of refugees, the perception of Tamuls, the Sri Lankan government or whatever… Things that you can’t actually see.
"I don’t see an authentic revolution. When they talk of a revolution here and there, now in 2016, it’s bullshit. I feel like it’s just founded on the manipulation of crowds…"
Listening to the album, I felt like it wasn’t as political as I was expecting it to be from you.
I know it’s not that political… I just think that… Like it is political to make an album like this when the world is painting you as a crazy person who is constantly aggressive about everything. And I have every reason to be, I feel like I do have the right to be pissed off at people, and angry, aggressive, all of these things. But if you can bypass it and overcome it and provide a message of love and unity and spiritual knowledge, then it’s more positive, and that’s the idea. Because, if you look at my past, which is there on the internet, thank God, and it hasn’t been erased, though people are trying to… If you look at it from day one, I’ve always said those political things, and I’ve stood by them, and I still like… I feel that I didn’t compromise the message, and now finally, the generation after me that was listening to my stuff, are like that. I mean I see lots of young girls and boys that are like politically aware, and care about shit. And I love that because I feel like I’ve done something, after the constant sacrifices… not being very rich, and not being very famous, and not being the person they put on the cover of Vogue, and not being any of these things, but what you see in the streets today, even the kids who are like protesting for Black Lives Matter, you feel like “I was part of the food that fed them.”
So you feel like the job is done?
I feel like the job is done, and now, this album is about what happens after they’ve gone and done their work. After you stick up for the shit and scream and protest and do all that, then you get to this point where am I now. If you did it for real and if you fought for real, then you get rewarded, and the reward is getting stronger and stronger, so that in the end nothing can touch you.
There are still political messages in the album.
Yes there are some. But you know it’s so difficult talking about political things because really it’s so attached to money, you know. For me as a writer, I’d just love to have nothing to say about politics right now because it’s all shit. You know what I mean, there’s nothing really… I don’t see an authentic revolution. When they talk of a revolution here and there, now in 2016, it’s bullshit. I feel like it’s just founded on the manipulation of crowds… Because if you’ve got money, you can make wars happen everywhere, you know? When I did ‘Arular’, the background was the Tamul civil war, which is a very authentic struggle. It wasn’t a money struggle. It started in the seventies so it had that realness to it, and then, when I made ‘Arular’, we had Iraq, which is still a very authentic situation but it was the first time we were seeing something on that level. But I felt that the Sri Lanka conflict could be a big part of that record… getting applied to this bigger thing that was gonna trick and trap everyone. So I talked about it in my first album. I was really on the ground, talking about how it affects you on the ground level. And then ‘Kala’ was like more about the chaos in the world. And it was really going like “oh my god these people are poor and they’re buying guns for 20$ when they can’t buy food: what is this? I don’t understand…” you know? It was totally naïve, because I didn’t have any idea of like the corporate power, you know? The corporations were growing, but you couldn’t see it. And it was like, this weird in-between phase where you are seeing the effects of the economy, the way it affected the country, and what it did to the country, to the poor. And like all the sort of greediness of the planet, and what people are having to suffer. And even then, I was applying what I learnt from ‘Arular’ to what I was seeing.
M.I.A. - Go Off
It was like ten years ago, so you were more naïve than you are now, obviously.
Yeah I was really naïve. And then, on the next one, ‘MAYA’, I’d given up. Because I’d realised that everything actually goes to corporations. If you trace back any war, behind it there’s just like, one guy in a suit. And what we see in front is the army and the guns and the things, and the press and the people, and all of this massive amount of… It’s all about amounts, you know? Amounts of stuff. And if you strip it all back, there’s like one dude in a suit. And then all of us are just looking at each other screaming instead of looking at that guy. And nobody knows who that guy is. We still don’t know. So then I stopped talking about politics. What would happen to the world if for four years, every country in the world had a female president or prime minister. We could do that for like one term, and one day the world could change. You kinda get some women who want to be that man, but you might have some women who just want to be like “okay before we go to war, let’s have a different approach towards things”.
So then, when will M.I.A run for presidency?
Never! So that’s the thing: I got out of politics on the ‘MAYA’ record, and then Matangi was going in a different direction. It wasn’t really about politics, it was about more basic things like freedom of speech, and saving the things we have to communicate, communicating things about music… I don’t really know anything about anything else.
You dropped ‘Vicki Leekx’ after your meeting with Julian Assange then right?
Yes. Well that’s because he was the first one who came out and said that. You know, about the human rights violations in Sri Lanka, and that the government did actually kill all the civilians in the last two weeks, and that the UN had recognised that they were war crimes, and then they leaked the first document saying that the UN acknowledged there were war crimes. And then in 2010, when I said it in America, they like totally killed me. So when Wikileaks came out and said it, it came back to what I was saying. So I supported them, and then the rest happened.
What about the Fly Pirates song? Was it all to provoke PSG?