In a year when it’s probably never been more difficult to be a young singer on the rise, it’s fair to say that Mae Muller rose to the occasion.
At the beginning of 2020, the future was looking especially rosy for the London-based singer-songwriter. She was coming off the back of a successful year supporting Little Mix on their UK tour, gearing up to release her most exciting new material to date and hit the road for a string of her biggest headlining shows to date.
Spoiler alert: That’s not quite what ended up happening. But with live music out of the question, and promotional opportunities for emerging artists hugely reduced due to the pandemic, Mae still managed to make the most of 2020.
This year has seen her release the EP No One Else Not Even You, self-shooting her I Don’t Want Your Money music video and even managing to go ahead with her hometown show at London’s Kentish Town Forum (albeit quite differently to how she envisaged it).
All this while juggling the life of any other 23-year-old in lockdown, including competitive Zoom quizzes, nights in with the family and, y’know, moments of total existential dread.
As part of HuffPost UK’s new interview series 2020: The Year That Wasn’t, we spoke to Mae about how this year has changed her outlook on making music and the moments she feared her “career was over” already...
Thinking back to January, how did you feel looking ahead to 2020?
I thought that it was going to be the best year of my life, to be honest. I think everyone kind of felt that, though – everyone felt really optimistic. But for me, I thought it was the year that all the grafting and the hustle was all going to pay off, when really, this year was actually the year we’ve done the most hustling and the most grafting.
So it was certainly different to what I thought it was going to be, but I do consider myself lucky that I’ve still been able to make music and spend time with family. I guess I’ve tried to see the positive side… but no, it was definitely not what I expected.
How did lockdown affect what you already had planned for the year?
It affected things hugely. I was meant to go on tour, it was going to be my biggest headline tour ever, which obviously didn’t happen. But also, the way I like to make music is so collaborative and I like being in the room with other people, and that was sort of taken away. And that was very difficult for me, because I felt pressure to try and come up with things all by myself… and it’s hard to feel inspired when you’re just sitting in the house doing nothing.
At the beginning of lockdown I wanted to do all these things and learn all these new skills… and then I was just like ‘do you know what? We’re in a pandemic. Stop putting pressure on yourself to do all this stuff. If you need a day where you just lie in bed feeling sorry for yourself, that’s OK’. Literally nobody on this earth has been through this before, so how the hell are you meant to suddenly know what to do, and how to act?
Sometimes I did get up and pull myself together and get stuff done, but other days, I was like, ‘I’m going to lie in bed and re-watch The Office because that is how I’m feeling’.
How did you make it work in 2020, and what are you most proud of?
I made a music video while I was in lockdown, which was... interesting. I literally filmed it on my iPhone. I think at the beginning, I was so overwhelmed and kind of a little bit panicked by that idea, because usually you have a whole team around you helping and then suddenly it was just me. But then we did it, and I shot it, and I’m actually really, really proud of it.
Also, just the fact that when lockdown finished, I was straight back into the studio again. I was a bit scared that I would be uninspired because what the hell have we been doing the past few months? Nothing!
But I’ve had a lot of time to think, and the stuff that I was writing about before, I just didn’t really feel like that anymore. And the things that were important to me before this time aren’t as important now, and things that I felt were less important are way more important.
My whole mindset kind of changed, and so my songwriting has changed a little bit. Having to think about what you want to say and who you are makes a big difference.
What was the one thing that kept you going during lockdown?
It sounds cliché, but it was my family. And friends. Togetherness. You forget just how important the people that you choose to have around you are. Sometimes I’d be feeling so low, and I’d give my friend a call, and it was just that basic thing of human interaction, it kind of made me realise how important that is to all of us. And so that kind of kept me afloat.
I was lucky enough to be locked down with my dad and my brothers, so I didn’t feel too lonely. If I’d been on my own it would have been a very different story. The people that I love really carried me through that. And it was so sweet, when I released I Don’t Want Your Money during lockdown, my dad threw me a little release party – he had, like, snacks and music playing, I was just like ‘oh my goodness, my family is amazing’. It just made me think, ‘what would I do without them?’.
But of course, when you’re stuck in the house with the same people, it’s important to talk to other people too. Because no matter how much you love that person or those people that you’re locked down with, being with the same people for three months and not leaving the house is intense – it doesn’t matter how well you get on. So it was important that I kept that communication open with my friends.
We did some drunk Zoom quizzes, which were always a lot of fun. I remember when it was my turn to make the Zoom quiz, and when I say I’ve never worked so hard on something in my life, I mean it. You would think it was my university coursework or something, I was dedicated. I spent hours on it, because it was the only thing I had going on.
What did you find to be the biggest challenge or lowest point of the year?
The music industry has been hit hard – obviously for artists, it’s awful not being able to tour, but then when you think of all the crew and all the people that work behind the scenes. As an artist, at least we have other ways of keeping ourselves busy, but the people that actually work on these shows, my heart really, really went out to them.
And I think just the uncertainty of it all [was a challenge]. I’m already quite an anxious person in terms of thinking ‘I need to be doing this, this and this, and I’ve achieved this but I need to be onto the next thing now’, so for that to all come to a stop, it was hard. I had a few moments where I was like ‘my career is over’... but I just had to bring myself out of that hole of dread and be like, ‘there are other ways of doing things’.
But I look back on that now and think I’m lucky that those were only my lowest points, because this has affected people’s lives in an unimaginably painful way, so I think you have to measure it, and my friends and family are all healthy and safe. You have to count your blessings.
What’s the biggest lesson that you’re taking away from 2020?
To just take each day as it comes. Don’t ever think you know how something is going to pan out, because you have no idea in this life. And strive to meet your goals, but be flexible, because things can happen. And that’s what it’s taught everyone... you have to be able to move with the times, and that was a big lesson.
How do you feel now looking ahead to 2021?
I feel hopeful, I really, really do. And I think that people’s mindsets are starting to change and I feel like we can sort of start maybe planning what we had to miss out on in 2020, which is really exciting.
And I’m just excited to finally go on tour… Playing live is my favourite thing, and it is my way of connecting with my supporters – it was a safe space for them, and it was a safe space for me too! So to not have that kind of comfort was hard.
But I just have to think that when it does happen, and when I can play this EP, it will have been out for a pretty long time, so everyone will be so excited to hear the songs live. So it’s going to have that next level element of magic to it. It’s going to go off.
Mae Muller’s latest EP, No One Else Not Even You, is available to download and stream now.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.