KTEP - El Paso, Texas

'Medicating With Music': How One Tiny Desk Contest Entrant Heals Through Song

Sep 27, 2020
Originally published on January 24, 2022 1:39 pm

This year, many people have been turning to music for catharsis, but Mama Haze, aka songwriter Meaghan Maples, has been tapping into music's healing powers for a long time. Before pursuing music full-time, the Oakland, Calif.-based artist was a doula and caregiver, often prescribing music as an antidote to patients' pain.

"Music does heal, as corny as it sounds; it really does make a difference," she tells Weekend Edition. "I think it's a really powerful outlet that all children and families need to have at their disposal."

Maples' song "On Your Side" was a standout entry in the 2020 Tiny Desk Contest, earning her a spot in the very first episode of Tiny Desk Contest Top Shelf. She says the song was written during a time of healing — as she describes it, "medicating with music" — after undergoing a medical procedure.


While mending from surgery, Maples invited some friends to bunker down with her. "I had some friends fly out," she says. "They came and hung out with me the first week after surgery. We just stayed inside and cooked meals and wrote songs and took my mind off the pain." Maples says it actually worked. It was during this week of recovery that she wrote "On Your Side," a stripped-down song that strays from Mama Haze's typically upbeat discography.

Listening back to the entry after several months in lockdown, Maples tears up. "I miss live music so much," she says. "[This has] probably been the longest time in my life that I've gone without playing a show or going to a real show."

Maples says the entry video captures some of the energy that only happens in live music performances. "It reminds me of those moments that aren't planned, because in the studio, it's not really like that," she says. "You need a live setting to get that raw, good gritty stuff."

Instead, these days, Maples is watching recordings of live music on Verzuz TV. She says the song-for-song battles with R&B and hip-hop greats, hosted Instagram live, have inspired her to revisit unfinished work from her own catalog. And "On Your Side" has motivated Maples to embark on a whole new musical journey; she says she's going to navigate this turbulent time by starting a new musical project under the name Meaghan Maples. "There's a bit of a cocooning that's happened because of this song," she says. "It's less pop and it's less noisy, but there's something really special and raw about it. It's actually caused me to start this whole other project under my government name. ... It's been a rebirth."

Listen to the full aired story in the audio player above.

Elle Mannion contributed to the digital version of this story.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


MAMA HAZE: Three, four. (Vocalizing).


Over the past couple of months, we've been sampling some of the extraordinary entries to this year's Tiny Desk Contest. Today, here's Mama Haze and her song "On Your Side."


MAMA HAZE: (Singing) If you're feeling like you're really lonely, just reach out your hand, and you can hold me. All you got to do is let me try.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mama Haze is Meaghan Maples. She's a singer from Oakland, Calif. And she joins us now.


MAMA HAZE: Hello. Hi.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is an amazingly positive song for these troubled times. But I understand you wrote it a couple years ago under different circumstances. Can you tell us about it?

MAMA HAZE: I did. Yeah. I actually had an injury when I was in my 20s. And I waited till my 30s, as many of us do, to do some housekeeping with the bones and joints. And I had this major surgery. And I'm not a big fan of prescription drugs, and so I was thinking about medicating with music and what that would look like.

And so I had some friends fly out from LA and other friends from the Bay Area. And they just came and hung out with me the first week after surgery. And we just stayed inside and cooked meals and wrote songs and took my mind off the pain of recovering by making music. And it actually worked. I would say it was probably - I mean, I had never had surgery before. But I've heard horrible stories about people recovering from major things. And I think just...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That sounds like a party.

MAMA HAZE: Yeah (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That sounds amazing.

MAMA HAZE: It's great. I know. I was like, this - I could prescribe this to people. I just felt so fortunate. And "On Your Side" was probably our favorite song that we wrote from that little excursion of, you know, healing and hanging and medicating with music.


MAMA HAZE: (Singing) I'm on your side. Yeah. I'm on your side - doesn't matter where you come from. Oh.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's a great guitar solo in the song.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's amazing.

MAMA HAZE: Oh, my gosh.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Who's the guitarist?

MAMA HAZE: That's my good friend Julius Obregon from San Diego, Calif. He's an incredible musician and collaborator, and we've written music together. Yeah. He's amazing. And also that - listening back to that solo right now kind of made me, like, almost tear up because I miss live music so much. It's been the longest - probably the longest time in my life that I've gone without playing a show or going to a real show. So, man, it's just - oh, it reminds me of those, like - those moments that aren't planned 'cause in the studio, it's not really like that. You know, you kind of need that live setting, that, like - just to get that raw, like, good, gritty stuff. I love it so much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You are doing music full time now. But up until a couple years ago, you worked as a doula and a caregiver.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's an amazing sort of journey. I mean, was music always part of sort of your caregiving?

MAMA HAZE: Oh, totally. Yeah. I grew up singing. And I was in the San Francisco Girls Chorus for a bunch of years when I was a little kid and grew up singing in church, exposed to a lot of gospel music and exposed to all kinds of genres. But I always just loved people. I always loved kids. I just have a natural warm connection with a lot of, like, dogs and babies - just really gravitate towards me. So it was kind of this natural way, as I was getting started in my career, to have, like, a great hustle of nannying and working with children but always bringing in the creative side, the musical side, and then working as a postpartum doula - so working with newborns and infants and, you know, mothers who are in their fourth trimester, as they say.

So I mean, I ended up music-medicating after my surgery. But I realized that I have been kind of using music as a tool for nurturing and caring for others my whole journey as being an artist. So it really does make a - music does heal, as corny as it sounds.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I believe it.

MAMA HAZE: It really does make a difference. Yeah. It's a really powerful tool with children and families, even. And I've even worked with teens in San Diego in different youth programs. So I just think it's a really powerful outlet that I think all children and families need to have at their disposal. So it's just been an incredible journey for me to combine the two worlds of making music and taking care of others.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Mama Haze, aka Meaghan Maples. You can see her Tiny Desk Contest video on our website, npr.org.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

MAMA HAZE: Thank you so much for having me.


MAMA HAZE: (Singing) Oh, where you going? Call me up without hesitation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.