Look out for Maiko Watson at the Western Canada Music Festival

The reinvention of Maiko Watson Sway Magazine

The former Sugar Jones singer has stripped away bubblegum pop for soulful sounds and control of her life

BY: Amanda Robinson

Her journey left her with a few bumps and bruises, but Maiko Watson says she now feels more comfortable in her own skin.

Armed with a unique fusion of acoustic soul, jazz and R&B, the singer-songwriter, producer and recent business owner is ready to once again make her mark in the music business, but in a much different way. The Winnipeg native is back in Toronto to promote her recently-released debut album, Sweet Vibration, which was put out by her own independent label, Labeame Records. “I was influenced a lot by jazz around the time I was writing this album and R&B and soul is kinda my roots in music,” she says. “The album is a combination of those things, and just me being more mature now.”

You might remember Watson from when she was in her early 20s — she was one of five members selected to be in the pop group Sugar Jones, which was formed in 1999 through the reality TV show Popstars. In 2001, she married Canadian musician Remy Shand, moved back to Winnipeg with him, and left Sugar Jones. Watson spent the next few years touring and singing backup for Shand’s band. They filed for divorce in 2006.

Looking back at her younger self, Watson says she knows she wasn’t ready for marriage after being taken on a whirlwind ride to fame with Sugar Jones. “I got married really fast. It’s like everything was happening all at once,” she says. “You’re not looking very far ahead. I know now that I didn’t know who I was back then. I feel a lot more comfortable with who I am now and what I want.”

Watson says this even though Sugar Jones’ debut album went platinum and spawned two Top 10 singles on the Canadian charts. The group was even nominated for a Juno, performed at the Air Canada Centre and opened for acts like Destiny’s Child. She admits leaving the group was a bit selfish. “I was more considering myself than members of the band,” she says. “But, at the same time, we all have our lives and I’m still in touch with most of the girls.”

Now an independent artist with an independent record label — far from the days of screaming fans, tour buses and industry parties — Watson describes her time with Sugar Jones as having given her an unrealistic view of the music industry. Watson now enjoys the daily grind because she says she has what she lacked while in Sugar Jones: a more soulful sound, creative control and, most importantly, the ability to determine her own success. “There’s a lot of work on the business side of things. It’s a lot of sending out packages, constantly contacting people and research. At the same time, I really enjoy it because you’re making things happen for you.”

After being on a rollercoaster ride for the last few years, Watson says she feels that this is the perfect time for her to re-emerge. She’s developing her sound as an artist and, with changes in the industry — artists becoming famous as a result of social networking websites like MySpace or iTunes, for example — her grassroots label may have a huge chance to succeed.

Watson has also taken control over her personal life. She’s currently single, enjoying her freedom and the ability to focus on making it to the top once again.

– Look out for Watson in the coming months, promoting her album and playing at festivals. You can check her music out at myspace.com/maikowatsonmusic

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