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February 2021

mxmtoon: "No matter how dark days may seem, the sun will still rise the next day"

Everyone’s favourite bedroom pop teen, mxmtoon is making her mark with new EP combo, ‘dawn’ and ‘dusk’
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Published: 10:48 am, July 14, 2020Words: Jack Press. Photos: April Blum.
mxmtoon: "No matter how dark days may seem, the sun will still rise the next day"

Once upon a time in a pre-pandemic world, spending hours burrowing away in your room was a pastime activity reserved for the introverts of your friendship group, rather than the new normal. Coming alive in a community of online creatives away from the shackles of their 'in real life' selves, a collective of teenagers took their day-to-day struggles out of their heads and onto YouTube recordings, armed with nothing but a songbook of bangers alchemised together in their bedrooms.

Over the past few years, the 'bedroom pop' phenomenon has shed its rough-and-ready recordings shell in exchange for dreamy lo-fi soundscapes that soundtrack both your summer and your seasonal depression. With artists like Rex Orange County and Soccer Mommy breaking out of their bedrooms and onto global stages, the wave is ready to be ridden as bedroom pop graduates to its next phase. Dork goes one-to-one, bedroom-to-bedroom with one of the genre's foremost rising stars, mxmtoon, aka Maia, to find out what it's like to be part of a DIY musical revolution.

"I didn't really think of myself as anything special, I was just making songs in my bedroom and then sharing them. I didn't think anyone would actually hear them, so I just posted them, but people did hear them. I got to be a part of this really cool wave of musicians," says Maia, smiling at the thought as she sits back in her bedroom at her parents where her musical journey began. It's here, in this bedroom, she discovered the artists that would encourage her to pick up her ukulele and press record.

"If I hadn't looked to other musicians like Rex Orange County or Clairo when I started to write music, I don't know If I ever would have had the courage to post anything online. They made music feel more accessible to me, and it wasn't something where you had to have a label behind you or all of these things that would push you up behind the scenes in order to achieve a platform.

"For me, bedroom pop is honestly so important, and I'm so proud to be a part of that world because I think it's opened up a door for so many young people to feel like there's a space to be creative and to post regardless of who is listening."

Being a part of a budding musical revolution such as bedroom pop has given Maia not only the boost to battle her own demons and experience a creative epiphany, but has also allowed her to be part of the wave riding the changing tide. As streaming platforms fortify their dominance and platforms like TikTok tear up the tattered book of music industry codes and conventions in favour of trendsetting dance routines, musicians are having to adapt to a whole new landscape. According to Maia, bedroom pop is the perfect place to be for this.

"Music has been something that's historically always been so gate-kept, making people feel like it's this invisible entity that exists behind glass doors you can't open and won't be able to touch. Bedroom pop has just broken that down and made it feel like anybody can do that. I truly do believe anybody can, and that's a wonderful thing."

"If I'm going through something, the odds of somebody else going through the exact same thing is actually pretty high"

While the bedroom pop revolution truly is a wonderful thing, there is also a flip side to being at the forefront of an attack on the industry at large, and for Maia, that's juggling being a role model and a teenager at the same time. Having lived her own Hannah Montana moment for months, hiding her life as a viral sensation away from her parents, coming out to her parents about her adventures in songwriting has sparked a period of adjustment following her rise from 1000 followers to 200,000 followers almost overnight.

"It's been really weird. I never expected any of this to happen, so for me to adjust to it, it's definitely taken me a while when it's happened in such a short space of time. I deleted my first Twitter account because I got to 1000 followers and I felt like that was way too many people, and yet now I have 5 million monthly listeners on Spotify and 200 thousand followers on Twitter, so I do have to distance myself otherwise I just freak out over all these people paying active attention to me.

"It's been a process of grounding myself with my real-life day to day and being around my family more often, and taking those interpersonal interactions more seriously, and trying to find value in those interactions. Not allowing myself to be lost in a virtual space all of the time."

While growing up on the internet is far more fact than fiction in these technological times, Maia has found great comfort in interacting both online and offline with her community of fans and friends to navigate what for many would be a quarter-life identity crisis. Building on the beauty of bedroom pop's DIY attitude, Maia has blossomed by developing a family of fans to grow with.

"I want to make it very evident that heck, I am a teenager, I barely understand what I am and who I am, and we're all figuring this out together alongside each other. Having that community relationship and that community feel with my audience has been far easier to approach. It helps me get accustomed to it, I don't feel so distanced from them, and I do feel like there is a space to be honest and vulnerable with them."

Being vulnerable bleeds through the beauty of the lo-fi dream-pop soundscapes that wash over you like a summer day's breeze on this year's 'Dawn' EP, and likely to follow on its counterpart 'Dusk'. Gratitude and humbleness come naturally to Maia, but opening up the darker depths of her mind to the world is something she's had to get to grips with in quicksmart. It's an experience she's constantly evolving with, navigating her own narratives with the knowledge of it doing good for the listeners offline.

"It's harder at some points when the truth is a little too raw still, or I'm experiencing something still in my real life and putting out a song that deals with that directly, because people are going to get that window into what's happening with me. What's helped me in navigating and finally feeling 100% comfortable with sharing stuff is just knowing that if I'm going through something, the odds of somebody else going through the exact same thing is actually pretty high. We're all human, and we're all going through very similar experiences and stories. If I can put a song out there that resonates with at least one person, it's worth it to be in the world, and that's helped me navigate my experience.

"As much as it helps the people listening to the songs and to my story, it helps me to know I'm not the only person going through it as well. It's a symbiotic mutual relationship where we lean on each other."

The concept of leaning on one another, whether that's face-to-face post-gig interactions or online experiences, is something Maia has always been passionate about and has been at the very root of the mxmtoon flower that continues to grow. In fact, it's somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"I'm personally very passionate about talking about issues that people face, whether that be race, sexuality, mental health, or gender. I'm really passionate about it, and because I'm privileged to have a platform, I can use that platform to hopefully spread information and stories and lift other peoples voices up alongside my own journey and my own explanation.

"I always knew if I ever did come across the opportunity to have an audience who are listening to me, I would hopefully use the space to encourage other people to have open and honest dialogues about the stuff they face their lives. That's something individually inspired and personally fought for by me."

"I'm very passionate about talking about issues that people face, whether that be race, sexuality, mental health, or gender"

While the lyrical content has remained the same, the songs themselves and the way they've been fabricated has changed tenfold in the two years separating Maia's debut EP 'plum blossom' and this year's 'dawn' and 'dusk'. Having gone from gathering all of the puzzle pieces up in the back of her bedroom to putting pen to paper in a room full of writers and producers from all walks of life has afforded Maia the opportunity to take her sound from its poetic ukulele heyday to something more akin of an up-in-the-clouds daydream, the kind you'd get on a 'Golden Hours'-era Kacey Musgraves outing. Funnily enough, both as a fan of Kacey Musgraves and as a musician finding herself in her own skin, this has been a development she's been dreaming of discovering.

"I think that it was something I've always wanted to do but didn't really know how to express until all of a sudden I had a song that sounded remotely similar to how I envisioned it to be in my mind. I'm definitely not a producer in any way, I'm a writer at my core, so I didn't have the vocabulary or understanding for what sort of production would be possible with my kind of music."

Possibility being the optimal word, Maia set off from her hometown of Oakland and landed in LA with nothing but her ukulele and her thoughts. Stepping into a room full of strangers to write a song about your life, being only 19 and used to recording strictly on a ukulele, is far more frightening than you may think, but was ultimately a learning curve key to the creation of 'dawn' and 'dusk'.

"It's really scary when you meet strangers in any format of life, and then you're supposed to write a song with them and talk about your life, which was only 18 years long and way shorter than anyone else in the room. It was very daunting for me, and I had a lot of self-doubt. I was always wondering if I was good enough to be in a room with other people who did this for their job, because even though I did this for my job, there was this underlying sense of not being good enough to be in this situation. I had to trust myself and be okay with not having answers and not knowing if I'm good enough.

"I had to just trust myself and step into those environments of being vulnerable, and I ended up really loving it. Being able to connect with people is something I've always loved as an individual. To go into a session room where you talk about your life and hear all these stories from other people, that alone is one of my favourite reasons for sessions; the whole having a conversation with someone."

Channelling your vulnerability and self-doubt into something creative and connective has always been at the core of what makes Maia, Maia. Creativity is a coping mechanism unlike any other, where Maia escapes from the trials and tribulations of being a teenager to a world she creates, whether that be by reading stories on streaming sites, writing graphic novels, or selling her own soap and tie-dye t-shirt sets. It's through her creativity and the dynamicity of her project as Mxmtoon that she packages the primary purpose of her entire project as Mxmtoon: to help people feel both inspired and understood, to help them relate.

"Creativity is so important for us as people on a base level to be able to artistically express ourselves whether that's through music or tie-dye or drawing or heck, I don't know, writing in general. Whatever it may be. Especially in times like these where we're sat at home all day, trying to figure out what to do with our time and how to pass it and to keep ourselves satisfied and happy and healthy, creativity is something that feeds us all as individuals.

"If I can have a project that inspires other people to do small things like doodle, or be inspired to do something artistic, that's really important to me. That's the stuff that helped me in the darkest moments of my life when I was navigating my mental health, and it still does to this day, that's why I write music - helping people to understand something bad can be something good for you."

Having spent a lot of time persevering with pessimism, Maia found accepting and embracing optimism into her life as something more than just the sum of its parts. Moving on from the melancholy of 2019's 'the masquerade,' 'dawn' and 'dusk' are purposely designed to be filled to the brim with positivity mental attitude. It's something, that ultimately, is the mission statement for Maia as she rides the bedroom pop wave in her own unique way.

"With 'dawn' and 'dusk', I hope to inspire people to think optimistically and to look forward to the future regardless of whatever strife or sadness they may experience. Something I was really focused on when I was in the writing process was reminding myself that no matter how dark days may seem, the sun will still rise the next day. Things will still continue, even when things feel very static and stationary. That's ended up being really important with where we are in the world right now where we don't have answers for what's going to happen, and we can acknowledge things are really hard but that it's still important for us to remain positive and to look forward to the future despite its present."

Taken from the July issue of Dork. mxmtoon's EP 'dawn' is out now; 'dusk' is out soon.

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