Creating Space To Grow: mxmtoon Interviewed

“You’re such a fraction of the person that you’re going to be when you’re older…”

“I certainly did not think I’d ever do curling when coming to London,” Maia grins, perched under a heat lamp outside the Coal Drops Yard pop-up. “But hey, first time for everything!” 

The trio of plastic lanes are lit up in neon and nestled beneath the fairy lights of the yard – a festive destination for tourists, corporate team building groups and, this evening, Californian soft-pop singers on a photo shoot. Maia – the 23-year-old behind mxmtoon – doesn’t have long to soak in the capital’s Christmas spirit, flying in for a few days around yesterday’s sold-out Omeara gig. Her shows are a chance to connect with fans in person, away from the internet where they’ve practically grown up together. “I’d be curious to know what my shows look like from an outside perspective,” she says. “My audience and I are the same person that share the same brain cell, so it’s a room full of people speaking in another language for an hour – occasionally with songs being sung in the middle of it!”

Such is their collective internet literacy that Maia’s on-stage reference to a  Josh Hutcherson ‘Whistle’ edit (think the ‘you got Krissed’ phenomenon, except it’s  Josh Hutcherson’s face over the opening bars of Flo Rida’s ‘Whistle’) earned a round of cackling laughter from the room last night. “I still can’t get him out of my brain,” she says now, shaking her head. “He’ll probably live inside it for the rest of my life.” 

In the spirit of Josh’s return to cinemas, a la Freddy Fazbear’s pizzeria, and the general air of nostalgia that’s been circulating recently, November saw Maia share a revisited version of her debut EP ‘plum blossom’. The original record, released in 2018, was penned when she and a lot of her audience were just seventeen – an age many people might not willingly return to. “There’s no escape from being cringe and having that naivety you’ll always have when you’re a teenager,” Maia laughs. “What I want people to experience when listening to these songs is to hold empathy for their younger selves.”

The regeneration of ‘plum blossom’ is fuller-bodied than its first outing, a testament to Maia’s growth as a writer. Watching fans receive the refreshed material has proved particularly rewarding; not only has she gone from writing songs in her bedroom to being a young woman at the helm of a captive audience, the EPs bookend a tumultuous five year period that, for many fans, has seen a radical change in their circumstances and mental health. “It creates a different meaning of hopefulness, nostalgia and comfort in a way that I never anticipated I would be able to experience,” Maia beams. “It’s interesting, starting when you’re a teenager, because you’re such a fraction of the person that you’re going to be when you’re older. Even now I’m just a fraction of who I will be when I’m older.”

Having that real life audience ready to hear her songs – rather than simply screaming into a void, as she used to feel about her songwriting – does come with its own challenges. “I find myself sometimes wishing I could go back into the seventeen-year-old mindset of shedding all of those expectations and allowing myself to write for the pure joy of it,” she confesses. ”I’ve been really lucky that my audience has been receptive to me trying anything and everything – thank God that they’re okay with it!”

The biggest shift in her writing, currently geared towards her next album, has been to start out on guitar; “I’m not trying to leave the ukulele in the dust!” she clarifies hurriedly. “But I’m certainly trying to expand what my repertoire is.” She’s also opted to write and produce this upcoming record – which charts the triumphs and trenches of navigating her early twenties – with an entirely female team. “When you’re making songs about experiences that largely relate to girlhood or womanhood it’s really nice to do that alongside people who understand innately what that is like,” she grins. “It’s been really refreshing.”

The album will, Maia hopes, also incorporate the folk influences she’s never quite managed to build into her sound. As fate would sadly have it we’re unable to discuss the true oracle of musical inspiration; our rendezvous at Kings Cross happens to fall less than 24 hours shy of Spotify Wrapped rearing its head. (Maia expects Jungle, Arlo Parks, and Ricky Montgomery to show up in her top five artists. Jungle was her only true prediction; they were joined by Britney Spears, NewJeans, Rihanna and Lady Gaga). “Last year I was on my own Spotify Wrapped, and that was mortifying,” she admits. “It was because my music was royalty free on Twitch, so I would play it in the background of streams. I remember blacking out my name because I was too embarrassed to admit that I was number four!”

Happily, she’s never needed to be her own cheerleader – her fans have always been there to do that for her.

‘plum blossom (revisited)’ is out now.

Words: Caitlin Chatterton
Photography: Rachel Lipsitz

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