When Maia aka mxmtoon begun writing music, she was a typical Californian teen posting homemade content to Instagram, YouTube and TikTok – she was just 16. Fast forward four whirlwind years and she has come across newly-found fame that stretches across the globe. Speaking with Maia on Zoom, I mentioned my 17-year-old brother, a die hard fan of hers from a small corner of Australia, which she responded with a sense of ecstatic speechlessness. You quickly understand how much she appreciates each one of her listeners, all five million of them on Spotify. It’s the classic social media tale that has been associated with the likes of Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes, but for the now 19-year-old, her journey has just started.
Creating strokes of genius from her collection of ukuleles, she has just released her next EP dawn, a curation of light-hearted pop tracks, injected with just a touch of teen angst. Be it her relatable lyrics or approachable playfulness online, she ushers in a new, exciting career chapter. And we’re following along.
In our respective bedrooms across the planet, GRAZIA speaks with mxmtoon on social media, fear of fame and honesty.
GRAZIA: When did you find your love for music?
Maia: “I’ve had music involved in my life for as long as I can remember. My mum signed my brother and I up for violin lessons when we were both five and six years-old so I’ve been playing music for a really long time, but I really learnt to love it and play it on my own when I was 13. It took me a little bit longer to actually enjoy it – it felt more like an obligation – I had to do it because Mum told me to.”
GRAZIA: What was your attraction to the ukulele in the beginning?
M: “I had to play it for school, so it was mandatory that I learnt it in the first place. But I really liked it because it made it accessible for me to play all of my favourite songs, doing covers and learning different chords. It was so much easier.”
GRAZIA: Did you ever think that you would garner such fame, at such a young age?
M: “Not at all. I never thought this was going to happen. I was applying to universities at the end of high school and I was going to go for architecture. I applied, I got in and rejected to a bunch of places, I was totally set on going that way. I decided two weeks before decisions that were due, I thought, I’m going to take a year off and focus on music and see where that goes because I feel there was an opportunity here.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would become the world that it is now.”
It’s so cool… With music I never dared to think of the possibility of having it be my job because it felt like such a far-off dream.”
GRAZIA: Were your parents on board with the decision?
M: I’m really lucky both of my parents are super supportive of everything that I do with my music. But they’re both teachers too, so for me to make a decision that I didn’t want to go to uni right away, they said, ‘What? Uh ok? I guess so?’. They didn’t really know a whole lot about my music world at that point. It was something that was really new to all of us.”
GRAZIA: Your track ‘Prom Dress’ reveals a fear of isolation because of this worldwide popularity. Would you change anything?
M: “I definitely did feel isolated from my peers. In many ways I was trying to fulfil other people’s expectation of me without really asking myself what I wanted out of the experience and that is still something I’m trying to do – how to live my life on the basis of what I want to do as an individual and not for the sake of other people. If there was something I could tell my high school-self, it would be, don’t be afraid to take opportunities just because you want to, and not because other people think that you should.”
GRAZIA: Can you pinpoint that big-break moment? When you thought, ‘I could do this for a living’?
M: “I think it was my first headline show in January of 2019 so it took a while for me to feel like I was doing it for my job. I played my first headline show in Los Angeles, it was a 250-person capacity room and it sold out. People were singing along to all of my lyrics and when you make music on the internet, everything feels distant – you don’t make the connection that there are real people behind the screen. I stopped midway through one of my songs and said, ‘I’m sorry, I just have to say that this is really cool. I can’t believe you’re real people.’ “
GRAZIA: What has been your biggest lesson over the past few years?
M: “Don’t be afraid of stupid ideas. There is this whole fear of feeling like it’s not artistic enough or perhaps it isn’t complex enough in a lyrical standard. For me to let go of this idea that I have to make music to be a certain way has helped me become a better musician because I’m not afraid of making mistakes with my work.”
GRAZIA: In a past interview your father revealed that he would always warn you about the dangers of the internet. Did that influence what you shared with fans?
M: “Absolutely. I’m still really cautious about how I carry myself on the internet and personal information I still keep withheld. I don’t use my last name in interviews because I try to make sure I’m just ‘Maia’.
“I have the belief that I signed up for this life of being online but my family did not…”
My parents didn’t know that I was making music and being online for a really long time before all of a sudden, I had no choice but to tell them. I pride myself on how open and honest I am with my audience on different levels of who I am as a person but I still keep parts of my life for myself.”
GRAZIA: Millennials are always criticised by older generations. What would you tell those people who believe that millennials are self-obsessed and lazy?
M: “I would say it is just different world views. I don’t know how hard they had to work growing up, I can only guess and hear from their stories but they can only guess and hear from our stories. And navigating art, it’s a different kind of work, and unfamiliar things scare people sometimes… but I’m not going to place myself in a position to judge other people.”
GRAZIA: How has your music in this next EP evolved since your very first releases back in 2017?
M: “This EP is the first time I tried to do session work with other artists. I worked with a producer on my last album but everything was written by me and this time around I did co-writing and co-producing with other people. That was a really fun experience and something I’ve never done before. I would describe it as being my first ‘big girl’ EP… I listen to this EP and I think wow, I really made this!”
GRAZIA: How are you staying inspired and creative during lockdown?
M: “I try and do a creative thing every single day and even when I don’t want to and I just want to sit there and play Animal Crossing or never look outside in the world or listen to the news, I try and do something that makes my brain not [turn to] mush the next day. Whether that is writing a song, or drawing, or painting, or streaming for people, just doing something that feels like I’m using my brain is really helpful. Trying to exercise the muscles creatively that I have and have worked on for the last however many months and years and not lose those has been my way of keeping sane.”
GRAZIA: What do you want people to take from your music?
M: “With this EP, I would really like people to listen to it and hopefully feel like whatever they’re going through has been validated. Even when you feel really still, things will still move and sometimes that’s scary but sometimes there should be comfort knowing that the world will still move on. I had no idea the world was going to be in quarantine when I was going to release my EP but hopefully this will be a message for people as they’re sitting at home trying to think about the uncertainty where we are right now as a population and as humans and still feel ok at the end of the day.”
GRAZIA: Lastly, what do you hope to achieve in the next 5 years?
M: “No one really asks me that. My goals for myself are a lot smaller for myself then people probably imagine. I’m really happy with where I am now, it’s much greater than I ever thought I would ever get to experience as a person. And so, my goals for me right now, I would really like to have a herb garden and adopt a cat. I don’t really have anything else set out for myself beyond that. Whatever comes, I will take it and navigate it.”
Mxmtoon’s new EP ‘dawn’ is out now. For more from the artist, visit here.