INTERVIEW: mxmtoon

With the release of her sophomore album ‘rising’, mxmtoon is walking into adulthood as she says goodbye to her coming of age era. This record is her way of re-introducing herself to listeners after two years of not being able to tour, and being able to take time to really think about what she wants her legacy to be. Leading up to this moment the Californian singer-songwriter has found her identity to be the “bedroom ukulele singer”, and she wants to break free of that and show people the complexity of her artistry through pop music. She especially wants to give representation as a queer woman of colour, and be that artist she wished she had while growing up. 

So here she is singing her truth through a colourful kaleidoscope of sounds that pays homage to the pop music she grew up listening to. Soaked in a palette inspired by the likes of Lily Allen and Carly Rae Jepsen, she gives listeners a carefree element that is so freeing and will take you back to your bedroom singing into your hairbrush, or for me it was my cd player remote as it seemd for realistic – I digress-.

I recently chatted to Mxmtoon about the nostalgic pop aesthetic behind her new album ‘rising’, explored how this record closes the chapter on her coming of age era, and discussed how some of these songs play as siblings to old songs of hers. Check it out BELOW:

THOMAS BLEACH: Your new album ‘rising’ is an explorative pop record that takes the foundations of ‘dawn & dusk’ and ‘the masquerade’ and hears you adding so many layers to your pop sound. What was the biggest turning point for you artistically following the last project that made you realise you wanted to be a bit more expansive with your sound on this next album? 

MXMTOON: I think it really came about during quarantine. We were all stuck inside for ages, and I was leaning a lot on the music I grew up listening to when I was like six years old on my Hello Kitty radio in my childhood bedroom. It was things like ABBA and Hairspray The Musical that were constantly on repeat. During quarantine there was a piece of me that was trying to think about this next album and what sound I was going to bring to the table. It was very difficult coming off ‘dawn & dusk’ and figuring out how I could keep pushing myself to make something that feels like it’s different but still rooted in the things I’ve made previously like ‘the masquerade’. But I realised I just needed to be really selfish with this project and make music that I want to listen to. 

This album is based off the music I listened to at five and six years old because I think that is the point where we as humans understand our fundamental love for something for the very first time. That was the time I remember falling in love with music, and falling in love with dancing around my room to sounds I loved and lyrics I didn’t quite understand yet. My goal with this project was to make music that would make that version of me proud and excited. So a lot of these tracks are super poppy and fun as that is the sort of music I loved listening to. I tested the album out with my seven year old cousin Mona to see what she thinks of this record and she loves it and dances to it all the time, so I think I did a good job *laughs*. 

TB: I love that you said that because one of the things I wanted to talk to you about was how this record reminded me of all of the incredible pop albums I grew up with and pictured these vivid worlds inside. What was one of those influential albums for you growing up? 

M: I was not much of an album person growing up. It’s only now in my twenties and through collecting vinyls where I understand the beauty of a project and everything that comes together. But I think I really understood things from a singles perspective, especially because I grew up in the age of DSP’s and playlisting. So there are a lot of songs I would look to and bring in like ‘Fuck You’ by Lily Allen, which I think is such a fun song and made me question why we don’t hear more songs like that now. And ‘Smile’ by Lily Allen was actually the song I brought in to reference for ‘frown’. There are these moments where I have these songs I listened to while growing up, and I remember a very pivotal experience of listening to them for the very first time and wondering how I can recreate that feeling and make it my own. 

TB: Well when I listened to ‘frown’ and ‘haze’ for the first time they sonically reminded me of early Lily Allen. Did those two songs have similar references? 

M: They did not actually! ‘frown’ was very much inspired by Lily Allen specifically with the satirical style she has both lyrically and production wise. It’s hard to emulate something that feels so fun but also so cynical too. 

With ‘haze’ it was honestly a day six session song, and my head was so fried that I just wished I could disappear off this plane of existence. So that is what this song was born out of. 

TB: Going back to what you said before about making the album you wish your younger self could listen to. As a queer woman of colour, I feel like ‘Rising’ would especially feel like the album you wish you had in your childhood in terms of representation?

M: I have two cousins and they are ten and seven, and are Indian and Chinese, and they remind me so much of myself when I was growing up. I think about the landscape they get to grow up in compared to the landscape I grew up in, and I am so thankful that I’m in this privilege of being able to make music, videos, and content that gets to represent me and my culture and allow others to see pieces of themselves in pop culture, as that was something I didn’t have. Like I listened to ABBA growing up. I love ABBA, but they are a bunch of white people, and I didn’t necessarily understand a group of Swedish white people as a six year old mixed raced kid. So I’m really thankful that I get this opportunity now to re-write my own narrative and create something that can heal a little bit of the younger version of myself. 

TB: ‘coming of age’ is one of the special songs on the record, and immediately stands out with the freeing emotions that are attached. Can you explain the creative process behind this track? 

M: To me, the best way to describe this album is that it’s kind of campy. Specifically with this song the references started off with ‘Everything Is Awesome’ from The Lego Movie. It’s such a instantly catchy song, so that was the reference to build it around. It was really important for me to tie in this theme that revolves around the album of being scared to grow up and finding my voice. I also think it was important for me to note that I started my music journey at 17 years old online, and I am now 21. It’s been four years and I can’t claim to be a relatable teenager anymore as I am growing up. I had to reflect on how I could address this change with my audience and make them understand that I’m just me, and am stepping into this new era of my life which is a bit different, but it’s still the same. But I did think it was important to stress that I am growing up, and to give me the opportunity to expand upon myself and music, which is why that song also wraps up the whole album. It’s like a little bow on top of the present at the end of it. 

TB: As you said it does act as the final song on the album, and one of the lyrics in the chorus is; “Let the curtains close, this ain’t a coming of age anymore. So let the credits roll”. Do you feel like it does close your “coming of age” moment for you personally, and in some way feels like a rebirth into adulthood? 

M: I think in ways it does. I think it ends the teenage chapter of my life. I think there were moments where I felt really stuck in the identity of being painted as the 18 year old ukulele girl. I still live in my bedroom with a ukulele, and I am still a girl, but there are so many parts of me that I’ve discovered over the past couple of years. I am 22 this year, and am fully cementing myself in my twenties. I am still growing up and I am still coming of age in certain ways, but I’ve realised that I’m not mad anymore, so I had to look at how I could age myself up a little bit more so I can still grow but not be stunted. 

TB: All of these songs have very visual identities sonically and lyrically. Are there any songs on the album that you think of as siblings thematically? 

M: A lot of the record feels like answers or conversations with my freshman album ‘the masquerade’. There are themes that intertwine each other and feel like they are synonymous, but also different. When ‘sad disco’ was released it kinda felt like the older sister to ‘Prom Dress’ as I was writing about the same sort of experience from a different viewpoint. I also think ‘frown’ is a song I wish I could’ve made when I made ‘seasonal depression’ on the first record. And then on the album I think ‘haze’ and ‘scales’ kind of sit together as these two songs that are sisters, as well as ‘coming of age’ and ‘victim of nostalgia’ that are very rooted in the visual identity of a movie soundtrack. 

TB: Aesthetically, ‘sad disco’ sets the tone for this album as it really does feel like the perfect album to put on a dance while having a little cry. Where are you currently sitting with your emotions surrounding this record and what it now means to you? 

M: I’ve been so lucky to have this album as my baby for the past year while working on it. But obviously the album is about to come out, and I’m about to kick off the tour, and I am terrified. It’s been two years since I hit the road, but I am so excited as I think songs are so different when they have an identity that exists in a live space too. 

TB: With songs like ‘dance (end of the world), ‘coming of age’ and ‘sad disco’, where is the live show going to sit now as there is a whole different tempo added? 

M: I’m a little nervous for my stamina *laughs*. I’m not an active person, so I’m going to be exhausted performing these songs every night. But I think the live show is a great ark of everything I’ve done with songs from my ‘plum blossom’ EP, and then it goes into songs from ‘the masquerade’, ‘dawn & dusk’ and ‘rising’ as well. I think it’s a really nice universe of mxmtoon, that even has a small acoustic set in the middle of it. There are a lot of moments that will feel very familiar, even if there are moments that feel less familiar. At the end of it I just want people to be excited to be together. 

TB: You will be touring Australia for the first time in October. So what is on your vision board of what to expect from your time down under? 

M: I know the bugs are a lot bigger there, so I’m a little nervous *laughs*. I’ve never been to Australia, so as someone that was nearly going to be an architecture major at university, I’m excited to see these buildings in person that I studied in high school. I’ve also just spent a lot of time interacting with Australian fans on Twitter and Instagram, so I’m excited to meet everyone. 

TB: Let’s play a quick game of rapid fire questions about ‘Rising’. Are you ready? 

M: Yeah, let’s do it!

TB: The emoji that best describes my new album ‘Rising is’…

M: The disco ball. 

TB: The song that went through the most versions to get it to where it is now on the album would be…

M: ‘Victim Of Nostalgia’. We wrapped it up very close to the album due date *laughs*.

TB: The song that nearly didn’t make the album was… 

M: ‘haze’ nearly didn’t make it. I wasn’t sold on it, and we had to do a couple of re-writes, but I’m really happy with it now. 

TB: The song I’m most looking forward to performing live would be…

M: ‘coming of age’!

TB: Another name for the album I was playing with was…

M: ‘ascendant’! I wanted to do something that was similar, but ascendant is so hard to spell and say, so ‘rising’ was easier and had less syllables *laughs*. 

TB: The first song from the album I’d want you to play to your friends if they hadn’t heard of me before would be…

M: I think ‘dizzy’. That’s a very classic mxmtoon lyrical leaning song with some of the new bells and whistles. 

‘Rising’ is out now!

Mxmtoon Australian Tour

Tuesday 4 October – Recital Centre, Melbourne

Thursday 6 October – Metro Theatre, Sydney

Sunday 9 October – Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane