Today we have an incredibly special Spotlight – mxmtoon. mxmtoon is the Gen-Z wunderkind taking the internet by storm. If you do not know her music, you might have seen her on Tik Tok, Twitch, Instagram. You maybe even checked out her Podcast. She has even had a New York Times article written about her. All that, and she is bringing Asian-American and queer representation to the fight. I am so incredibly pleased to introduce mxmtoon.
What was it like being raised in Oakland? The city boasts a massive alum of musicians, artists, etc. For readers unfamiliar, tell us about the scene in Oakland.
It was really amazing to grow up in such a multicultural city. Oakland is really similar with the vibes of San Francisco, but I would say even more down to earth. The area I grew up in was a neighbourhood with a lot of families from a ton of different backgrounds. The heartbeat of the city is because of its history with the arts, and the continuation of placing emphasis on different things like music, murals, and more.
Your parents are educators, and you initially wanted to be a teacher pre-fame. How do you think their vocation helped shape your world beliefs, and do you ever see yourself returning to a teaching role down the line, maybe at an art school or college?
I have an immense amount of respect for the teachers I’ve had over the years growing up, and I still think about how amazing it would be to go back and try and aim to eventually become a teacher myself. I think having two educators as my parents really inspired my outlook on life and helped me to also use the platform I now have with music to try and do my best to inspire others to stay educated and curious about the world around them.
You have openly talked about being hapa, which alongside folks like Chester Lockhart, Sarah Wittle, have really opened a discourse. For yourself what is it like walking in 2 different worlds, and what was it like growing up?
I was buffered thanks to the surroundings of growing up in a place like Oakland. I didn’t feel really out of place until I moved schools in fifth grade to a predominantly white student body. Also, I was really lucky to be raised in a household and taught in schools though that gave me the vocabulary to talk about issues of race and explain my own identity as well. Yet, it obviously is still tricky trying to navigate two separate worlds, and it’s been a long process of coming to terms with knowing that my own experience will never be the same as someone else.
You got started playing music in high school band, infamously to a “Jimmy Eat World” track, but now you’re more lo-fi meets twee. What are some musical inspirations whether currently or as a child that influenced you?
I love Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, and have been listening to him literally since the day I was born. Bon Iver is also obviously a big enough inspiration that I wrote a song after the project, and people like Rex Orange County and Maggie Rogers stand as some of my biggest current inspirations.
What was the conversation and train of thought that led you to transition away from cello to the ukulele?
I made the excuse when I was 13. I would be too busy to continue taking lessons for the cello because I was going into high school… that was a lie. In reality, the structure of classical music wasn’t something I fully enjoyed. I wanted to just focus on playing an instrument I liked for fun. The ukulele was the exact opposite of the cello in that way. All it took to play the uke was learning around 4 chords so you could play and sing your favorite songs.
You have millions of followers on TikTok as well as a podcaster, and recently have added being a twitch streamer to your already heavily padded resume. I love that each social media conduit reveals a slightly different facet of your personality, is that intentional to your personal branding?
I think it’s something I tend to naturally! As a person there are copious amounts of things that interest me and I think I have the immense privilege to be able to expand upon each of them thanks to my platform. I love that music is my main focus, but I also love being able to be a whole person and not just a fragment of who I am.
So I am a huge fan of your album Dawn. I am obsessed with “almost home” in particular, really gives me “Belle and Sebastien” vibes. Tell us a bit about the album, it’s conception, composing the music, and what it means to you.
I’m so glad you like it! It’s my favorite too. As someone who is known for making sad music, it felt like a personal challenge to make an EP that took a more optimistic route. dawn was born out of the challenge, and really pushed me as a writer to try and write about topics I hadn’t attempted before. In turn, I think it really lent itself to making the creation of dusk even more impactful later.
I have seen a rumor floating around. There was a bit of an issue with “prom dress” and the powers that be not wanting to promote it. Care to expand on what happened, and how it made you feel?
I had a little… kerfuffle with a Trump supporter on TikTok who had used my song to promote their political agenda. I would probably be defined as a raging leftist by trump supporters, and am to this day still bombarded with snowflake comments, but I do not agree with music that is made by an outspoken queer woman of color being used to promote the agenda of a bigoted man! I am happy for anyone of any background to enjoy my songs, but the moment that they are used to hold up and support someone who directly opposes the foundation of my being and that of my audience, I cannot be happy with that.
Your new album, dusk just dropped on October 1st. If the teaser track with Canadian sweetheart Carly Rae Jepsen is anything, this album is going to be huge. Can you tell us a bit about working on it, and how you approached it differently?
Honestly I think the biggest change was letting the producers I worked with getting to run a bit wild with what they felt would be nice on the various tracks. At the end of it all though, I think that they really managed to help me keep my core of who I am as “mxmtoon” while elevating the production. I love dusk because I can still see my origins reflected, while making it obvious that I’ve managed to grow more since I started.
“Ok on your Own” as mentioned before features Carly Rae Jepsen. To say it is hauntingly beautiful, is an understatement. How did you 2 connect? What was it like working together?
Our teams connected with each other after my team mentioned Carly would sound amazing on the track! It was incredible to work with her. She’s an established artist, it was intimidating to think about interacting with her, but she is the sweetest person ever. Carly is incredibly easy to work with, and when she was asking about cutting vocals I really just let her do whatever she felt was best! It ended up sounding incredible.
Last week we celebrated bisexual awareness day. As a gay man myself, it makes me so proud to see folks younger than me embracing their identities. As someone openly bisexual, what does it mean to you being part of the community? For your listeners and fans who may be struggling with bigotry, what are some words of encouragement?
It means so much that I’ve been able to cultivate a community that feels welcome to so many different people, especially in the LGBTQ community as well. My general message when I try to give people some semblance of hope in a world that can be very cruel to people who don’t fit the antiquated standards we have, is that is that the most important thing you can do when you find people who don’t accept you is search for those who will. So much of the queer experience is about found family and friends, and searching out communities that can lift you up rather than break you down. Sometimes that process may seem impossible, but we meet so many people in our lifetimes that the possibility you meet a few good ones are very high.
How did it feel having a New York Times article written about you? Was that your “I’ve made it” moment or was there something else that resonated with you?
So crazy! Definitely my “I’ve made it moment” largely because I think it was also an achievement a lot of my family members could understand!
You recently relocated, from Oakland to New York City. What were some of the difficulties or differences you find east coast vs west coast?
Honestly there’s not a whole lot that’s different! I moved to Brooklyn from Oakland because the two cities have very similar vibes, but the main difference for me is that public transportation. I cannot drive, so being in California can be a bit of a nightmare at times… but in NY I’m free to go anywhere!
Part of that relocation involved you and your brother being able to live and work more closely. How has he found being in the semi-spotlight whether in working alongside you, or being in Youtube videos?
He’s definitely very different from me and likes to go about his own life. I rarely put him in videos or content just to spare him the stresses of an internet presence. However, my audience really loves him. When he does go on something like a YouTube video it’s an exciting time. He’s a trooper, and I think it’s fun for him because it’s all in moderation.
You get compared to or at least placed in the same wheelhouse as Regina Spektor. Do you feel it more of an honor being compared to other musicians of that calibre? Or does it place undue pressure?
I can feel a little pressure sometimes but it’s mostly an honor! People like Regina Spektor are musicians I’ve been listening to for as long as I can remember. It’s really exciting that people seem to view me in a legitimate light! I struggle with feeling a bit out of place in the music industry coming from my background of the internet and such. It warms my heart when people see similarities between me and others who have such established careers.
Given the situation in the states currently, whether it be COVID, the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the election, how are you handling the stress of life?
Honestly, each day is very stressful, and I also have an immense amount of privilege. It’s difficult to wake up and just hope that another physical AND metaphorical fire doesn’t start somewhere in the world. The most we can do is try to take care of ourselves so we can keep fighting for others.
How do you stay grounded and avoid burnout?
Haha, I’ll let you know when I figure it out. Right now I kind of just operate with working a lot and then crashing for a few days… I’ll be trying to find something healthier soon though I hope.
Lastly, fans are dying to know. Are you and Velveeta cheese going to be official anytime soon?
Hahaha, I don’t think so. I love Velveeta, but I think my heart belongs to @axe
This Spotlight – mxmtoon is a wrap. Big thanks to Maia for taking time to answer all these questions.
Check out the new release Dusk out now!
Keep up with everything mxmtoon here
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