Mxmtoon is letting her music speak for itself. Literally and figuratively. Ahead of the release of her second album, Rising, she is protecting her delicate, soft-tinged voice while on tour. But even if you’ve never spoken with her, you feel a connection with her by listening to her music.
Each track from Rising feels like a scene from the coming-of-age film that is the 21-year-old singer and instrumentalist’s life. From the introspective “Mona Lisa,” to the poignant “Victim Of Nostalgia,” to the bittersweet “Sad Disco,” and the appropriately-titled closing track, “Coming Of Age,” the album, largely recorded by Mxmtoon in the guestroom of her parents’ Oakland home, shares anecdotes of loss, grief, self-actualization, and queer joy.
Having first built a following online by drawing cartoons on Instagram, then diving into music by sharing covers on YouTube, Mxmtoon’s music has evolved alongside these platforms, making her a voice of her generation. On the release week of Rising, we catch up with Mxmtoon (via email, of course. Gotta protect those vocals) to talk about the process of making the album and growing up in the age of the internet.
You first came to fame drawing cartoons, many for strangers, on Instagram. Do you still keep up with some of your OG followers?
I’m not sure if anyone from my early Instagram days still follows me. I was 11 then and only had 200 followers, so the odds are pretty low! I do keep up with listeners that started following me around 2017/2018 though.
How did you feel when you first went viral for your music?
It was honestly really scary. It’s terrifying when someone becomes so much bigger than you ever imagine, especially when you’re just a teenager. I felt so vulnerable having millions of people critiquing, complementing, or criticizing me for art I had just made in my own bedroom when I was 17. It was simultaneously very exciting and also scary.
Who would you say have been good mentors to you in music?
My middle school music teacher for sure. Teachers have always had some of the largest impact on me growing up, and my music teacher was no exception. He taught me the basics of ukulele and songwriting, and witnessing his genuine love and enthusiasm for making music was so inspiring to me when I was learning how to make my own.
Other than music and drawing, what would you say is beneficial to your mental health?
I love movies. I think I’m fascinated by storytelling in all forms, and TV or movies are a huge way that I understand the world. If I didn’t end up in music, I think I may have tried to do something in that field instead. I find myself rewatching shows I love when I’m anxious, taking myself to a movie when I’m struggling to motivate, and recommending shows or films to people I love constantly.
So, what shows are you currently streaming?
I loved Severance on Apple TV+, and I’ve been rewatching Community on Netflix. Both are so good!
Tell us about your writing process for Rising. How did it differ from that of your previous projects?
I think I really focused on making music that I loved first and foremost. In the past, I’ve been very conscious of not wanting to shock or disappoint my audience by trying something new. I feel like I’m at a place in my life now that I have enough confidence to prioritize my own creative curiosity, and I definitely did that with Rising.
I really love “Mona Lisa.” It’s a very raw, personal track. How did it come together?
It came together very naturally! I had the idea of wanting to make a song that could reference a bunch of famous artists and their art, and I took it and ran. I worked alongside producer Pom Pom and artist Rosie to make “Mona Lisa,” and we wanted it to be a power anthem for young women to see the power of self-love.
I think “Sad Disco” is a great song too. I feel a lot of people throw “Sad Discos” for themselves, but don’t really talk about them. What compelled you to bring these feelings to life in the form of a song?
I completely agree with you. Solo dance parties are probably one of the most common human occurrences that we may not talk about openly, but we all know and love them. I have always really enjoyed making music about seemingly mundane and private moments from my own life and shining light onto them. “Sad Disco” is about those midnight dance parties you have in your own room, with your headphones on, and your imagination making everything around you feel like a movie.
Which song on Rising was the toughest to write?
“Haze” for sure. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was writing about when I first made it, and usually I like having a very concrete idea and sentiment that I can solidify through lyrics. It was hard for me to find the core message in “Haze” when it was in its early stages, but I came to realize that uncertainty is really what the song is about. It’s about being lost, being unsure, and feeling foggy about who you are and who you will become.
You’re very well-versed in technology. The internet has been very instrumental in helping you build your following and fanbase. Does maintaining a constant online presence ever get exhausting?
Absolutely. I find myself burning out quite often when I’m constantly online every waking second of my day. Being online is something that is really positive for me but also has the potential of becoming too much! It’s like eating a piece of candy versus an entire bag. In moderation it’s great, but if you overload, that’s when it gets bad.
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed by the internet and social media?
I try to step away for a while and focus my interactions on being with people in my physical day-to-day. I spend time with my partner, I watch movies with my friends, and I play video games with my brother. Having people that keep you grounded in your sense of self is really important.
What would you say is the most pressing issue independent artists are facing right now?
I definitely feel like there should be better tools for independent artists to advocate for support on DSPs! Things like editorial playlisting can be so much harder to achieve without the proper tools or team support, and even harder when you aren’t signed to a label. There are many things that can improve for independent artists, but leveling the playing field on DSPs for people who are working independently is definitely a start.
Rising is out 5/20 via AWAL. Stream it here.