Maia, aka mxmtoon, had the career come-up most teen musicians could only dream of. At 17, the Oakland-raised multi-hyphenate artist began releasing music from the privacy of her bedroom and quickly acquired an online fanbase drawn to her earnest yet witty lyricism and no-frills production. Her instrument of choice was a ukulele and she wasn’t above using common household objects (a hair straightener, for example) as a percussive tool. After uploading a stream of one-off singles to various social media platforms, mxmtoon’s debut EP, plum blossom, dropped. It garnered the attention of a broadening fan base with sold out tours and multi Platinum records, but also earned the stamp of approval from mainstream media outlets like The New York Times and NPR. Since then, mxmtoon’s output has been prolific. Last year, she released her sophomore LP, rising, which followed 2019’s the masquerade, all while maintaining a creative practice outside of music.
With another album on the horizon 2024, mxmtoon is poised to premiere plum blossom (revisited), a reconsideration of the early songs that propelled her to fame. While Maia is only 23, the amount of growth in the five years since plum blossom debuted is unmeasurable. She came out as queer, moved to Brooklyn, and experienced a year of familial tragedy. Her grandmother, a visual artist who has inspired Maia throughout her life and encouraged her music career, died of cancer. In the aftermath of enormous loss, and in the midst of another close family member’s illness, Maia found a sense of wholeness by reimagining the music that made her. “My mom really loves my early music, so in a sense, I did this for her as much as I did it for me,” Maia says.
She tapped Merrill Garbus (tUnE-yArDs) as co-producer, Maryam Qudus as engineer, and together they spent two weeks at Oakland’s Tiny Telephone Studios, where Maia was both overwhelmed by and delighted with the amount of gear she had at her disposal. “I chose to work with Merrill and Maryam because I could see myself shrinking back into the self-conscious person I was at 17 making the EP, and I knew I wouldn’t feel that way with them. I don't think it's anybody's dream to be listening to your 17 year old voice in front of other people,” Maia says.
Additionally, in the years since plum blossom came out, she’s rarely found herself in the studio with women, a circumstance that’s frustrated her to the point that she hopes to continue working exclusively with women and gender nonconforming producers on her next project, with mixing on this album from Laura Sisk and mastering by Idania Valencia. Garbus is a playful collaborator, and at one point, had Maia bang out a beat by slapping two books together, which wasn’t a far cry from the original techniques employed on plum blossom. “I wanted the production on this new version to be elevated, but I also didn’t want to lose the childlike sense of wonder that limited resources can produce,” Maia says.
Leveling up the promise of her 17 year-old self became the project, and in no place is that more obvious than on the remaking of “1-800-DATEME,” the first song mxmtoon ever released. In keeping with the old, the new maintains Maia’s charmingly self-deprecating interludes, but now she’s accompanied by rhythmic hand claps and vocal doubling that suggests she’s less lonely than she thinks she is. In the process of recording it, Maia chose to change the opening verse to better reflect her queer identity. “I wasn’t out of the closet yet when I wrote ‘1-800-DATEME,’” she says. She flipped the lyrics changing to “Girl after guy, crush after crush, never really figured it out with someone,” she sings, her voice gaining confidence as it goes. “I also had never actually been in a partnership when I wrote that song, or any of these songs, which definitely changes my relationship to them,” Maia says.
While Maia is quick to contextualize her 17-year-old self as inexperienced, certain lyrics, like the opening of “the idea of you,” beg the inverse. “I don’t know if I’m in love with you or the idea of loving you,” she sings, her soulful delivery bolstered by the sprightly ukulele, a piano, Glockenspiel, and drums. Throughout plum blossom (revisited), the spare, sometimes absent, production longtime fans are used to has been filled with a lush, dynamic palette, allowing them to fall in love with mxmtoon all over again. “My hope is that when people listen to these revisited versions, they think back on who they were five years ago, remember what hopes and dreams they might’ve had then, and pay attention to them. I think we can learn a lot from where we were as teenagers, in the most awkward point of our lives,” Maia says. “I was horrified at being 17, but now I’m in my early twenties and I look back on who I was and think: ‘yeah, she was really cringy, but she was also super fucking cool.’”