Californian teen Maia (also known as mxmtoon) might be the closest thing to an IRL Hannah Montana as we’re gonna get. After spending years making YouTube videos in her parents’ house in the middle of the night and hiding her blossoming musical career from her family and friends, a Hypebeast article pinning her as an up and comer alongside Clairo and Rex Orange County made her come clean. She’s since released an EP and a full-length album and is currently on tour around the States, which is where we happened to catch her.
Hello Maia! Where are you and what are you up to?
Right now I’m sitting somewhere in Colorado, I think outside of Denver, outside of a Starbucks because we’re on the road for tour and we’re driving to the next spot.
How’s tour treating you?
It’s definitely a new experience I’m adjusting to it, and travelling is also really new to me. But I’m having a lot of fun. It’s been cool to play different markets and see how the crowds are different and each time.
Is this your first tour?
This is my second tour, but it feels like my first one. The first one that I did was in March of this year, and it was literally just five days, or I think it was five days and it was over ten days. And that was it. This is over three months long, and there are over 27 different shows that I’m playing, so it feels like my first one. It’s a big step up.
Wonderful! First things first, how do we pronounce your stage name?
So it’s em ex em toon, which was created for an Instagram account that my dad helped me make, because I was a visual artist and I thought that was gonna be my claim to fame, as it is. So I was trying to think of a username for Instagram, and my dad said, ‘why don’t you just use your initials, and then you add ‘toon’ so it sounds like cartoon and it would basically be Maia’s cartoon’. And so that was my username, and I used it for everything including SoundCloud, so by the time that people started finding me on SoundCloud, it was just too late to change it. And now I have that story.
Ah yes, we thought it might be one of those names where the o’s are taken out, and x’s are put in.
Yeah right! It’s read as that a lot, so I’ve come to claim momtoon as well. But I’m definitely the mom friend.
When did you start uploading YouTube videos?
Oh my gosh, I started making YouTube videos when I was 12 actually, and it was with two or three of my other friends. And the account that I have now where I upload was originally an account that I shared with three of my friends, and we uploaded videos because we were all trying to become famous YouTubers, which obviously didn’t work. But yeah, we were making videos, and then that fizzled out, and I started making my own videos. Because I mean, I watched so many people on YouTube growing up, it made a lot of sense to me just to try and make my own content, and it’s just something that I’ve been doing ever since. So it’s been a while.
Amazing. Why did you choose to keep that a secret? Because you sort of hid it from your parents, right?
Yeah, I hid it from them. I think that, honestly, I don’t know, but I kept it a secret. I think I’m just scared that my mom would take it away from me to shut it down. And so, in my mind, the best thing that I could do was not tell her. I kept it a big old secret, and I would film in the back of my house, I recorded music and never tell them, and they just thought I was being creative and were fine with me doing that. But I think if I had told them early on, they probably would have like, you know, shut it down, and then none of this would have ever happened. So that was my fear.
Were you a musical kid?
I was! I played music from a young age. My mom forced me to play violin as early as six years old, and I was trained in classical music my whole life and then I just like, liked to play music on my own time too. But it wasn’t ever the cello or the violin, it was always guitar or singing, playing ukulele and eventually that I got lucky enough to have it be my job.
How did you settle on the ukulele?
I think I did it more out of necessity than anything else. I learned it when I was 12 or 13. And so, it was something that I understood and could play four chords because I was learning it at school. I would take it home on the weekends and try and fool around with it play some of my favourite songs, but I think the reason that I wrote music on it was because I could actually write on it. It wasn’t like a cello where you have to write like a sonata. I couldn’t compose any sort of classical piece that felt like it explained my trials and hardships of a teenager, but ukulele, it was like I could play four chords and that I could use rhyme zone and figure out lyrics and stuff that I felt like were accurate. So it was more accessible.
It’s also the quietest instrument you could have played in the middle of the night.
It’s true! It’s really quiet.
So when did you tell your parents that you were making music and putting it out there?
It’s coming up to two years ago, so it was pretty recent in the development, but I told them when I was put into a hypebeast article, and like, I woke up and saw that I was mentioned on my Twitter feed. I was in this article with a bunch of other artists that I listen to. I was like, freaking out because I was super excited, but mostly because, you know, it was hypebeast, and that’s a huge publication that everyone knows about. And someone was going to tell them before I was able to tell them what was going on. And so I decided in that moment that I needed to be honest. So I walked out to the kitchen I was like, Mom, Dad, I have a secret I have to tell you, and it was all over for me after that point.
You also came out as bi, was it more nerve-wracking to come out about your sexuality or your music?
I actually came out with my music, like six months after I had come out to my parents, but it was really funny cuz my mom always talks about that moment, like ‘you came out to me twice’. Honestly, I feel like it was the most lowkey thing you could ever tell a parent like ‘I write songs to express myself’ and my mum would be like, ‘oh you’re not going to parties and doing drugs okay that’s fine’.
You obviously have a lot of secrets. Is there anything that you can tell us right now that we don’t know about you?
Oh my goodness, about me? Okay, I actually remembered yesterday, because I was watching Harry Potter and then this war flashback came back to me because I played Quidditch when I was in middle school, and that is my secret.
How do you play that in real life?
You set up the hoop and everything, you have your keys, and you have your role, but you have to imagine a field of little tiny teenagers running around with like, fake brooms on the field of grass. It looks exactly like you’re imagining it. It looks horrifying. But that’s what I did. I did it every single day during lunch. It was so nerdy.
So you recently released your debut album too. How’s that been going?
It’s been really good. I’m so happy with how people are taking it because it’s such a gigantic leap away from kind of where I was with making music when it was just me and my ukulele. People have been really receptive to it. I’ve been really, really happy with the way people have been interacting with it.
And you’ve also been releasing the songs as acoustic versions as well.
Because it’s a produced album, we wanted to make sure that it wasn’t such a big leap away. Making acoustic versions felt like the right way to recognise where I was making music with my last EP and giving the people that really love those acoustic songs that I’ve made previously the other forms of the music that I want to make now.
You said that you wanted to be a cartoonist, is it you that draws all the album art?
I do! I do all the visual stuff for mxmtoon as it stands right now. I’m the visual artist as well as the musical.
What’s been your favourite part of this year?
My favourite part of this year has probably been I think touring the album. This is like the first tour I’m playing with the band on stage, and I feel like it’s really starting to turn into like a musical world that I’m excited to share with other people and being on the road and singing has been my favourite part so far.
And what can we expect from you in 2020?
2020? More music, obviously. I think bigger shows, more shows across the world, which is exciting. And yeah. I feel like it’ll be familiar but also exciting. So I think that’s the best way to describe it.
Taken from the December 2019 / January 2020 issue of Dork. mxmtoon tours the UK from 1st December.
Words: Abigail Firth