Is There Anything Rising Indie-Pop Star Mxmtoon Can’t Do?

In the beginning of September, a 20-year-old Bay Area native launched her own podcast. This is a tale as old as time in the San Francisco tech bubble, and for most people in their early twenties, undertaking a project like a podcast would be enough to keep them busy. But for Maia — aka musician and digital creative Mxmtoon — her new venture is just one of many undertakings she is currently pursuing. Though she plans to release a podcast episode every single day for the next year starting September 14, Maia will also release her second EP of the year on October 1, all while keeping up with her 750K+ Instagram followers, an audience of over 2 million on TikTok, and almost 400K on Twitter. If there’s any corner of the internet where Maia can’t command attention, it doesn’t exist yet.

These kinds of numbers are no small feat for an artist who has remained completely independent, and is interested in building her career from the ground up as an organic expression of her own life, not a polished representation someone else thought would sell records. The same perspective can be applied to her podcast, which is Maia’s take on a single moment from that day in history that she personally finds interesting. Dubbed 365 Days With Mxmtoon, the year-long podcast is a joint effort with The Talkhouse, a media platform built for artists to express themselves. Maia is a half-Chinese, half-white musician who self-describes in the intro to her podcast as a “singer, songwriter, dreamer, ukulele player… and a huge history nerd.” She also identifies as bisexual and is very open — not only about her own sexuality — but her liberal politics and voicing support for helping uplift the historically marginalized, including the Black Lives Matter movement. That history nerd identity, though, is what shows up the most in her podcast.

365 Days With Mxmtoon was born out of the fact that beyond just music, I really enjoy helping people learn about our world,” Maia explained when we spoke on the phone earlier this month about her plans for the fall. “It’s a podcast about what happened on specific days in history, exploring what else might’ve happened in the music industry, and also even going into my own life to help people have a greater sense of who I am as well. Hopefully it will encourage people to stay curious about the things that happened in the past that brings us to the present.”

Podcast aside, 2020 has been a huge year for Mxmtoon, who released her debut album, The Masquerade, just last year. Something of a mix between Imogen Heap’s heady, layered pop and Frankie Cosmos’ twee, tender songwriting, Mxmtoon’s early songs amassed the kind of devoted audience that will remain interested in an artist for their entire career. Following up an initial EP, Plum Blossoms, in 2018, Maia wasted no time putting out new music after her first full-length came out; earlier this year in April she released dawn, a seven-track EP designed to precede this fall’s follow-up EP, Dusk. Taken together, the two EPs function as a second album for the already-prolific young artist, who is still intent on experimenting with her sound, different collaborators, and various forms of self-expression.

“I’m excited for everyone to hear Dusk, and I really want to know the reaction because I think a lot of the songs are definitely different, even genre-wise,” she said. “There’s a lot of instrumentation that’s familiar but then also some sounds I haven’t quite gotten a chance to try until this EP. Merrill Garbus (of Tune-Yards) also produced a handful of songs on Dusk. She’s local to where I live, Oakland, California, so proximity-wise and sonically, it made sense to work with her. She’s just incredible and one of the kindest people I’ve ever come across when in the music industry.”

Aside from Garbus, another big indie-pop name appears as a guest on Dusk — none other than cult favorite Carly Rae Jepsen. She’s the only featured guest on the EP, and working with her for the track “Ok On Your Own” is what Maia calls “a crazy happening.” This pop collaboration recently followed up another of Dusk’s early singles, “Bon Iver,” a song that’s half yearning love song, half homage to the acclaimed songwriter-producer that is Justin Vernon.

“Working with Carly was a shot in the dark, she came up just because she’s such an influential singer and amazing advocate,” Maia said. “I’m such a huge fan of her, and it was amazing that she was open to it. I got to call her and I was like ‘you know what, you’re Carly Rae Jepsen, you can take it and run with it, just cut vocals however you want to.’ As for ‘Bon Iver,’ he’s so influential in the music industry and that project is something that’s been very inspirational to me.”

Though she started off writing songs on a ukulele alone in her parent’s guest room, in just a few years Mxmtoon has graduated to work alongside indie-pop powerhouses like Tune-Yards and Carly Rae Jepsen. As she continues to expand her creative field with more social media videos, new music, and the forthcoming podcast, her hope for music specifically is just to keep exploring her own side without settling or being put into any kind of box.

“I just released my first album last year, so coming off that I thought I would take a breather and see what other sounds I like for my project,” she said. “Giving myself the opportunity to make two EPs that were related to each other but could also stand alone as separate projects helped me open up avenues in terms of what kind of production and what sort of songwriting I wanted to do. I really wanted to give myself the opportunity to explore my sound a little bit more. It gave me a sense of freedom and relaxation to not have to make a flawless second album or anything.”

And while Dusk may not be a second album, it’s about as close to flawless as a pop EP released in 2020 has come. Look for it out very soon on October 1, and pre-order it here. Also keep an eye out for her new podcast, 365 Days With Mxmtoon beginning in just a few days on September 14.