With his wild blonde locks tamed under a blue beanie, singer-songwriter Briston Maroney paused for a moment after each question before flashing a knowing grin. Clearly spoken, yet somehow effortlessly lyrical, his responses were thoughtful and honest – windows into the indie/alternative artist’s mind.
“I have a really weird brain,” he said in an interview with The Harvard Crimson.
For all its unassuming charm, small comments like this are common. To call the Nashville-based artist humble would be an understatement. In fact, he seems genuinely convinced that being a musician is too good to be true – a dream he could wake up from at any moment.
“Every few days I’ll discover a new hobby or something that interests me and I’ll be like, ‘Oh great, so if the music inevitably fails tomorrow, I can just start selling sweaters,'” he said.
A storyteller at heart, Maroney makes his music personal. Each song paints a vivid picture of a unique moment, either real or imagined. Poignant lyrics are wrapped in unique alternative musicality.
Fans love the raw emotional power of his music, drawn to his signature sound and undeniable authenticity. Hearing Maroney’s music means being transported, whether it’s on a midnight drive on his 2018 single “Freakin’ Out On the Interstate” or in the middle of campus on his latest song “Harvard,” released Friday, October 14 .
Harvard is the perfect combination of Maroney’s alternative sensibility and lyrical storytelling. With the moody guitar riffs he perfected on tracks like “I’ve Been Waiting” and “Small Talk,” the instrumentation oscillates in tandem with the melody until it comes to the fore with each repeat of the chorus. His voice wafts in and out between the verses, he sings to “Evelyn” and laments in the chorus: “I know that there’s a window to your heart that I’m not see through / I just got to find a way in.”
The single, along with a song titled “Oregon,” forms half of a two-track release. Both serve to solidify Maroney as the voice for an entire generation. “I’m really inspired by college-age people who are brave enough to take a leap,” he said, speaking of the impetus for “Harvard” and some of his other songs. “This song really embodied the idea of false confidence and confidence without necessarily having the experience to back it up,” he said.
At 24, Maroney is just a few years older than the college-age kids who inspire him – close enough to recall the vivid emotions of late adolescence, but distant enough to reflect meaningfully on his experiences. However, his songs are not intended to provide sweeping insights into life. Maroney excels at taking listeners on a journey, asking the audience to feel without setting any expectations as to what those feelings or interpretations should be.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with just saying what happened,” he said of his politics of honesty in storytelling, a skill he’s developed throughout his life in music.
Maroney made his first foray into music at age 16 with a Top 30 stint on American Idol season 13, but it was the songwriting that really allowed him to develop his own voice as an artist. In the beginning he would spend hours playing chords on his guitar until something clicked. But now, instead of chasing the perfect tune, he said that “creativity is a lot more sporadic.”
Whether that means remembering little guitar riffs from sound checks or recording 20-second tunes, even small throwaway phrases in a conversation can become catalysts for creativity. “I try to be really open,” he said.
“There’s a 98 percent chance I’ll never use it,” he said, describing his process for noting those tiny moments, “but if something a few weeks after it’s just passed through the brain, always.” still hits emotionally, it’s usually there I start.”
He described the process of refining an idea as if it were a camera lens, moving in and out of focus, with changing themes and converging ideas. Of course, there’s always pressure to resonate with audiences, but Maroney’s ability to write what he remembers brings such palpable authenticity to the forefront of his music.
“When more people pay attention, it’s exciting, but I’m hoping this thing that feels like magic that I have no control over doesn’t just go away,” he said of the leap of faith he takes when a song finally is ready for the world to hear. In fact, he’s making several of those daring leaps over the next few weeks, first with the October 14 studio release and then with the presentation of his own series of live performances.
The Paradise Festival, a two-day music event at the Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville, is scheduled for November 3rd and 4th. Headlining both days, Maroney will mentor the indie bands that round out the lineup, like The Greeting Committee, Annie DiRusso, and Indigo de Souza.
“It was terrifying, but really rewarding,” Maroney said, speaking about curating the festival and deciding how to infuse his personality into the performances. Printed on vibrant posters in a puffy bubble font, “Paradise” promises to be the very epitome of the unique vibe Maroney’s fans know and love.
Live performances have been an integral part of Maroney’s career, opening for the likes of Jack White and Rainbow Kitten Surprise. He said those experiences have allowed him “to be in the same physical spaces as some of the bands that have presented music as a legitimate career.”
Maroney also said his March 2022 performance at Cambridge’s own venue, The Sinclair, was one of his all-time favorites on The Sunflower World Tour and that he would like to return to Boston as soon as possible.
Sincere, creative, authentic, and possibly just as happy to sell sweaters or perform to thousands, Maroney is truly one of a kind. Whether you’ve met Caroline, ridden a rollercoaster, or been freakin’ out on the interstate, everyone should travel to Harvard with him.