by Alexandra Hall
“I hated myself. I hated my friends and my girlfriend at the time was so mean to me. Life had always gone up and down but that time in my life felt different. I wrote [June] to disconnect from everything,” Maroney said.
The first time that I understood June by Briston Maroney, I found myself sobbing at the wheel. It was midnight, and I was on my way home from hanging out with my friends. A damp swimsuit stuck to my body, wettening the Bob Dylan shirt I had thrown on after sitting in a hot tub for an hour, pretending to feel at home with the few people I was supposed to feel most at home with. There was nothing particularly traumatic or riveting about the night itself, but Maroney’s words seemed to suddenly be the only thing I could listen to. I had known the song for about a year and had sung the lyrics absentmindedly in the car on many occasions, but that one summer night in, you guessed it, June, my life seemed to simultaneously fall apart and fall into place. I, too, hated myself, my friends, and life in general. My boyfriend didn’t care about me, and my life felt like this lie that I kept living because I had told myself for years that it was what I wanted. I wanted a friend group and a boyfriend and love and a normal teenage life. But when I got it, I felt empty.
“Ain’t it funny how I wanted this all my life? Ain’t it funny how I got it here and it don’t feel right? Ain’t it funny how we all want to be someone new?”
With a shaken voice, I belted out the lyrics and coasted down the streets until I found my way home. That night changed my life entirely.
I had never before told my interviewee something so personal, but Maroney seemed to drag the words out of me. An upbeat, enthusiastic voice picked up the phone as I nervously fiddled with the lid to my coffee. How are you supposed to tell an artist, a real artist, that his song changed your life, without sounding like a clingy fangirl? Instead of the typical brush off and comments of being honored and flattered, Maroney paused for a second.
“I wrote that song senior year and I was in your exact same position. I wrote it because I felt something without trying to. Everyone thinks June is about going to college. It never was. It was something way bigger,” Maroney said in tired amazement.
From being fifteen and auditioning for American Idol 13, making it into the Top 30 , Maroney has since been a part of Knoxville Tennessee’s band, Southern Clutch, released a solo album titled “Reason To Shake”, an EP in 2017 called “Big Shot”, along with a two singles and music videos to accompany them. His talent is far from unseen, but is incredibly underappreciated and hidden from the public eye.
But what makes just another American Idol contestant so special? Is it the vintage Gibson guitar handed down from his great grandfather, a recording artist decades ago in Nashville? His classic taste in folk and rock?
No, it is the way he hunches over the guitar when he sings.
The way Maroney performs live is hauntingly similar to the stage presence of Bob Dylan, and Maroney’s unique voice is one that will ring familiar in the hearts of many Dylan lovers. Both artists walk on stage with a divine duty to tell a story. Their simple yet pained body movements and distorted facial expressions with every lyric go beyond just the words. It is a skill many musicians have to cultivate, but one that seems ingrained into Maroney’s presence.
Each lyric is guttural. Heart-wrenching. Passionate. It is almost as if Maroney has to go inside of himself to pull each word out of his core. That is what makes his lyrics come to life. That is what gives him the “X Factor”. Wait, wrong show.
Maroney says that performing live is his favorite thing in the world, “It’s almost transcendental. It’s when we can see how far we can push it with the audience and ourselves.” Whether it’s playing at small house shows or isolated Treehouse Sessions with the help of Adam Dobkin, Maroney brings his passion everywhere with his Gibson.
Maroney holds a unique story-telling ability that is unmatched in the current indie scene. With extremely personal lyrics that still keep every listener at an arm’s distance, Maroney masters a connected relationship with everyone who tunes in, but he doesn’t limit himself to one platform. With the help of his friend and director Joey Brodnax, the duo creates music videos with a level of mundane intensity that never fail to captivate his audience. In his video for “Breaking Down On the Interstate,” watchers follow a nervous breakdown of Maroney. From grinding his head against a stone wall to falling onto the bathroom floor in despair, his spiral is followed scene by scene. It is overwhelmingly painful to watch, especially for those who have felt that bathroom floor before. Each watch is characterized by an impending feeling of “I shouldn’t be seeing this but I can’t look away.” Maroney and Brodnax both aimed for the greatest shock of intensity that people can get nowadays: truth. Amidst gore, pornography, and the desensitized attitude of society today, what now makes us most uncomfortable is not bloody limbs or a bare woman’s breasts. It is ourselves.
When asked about the song itself and why Maroney chose such a personal route in presenting the video, Maroney detailed a time in his life in which his life felt like it was once again falling apart.
“I wasn’t on good terms with my parents. I was sneaking out of school to see a girl and I called my friends when I was in the car. I don’t know. I just started freaking out,” he said.
Once again, I felt my heart throb in response to his answer. Driving puts us into zones of passivity and we are forced to focus on the real world. The real cars that could crash at any point, the real music playing, the real sunlight that blinds us in the corners, our real selves. It is understandable that at that point of vulnerability in our normal lives, feelings tend to stir. And sometimes, minor stirs of wind can turn into tornadoes.
I pictured myself in the car that one night in June. Crying, damp, and heartbroken. Not by a silly sixteen year old boy, but by a random man who I didn’t know who just happened to play right then.
Maroney continues to shock audiences everywhere with his down-to-earth personality and storytelling through his art. Beware, though, because before Briston Maroney unlocks your world and reveals who you truly are, he will break your heart, too.
IG:@bristonmaroney // @adamdobkin //@joeybrodnax