by Alexandra Hall
When you’re sitting in a grocery store parking lot in downtown Denver with Briston Maroney, petting two dogs leashed up to the handrail, life can feel pretty surreal. After an awkward slew of introductions and flattery, Maroney and I sat on the concrete and talked music while he munched on his overpriced granola bar and drank his green juice.
“I’m sorry I’m so mellow. I know this probably isn’t what you expected,” Maroney said as he leaned against the railing, sipping away at his juice.
In reality, I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction.
Since my last article on Maroney, the artist has seen an astronomical increase in popularity. In a matter of two years, Maroney has released three EP’s, Carnival, Indiana, and Miracle, along with an acoustic version of “Freaking Out on the Interstate” and his newest single, “Deep Sea Diver,” which teases at a new album come 2021. Last year was spent touring all over the country, and Maroney was set to not only perform at Bonnaroo 2020, but also to tour with Rainbow Kitten Surprise for a few late spring and early summer dates (pre-global apocalypse).
Alongside the music releases, Maroney has released nine music videos following his hit video, “Freaking Out on the Interstate.” With Joey Brodnax, Maroney’s beloved videographer and friend, the two have created a visual world for all the new releases. Each video has multiple layers, sometimes abstract symbols, and always visually invigorating graphics.
Maroney’s video for “The Garden” features an exploration of the virtual reality realm, Maroney appearing as an outsider amongst all computerized reality. The viewer gets the impression that the world is fast-paced, chaotic, and almost seems to exclude Maroney and the listener from the experience that is speeding along around him. “The Garden” depicts ideas of heaven and hell and their roles during our active lifetimes. He pokes fun at people pretending to have it together when really no one does and revels in his frantic confusion about himself and the world. The bridge reeks of a desperation to find answers to all of his questions. Maroney even alludes to “Infinite Jest,” a phrase commonly associated with David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel. The phrase has many historical connections, the main inspiration being Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A key point of Wallace’s novel is the obsession with entertainment. In today’s day and age where attention is the most priceless commodity on the market, the desire for constant entertainment, and the disinterest in anything else is prevalent. Maroney’s line seems to harp on this idea of entertaining ourselves to death and the rest of his bridge focuses on the messy emptiness he feels about his life and his attempts to fill those voids.
Talk about layers.
Maroney’s ability to write earnest, sophisticated music has flourished over the past two years and has clearly been received well by his audience that grows by the hour. With one and a half million monthly Spotify listeners, it is clear that people seem to finally be tuning in to all that Maroney has to offer in his sound and accompanying visuals. Maroney’s rapid success is also due to “Freaking Out on the Interstate” blowing up Tik Tok, a newer social media platform that features up to a minute’s worth of content. The platform has seen recent press around privacy concerns as well as creating millionaire teenaged stars. When scrolling through the “Freaking Out on the Interstate” Tik Toks, you can expect to see a lot of relationship advice, “three ways to know a guy is into you,” and photography how-to videos. No matter what the video is, it sure has spread Maroney’s music far beyond his old audience.
On August 21st, Maroney released “Deep Sea Diver,” a piece detailing the feeling of being stuck in a state he can’t get out of. Co-written with Dan Wilson (Semisonic, Adele) and produced by John Congleton, it seems as though the beloved song-writer is expanding his horizons in all directions. The song follows Maroney’s descent into himself. Listeners are greeted with this sense of resentment towards himself as Maroney tries to get by. Listeners can smell the “seventh cigarette” Maroney smokes and feel his embarrassment when denying ketamine from a kid, promising he’d try it at a later time when he has no intention of doing so. This specific interaction highlights the grand topic of the song: feeling stuck. We are presented with two versions of Maroney. One is the figure interacting with life through fickle nicotine addictions and false promises. Another is the inside look into Maroney’s actual thoughts regarding the life he is living. Deep-sea divers swim deeper than the standard recreational scuba diving limits, so it is safe to say that Maroney has fallen into a rut deeper than one he can just swim out of.
Back to the dogs in the parking lot.
After leaving the Sprout’s parking lot and meeting Maroney again to see his gig at Lost Lake Lounge in Denver, I was surrounded by some of the best fans of an artist I had never met. On my left was a woman named Claudia with stick-and-poke tattoos lining her fingers and arms. She worked on a farm in Oregon and was traveling around for the fall months. On my right was a duo that had driven all the way from Texas to see Maroney. We were all stuffed into the bite-sized venue on the south side of Colfax Avenue and nervously waited for the “sold out” show to really sell out. Lost Lake Lounge looks like precisely the kind of place you wouldn’t show up alone to. In the dark, the grime was hidden by the dull lighting and soft smoke machines that flooded the space with a haze. The grime, or as I like to call it “character”, came to light in the bathrooms that looked like bus stop paradise. There were random paintings on the walls that looked like they were from the 1800s and there was only a thin curtain separating the backstage from the pit. I couldn’t imagine Maroney performing anywhere else.
The performance was electrifying and elevated his work yet again. From song to video to live, there isn’t a platform that Maroney does not master. I wrote in my early piece about how Maroney looks like Bob Dylan when singing, hunched over the microphone and pained in his movements. I’ve got to pat myself on the back for that one. Beads of sweat gathered at his scalp and trailed down his face as the songs progressed, each member of the group an integral part. Guitarist Jack Filipovic, drummer Noah Pope (Future Crib), and bassist Johnny Hopson (Future Crib) made the experience as magnetic as it felt, drawing the audience closer and closer to the group with every verse that connected all the artists on stage. Their chemistry was unreal and unlike any group I’ve seen in the past.
Maroney was exactly the person I spoke to a few years ago on the phone, nervously fiddling with my coffee sleeve as I sat in an empty living room. He was kind, soft-spoken, and made talking about the weather seem like the most interesting topic in the world. There was no awkwardness, no desperate attempts to exist as some aloof, mysterious artist that he was not. Maroney just was.
Maroney will undoubtedly “take off,” a phrase writers love to throw around when talking about musicians. While his career will expand to new dimensions and his art will continue to evolve and grow with him, Maroney will always be the down-to-earth Nashville sweetheart who breaks us with his work before rebuilding us with his passion.
Until next time,
Listen to Deep Sea Diver here: https://open.spotify.com/album/4Kxg3nNcAClXuJTNJTxbd8?si=qm1SaiHTRk6e–IFtdPSqw