ON A RARE DAY OFF from touring, Mikey Maramag is at the MoMA in New York. He's looking at Vincent van Gogh's "The Starry Night" and "tripping balls." The California-based, Hawaii-raised musician has likened his own work—emotionally driven, expansive folktronica—to painting. Since his 2010 debut, Summer Heart, Maramag has enviably made a full-time career out of what started as a bedroom project.
Maramag didn't plan on becoming a professional musician. He dabbled in "shitty emo" and "crappy hardcore" bands in school. His discovery of Aphex Twin was revelatory, leading him to artists like Four Tet and Apparat. They became guiding forces of electro-wizardry for a young Maramag. "I love how they can channel entire universes in a song," he says, "[and] make it feel like a full band."
This solo craftsmanship inspired Maramag, who is now known for building his own dream worlds, to "make something simple." But the producer isn't too sheepish about his hardcore past to say that, "all music is good in some sense." He's even starting an emo band of his own with fellow producers Giraffage and Mark Redito.
Maramag still works from home, preserving the inherent intimacy of bedroom pop, but his music has developed beyond those confines. At first, he says, "I was fueled by pure love, my first relationship." Now, "I'm older and more experienced in life. I've moved toward deeper emotions... there are stories that I tell with each one of these songs." Those feelings are palpable on tracks like "Love Unlimited" and "There Is Nowhere" from 2014's Tangerine Sky.
Rather than conceptualizing a themed album, Maramag works track by track. While many of his songs are the perfect addition to your "summer beach vibes/indie chillout" playlist (you know you have one), others are more suitable for solitary listening. His latest release, Strawberry Light, contains a bit of both, like the anthemic "More Beautiful" and introspective "Visionary." But Maramag says, "I wouldn't want to be measured on its artistic merit." Unlike his other work, the album, a rarities compilation, doesn't feel cohesive. He's more excited about what he's working on now, a compilation of stand-alone singles.
As for these songs, Maramag calls them "polarizing, either really happy and inspiring or really sad—never in between. The love songs will be very epic, happy, and uplifting, or depressing, heavy, and dejected... I almost cry sometimes when I play them because I channel a lot of my emotions into them.
"I'm probably making it sound deeper than it is," he continues, covering for what could come off as corniness. But Maramag's sentimentalism is a mark of his authenticity, and it's what distinguishes his electronica.
"I don't really have that much control over what I make," he says. "It's like a painting—you're trying to figure it out as you go along. You start a song and it paints itself. It's like a Frankenstein that you create, and it does whatever the fuck it wants."
Between producing popular remixes and fusing genres, a lot of what Maramag does is Frankensteined. His art, however, is decidedly delicate and not ogre-like—maybe painting is a better comparison. Either way, Maramag says, "Fuck the world, let me just do what I want."