Mikey Maramag (a.k.a. Blackbird Blackbird) goes by as many aliases as a master crook, but he’s not into stealing things — unless you count samples. He’s just really into making music, and one band doesn’t suffice.
The bedroom musician — who creates glowing, dreamy worlds with spiraling electronic beats and gauzy vocals — was recently signed to Lavish Habits and is primed to release a new EP, Boracay Planet, on October 16. That news, along with recent remixes of Adele and Bjork, has earned Maramag his share of online buzz, and with it a prime spot on MTV’s Music Meter and inclusion in our Music Meter Monday feature.
Read on for our Q&A with Maramag in which we explore the influence of music in the womb, playing music all by your lonesome and choosing a band name.
So I always like to start off by asking bands what their earliest musical memory is. You know, when you realized that music was something that you might want to do.
My earliest musical memory was in the womb. My grandma used to sing to me while I was in my mom’s belly. She just hums this really strange song. It’s weird, because whenever I see her I remember it. It’s this weird nostalgia that’s totally uncanny and I can’t even really comprehend.
That’s crazy. What did she sing?
She doesn’t even use words, it’s almost like she just hums songs that she’s heard. She just goes, ‘La, di, da, di da.’ I can’t really be specific on what song it was, but it sounded like something like classical music.
Were you one of those kids who was cognizant at a really young age?
I wasn’t one of those totally cognizant kids, I don’t think. But I was definitely a hyper kid. I used to make lots of noise in class and bang on the desk and get very disruptive. Because of that, I became a drummer. I started drumming when I was in seventh grade — drums and guitar and stuff and it kept building from that, teaching myself different instruments.
That’s kind of funny, because you don’t really use a lot of drums in your music.
Yeah, my music has definitely changed from the music I’ve made in the past. The stuff I used to do was a lot more loud punk music and now it’s just mellowed-out and very much introspective. Dream music that I make in my room late at night.
Yeah, I saw somewhere that you were in punk bands in high school. What were your bands called?
I had this band called Murder Practice, it was this punk hardcore band. We went through a lot of different phases. We played with bands from Sacramento like The Hoods and Trash Talk. When we first started out we played shows with them and it was really fun. I really miss that live aspect of practicing every day and then going to shows with barely anyone there and just rocking out. It was really fun.
So how did you start making the kind of music you make now?
I started listening to Aphex Twin and this really amazing producer Apparat. I listened to the album Walls and it just blew my mind. I was like, ‘I can’t even believe that he can put this much orchestral arrangement within just electronic sounds.’ I was very taken aback by that and really meditated and said, ‘Hm, I’m going to try this’ and got a copy of Reason and started working on Reason and made a bunch of crappy stuff on Reason. Experimenting enabled me to jot down all my creativity. It’s just a great tool for creative output. I can get all my workflow done. I’ve never encountered any other program that I could do that with.
It must be so different — having come up in punk bands — to work all alone now. How do you handle that? Do you miss working with other musicians?
I do miss it, but I’m kind of a perfectionist, I guess. So when I was in punk bands or other bands with more people, I would just take over. Really dictate everything. I felt like a total douchebag. When I just produce alone, I can just be critical of myself and not others. It just enables me to really dive deep into where the song is going and the arrangement. It’s almost more compositional than performance-based, I guess. It’s kind of what I like doing now, at least. I can totally see it changing, but that’s kind of how it turned out.
I hear you might be planning on bringing more musicians on tour with you this time around.
I would definitely like to have one or two of my friends come on tour with me and just play drums or whatever weird instruments to complement each song on the EP that I have coming out. Because a lot of the songs on the new EP are very instrumental or live instrument-based. There’s a lot more guitar in it and I feel like I really want to play guitar live and live drums, too, would be really fun. So I’m definitely thinking about those things.
So tell me a little more about your new EP. What has making this one been like?
It basically consists of five songs that I’ve written over the last year. It took me a while to finish the EP — more so than any of my other stuff. A lot of the earlier stuff that I wrote, I finished within two weeks or three weeks. This one took a year because I wanted to have something really cohesive. It has a lot of vocals; some of them are dreamy vocals lost in the mix, but add a landscape element to it. Some of the songs the vocals are very turned up to the forefront.
So you recently remixed Adele, which I thought was pretty interesting. How do you decide who you want to remix?
Sometimes I’ll just find a sample — like an a capella on YouTube — and cut it up and see if it works with a song. Sometimes I’ll use the a capella way too obviously and I’ll have to call it a remix. So the Bjork remix that I did recently, I was going to use it for my own song, and then I was like, ‘Eh.’ But I feel like I did Bjork justice enough to make this a bootleg remix or something, so I released it as that.
So what’s up with all of your aliases? You also have Church Spires and a few others, right? What’s the rationale behind having more than one band?
I simply have too much music to release under Blackbird Blackbird. It’s kind of become an addiction for me to release music. For some reason I just like it when people hear my music. Church Spires was this side project. I felt like a lot of the songs couldn’t fit completely into Blackbird Blackbird or what I really want for Blackbird Blackbird. I have several monikers. Some that I would rather not point out.
I was listening to Holy Other a lot and he was my favorite producer for a while. I made this little side project called Cold Love that I never really told anyone about. It’s just this one EP of four songs and I haven’t done anything with it.
So what kind of band is Cold Love?
It’s really dark electronic music. Darker than any of my previous songs. I’ve released a couple of really dark songs, like “Calypso,” and it’s sort of like that song I guess. Low-pitched vocals that sort of help build the chord structure. It was kind of fun to experiment with that.
How do you pick all these different names?
I don’t know. The first moniker I picked out was Bye Bye Blackbird. Unfortunately I couldn’t use that because there was another band called Bye Bye Blackbird. But that came from this really great standard song, ‘Bye Bye Blackbird.’ Sometimes I pick a name based on the mood of the music, and sometimes it’s based on nothing at all and it just comes to me and I’m just looking for an excuse to release more music.