“It’s a cool thing when I play Stanford… it’s like I’ve come full circle.”
For Bay Area producer Mikey Maramag, “full circle” takes on a very literal meaning. He was born at the Stanford Hospital and, after moving around some in his youth, found his way back to the Bay and is now based in the area. As Blackbird Blackbird, Maramag has gained traction in local musical circles as an upcoming producer specializing in “dreamy folktronica” with hints of psychedelic pop, à la musical contemporaries Washed Out and Caribou. After tapping into wider success under the pseudonym and touring the world performing for the masses, it’s fitting that he’s now coming back to Stanford to do what he loves.
Pre-Blackbird Blackbird, Maramag jumped between genres, styles and instruments. He started off his career as drummer of local hardcore group Murder Practice, and his experiences in the band led to the incorporation of what Maramag describes as “DIY sound” into his musical repertoire. The electronic component of his Blackbird Blackbird music was directly inspired by the fellow Bay Area-based Sound Tribe Sector 9, an instrumental electronic rock collective.
It was seeing STS9 live that really pushed him to develop his individual sound and, while at the time unbeknownst to Maramag, eventually inspired his future on-stage persona. “Their live performances and the energy that they brought to the stage, that they share with the audience — it’s like a reciprocal sharing of feelings and channeling fucking amazing energy,” Maramag explained. “That inspired me a lot to start my project.”
The Blackbird Blackbird project—because that’s how Maramag refers to his musical persona; it’s a “project”, like a work-in-progress, not necessarily a permanent thing but rather something that changes with him as he evolves as a musician—came to fruition post-Murder Practice around 2010. In the past six years, he’s grown artistically, both on and off stage.
When it comes to writing music, it’s a pretty straightforward process for Maramag: composing and assembling a song isn’t measured so much in time as it is by quality. “I’m addicted to writing music and producing and just being in a cave in my room writing shit,” he said, explaining how his creative process has evolved from spending hours to days to an indeterminate amount of time on fine-tuning and perfecting the music he’ll release as Blackbird Blackbird.
The result is music that is equal parts personal and expressive, internal and cathartic. Maramag prides himself in releasing quality work—“I can’t really live with myself if I release something mediocre,” he said emphatically—that is as much for and about other people as it is for and about himself. “What I’m personally going through, like, living life,” he said. “Sometimes I get inspired by other people’s stories. I’m a really good listener. I like to listen to other people’s problems and help people heal.” Upon hearing his music—when the opening strums of “Tangerine Sky” or the shoegaze synth of “Blurred Lines” first hit you—the cathartic nature of his music also hits, and it’s all the more poignant and touching because of it.
“I like maybe thinking about a subject that can kind of connect to you,” he said at one point. “And like maybe my music can provide some sort of answer to someone’s question about whatever metaphysical shit they’re going through.” This all translates into a live show, what Maramag describes as an act of interacting with and giving the crowd what they want (a process often expedited along by a shot or two to calm the pre-stage jitters). It’s all about forging a relationship with the audience over the span of the hour or two, one that hopefully lasts far beyond that. That’s the goal when Maramag takes the stage on campus this week, when it comes full circle for him: to play music that may help it all come full circle for us, too.
Blackbird Blackbird will be performing at Kairos Wine and Cheese on Wednesday, February 17, 2016. 10 pm.
Show co-sponsored by the Stanford Arts Review and the Stanford Concert Network.