Writer and Blackbird Blackbird fanatic April Whitlow hangs out with the man behind the music, chatting about all sorts from the meaning behind the obscure name of his forthcoming Boracay Planet EP and food as an inspiration for music.
How do you go about touring Europe when you are a 24-year old electronic musician? Well, with a couple of rucksacks and a lot of flexibility. I first caught on that Mikey Maramag, the one-man-act behind Blackbird Blackbird, was in London town a few weeks ago with his unusual facebook post saying that he’d just arrived in London and needed a place to crash. Who was this guy? His music had been on my playlist for nearly a year now but I had never expected he’d be in London, let alone carrying such a nonchalant in tow. This deserved a bit of a shot in the dark, I thought, and sent off some advice on hostels and the offer to show him around the city and hang out. To my surprise, and despite a few travel-related communication hiccups, we managed to meet. After an amazing time at his gig at the Lexington and a bit of proper hang-out time at my mate’s house in Surbiton we sat down at the King’s Cross train station to chat about his life, music, intense love of good food and his ultimate wish to collaborate with Jessie Ware.
Let’s start off with a background one…How did you first get into music?
When I was about twelve I started getting drum lessons, started teaching myself guitar, playing in shitty Blink-182 cover-bands in middle school [laughs]. And, yeah, that was my first intro to playing music on my own and learning stuff on my own. I think my first real introduction to electronic music was this really shitty MIDI program on my PC called TabIt. Basically, you could tab out guitar chords and it would play the guitar chords; I created ridiculous combinations out of this really crappy program and that’s kind of how I got started in electronic music. But I never really moved on to it until way later when I was about done with college—okay, I didn’t finish college but I almost finished college [laughs].
When we talked yesterday you mentioned that you were in punk or metal bands when you were younger. What was that like?
In high school I used to be in punk hardcore bands playing drums or playing guitar. And I was even in a technical death metal band for a little bit, in senior year of high-school. After that I went to university and stopped music for a little bit. Then I picked it up again, and here I am.
How many countries are you including in your current tour?
Oh man, there are so many! I’m going to at least a dozen countries. It’s pretty cool. I’m very excited about travelling – it’s my first time touring Europe.
What has been your favourite country so far?
Oh! That’s a tough one. There are so many cool places, but if I had to pick one it would have to be Italy. I really liked Padua – it had a very small town kind of feel and the people there are great. I also really loved Romania too, though – Bucharest was a very unexpectedly good show. And of course I really like London too, plus last night was really great at the Lexington.
The song that you played at the end there, ‘Pure’, that’s one of my favourite songs of yours. Where did the inspiration come from?
It’s basically a song about my ex-girlfriend. I wrote it when we were together and I really loved her a lot. She taught me a lot about having a spirit to endeavour, carry on and make goals. So it’s a song that really defined that relationship for me and encapsulated a feeling of love.
Do you have a new album coming out?
I can’t say much about an album, but I have a five-song EP coming out and there are going to be several remixes by people. The new release will consist of some of my better stuff; a lot of my previous work is electronic and it’s not really organic instrumentation. There are a lot of organic samples and experimentation. But also I have this live element of it where I play a lot of drums and acoustic guitar, some electric guitar and percussion. So it’s very real. The boundaries between acoustic instruments and electronic merge, so it has this electro-acoustic vibe to it rather than just let the machine drone the electronic stuff that I usually end up doing. But I think it’ll be cool.
After that I want to record an album. It’ll have stuff that will be more electronic, club-based jams. But the EP will be very organic, so I’m calling it Boracay Planet, after this island in the Philippines that has completely white sand, a really otherworldly place.
Other than ‘Pure’, what’s your favourite song?
Um, I really like ‘Make it a Choice’.
Oh, Really!? It’s a really B-side-y song.
I don’t know, I really love the energy to it.
It’s a Pavement remix isn’t it?
It’s a very cliché Pavement remix I did. That was a fun one, but it’s a really random favourite to have.
What are some musicians or other artists who really inspire you?
I really love Philip Glass. I love any artist that’s a composer and a musician at the same time. And someone who’s trying to do something very grand but in a very simple way. I like Brian Eno a lot and, yeah, there are tons of really good composers out there, like Brian Wilson. I really respect well-produced stuff from the past.
What is on your playlist at the moment?
I really like Porcelain Raft. I did a remix of ‘Tip of your Tongue’ a while ago. Disclosure are my favourite UK artists right now – their remix of Jessie Ware – ‘Running’ is just playing non-stop in my head all the time. I would kill for a remix from them [laughs]. One day, hopefully!
On stage you only have a computer and a mixer; and it’s just you up there, too. What is it like to play with such a small set-up?
It’s both good and bad. I really don’t have any other dynamics on stage for other people to watch, but at the same it’s all on me. If I fuck up it’s my own fault, yet I don’t have to worry about someone else fucking up or stress about them missing a part. Having a band is very difficult and complicated, and the simple set-up takes away all of that complexity. And my production is kind of live, I guess.
Do you think when you add more instruments in the EP that you’ll have people join you on stage as well?
I think so, yeah. I think that after the EP comes out, I’ll be forced to sort of want to play the songs as I recorded them and have a band. That’s the goal, but for now I’m keeping it simple.
What has been your favourite moment on tour so far?
Just being in Istanbul was really mind-blowing – I felt very out of place and out of time.
What then has been the worst moment of your travels?
Missing my train, or something like that. The worst thing about travelling in general is only being able to go to a city for one night and barely experience the culture and the surroundings; I’d rather be there for at least two or three days and be able to ‘become one’ with the culture [laughs].
Is travel something that will inspire you with your music?
What inspires your music in general?
Really good food.
Food is my favourite thing. It’s been a tradition for my family to just like and eat food a lot – it’s a very family-oriented activity. And food inspires my music sometimes – like, sometimes album artwork will end up looking like a dessert or something. And, actually, I saw this picture posted on my facebook wall of someone who made a dessert after one of my songs ‘Crumble before your eyes’ because I’d made album art that kind of looked like a very delicious pie. It was strange that it coincided with real-life and the imaginary at the same time.
What also inspires me is different people, and places, and nature. Or really tripped out shit about the universe, or meditation, or whatever [laughs]. When I make my songs it’s like being on drugs but not having to be on drugs.
Speaking of drugs and hippies. When we were chatting before the gig you mentioned before that you lived with some hippies in university. What was that like?
Oh that was awesome, sort of like the Grateful Dead band. We were doing shitty covers of Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Pink Floyd and trying to make funk music out of just jamming. Everyone was high a lot and we were basically dancing naked inside a forest for a month. Then I was like ‘What the hell am I doing?’ So I got out. It was almost like a weird cult that I was immersed in for a month. It was just a phase, but it was worth going through.
You’re on break from university right now. Do you think you’ll go back?
It’s been a two year break now, but I signed something which means I can go back at any time.
What are you going to study when you get back?
I’d probably continue studying contemporary world literature and pick up where I left off. It’s kinda cool how it’s inspired my music career sort of, because it tied in to what I was doing. Blackbird Blackbird stemmed from the time I took a really cool class in college, and that inspired me to just create whatever and just see what happened. The class was called ‘Worldings’ and was about evolving technologies and different inventions that have progressed mankind completely.
What is your favourite food?
I really like pizza now because I went to Italy and the pizza there was really good. I don’t think I could ever have pizza from anywhere else again.