Blackbird Blackbird’s Birthday Gift

Published October 17, 2012

ABOVE: MIKEY MARAMANG

Mikey Maramang never intended to drop out of college. A full-time student, Maramang was well on his way toward finishing a degree in creative writing when the unthinkable happened—the sudden loss of a parent. “I was devastated,” he recalls. “I needed to do something to take my mind off the pain and heal.” Despite an adolescence spent dabbling in music, it was in the wake of his father’s unexpected passing that Maramang found solace in the Zen of songwriting. “I could have been totally fucked,” he admits, “but music kept me going in a positive direction. I needed to make music.”

As Blackbird Blackbird, Maramang pays tribute to his current surroundings in California’s Bay Area as well as formative years spent on the shores of Honolulu, Hawaii. “I think what drew me to music is how just one song could connect different kinds of people from different places,” he explains. Whether by the strobe-lit meditation of  “Pure” or the hazy postcard shuffle of “Blind,” Maramang repackages memory as communal experience. Boracay Planet, out this week on Lavish Habits, continues in this tradition—inspired by an island in the Philippines, Boracay owes as much to Maramang’s retentiveness as it does the excesses of his own imagination.

Interview caught up with Maramang via Skype, where we discussed plants covered in aphids, trailer park nudity, childhood memories in Honolulu, and a belated birthday present.

JOHN TAYLOR: Am I looking at your bedroom studio right now?

MIKEY MARAMANG: [laughs] I can pretty much take my bedroom anywhere, though. I can go to cafes and make music. It’s usually just me, laptop, headphones.

TAYLOR: You’re in Oakland, right?

MARAMANG: Yeah, I’m in Oakland now. Been living here for a year almost.

TAYLOR: If you’ve only been there for a year, I’m guessing this isn’t where Blackbird Blackbird got its start.

MARAMANG: It isn’t. Blackbird Blackbird got started when I was living in Santa Cruz, [in] this super creepy house. It was made in 1890, really old, about to fall apart, and next to a highway. It wasn’t possible to record shit. The house was creepy! I swear there’s ghosts, there’s a bunch of spiders there. There was a plant growing inside of my wall. I told my other housemate about it. He was, “Dude! Why didn’t you tell me?” There were a bunch of aphids on [the plant] and I was absolutely brainless about it. “Oh, it’s a pretty little thing.” [laughs]

TAYLOR: Aphids? Plants? I don’t have either of those, and it’s hard enough for me to work in my room without getting distracted.

MARAMANG: I was using my [then] girlfriend’s shitty old MacBook, and using the computer microphone. I’d use my desktop computer, then her computer, then record vocals through that little mic, and then export it on the Internet to transfer [back] to my desktop computer. It was a weird process. There would always be frat parties, and my room, you could hear everything going on in my room. It was so bad.

TAYLOR: Speaking of living situations, we spoke about the one time you lived in a trailer park…

MARAMANG: Well, everyone’s always randomly naked there, so you’d walk outside and, “Oh, that dude’s junk is just chillin’.” It became kind of a normal thing. There would be nights where we’d all be naked. There was this one time where I was in this jam band, listening to Phish and Grateful Dead, and we played in the common area—it was called “The Commie Room,” and everyone got naked within 10 minutes of us playing Red Hot Chili Peppers covers.

TAYLOR: And this all happened while you were sober?

MARAMANG: Yeah.

TAYLOR: [laughs] That’s crazy. Were you into music when you were younger?

MARAMANG: When I was in third grade, I used to drum on the desk a lot. I was a really hyperactive kid, I think I had ADHD, or something.

TAYLOR: I think we all had it.

MARAMANG: [laughs] Then I was like, “Hmm… I want to drum now.” Eventually in seventh grade, I asked my mom for a drum set. So I got this really shitty drum set, and started playing drums in the garage, annoying the neighbors. I played guitar as well—just kind of taught myself by learning Blink-182 songs. I looked up tabs for “Adam’s Song.” I went for the punk look. I tried to dye my hair blue. My hair is really black, so I bleached it first, and then it was yellow—so when I put the blue in, it made green. My mom—

TAYLOR: I’m sure by that point, she was starting to regret getting you that drum set!

MARAMANG: Actually, she was really cool about music. She’s always been supportive. Like, [whispers] “Follow your dreams, Michael.”

TAYLOR: That’s awesome. Is she the biggest Blackbird Blackbird fan in the world right now?

MARAMANG: Oh, my God. She just got my girlfriend a necklace with two blackbirds on it. [laughs] It’s pretty ridiculous—she knows about shit before I do. Like, “Michael! Did you see this review?” She’s always the first on everything. She’s obsessed. [laughs]

TAYLOR: If she’s kept up with the reviews, surely she’s come across the word “nostalgia” by now. Does the new record make you nostalgic?

MARAMANG: When I decided to name Boracay Planet after my Filipino lineage, it made me super nostalgic about my roots. I’ve always wondered about, what if my parents didn’t immigrate to the U.S., and I was in the Philippines, would I be able to do what I do now? It was this real feeling—I always trip about how people travel to new places, create new lives for themselves. When I was thinking about Boracay, I was thinking about Hawaii. Being on an island was my upbringing.

TAYLOR: Is there a particular song on Boracay Planet that takes you right back to Honolulu?

MARAMANG: I would say if there’s a song that would take me back, it would be “All.” I would go out and play basketball with my dad, and then we’d go to the store and get boiled peanuts. Sometimes, we’d go the beach and I’d feed the fish peas. I hope it didn’t hurt them.

TAYLOR: That makes two of us.

MARAMANG: [laughs] I remember, every morning when I used to wake up in the cabin—I was four or five—looking out the window at this crazy green rainforest. I was mesmerized by it. One time, there was this giant centipede that came into the house. My dad grabbed a shovel and started beating the hell out of it. I only remember the living room, for some reason. My mom used to make breakfast, French toast in weird shapes.

TAYLOR: You’ve told me that you’ve been back to Hawaii since you moved to the Bay. What happened when you went back?

MARAMANG: There’s this thing called masalas there. It’s a Hawaiian donut, and it’s the best donut ever. Sugar, a little bit of cinnamon, and, a donut. Fried dough. It’s at this place called Leonard’s, and it’s the best local thing you can get in Honolulu. There’s only one real Leonard’s, and I went to the original. Everything flooded back to my memory, and I totally cried.

TAYLOR: Now you’ve got me thinking of my own childhood! Before I forget, tell me, have you been to Boracay Island?

MARAMANG: I want to go there. To me, [Boracay Planet] is this weird fantasy dreamland I’ve never seen. I recently talked to someone in the Philippines and they were like, “Don’t go there, it’s for tourists,” but the beach is supposed to have white sand and be really beautiful. Surreal. That imagery is kind of like a dream, or a dream state.

TAYLOR: If it’s okay to bring up, we spoke about the new record coming out on your father’s birthday. Is it hard, having that happen without him here to celebrate with you?

MARAMANG: It’s kind of strange, but, I feel like it’s a gift to him, or something. It’s a good thing.

TAYLOR: Like a birthday present?

MARAMANG: I’d usually get him shirts and stuff [for birthdays]. He always liked navy blue, so I would just get him navy blue shirts all the time. That was his favorite color.

TAYLOR: Say he’s listening to our conversation right now. What would you tell him?

MARAMANG: I want to tell him that I love him, and that he’ll always be in my heart. I’m doing what I’m doing out of love for him, and remembrance of him.

BORACAY PLANET IS AVAILABLE NOW, AND BLACKBIRD BLACKBIRD PLAYS SHEA STADIUM TONIGHT IN BROOKLYN. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE ARTIST, PLEASE VISIT HIS WEBSITE.