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Briston Maroney

One of alt-pop's finest talks deeply personal new album 'Ultrapure'

“I felt like I got a little bit older and was too afraid to deal with some of these topics,” said Knoxville, TN-born singer-songwriter Briston Maroney on the heavy subject material of his new album Ultrapure. “Like, some of the stuff related to my childhood, I think, at a certain point, I thought, ‘That’s the kind of thing you only write about when you’re young and fearless.’ I was definitely surprised by myself as far as the instinct to dig some of that stuff back up. It’s scarier when you’re older, cause you have no concept of what there is to lose.”

That theme of revisiting childhood memories is presented at the very start of the record, on the short thesis statement-like track “Intro.”: “I was born to forgive you / Ultrapure, like a child / I would walk through this fire / Full of doubt, with a general smile.” Ultrapure, a full-length retrospective, is out now.

The Fun Stuff 

Songs like “Delaware,” “Sink;Swim,” and “Sunshine” are emotional centerpieces of the record and are presented as such musically, but tracks like “Body” and “Chaos Party” give audiences the type of danceable alt-pop sound they’ve come to expect from Maroney after a hit like “Freakin’ Out On The Interstate.” The latter in particular sees Maroney go full-on pop Springsteen, dramatizing his tone and repeatedly shouting the post-bridge line, “NOTHIN’ LEFT TO LOSE… NOTHIN’ LEFT TO LOSE, MY DARLIN’,” like a cheer-squad: “Let’s go, honey / Crash into a chaos party / Cheeks flushed red, all dressed in black / Pretty good chance that we’ll never come back.”

“That’s such a part of who I am… being an absolute jackass,” said Maroney on the much-needed bright spot of the project. “I felt like I’ve always been so self-serious on my records… I like to add some humor to the visual element of things. I’d never put out a full song that was like, ‘What if, for three minutes straight, this was just purely fun?’ The songs always have a tinge of sadness to them… I want people to see the full story. I have joyful moments too.”

The Making Of 

He worked on the record with Danial Tashian, an industry vet known for his work with heavy hitters like Tim McGraw and Kacey Musgraves, and Konrad Synder, whose credits include tracks by Stephen Sanchez, Joy Oladokun, and Bre Kennedy. On top of his role as both songwriter and performer, he played every instrument on the project despite his initial fears of being able to do so. “When I recorded the demos, I played everything, but I never had any plan of taking it any further than that,” he said. “Then, Daniel said, ‘Dude, that’s how you wrote the songs. You want this record to be a direct look into who you are… why would you not just show people your process?’”

The term “discipline” was used when broaching this subject to depict Maroney willing himself through that very singular and exposed journey of creativity. It was a fair query, but he chose to look at it as less technical and more natural. “I’m not the kind of person that forces myself to practice or forces myself to write,” he said. “I just love doing this. I’m very thankful to have the kind of connection to music that I do. It has never felt like work, because there are very few things I’d feel comfortable trying to do outside of playing music all day.”

Ultrapure 

Maroney’s definition of “ultrapure” translates to impactful moments at all stages of life. “My favorite moments in the human experience are ones that you don’t even realize have started but feel so deeply when you realize they’ve ended,” he said in a statement. On “Spring,” he fondly reminisces on a pure and organic human experience: “Walking through the glow of the public park / Eyes grew heavy as the sky grew darker / Show me all the things that have your heart / Walked you home, but we were home from the start.” Later in the song, it becomes clear this love has faded: “Love is patient, love is blind / Wish you saw what I saw that night.”

Other tracks like “Sunburn Fades” and “Delaware” move into more formative, harrowing recollections of his early life: “You came back to find there only a child left alone in the dark / Nobody wants to admit that they’re capable of starting a flame by the spark.” Releasing and performing these songs, while a challenge, acts as a form of nightly therapy. “It has made me feel like I did when I first started playing shows,” he said. “When it used to be my only chance to spill my guts… some of these songs are allowing me to feel that feeling again.”

“Sink;Swim,” near the end of the record, feels like the weight of his world being lifted. Like the last song of a musical, when the main character has moved past the heightened emotion of the 11 o’clock number. With its bright piano melody leading the way through an extended instrumental outro, the tune is Maroney’s “see the sun” moment. “That feels like the most ‘me’ part of the record right now,” he said. “Being able to continue the story with just music at that moment on the record is a dream come true. I feel so lucky that I’m at this point in my career where I’ve been making music for over 10 years and folks are still giving time to a long instrumental section at the end of a song.”

See me… see you 

While reveling in the release of a new album, he recently held the inaugural “Paradise Fest” in Nashville, for which he curated the lineup that included himself as well as artists such as Samia and Charlie Burg. He is also just a few months removed from a career-defining set at Red Rocks, opening for Noah Kahan. Despite the gravity of these milestones, Maroney remembers a lesson from his grandfather about leveraging the small moments to get to the big ones. “I try to bring some levity into those big moments,” he said. “I feel connected to what my mission is.”

Many small moments have led Maroney to Ultrapure. Through it all, he has learned to process them, understand them, and ultimately turn them into art that others will apply to their own journey. “When you get to meet somebody and genuinely feel like they’ve seen you through the music, and you get a chance to see them as a person, that’s so cool,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Stream Ultrapure: