After more than a year with the finished product, Briston Maroney’s debut full-length project ‘Sunflower’ has arrived. COLLiDE chatted with the Tennessee native about the nearly two-decade creative process, the benefits of collaboration, and pushing his musical limits.
Briston Maroney’s had a long year.
We all did, but the Tennessee rocker had added reason to feel restless. For the majority of 2020, Maroney was sitting with the skeleton of his debut album, 10 songs just begging to be mixed and mastered and released. But with recording wrapped just as the world shut down, there was nothing to do but wait.
To say it’s been a year is actually putting it lightly. The reality looks more like 10, even 20. Sunflower, Maroney’s first full-length EP and accompanying feature-length visual, was two decades in the making, chronicling what is essentially his life story. A whirlwind of tales from breezy adolescence to daunting adulthood, the record packs a lifetime of highs, lows, and lessons into just 34 minutes.
“I’m so thankful that it’s finally coming out,” he said, a mixture of exasperation and relief evident in the way he sighed into the answer. You can’t blame him—some of the tracks on the record are over three years old, and the subject matter dates back to his teens. Fan-favorite “Rollercoaster,” a frequent closer at his live shows, is drenched in the nostalgia for a bygone youth. “There’s a party at your older brother’s, let’s go and sneak out late,” he all but whispers, like it’s the best-kept secret in the world.
Maroney’s songwriting on Sunflower flips between the lens of childhood innocence, youthful ignorance, and the crushing sentiments of adulthood on a dime. “Cinnamon,” sweet as the name suggests, serenades a lover so delicately and intimately that any added volume threatens to shatter it, and “The Kids” fondly reflects on Maroney’s surrounding system of support. Contrastingly, tracks like blown-out power jam “Why” and heartbreaking closer “Say My Name” take a deeper, more vulnerable approach. Maroney’s always had a knack for candid, communicative lyricism, but here, he puts his deepest insecurities on full display. When he asks, “What’s the point in feelin’ anything at all?” in the record’s final minute, it feels like another layer has been unlocked, a new level of introspection that Maroney himself didn’t even know he could achieve.
But with the help of a host of collaborators, he did achieve it. Working with writers like Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull, Dan Wilson, and Jenny Owens Youngs, Maroney says he stepped up his songwriting to keep pace with the talent in the room. They challenged him creatively every session, and he’s better for it.
“They pulled out this part of me that really wanted to not have the nightmare scenario of showing Andy a song and him saying, ‘You don’t have what it takes.’ In a great way, there was pressure to do my best,” he said.
Produced primarily by John Congleton, Sunflower is an expansion of the musical landscape that put Briston on the map. The staple fuzzy guitars and crashing percussion from tracks like 2018’s “Freakin’ Out On the Interstate” burst through the speakers on the record’s rowdiest moments, but softer acoustic instrumentation holds steady on smaller songs. Maroney’s voice, too, is more versatile here than on past projects. Hushed at one moment and howling the next, he’s discovered his vocal limits and pushed the boundaries of what his voice can do. At times on the record, he even surpasses it — a voice crack or two making their way onto Sunflower’s most emotional moments.
Maroney said the record was meant to be versatile. Though traditionally a hard rocker, he said he considers the lighter instances equally impactful.
“I think I’m just really excited for people to see the whole scope,” he said.
Sunflower turned into an all-consuming project, one that occupied Maroney’s every waking thought for the better part of a year. The efforts yielded a tenacious musical statement, one that solidifies Maroney as an intuitive writer and more-than-capable rocker, but the guns-blazing approach took its toll. With such a personal record on his hands, it became difficult to distinguish between Briston Maroney, the up-and-coming rock star with over 2 million listeners on Spotify, and Briston Maroney, the 23-year-old Nashville native who loves a good drive and has stories upon stories to tell.
“It becomes your life. Every conversation you have starts being about it, everything you’re doing is in preparation,” he said. “It’s like you’re taking a trip at all times, no matter where you are. You’re kind of strapped into the ride of the record until it’s over.”
But now that it’s over, the light washing over him as he emerges from the end of the 20-year tunnel, Maroney can finally breathe. At long last, Sunflower is here, and it was well worth the wait.
Check out Sunflower below!