“No truer words have ever been spoken,” Maroney says when I quote the Rolling Stones' line “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, you just might find you get what you need.” The song played a large part in his musical development. “That’s a very loaded phrase in my life,” he says.
Maroney sang “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” when he auditioned for American Idol in 2013 at the age of 15. He performed the song in front of judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr., and was voted to advance to Hollywood, where he became one of 30 semifinalists, but did not advance past that round.
“It was one of the first ‘classic’ songs I heard that also felt really modern to me,” Maroney says ahead of his tour. “It felt really fresh. If it was a modern band that had made the song, I would still believe them.”
Despite the lack of progress on American Idol, a career in music seems to have found him. Maroney, now 24, went on to release four well-received EPs and a 2021 LP titled Sunflower, produced by North Texas' very own John Congleton.
“Working with John was a blast,” Maroney says. “He knows what he wants, and he knows how he wants records to sound. The coolest thing about him is bringing in ideas that were kind of loose and having him running them through his filter. He totally has distinct instincts and ideas.”
As a child, Maroney gravitated toward classic rock through a few key entry points but was eventually able to embrace modern music’s wide variety “As a young person I was into classic music before I could palate more modern stuff,” he says. “I was definitely the kid that wore Guns N’ Roses shirts and said pop music was bad, which is what you do when you’re a kid. But now I’ve come around and probably listen to more music post-2010 than I do older music.”
While both Maroney’s taste and inherent style skews newer, his personal hero is the late celebrated '70s cult singer-songwriter John Prine.
“His music is the cornerstone of everything that I do as a person,” Maroney says, laughing. “I’m obsessed with that dude. It was music that I shared with my grandpa, who was a very big figure in my life. I knew ‘Angel from Montgomery’ because he would sing it, and when he passed away, I learned it with my Dad on guitar and he sang it at his funeral. From there on I went home, put on that record, and fell in love with it. It’s music that I turn to in order to remind myself of what I really value in music.”
Maroney says that the great singer songwriters of the '70s don’t feel like musicians from a bygone era, as their songs are poignant as ever.
“It just took me finding John Prine, Townes Van Zandt and Neil Young to start with older records, and it just opened up this entire world of music that I like,” he says. “It was all stuff that felt modern. It wasn’t that I liked it because it was old. It felt like stuff could still be relevant no matter what year.”
While riding a more electric style of singer-songwriter ideals, Maroney’ own music is romantic in its stylized storytelling and observational nature. He says one of his songs, “Caroline,” is an example of how songwriting is a way to color one’s own perception of the world.
“I was at a show, and I saw this kid, she was probably 10 or something, at the front row, and she was enamored by watching this band,” Maroney says. “I never met that kid, but I made her into this character and wrote the song as a message to her. This precious kid who was really moved by music. I feel like a lot of songwriters do that, where you tell your own version of the story before you know the truth. Sometimes the truth isn’t as fun as your own version of a story.”
“I was definitely the kid that wore Guns N’ Roses shirts and said pop music was bad, which is what you do when you’re a kid."–Briston Maroney
As acclaimed singer/songwriter Lucy Dacus told the Observer last year, she finds it difficult to write about anything other than real-life experiences, something with which Maroney sympathizes. He was able to break out of the habit, however.
“It’s all a balance,” he says. “I can relate to Lucy’s feeling she can only write about her personal life. I felt that I’ve had moments where I felt that way. Where I was not going to be telling the truth unless I’m retelling literal events that happened, but lately I’ve been finding a lot of inspiration in the other end of the spectrum."
Still, Maroney does frequently write about his own experiences, and as to whether or not the songs he draws from his personal life can be too personal for public listening, he says there generally isn’t a moment where he feels that way.
“Very rarely,” he says, “I definitely have written songs that I know will never be released for that reason, but I think it takes a lot to get to that point. I shied away from that for a long time. I’ve had a couple of really important conversations in my life where people have been like ‘Hey, I think the most impactful to people who listen to your music or to the world in general is to be honest about how you’re feeling.’”
Maroney goes on to agree that records born of songwriters’ personal traumas like Eric Clapton's "Layla" or Dylan's Blood On the Tracks are relatable because the pain spilled on those records is not uncommonly felt, and expressing that is not something that one wants to do, but rather needs to do.
“I do think it would take a lot to describe a certain type of pain for there not to be anybody in the world who would also have felt that way at some point,” he says. “You’d have to have an extremely — maybe harmful — set of emotions to be the only person who has ever felt that way. It’s important to be as honest as possible, even if it makes some people uncomfortable."