Mitch Holson

maryjo Tells Us About Being Obsessed With New York & Signing with Atlantic

Julia Michaels, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Lewis Capaldi – these are the influences of one fresh popstar named maryjo. If that is anything to go by, you already know she’s an upbeat storyteller for the new generation.

For a Cleveland girl, maryjo certainly holds her own in the Big Apple. Maybe it’s because she is a self-proclaimed lover of The City That Never Sleeps, or maybe it’s her being American Idol alumni, but we think it’s because she’s an artist with an abundance of energy and talent. Those sort of people – the optimistic, creative maryjo types – thrive here more than just about anyone else, so when we heard she was returning alongside label-mate KNOX for a live show… let’s just say we had to get the low-down on why she loves New York, what she’s been up to, and all that’s coming her way (including a few million Spotify streams, NBD.

I know you played here back in August and now you’re coming back with KNOX, which is just thrilling. New York is an exciting place in terms of culture and history, but I always hear that the stature of playing a show in New York is felt for artists. When you’re here, and while thinking about your return to these Big Apple stages, how does that feel to you? Does it resonate maybe a little differently than somewhere else might?

You know what, I’m obsessed with New York. I tried to move there because I thought that I’d be able to get away with it [Laughs] since the label’s out there. So I’m obsessed with New York and you know, I love just the busyness and the hecticness and just everything about it. So I think, sorry, my, I’m gonna clear my throat really quick. I think every time that I get told that I get to go to New York, either for work or for shows and just for everything, I get this like boost of energy just ’cause the atmosphere is so go, go, go. And the whole team’s out there. So it’s just like, I know I’m gonna get stuff done. I love everybody there. Like I love how you can tell some people are from New York. […] I think everyone there is just so creative and even if you aren’t like an artist and you just like to go to shows and everything, you’re still, you just automatically have that creative mind because you live in somewhere so crazy. [Laughs].

You’re right! I think that that’s part of the reason why so many people from New York become these grand artists in their own right. I may be a New Yorker at heart, but I love Cleveland and that’s where you’re from. What does Cleveland mean to you in terms of the music that you’re making and/or any inspiration that comes from there?

I think just because I’m so close with everybody in Cleveland and everyone’s been so supportive; it just makes the journey all the more fun for me. I feel comfortable stepping outside of my comfort zone because people aren’t judging me for doing this. They’re supportive with all of it. It’s allowing me to experiment more with my music and I feel better about going away from home because I know I have a supportive home to come back to.

Since we’re talking about Cleveland, you wrote an awesome song titled and dedicated to “cleveland.” I love the way that you approach songwriting because it is personal but relatable. You make people feel like they are natives to your city with the way you use imagery and how you call people out  –like your friend Julia. It’s exactly what you would expect from someone who is in their early twenties making music, having a good time doing so, and still appreciating their roots. Because there is that personal aspect, I’m curious if you ever start writing a song and think, “Oh, that’s a little too much like a diary entry. I don’t wanna put it out there for everyone – it’s just for me.”

I think there is a line where you have to be careful not to cross, more so that people still want to listen to it because it is relatable. Once it’s too much of you, it’s not relatable to the other person and then they probably don’t wanna listen to it; especially depending on the style of the song, because you want it to be catchy and relatable. The minute you’re like, “My favorite color’s this and he did exactly this to me and his name is this,” it might be too much detail where it takes away from the story of the song that you want people to relate to. It’s always kind of fun to find that little balance of how deep you can go with what story you’re trying to tell, because with some you can get deeper with and some it’s like, “Nope – can’t get that deep today.”

Absolutely, and I was actually saying earlier that your song “Don’t Call Me” is one that really hits the nail on the head with that. Anybody of any age and any gender and at any point in their life can relate to it, however they can also listen to you singing it and watch your very fun, aesthetically pleasing video for it and just kind of immerse themselves in it in that way.

I was singing it, and then I kind of did the slow version, and everyone’s like, “Where’s the slow version?” I was like, “You know what… where is the slow version?” Even though the song is so fun and uppity, it’s so fun to sing slow! I didn’t even realize I could get that message across slowly, too, and I think now people can listen to the upbeat version in a different way and really hear the lyrics because that other version came out.

I love that so much. Another song I love of yours is “Drunk Tattoo.” This one has a cool, fun tale to tell that is, once again, relatable. There is a little bit of a metaphor to it, though. I think because of that, and the beat, it is going to become such a staple at a live show.

Oh my gosh. It’s so fun and I love it. I love singing that song.

Are you excited to be adding that to your set and playing it live? Because every time I listen to it I’m just like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t wait to see this song in New York.” Yes, all your releases so far have been great, but this one has that maryjo energy – bounce off the walls, feel yourself, have a good time.

For sure! We’ve been doing it in rehearsal with the band and they have so much fun playing it. The energy overall with that song just has everyone so excited about it. I think when we get to perform it live, it’s going to be taken to another level. 

It was so funny when we were recording that song in the studio, because that was such a fun session, but I had such a bad sinus infection [Laughs]. I was so sick doing it, but we actually liked the vocals! It took me forever to be like, “Oh… wait. I do like my voice in this. I don’t wanna recut it!” At first I would listen back and just think about how I was sick when I recorded it. I was in my head the whole time, but then one day I realized it was fine and now I love it.

You’ve come to terms with it, which is I think even more special. You can see the growth of the song and actually have fun with it!

Oh, yeah! We got to see the whole growth with the song from when we wrote it, and it was all funny, and then I was sick, and then it finally all came together. “Finally, we love this!” Now we’re playing it live and it’s even better and so much fun.

I want to bring up your label and your signing with Atlantic Records, because that is absolutely iconic. Congrats are very much in order for you. What was that moment like of solidifying working with them and being under that label? 

Well, when I was younger, I liked to look up record labels. Atlantic stuck out and I always liked the name. I know that sounds weird, but when I was younger I liked the name – the ocean and the coast. But then once we started – actually when I first started doing music and once they showed interest, it was amazing. It was especially amazing with how much they treated me like family. I know the music business is all business, dah, dah, dah, yada, yada… but they made it so comfortable. When I went in to meet everybody, it went so well. Iit was kind of like a puzzle where I fit in well or I didn’t feel anything was out of place. I didn’t feel like I was making any wrong decision. Everybody that I met – they’re so good about just staying on top of it with how I feel as a person and not just an artist. With my songs, they are so good about honing in on everything for me, especially when I was trying to find myself and asking, “Who is maryjo? What is my music?” They didn’t just let me go in any direction. They helped hone in on who I was and made sure I enjoyed what I’m making. It has been a great experience, so when we signed, it felt like it was the right thing. I think you just kind of know when you’re about to make either a great decision or a bad one, and that one for me was just really easy knowing it was a good one.