Change is not necessarily a new concept to Kevin Max, who by his own admission has never been inclined to stay in one place for a long length of time. When it comes to his phenomenal talent as a gifted singer-songwriter, Max has never settled for the status quo, always pushing the artistic envelope in new directions. It is that creative flair that sums up his extraordinary appeal and has endeared Max to countless legions of music fans across the globe.
On his third solo effort, Max returns with a new, passionate and poignant recording, The Blood. A deliberate departure from his usual rock stylings, The Blood is a collection of rootsy, soulful Gospel gems that pays homage to the music that was at the root of rock and roll, blues and popular culture. As an added bonus, it features an impressive line-up of guest vocalists including Vince Gill, Amy Grant, “American Idol” finalist Chris Sligh, Joanne Cash, Ashley Cleveland, Mary Mary’s Erica Campbell and a dc Talk reunion featuring Max and former band members TobyMac and Michael Tait.
In her second conversation with Kevin Max, NRT's resident interviewer Angel dives into the current world of this enigmatic artist and uncovers the inspiration behind The Blood, the latest from his upcoming movie The Imposter, details on his first children's book and how he manages to keep everything else in his personal life afloat. Join us as we catch up with one of our favorite artists.
Hi, Kevin. Thanks for joining us here at NRT. We're delighted to have the opportunity to interview you. Let's start by talking about your latest release, The Blood, and its overall theme.
My latest project is a cover record of old gospel and blues songs. It's a compilation of songs from some of the early pioneering musicians whose music paved the way for today's modern gospel. These are songs of faith that started back in the day when the recording process was in its infancy. We now have so many genres of music, and artists get titled in so many ways, but I've always looked at music as being universal and that God created it all! You know, there are some really great songs by these artists that opened the door to some of the music we're listening to today.
You have a stellar line-up of musicians who collaborated with you on The Blood. How did you hook-up with them?
It was quite natural really. There was never a big strategy meeting where we sat down to decide who we were going to pick. Since I was working with William Owsley in his home studio and the different relationships that I have in Nashville, it was possible to bring everyone onboard in a relevantly short period of time.
I'm sure you've thoroughly enjoyed working with so many high-caliber artists. I understand that Amy Grant went into the studio to record her outstanding contribution to "Up Above My Head I Hear Music In The Air" without even rehearsing her part!
I got Amy on the line and we discussed a couple of songs I had in mind for her a few days before we went into the studio. She picked the Sister Rosetta Tharpe song, because she thought it was good for her [vocal] range and for what she does. But she had not heard our version until she got over to the studio. She proved to me and everybody else that Amy Grant is a really great, professional singer. She did a really good job, and it was great to have her there. I've always been good friends with Amy and a big supporter of what she does. It was really cool to have her and Vince Gill make a guest appearance on the album.
You've taken a change in direction artistically from your previous solo projects. Why did you choose to record a gospel record this time around?
I haven't done one yet, and I was tired of doing the expected "pop/rock" album. This is not just a gospel record though. I look at it as an exploration into the blues and into country music as well. I had a lot more freedom to explore this style of music by working with an independent label. As an artist, I challenge people—myself most importantly—to try to think outside the box and to create stuff that you really want to create as opposed to what might be expected by the industry.
How did you come up with the songs to record for the album?
I did a great deal of background work on the earlier gospel and blues songs which pioneered the whole movement and got people listening to this style of music. It was very intriguing to me to discover that Sister Rosetta Tharpe was one of the first gospel singers to actually bring gospel music into the bars and nightclubs. Of course, Blind Willie Johnson was a wonderful blues guitarist and slide player who influenced a vast number of musicians including Jimmy Paige, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and more—the list goes on and on!
So these songs were hand-picked; we spent a lot of time looking into them. Dave Perkins is a really good friend of mine who has an adoration for all things blues. He was the go-to guy when I decided what songs to record.
What is your favorite song on the album?
My personal favorite is "Trouble Of The World" by Mahalia Jackson. She did the best version of it ever; I can't even come close to her version. Something about that song is so relevant in every situation. It could almost be the theme song for CNN [laughter]. We're in an age where everybody is trying to get involved with things that they really shouldn't get involved in. There's a lot of hatred and ignorance in the world. War is the culmination of ignorance, hatred, power and greed. "Trouble of the World" was a song that I needed to sing, because it really talks about where we're at today. We will not be at peace until God comes back to take us home. It's quite a sad song if you think about it.
"Trouble Of The World" just happens to be my personal favorite as well as "They Won't Go When I Go" by Stevie Wonder and Yvonne Wright.
"They Won't Go When I Go" was a song that I've always wanted to cover, but it never really fit into the other albums I've recorded. Initially, when I heard George Michael's version, I was really jealous [laughter]. I was like, "Somebody did this right!" Of course, George Michael did a great cover of it. We really loved doing that tune, even though I went back to the original Stevie Wonder version a little bit more than what George did.
Since our last interview, you've remarried, moved from Los Angeles back to Nashville, and now you're a father of two. Can you briefly describe a typical day in the life of Kevin Max?
It's a typical musician's life. I know for me, when I get time off, I want my time off. I want to become a bit isolated and having the family around is something that I take great joy in. When I get off the road, it's more about down time, because I need to recharge my battery, so to speak. Right now I'm very busy because of the new album, filming The Impostor, as well as finishing the children's book and looking for a publisher for my new book of poetry. There's constant stuff happening!
So how do you balance all of that?
[Laughter.] I have an amazing wife! Without help from my wife Amanda, I'd be pitiful in any area when it comes to home life. I take it one day at a time and make the best out of every situation. Today I had an interview all the way across town, so I woke up early and drove all the way to Franklin, [Tennessee] to appear on television. Then I drove back home to do all these [phone] interviews. Right now, I'm running into the kitchen putting together a veggie burrito [laughter]. After this, I'm going to work out, and then I'm going to an event tonight. And in between all of these things happening, I'm spending time with my wife and kids. So it's busy, it's high energy, but it's fun!
Talk about your leading role in the full-length feature film The Imposter.
I fought with them on that title day after day, and week after week, but they're convinced that they want to call it The Imposter now. The movie really has nothing to do with my previous recorded project The Imposter, but it does have to do with a musician that loses perspective, turns to drug addiction and actually loses many things in the process. It's also a story of redemption and self-discovery. When you lose focus—when you lose perspective on yourself—that's when things get out of control. I think we can see that example in many different people in the entertainment business who have lost perspective and let themselves go.
Is it about a Christian musician?
The movie is about a Christian rock musician. My character portrays somebody who is caught up within the Christian music industry and really doesn't know if he wants to be there. I think it's an example of so many artists today who grew up in the church with the aspiration of becoming Christian rock musicians, but later on they realize what's actually involved in the industry and how to deal with those pressures.
Since you've spent 15 years in the spotlight through your involvement in the multi-platinum and four-time Grammy Award-winning band dc Talk, can you dispel the misconceptions of being a rock star?
The casting director came to me, because they thought I would be perfect to play the role of somebody who has been through it and has seen the weaknesses and holes in the industry. As a young musician, the misconception I experienced was that they always put us up on a pedestal. I'm not talking from an entertainment angle, but from a spiritual angle, where people looked to us as shining examples of evangelicals. Absolutely, I'm a Christian and I'm proud of it, but in no way, shape or form did I ever feel like I was called to be a pastor or a public speaker.
People needed to realize that dc Talk was just three guys who loved music. More so, Toby really wanted to be a spokesperson for the church, but I tended to shy from that. I always told people,
"Look, I'm a singer, I believe in Jesus, but let's not try to put us too high up there, because we will fail at some point, and we will let you down." One of the reasons why we wrote the song "What If I Stumble" was to let people know that Christian performers are not pastors, and they're not guys who are living their whole lives very carefully or responsibly. Artists, in general, have been known to be very passionate people and tend to make a lot of mistakes. But I think that we all learn from those mistakes and learn how to become better people.
In my mind, the reason for this film is to open the door to let people see that the industry is not perfect. There are a lot of holes in it, and there's a lot of things going on that shouldn't be going on. But you know, it's like that with everything else in life. You could walk inside The Oval Office and you'll find problems. You could walk inside any governor's mansion across the country and you'll find problems. The point I'm trying to make is that our ultimate example is Jesus Christ—everybody else is just a follower.
When can we expect the movie to be released?
It will probably be a late fall 2008 release, and if anybody wants more information about The Impostor they can go to www.theimpostermovie.com.
Congratulations on your first children's book, Wilder Maximus and the Misunderstood Dragon. Tell us about this book and how you came up with the title.
It's kind of a tongue teaser. It's a children's story about a boy who lives in a rural town, probably somewhere in the UK, and the name of the village is Swaddling Coats. The main character is the son of a cobbler who desires to become a farmer. One day the boy happens to come upon a hidden hole in the side of a hill and discovers a dragon. The people of the village have told tales of mythical proportions about this dragon, and because of these stories the dragon was totally misunderstood.
I really wanted to write a story that talks about charity. So we were going to call it The Charitable Dragon, but that sounded a bit strange. Not to give the story away, but it's teaching children the importance of charitable giving. I think that's such a great subject! The kids who grow up today are so much more generous and giving than we were generations ago. The world is changing. It's becoming a better place because we're all about helping people now.
I love the title of that book, and your son happens to be named Wilder.
Yes, he was an inspiration for the book, so we decided to name it after him. The illustrator we'll choose is probably going to illustrate the boy to look a bit like Wilder, which will be cute! Eventually, when Wilder gets a little older, we'll be able to show him this book.
Speaking about charity, you issued a statement at www.kevinmax.com that you and your wife will be going on a trip to Egypt with Mission of Mercy as well as partnering with them as one of their flagship artists in raising money for poverty stricken children around the world.
We're really excited to become a part of Mission of Mercy and raise some awareness for them. But recently, Egypt experienced various problems, so we're not allowed to go into the country to do what we wanted to do. I think we're going to switch locations and go to Nairobi, Kenya instead. Mission of Mercy has so many outreaches across the globe. They're involved just about everywhere from India to the Philippines, and from Romania to right here in the United States. They're a huge corporation.
What activities will you engage in when you visit Africa?
We're going to visit two or three different outreaches in Kenya. One of the medical centers we'll be visiting will [provide treatment] to HIV-positive children and their families. Then we will travel to areas where there are unbelievable amounts of poverty. Some of the outreaches they have there are building community centers where kids can come to get an education as well as receive proper medical attention. I believe two or three of the centers that we'll be going to are medical facilities. While we're visiting, we'll also be shooting some footage. I'm going to see firsthand what Mission of Mercy does in Africa. Then, hopefully, sometime next year, I can go to another place such as Egypt or the Dominican Republic. If anybody would like more information about Mission of Mercy you can visit their official website at www.missionofmercy.org.
What does the future hold for Kevin Max?
I'll continue to do the things that inspire me. I believe you shape your own destiny. If you don't get out and make it happen, you'll never be able to live out your dreams. I think those dreams are obtainable. It's just about getting up in the morning and deciding to do it—how bad do you really want it?
And it's such a pleasure to help people by being part of charitable organizations that reach out to others going through tough situations. It's much easier for those of us who live in the United States to become part of something like that, because we are so blessed and have so many things at our disposal. Getting out there and seeing what other people are experiencing is a huge life lesson, and I encourage everybody to do that.
Angel, a concert photographer and writer, frequently conducts artist interviews for NRT. She loves Christian music and currently lives in FL with her husband.