You're about to spend some quality time catching up with one of the most creative musicians to ever venture outside of Nashville. In one of the most extensive interviews posted on this site, Kevin Max took some time in-between performances of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, in Northern California, to answer questions from New ReleaseTuesday.com's very own Angel (no, not the one with no wings), who was scrambling herself to get prepared for Hurricane Frances on the other side of the states. What emerged between the miles was a lot of great conversation about the new EP along with a possible full length record in '05! And, after dishing about the latest fashion trendsetters in his new hometown of LA, he even spent a few minutes traveling down Memory Lane, answering a few questions about the glory days of dc talk. There's nothing better than remembering where you came from when planning for what's next...
When I first heard the title of your latest EP, Between the Fence and the Universe, it really caught my attention. I thought it was such a poetic expression which intrigued me, yet it mystified me at the same time. Can you explain the meaning behind this title?
For me, it was a title that didn't necessarily have to mean a specific thing. Actually, my scenario for writing titles, poems, or names of songs is just a process of writing down a lot of ideas. I come up with something that strikes me, and I always write it down. I never go back and try to rewrite it. Much like my poetry—it's written out as a thought, and that thought just hit me. I said to myself, "That says a lot; there is a lot of depth to that."
Personally, it means that I'm taking a step away from the places in my life that were a bit more conformist, a little bit more within a box—certain culture—and stepping out into a brand new world of creative expression. I also view it as a spiritual thought: it's being at a place in your life you're venturing out of, but you know God has you in His grasp no matter how far away from everything you might feel.
I'm feeling that way right now because a major hurricane is supposed to be here tomorrow!
He might have you closer in His grasp than you figured today!
Yes, it is a great title. It's a thought-provoking, multifaceted statement which is brilliant, actually! It kept me thinking what could be between the fence and the universe? I kept coming up with many different ideas, and I just felt there had to be more than one meaning.
There are absolutely many different meanings. I mean, for me, I write things based upon how fashionable it looks to me. Sometimes I will write something down and I'll think, "No, that doesn't speak to me." But this title spoke to me. It's intriguing because it is multi-leveled and it doesn't have to be spiritual. It can be completely social or completely humanitarian, and I liked that.
So how did the project Between the Fence and the Universe come about?
The EP contains songs that I created in Nashville while working towards the next project. I'm still writing for my next full length album which will probably be out the beginning of next year. In the meantime, I knew that so many people were dying for new music, so I wanted to release some of the demos. That's really what they are—they are demos. We didn't even fully mix them. We didn't put down all the instrumentation that I would have normally done on a full length project. I liked how they sounded in demo form and I thought, "You know what? Let's put these out. They sound great!"
Lyrically, what themes do you sing about on the new record?
"Seek," the first song, is really about my interpretation of God and who He is on a number of different levels.
"21st Century Darlings" is really about our culture, how everything is just so surface level and about trying to get the quick fix. If you live life like that you will end up wanting more and more and never being able to actually fill the void in your soul. That one is kind of a commentary on social life.
"Irish Hymn" is really a song about people going through hard times and being able to get back on their feet again. It's kind of a powerful self-affirmation anthem.
"Stranded" is a fictional song about somebody living through the end times—through the tribulation. It's actually about a guy falling in love with a girl that's got the mark of the beast on her wrist. Everything is falling down around him, but he's holding onto her because he loves her. Basically, the idea is that love conquers all, even in the end of times. Even when everything else is falling down around you, if you have love I think you have the greatest thing you could possibly hold.
"Golden" is about love, too. If you have true love, if you have been able to experience that, then don't let it go. It's so important to be able to love someone properly.
"To The Dearly Departed" is actually a pretty serious breakup song. You know, every great rock 'n' roll record has to have a good breakup song—it has a glimmer of hope in it, too. Basically, it's a song that is saying no matter how hard things get in a relationship you have the number one lover of your soul there no matter what.
What musical direction have you taken with the new EP and how does it compare to Stereotype Be?
We're talking about an EP, so it's not a full length project. There wasn't a whole lot of experimenting going on this EP. I'm planning to have ten to twelve brand new songs on the full length record, which I'm going to put out the beginning of next year. They are going to be fully experimented with, meaning I'm going to go all the way with them. These songs are just kind of put down with a live band in Nashville at my drummer's studio. I put my little MSG1000 keyboard stuff on it, I did my vocal thing and I feel like we did a really good job of letting each song have it's own personality and life. I would say—overall musically—this project is a bit rawer, a bit more straightforward, not as many changes, not as many arrangement shifts, not as many sectional diversities. It's not as sectioned off as Stereotype Be was; it's a lot more linear. The next record is going to be a musical blend of this EP and Stereotype Be. I have ideas for the next project to be very groove oriented, putting rock 'n' roll guitars and a European sensibility of songwriting with a groove.
I'm looking forward to your full length record that will be coming out next year. On a similar subject, can you tell me if you have a new label yet, or are you still shopping for a partner?
I found a label that I'm happy with, and we will be making a record late fall. I have been writing songs for the new record with a lot different people out here in LA including Van Dyke Parks, who wrote a lot for Brian Wilson and produced the first Rufus Wainwright record. I also wrote a lot with Mark Hudson who actually wrote a song for dc talk, as well as Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne and Ringo Starr. Tonight, I am writing with Warren Cuccurullo. Warren was in a band called Missing Persons and then for the last 12 years with Duran Duran. I'm quite a big fan of what he does! So, we are getting together tonight and writing some songs for the album.
What an impressive lineup of songwriters! Can you tell us anything about the dc talk song on Toby's new album, Welcome To Diverse City?
I really can't because I just drifted in there and sang on it. I don't really know how it's going to turn out, because I haven't heard a final version of it. I thought it was a decent sounding song, and I was kind of curious as to what direction he was going in with his new project. I thought it sounded a bit more pop— it's definitely more pop than hip-hop. It will be interesting to hear the final version. I was happy with my vocals, but I don't know what the song is going to sound like to be honest with you.
Was it great to be back working with Tait and Toby?
Actually, we weren't there at the same time. It was great to put vocals down with Toby and lend [a hand] to his project, for sure, but it didn't feel like dc talk to be honest with you.
dc talk only feels like dc talk when the three of us are in the studio at the same time coming up with ideas. It felt like a tobyMac record, and I was singing on it...which is fun. He was sweet enough to ask me to do it and I was like, "Yes, absolutely!"
I can't wait to hear it!
Toby played a couple of songs for me, and from what I heard, it sounded really good!
Speaking of working with Tait and Toby, when you toured with dc talk, what was the wildest thing that ever happened? Can you think of something funny that you wouldn't mind sharing with us?
Oh my, there are too many of those! [Laughter]
There was a show we did—I can't remember what show it was—but we were backstage. It was one of these big theaters, either Universal Amphitheater, Radio City Music Hall or some place like that? We were running around backstage and Toby literally ran into a pole, then he was knocked out for at least a minute or so. We were looking everywhere trying to figure out where he went, and he was lying on the ground backstage. I wouldn't call it funny, but it definitely was a scenario where it's one of those Spinal Tap moments where you're looking for the guy—and he's lying on the ground, because he didn't duck. That's a wild experience!
I'm glad he's OK! Did he know what happened when he woke up or was he unaware of what happened?
I think you would have to ask him that, but I think he was pretty stunned! I'm trying to think of something. We've had so many strange happenings with this group; obviously, we've been together so long...
One of the strangest moments was probably in the beginning. When we used to travel together, we converted an airport shuttle bus into a touring vehicle. We hired a bus driver through a friend of ours, because we heard he was a great driver. We got pulled over in the middle of the night, and I was thinking, "OK, he was speeding or something like that?" So, Toby and I walked to the front of the bus, and the guy was getting arrested because he didn't have his license on him. They put him in the back of the police car and took off.
So what did you guys do after he got arrested?
Actually, we had to go to the police station with him and make sure he had a valid ID on him. We had to go through that whole scenario with him. I guess he did have one, but he didn't have it on him at the time. So that's kind of an interesting dc talk story.
That definitely is a crazy story! [Laughter]
There are many stories like that...too numerous to name really!
What are the future plans for dc talk? Can we expect a new dc talk album anytime soon?
I know everybody is trying to get to that answer, because I have been asked that so many times. I know Toby and Mike get asked that question every second, too. When I talked to Mike he said, "I'm tired of it! I'm tired of people asking me." I just think it's funny that he would be tired of it—or anybody would be tired of it—because it's so obvious that everybody wants to know.
Well, everybody loves dc talk!
I can't give you an answer, because I don't know. It really is a decision that has to come from all of us at the same time. I have said in many interviews that I am willing to do another project at the right time. To get back into the studio and do another dc talk record is a commitment. It's not just getting in there and making a record. It's deciding on what direction to take, what to do with the tour and what to do with the videos. And how many records will we make after that? It's drama for us to do it, and that's what people need to realize—that it's not just getting back in the studio and making another record. That would be fun, and that would be quite easy with the amount of money available for us to do that. But that's not the entire scenario or the big picture. The big picture is touring, videos, record company politics, publishing politics...
I know, all the red tape involved with a project.
And all three people blocking out a certain amount of time from their ever busy schedules to do it. I have always said I don't want to do another project unless all of us are 100 percent committed to it. I'm not going to make a project unless we're all there together to do it as dc talk. I'm not really interested in making a record if it's not dc talk. We have made projects in the past that have been heavily influenced by other people. Jesus Freak and Supernatural were about as close to dc talk as you can get, in my opinion. It was all three guys writing the songs, all three guys producing the songs at some point and all three guys performing the songs.
So you're not sure when we can expect something?
I'm not sure yet, but I think something will happen. All of us are really good friends, and we really like each other. I definitely think dc talk needs to get back together for the industry, because the industry is so starved for bands that set a precedence and set a standard.
dc talk definitely did that!
And I think we can do that all over again. I know I'll probably sound egotistical saying this, but I know I am up to the task of setting the standard.
dc talk always set the standard. Personally, there's always something so moving, so spiritual about the dc talk songs. I remember when I first heard "Jesus Freak" on the radio. I was amazed! I said to myself, "Who is this band?" I didn't know who it was, and then the DJ said it was dc talk. I said to myself, "I have to get that CD!" Of course, I got it and played it over and over again. It got so scratched up to the point where I need a replacement, actually! I really enjoyed that CD—right down to the very last scratch!
That's sweet! I have so many stories of people that come up to me constantly and tell me how dc talk made them rethink their lives. That's literally the biggest compliment that an artist or a musician can get, that their music or their words actually changed the shape of a person's thought process or helped them through a very dark time. I was performing yesterday as Joseph in Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, up in Northern California, and this guy came up to me after the show and started bawling. I said, "Are you OK?" And he told me, "Yes, I want you to know your record Stereotype Be was the record that I listened to after my dad shot himself two years ago, and it got me through that six-month period of complete depression!" So to hear something like that from somebody—it means everything! That gives me the reason to go into the studio again and make another project.
That really is beautiful!
There are a lot of bands that haven't heard that message yet. I feel bad for them because that's the only reason I make music. I'm not really into music just to make money or to get famous.
I always knew that about you.
Well, I do like to see my picture in a magazine or on the Internet, because I am a bit of a fashion hound. But I'm definitely not a fame or money driven person.
Speaking of fashion, what has Kevin Max been wearing lately? Any Prada, Burberry, or Dolce and Gabbana?
I just did a brand new photo shoot for KevinMax.com, and I posted the pictures on the message boards. I was wearing a Comme Des Garcon jacket, and I also wore a white, full collared windbreaker in a couple of shots. I think that jacket is Prada Sport. I'm also wearing a pink shirt by J. Lindeberg—I am kind of a name freak! I will go out and buy a great Italian suit, but I'll also buy things that are totally on sale and love it.
I love fashion, too, so I totally understand the need for a great designer suit. Now, I heard you moved to LA. How do you like it there?
I've been here in LA close to a year now, and I love it! I feel like LA is more my home than Nashville ever was, which is really strange to say, but it's so true. Some people hate Los Angeles. Some people move here and say, "How could you like this place?" What I love about Los Angeles is the diversity of culture. It's also a place where there is a lot of freedom. You can really be anything you want to be here, and people aren't going to look at you differently. I had somebody tell me, the first week they moved to LA, they saw a man wearing a feather boa walking a donkey down the street. And I was like, "That's interesting," but for West Hollywood that's just like, "whatever."
That does sound wild. I have traveled to many places, even to Europe. I'm from NYC and love it there, but I've never been to California. That's a place I've always wanted to go to.
In my mind, LA is not as hip as Europe, and it's definitely not as interesting as NYC either. LA is definitely diverse: you have the oceans, the mountains, and the desert...
You can go shopping!
Yes, you can and the food is great in LA. You can literally walk down the street from where I live and get the best sushi. I actually eat out at a sushi restaurant just about everyday and a Brazilian restaurant every night, and it's just like the best food ever!
That sounds delicious! Earlier you mentioned your starring role of "Joseph" in the classic Tim Rice, Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. How is the show going? What experience have you gained from participating in this event?
The play took about a two and a half week period to learn the script, which is really fast. I didn't get any blocking on the stage until the night of the first show. It was very difficult for us, but it was easy for the narrator, I guess, to get her spots because she was telling a story and walking back and forth. For me, I had to be in several different places, in different degrees of character. It was difficult the first weekend, but now we got it down to a point where it feels like a very cohesive Broadway musical. I really learned to pace myself throughout the whole musical number and to be in character. The only negative review we had was from a Fresno paper that said I was too much like Kevin Max "the rock star" and not enough like "Joseph." That's been remedied. Now I am completely "Joseph."
What's next for Kevin Max?
Writing and doing some shows. Actually, I'm going to do a show at the Viper Room in California, and the next night I am opening for Berlin, the 80's new wave band, in San Juan Capistrano, California. Right after Joseph, I go directly to Europe to meet with a new label. I'm signing here in LA to a brand new label, and I'm also signing over in Europe to a new label, as well. I am pretty busy—lot's of stuff going on. As we speak, my designer friend is over here at my house designing my new web site.
So they're totally changing it around?
Yes, it's a 3-year-old web site.
I remember when you last redesigned your site you had your music playing at the message boards, a feature which I totally enjoyed. After a while, I noticed it disappeared. What happened to the music?
They took it off because it was too expensive for them to run. They said the bandwidth on the web site was the most bandwidth they ever worked with, for an artist, and they were working with many other people. They said my fans were kind of crazy, and I like that. I like the fact that my fans want to get on there, download pictures, talk to each other and have fun.
We have a great community here, as well. Before we go, is there anything else you would like to say to your fans?
Sure! Tell them I would love them to visit KevinMax.com, and join our merry crew. We have a lot of fun there. Not to take away from here, but it would be great for all of us to be one big happy family.
I definitely will tell them.
And again, I really appreciate the fact that you guys are supporting the EP. It's been awesome talking to you, and I hope to see you soon.
Kevin, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions, and it's been awesome talking to you, too!
Angel, a concert photographer and writer, frequently conducts artist interviews for NRT. She loves Christian music and currently lives in FL with her husband.