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Kevin Max Interview
In another day and time he probably would have been a minstrel. He might even have been a compatriot of Chaucer, Milton, or in later times, Christopher Marlowe. Kevin Max, however, was born centuries later and instead is a brilliant musical mind who pens poetic lyrics that challenge listeners to think about their faith, life and how they are going to improve both.
Max admitted that if the career and financial opportunities were the same today, he would rather be, "By far a poet because poetry is all about being in the moment and to me it is most exciting when you are in the moment. Poetry is about creating and it seems to me to be a lost art. Poetry really inspired me as a writer. As a young kid I used to read the poems of Walter Whitman and Oscar Wilde and EE Cummings. Without that I wouldn't be interested in songwriting." He said it would be a difficult choice to make because, "I like singing so much. I grew up singing. I would opt for poetry, though, because then I could grow a beard and walk around the streets in Seattle. If I could go down in history as a poet or a songwriter, I would want to be a poet because poetry was here way before songwriting was. There are enough songwriters around."
Max admitted to being an introspective writer. His song "Shaping Space" is reminiscent of the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." He said, "I am a big fan of the Beatles (especially) their later stuff. I really loved a lot of Lennon's solo stuff. "Imagine" is one of those songs that you could play throughout the day and not get tired of it. I think what Lennon did for me as a Christian singer/songwriter was to cause me to question what I believe in. Do I really believe that the Scripture is true? I believe to this day that my faith is warranted because of my studies and understanding of the Scripture as truth."
Lennon's song "Imagine" in some ways influenced what Max was trying to accomplish with his own song "Shaping Space." He said, "A song like "Imagine" can still make you understand the grace of God. What I was trying to say with "Shaping Space" is God is much bigger than the four walls that we like to put Him inside. "Shaping Space" is one of those decadent songs that some people will say you just let all of your influences spill out. I wanted to write a song that was all about bringing people together. In my mind that is what the song "Imagine" was trying to do."
One might be inclined to say that Kevin Max tells hard hitting parables not unlike Jesus did. Max's in your face lyrics are intended to encourage those who understand their meaning and hopefully to jar out of complacency those who are more intent on maintaining political correctness.
The title track from his 2005 CD The Imposter is a beautifully textured song that ranks up there with any top ten hit you have ever heard in mainstream markets. It is the type of song that should rank in the top ten of any Christian chart as well. Driven by Byron Hagan's heavy drum beats and some memorable guitar riffs from Max, Erick Cole and bassist Elijah Thomson "The Imposter" possesses thought-provoking lyrics.
Sonically Max's music has imprints of British rock bands from the seventies and eighties. "Your Beautiful Mind" has that Freddie Mercury and Queen sound. The story is one of a believer's struggles with faith.
And I find your beautiful mind in everything
"I really wasn't into American rock and roll when I was in high school and college. I listened to the Brits because in my opinion they were making the best music and continue to on different levels today. I think American music has a great past and history but it is a little bit before my time."
"When I was growing up bands like The Who, Pink Floyd, Echo, The Smiths and Queen were who influenced me (musically). Actually I was talking to someone yesterday who asked me who influenced me and strangely enough it was Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. People thing I must have been listening to Stevie Wonder or the Imperials. The point is it is completely the opposite. I have made no bones in the past about what influenced me," said Max.
There is an influence from Max's past that although he is proud of he is only now after four years starting to escape from its shadow. Kevin Max was a member of the four time Grammy winning group dc Talk that sold over eight million records.
Max said, "It is almost impossible to get out of the shadow of dc Talk at this point in my life, maybe ten years down the road it won't even be a story. Right now it is a difficult thing to get people to realize that I am a solo artist. The music that I make is not dc Talk. It is not even on the same level of what dc Talk was trying to do as far as the motivation, vision and goals behind it (the music). Creatively my motivation and goals are very different than the ones dc Talk had. (I find) it difficult to separate myself from all those perceptions. I am not bitter about it because when I look back for the most part I think dc Talk made a lot of great music. I am very proud of the CDs Jesus Freak and Supernatural. I think they were two really great records. We did some good videos and some good tours behind those projects so I am proud of it but at the same time it is very difficult to shake the image of being one of the guys from dc Talk."
Max's creativity hasn't suffered any as a solo artist and his CD The Imposter is populated with plenty of great tunes such as "Platform" and "Stay (The Same As Yesterday)" that bear that European influence. "I think European culture as a whole has a different outlook on creativity and art. I think they look at being creative as almost a way of life. Americans are propelled more by the idea of making money and that is not to say Americans don't think creatively as well. I think we spend more time thinking about the industry rather than how we can sit down and grow somebody's mind. European culture is more about taking risks and being creative. I really appreciate the fact that artists like Radiohead, instead of going out and making the record everybody wants to hear, might move off the path and make something like Amnesiac. I look up to people who can do that and put great art into the industry."
The second major change in Max's career occurred when he moved to Los Angeles. "Nashville would have been a lot easier for me to survive as an artist because of the history of dc Talk and (the band's) relationships. It would have been easy to program the same music and reach out to the same (audience) that we were involved with as DC Talk. In Los Angeles I am in a brand new market altogether. Even though we continue to bring music to the Christian market I have also been branching out into the general market. I have been pitching to general market booking agencies. Recently we have been taking The Imposter to general market labels. The goal is to see this music happen on a large scale. To work only the Christian music industry is not the primary goal to me. One of the goals is to continue building the crowd that I have affected through DC Talk and through the last four years of being a solo artist."
Max said the accessibility to large distributors, agents and mainstream labels in the City of Angels helps create better opportunities for him to broaden his listening audience. "I can sit down and have a meeting versus sending people CDs or music through the Internet. It is, however, (still) about the music. If you are able to create the music that is going to get the ears of the right people who will project your music into the general public then you are doing well," he said.
Just so people don't get the wrong impression Max views broadening his audience as a way of influencing more people for Christ. Although not all of his songs will have overt Christian lyrics one shouldn't forget that he is addressing everyday life issues from a Christian perspective.
Songs such as "Sanctuary" from The Imposter CD extend an offer of hope to those going through difficult times and living in a war torn world. "It is the first song that Andy Prickett and I wrote together for the record. To be honest I started writing that as a political tune about peace. I decided to stay more subtle because I am not into politics that much. I think it was good for me to write more about heaven than anything else and heaven as being the place of ultimate peace."
Even though Max still has a passion for performing, the aspect of his career he talked about that brings the most enjoyment, "I love to get into the studio now to create and write music. I would have to say the joy in creating a song is number one in my book."
He would want readers know, however, that the most important facet of his life these days is wife Amanda Lynn and daughter London Ava Kay. "I look at life through my daughter's eyes now. I think where are we going with all of this? As a musician ten years down the road, am I going to be able to get her braces? Am I going to be able to put her through college? Am I going to be able to buy her favorite dress? How are we going to raise her within the church? How are we going to tell her about good and bad?
Kevin Max is an extraordinary musician, singer and songwriter but more importantly he is an extraordinary human being.
By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.