In conversation: Max Jury
Max Jury's recently released self-titled debut album (reviewed with 8 stars by TMF) uses American music’s rich palette of country, blues, spiritual, gospel and rock and roll to paint a beautifully authentic picture of his home country. We’re very grateful to Max for taking time from his busy schedule to answer our questions.
A sense of time and place sounds important to your music. To get a predictable question out of the way early on; may I ask which fellow artists have inspired your work?
Bob Dylan was a huge influence growing up. As well as The Beatles and the [Rolling] Stones. Early on, they were the holy trinity for me. But I became really obsessed with Elliott Smith in my early teens, and recently have been trying to get my hands on all the lost soul/R&B records I can. The artists who inspire me are all over the place, really, and not just specific to music. I’m a big movie guy and take a lot of inspiration from films.
Moving on from artists, it’s tempting to imagine the range of your parents’ record collection as you cover country, blues, spiritual, gospel, and rock & roll. Is there anything you can share with us about your formative musical background?
All of that music was present in my life. Whether I found it via my parents, my friends, my teachers, etc. And it’s the music, as a kid, that really resonated with me. I was deep into blues; B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Hank Williams, it seemed so real and raw and basic. But the genius was in the emotion, and it made you feel things other music couldn’t. Those types of artists, in my eyes, are the foundation for a lot of pop music.
Your music gives an impression of a lost America, such as the fantastic ‘Ella’s Moonshine’ ; do you consciously wish to transport your listeners to this time? And if it’s not too wide a question, which aspects of this lost culture would you like to transport into the present?
To be perfectly honest I’m not consciously trying to transport listeners to any point in time. ‘Ella’s Moonshine’ is about a girl I know who lives in North Carolina. The song is literally a run through of her idiosyncrasies. She is a blacksmith, makes moonshine, doesn’t wear shoes, used to live in a treehouse. I wanted the song to be a snapshot of her life, which takes place in 2016, as funny as that sounds.
You’ve reported your new album was recorded in both Electric Lady Studios in New York City and finished at your friend Stacy's house in the woods of North Carolina. Did these two different venues influence your recording in different ways, and do you think the listeners will be able to notice?
The tracks recorded in New York had a certain urgency and excitement. I was working against the clock and also working in a very historic place so my nerves were all over the place. But the sounds and grooves we got there were unbeatable. The most challenging part of making the record was tying together those sessions with the sessions in North Carolina. Me and Stacy (his house studio) must have spent 12 hours a day for two weeks straight trying to contextualize what we did in North Carolina with the Electric Lady tracks. But we did our best, I think. The NC tracks have freedom, ease, and a lot of overdubs (ha) because we had plenty of time and resources.
Church music director Jackson Russell must have been a great influence and help with your album’s recording, including in the track 'Numb'. Did you take much of a role in production yourself, and would this be something you wish to do more of in the future, having learned from others. Mark Ronson is one of your fans, he may have a few tips.
Jackson’s work on the album was nothing short of a miracle. Couldn’t say a bad thing about the guy if I tried. And I hope I can work with him again in the future. Outside of the tracks recorded at Electric Lady, I co-produced the record with my friend Stacy. It is something I want to do more often! I’ve spent so much time in the studio over the last few years that I’ve learned to work a board, get sounds, do some basic mixing. I still have – a lot – to learn but I’d love to produce a record.
You spend time in both the United States and Britain. Your track ‘Home’ sounds a little homesick, maybe like Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Homeward Bound’. We love you spending time here in Britain, but are there things other than loved ones you miss from home?
I miss the stillness of Iowa. And I miss just being able to hop in my car and drive.
Following on, appreciating most work is biographical to some degree, may I ask if much of your work is specifically biographical. Not only ‘Home’ but also ‘Standing on My Own’? Or do you find discussing more general themes more interesting as well as inclusive.
Yes, most of it is specific to my life. But I attempt to write about these experiences in a more generalized way so, like you said, the songs can be more inclusive and applicable to everyone’s life. I’m a fan, personally, of specific almost conversational songs, like I’m listening in on a stranger’s telephone call. So I also try to get that feeling across.
Do you think your life experience working after leaving music college and before recording your album has influenced it for the for the better? It must be difficult to write about subjects others can relate to without having lived a little yourself first, as you wouldn’t have been able to straight out of college?
Yes absolutely for the better. My life was pretty cookie cutter before I left college. But after that things got interesting. And that’s when songs I felt had something to say started to surface.
Asking a similar question in a different way: you’re a young man. Do you often have to project your feelings into the future to imagine your music’s situations? For instance, in ‘Grace’, which may be pining for a lost love, or ‘Great American Novel’ with its lyrics “It was a golden age being lost in love.” Regardless, please don’t use up your heartache for when you’re older as we want you to have a long career!
Ha! I’m sure there will be plenty more heartache! I’ve tried projecting my feelings into the future before, but for whatever reason it doesn’t work for me. It seems artificial and I lose focus. It’s easiest for me to stay rooted in reality.
The BBC’s Steve Lamacq is rightly fond of your work, playing it alongside many other genres of music. Naturally, you want as many people as possible to enjoy your work, but is it important to you to spread your music’s message to audiences who wouldn’t usually come across this, i.e., as an ambassador for your and fellow artists’ “similar kind” of music?
Steve has been really kind to me and I thank him for that. That’s not really important to me. A well written, well produced song will have an impact on people no matter which way you slice it. And I certainly don’t feel like an ambassador to any type of music. I’m just trying to keep my head above water!
We all loved your track ‘Christian Eyes’ from a few years back. This track’s video may be indicative of the observational nature of your work, some of us interpreting the character you play being so lost in his own thoughts that his life is slipping away before his own eyes. Can the sometimes melancholic nature of your music be overwhelming? In the future you may record an upbeat gospel or Grand Ole Opry singalong EP?
Thanks! That’s a very insightful way to describe that video. And that’s sometimes how I feel. It is overwhelming, absolutely. It’s kind of a heavy record and sometimes I don’t want to revisit certain songs or thoughts on certain nights. But I wrote it because it needed to be written, I needed to get things off my chest and out in the open. Definitely a therapeutic process for me. I think a Grand Ole Opry sing a long EP is a good idea! Or maybe I’ll go full Kraut Rock.
I hope your recent British shows went well (I caught you a couple of years ago in Birmingham). Do you notice much of a difference in audiences between North America and Europe, and do you have a favourite “type” of venue? I presume it must have been great experience playing shows with Lana Del Rey.
Oh, cool! They have been going well. The 100 Club in London was a really great night. I think European audiences are hungrier for new artists and more willing to give new artists a chance. I love playing hole in the wall type places. Where the audience is uncomfortably close and the microphones are sticky and smell like sweat as it seems honest to me. But with that said, I love playing everywhere. I’m not picky. Playing with Lana Del Rey was surreal. A whole new experience for me. And Lana Del Rey was a lovely host.
Your French bulldog Emmy is named after Emmylou Harris. Should you have any more pets, who do you think they would be named after? Or reversing the situation, former musical friends Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney both wrote songs about their pets: ‘Ben’ and ‘Jet’, may Emmy one day be awarded a similar honour?
It’s in the works! Thanks for the interview. I really appreciate it and I hope you have a wonderful summer!
The album Max Jury is available from all good record shops. You can catch the musician live in Europe, including the UK, this summer; details are available on his website.