Sing Me Home: Chats with Yo-Yo Ma, Max Jury and Imagine Dragons' Wayne Sermon, Plus Valerio Piccolo, Matt Hatt/Edda Glass, Shannon LaBrie and Dyan Exclusives

05/13/2016 10:43 am ET Updated May 17, 2016
Yo-Yo Ma &amp; Silk Road Ensemble / <i>Sing Me Home</i>
Yo-Yo Ma & Silk Road Ensemble's Sing Me Home album cover
Yo-Yo Ma & Silk Road Ensemble / Sing Me Home

A Conversation with Yo-Yo Ma

Mike Ragogna: Yo-Yo! Your latest album, Sing Me Home, is your next step with the Silk Road Ensemble, following the critically adored A Playlist Without Borders. So the history of the actual Silk Road is about outreach as well as trade, but do you think this album is the return to "home," globally, with the music represented?

Yo-Yo Ma: That's a very, very good question. As usual, Mike, you've put your finger right on it.

MR: Oh, you...

YM: I think the concept of Sing Me Home has a number of parts to it. The first part is that, dadgummit, this is our one home! This is our one planet. More of us are thinking about this more and more, and that's a good thing. Things are happening faster and faster, so we have to think about it more and more so that things don't fall apart. In terms of home and country, just because we're a diverse group, we actually think of this home as the United States of America. It has probably one of the most diverse populations, and if we actually seriously used the minds, hearts, and talents of all of our diverse population, we actually would have access to the hearts and minds of everybody in the world. I really mean that seriously.

I think music does something unusual, which I know you know. It uses two different parts of our brains. It uses the empathetic part and the critical part. Another way of putting it is you're conscious of what you hear, but it also affects you subconsciously. That's why people like to go hear music, because it gives them that feeling of community, of a group of people where it's safe and you can actually celebrate something together or mourn together or just have an experience together. It's a multi-sensate experience, and that's how we develop empathy. Feeling everything and thinking about it is very powerful. I think Sing Me Home is kind of a calling card for people to invite someone into their home that they might not otherwise. I notice when I'm home--I'm home so little of the time--that I usually go from point A to point B to point C. We don't have time to entertain, we can't even have time to go to the movies. I go to the grocery store, I tank up gas at the same gas station, I follow a very strict, narrow routine. To break out of that, to bring someone else home or for someone to invite my wife and me to their home is a very, very special event. It's not like getting together and saying, "Hey, let's go out and eat." No, you're showing the parts that are the most precious to you.

Each ensemble member has a sense of home and they chose the song and the person [guest artist] that they wanted to invite to join us and they took the lead in making that invitation, to someone like Rhiannon Giddens, whom I adore, to say, "Here, come visit some of our friends on 'Saint James Infirmary.'" Michael Ward-Bergeman says it's played at least a couple of times a day in New Orleans. It's such a great, popular song, but to have Rhiannon come to us and to have us go into her world, it's an amazing thing. "Heart And Soul" is another example. Johnny Gandelsman, who actually put this whole album together, he's a great ensemble member but what incredible producing talent. The fact that he organized and made this recording happen in a couple months. When he first arrived from Russia to Israel, I think "Heart And Soul" was what he heard for the first time, so this has an incredible meaning for him in terms of "home." Then to have Lisa Fischer and Gregory Porter sing on it--they drove all night after a concert to get to the recording session. Lisa Fischer was in Twenty Feet From Stardom, which is a film that Morgan Neville made and won an Academy Award for. Morgan spent four years trying to make The Music of Strangers and then he became part of the family. To have Lisa Fischer and Greg Porter there was so moving for us, but it's part of someone else's memory that was directly transferred to us, which we hope will be transferred also to the listeners.

MR: "Heart And Soul" seems to make the statement, "It's easier than you think. We can do this together, just use your heart and soul." I think that song highlights the concept of unity on this album.

YM: Well, we are here to build bridges, not walls. The idea of "home" and "Heart And Soul," is about a safe place, a loving place, a secure place, a sharing place, a collaborative place, a creative place. If you create that, that's stronger than any wall that we can build, because who isn't attracted to that? I can say, "We must get along," or "We have to get along," but what we're saying is actually how fabulous it is when we do get along. We set up the conditions where we can get along and look at what can happen when we do. That's when the heart and soul really starts to speak.

MR: Collectively, your musical career--be it your solo material, Goat Rodeo, Silk Ensemble--seems to be about reaching out and, well, getting along. By this point, don't you feel like a musical ambassador?

YM: Let's face it, Mike. I do this because I have no home. Musicians are wanderers. You know that, you've done it. I think we all do the same thing. We go and scout around and figure out new places, make connections, and then we report back. We exchange what we find and then we say, "Hey, I found something fantastic, listen to that." It goes back to show and tell. You want to share with your friends, you want to show your friends. It's the peer-to-peer thing. It's the generational thing, it's what's always happened. I don't think I'm doing anything new; I think plenty of musicians are doing the same thing. I think that's the value we can bring to the world, by saying, "Actually, the world is filled with fabulous people, wonderful people with good hearts and with things to say," and not necessarily just people who are afraid, who are angry. Yes, there's anger, there's plenty of room for fear, but we provide an antidote. Hey, I know you may be afraid because change is hard and jobs are hard to find and all of those things are absolutely true. However, there is also a place that can fill you with warmth and hope, and that's not artificial. It's something you can hold on to. It can give you comfort and it can lead you to think slightly differently so that it affects your life in a better way.

MR: Beautiful. Yo-Yo, what advice do you have for new artists?

YM: Go deep within yourself to find what are the things that really matter, that are so deep that it's hard to find, to stare truth in the face. Be your true self--find it--and then go out again and meet the world with your true self. Go to where people need you. Don't go to where you think you ought to go. Go to where you think there's a need for how that true self of yours can make a difference.

MR: Nice, thank you. So Sing Me Home brought many guest artists on board who shared their talents and musical and emotional insights. What do you think they got out of it?

YM: I think there's part of us that all want to live our lives but also be part of a bigger world. I think this is just a chance to be with others who know different things, yet we have a deliberate and wonderful real connection with them. I think it happens to me; hopefully, it happens to other people who have joined and participated and been generous in offering their treasures.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

VALERIO PICCOLO "THE SHOOTING STARS"

Valerio Piccolo
photo credit: Lisa Meloni Ragusa
Valerio Piccolo

Italian singer/songwriter Valerio Piccolo shares his new song "The Shooting Stars," a song he wrote in collaboration with esteemed writer Rick Moody (The Ice Storm) who provided the lyrics. It's taken from a forthcoming collection of songs, Poetry Notes, produced and performed by Piccolo based on exclusive poems contributed by well known writers, poets, songwriters and journalists such as Moody, Jonathan Lethem, Meghan O'Rourke and others, exclusively for the project. The album will be available in the US May 27.

Valerio Piccolo adds...

“From The Ice Storm to 'The Shooting Stars,' working with Rick Moody, one of my favorite writers, has been a privilege, but also a real challenge. He’s such a talented musician and lyricist as well and every single word is carved as a masterpiece. One of the greatest adventures of my musical life.”

 

Imagine Dragons /&nbsp;<i>Smoke + Mirrors Live</i>
Imagine Dragons' Smoke + Mirrors Live DVD and CD
Imagine Dragons / Smoke + Mirrors Live

A Conversation with Imagine Dragons' Wayne Sermon

Mike Ragogna: Wayne, where are you guys right now? Vegas? Berlin?

Wayne Sermon: [laughs] We're all spread out right now. I'm in Orange County, Huntington Beach, that's where I live. Ben lives in Oakland and both Daniel and Dan live in Vegas.

MR: How has it been on the road after two major albums, a few hits, and a Grammy? How are you surviving all of that success?

WS: [laughs] Well, it was interesting for a while, that's for sure. On that tour, we did South America first, then we did North America and then Asia, Europe, Eastern Europe, and Russia. We had just come off the Night Visions tour which was also worldwide, so we did two worldwide things back to back without really taking a break. We took about six months to create Smoke & Mirrors but that was pretty much non-stop, too. It was about three or four years of non-stop. It's not something I would really suggest for other bands, but for whatever reason it was something we felt we really had to do. We had so much momentum. Any band that young that has success is sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's like, "Okay, this could all disappear tomorrow so we're going to work as hard as we can right now," because there's no guarantee. To an extent we're always in that mindset. We don't take anything for granted. We know all this could disappear in a second with the way the industry is.

MR: When you look at the band's growth, what's changed most?

WS: It's sort of hard to ask us, because we've always felt like we're in the eye of the tornado. We have the worst perspective, everything seems to be happening around us and it's just the four of us huddled together trying to make sense of it all. We still feel that way a little bit.

MR: The creativity must be changing a little bit from the demands of being on the road. What is the creative process like for the band lately?

WS: Shoot...it's the same as it's always been. Our circumstances seem to have changed a lot around us but we still write the same way. Pretty much for every record we've ever done--and even any EP--we've done we write probably eighty to a hundred and twenty demos. Right now we've got about eighty demos for our next album and we don't even have a next album in sight right now. We're just writing constantly. Right now I think it's at eighty-five. Our last album, we had about a hundred and twenty-five and the one before that was the same. We write a lot of music. We don't try and be precious about anything, we just roll the dice as much as possible and cherry pick from there when we're ready to make an album.

MR: Dick Carruthers turned your Smoke & Mirrors tour into a concert film and the DVD portion of the new release pretty much reveals there's been a big jump in how the band uses stage technology these days.

WS: Totally! Dick is a genius, he did a great job directing this. He definitely had a vision from the very beginning on it. We really just trusted him and put all our faith in him. The fact that it turned out as well as it did is as much a credit to him as it is to us. It's something we take very seriously. We've had to come a long way from playing fifty percent covers on a five by six stage in Vegas to having to present our own music in arenas. We definitely had to learn to adapt and fit the new surroundings.

MR: The arrangements on some of these songs have evolved from their studio recordings. What are some of the biggest changes?

WS: That's a good question. I think our fans don't necessarily want to hear our songs just like they were on the record. Obviously, they want to hear the same melodies and the same bones of the song, and we always give them that, but at the same time we want to give them something different. Maybe even more so we want to give ourselves something different. We play these songs almost every day when we're on tour, so it's got to stay interesting for us too. We do change arrangements, we add sections, we add different elements that aren't in the recording to make things different for ourselves. We'd be driven crazy if we had to do the same thing every night, so our set lists change and everything.

MR: What about the fans? How is the relationship evolving between the band and the fans as you become more popular and tour more?

WS: I don't want to suffer from too many clichés but we do have the best fans in the world, I really do feel that. They're the reason we're able to play so many different places around the world, from here to Latvia to Korea. It's been amazing to have fans everywhere. The first time we went to Brazil it was such a thrilling experience. We hadn't ever been to the country but there we were at Lalapalooza São Paulo playing for eighty-five thousand people and everyone knew the lyrics to the songs. That was a really big moment for us. We're not a band that really celebrates a lot of things, we're always looking to the next thing, but that was one moment where we were like, "Wow, our fans are amazing and our life is a little bit surreal." That was a moment when we were actually able to step back and appreciate what was going on.

MR: Now that you've had such amazing success with songs like "Radioactive," is there a higher bar when you're writing new songs?

WS: Good question. I think the thing that has changed is that now we know a certain amount of people are going to hear it, so we've got to prepare for that. You've got to understand how low our expectations were when we did the first album. We were basically a nobody band. We had a small following on the West Coast but we really weren't that big of a band. We were trying to grow as organically as we could. We had some fan base, but man, when that album came out and things started to move no one was expecting that. We've had to start creating music while thinking, "Okay, so people are going to be hearing this." But that's the beauty of writing so many songs; we don't say, "Okay, let's get in the studio and write ten to fifteen songs and hope they're good." That's just not what we do. We prepare the entire year or two or three years before an album comes out. We're writing that entire time, whether it's in a tour bus or a green room or in our homes. We don't really come to that problem of, "These ten or fifteen songs had better be good!" We just write freely. I suppose a lot of writers do that too. They write freely, without a lot of form, and then they edit later. That's what we do. We explode with music and then come back and edit it later.

MR: And with eighty songs prepared already, I imagine there's a gem or two in there somewhere, no?

WS: [laughs] That's our thinking. "Hey, they can't all be bad."

MR: Wayne, what advice do you have for new artists?

WS: That's a tough one, because I feel like the bands that are really going to make it don't really need advice from anyone. They're just going to tough it out and do it. That's how we were. The best advice we got when we were starting was, "Don't start a band, it's the worse time in all of history to try and start a band. The music industry is so toxic." I don't know...it feels sort of the same now, but it's like there's bands that just don't care and they do it anyway. That's sort of my advice. Don't do music if you want to, do music if you have to. If there's nothing else that you could possibly see yourself doing. Those are the kinds of people who are drawn to success. Those are the kinds of people who end up getting into the industry. They throw caution to the wind because they have no Plan B. This is their Plan A and that's it.

MR: You talked about the early days when you were playing the small stages in Vegas. Do you and the guys sometimes miss those days?

WS: Hmmmmm. I think there is some nostalgia going on, for sure. There's things about that time that were pretty fun. I think there was a lot more crappy things than good things, if I'm being honest. The fact that I have someone who can lug in my gear, after about four years of lugging in my own amps and guitars up three stories to some tiny stage; to have that stuff taken care of now is pretty amazing. I think it's just the little things like that that make such a big difference. The fact that we can show up to a venue and just play and not worry a lot about the logistics anymore, not having to go right to the merch table after you're done playing because you want to try and catch as many fans as possible and interact with as many as possible, I think we miss that. It seems like we can't quite interact as much with fans person-to-person anymore. We try and do that with social media and keep up in that way. But I think we miss the interaction with fans, going to the merch table after the show and doing that.

MR: I guess I need to ask this. What was the band's reaction to the super-hit status of "Radioactive." What was the "fallout"...good, huh?

WS: [laughs] I feel like we haven't quite figured that out yet. We still don't quite understand what it means to have a song that did that well. To us it's just one of those right place, right time things. There's some luck involved, but we definitely also tried to work for it as much as we could. It's a combination of things that we don't understand. We're not going to sit and try and replicate that and say, "Okay guys, this is what 'Radioactive' was like so let's add that to this song and then maybe we can replicate it." We know that's not how it works and that's not what our fans want. If we did that, it would always be a disappointment. We're not interested in trying to recreate it or go into territory we've already been to. It doesn't excite us, it doesn't interest us. We're grateful for it and we don't really question it. We just say, "What now?"

MR: What would be the ideal future for Imagine Dragons?

WS: I think people were probably right to have laughed at us when we did this, but when we were just starting out as a band almost nine years ago, we wrote down bands we liked and influences and things. But one of the things we wrote down was we wanted to be a "worldwide" band. That was our number one goal, to not just be a band that plays America, but a band that is international. That was always such a big deal for us, even from the very beginning when we were literally nothing. To be able to do that, in a sense, has been a fulfillment of that goal, and that's sort of the pinnacle of what we want to do. We want to play around the world, we want to go everywhere and experience new cultures, experience new things, and bring the music to fans around the world. As long as we can do that and as long as our fans let us do that we'll be happy. We'll do this for as long as we can. We all still get along really well, there are no huge egos in this band, so there's really no end in sight as long as our fans are still feeling it.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

[Note: Smoke + Mirrors Live CD/DVD will be released on June 3.]

MATT HATT/EDDA GLASS' "WANTED" EXCLUSIVE

Max Hatt/Edda Glass
photo credit: Gar Ragland
Max Hatt/Edda Glass

According to the Hatt/Glass folks...

"'Wanted' is the second single off Max Hatt / Edda Glass' debut album Ocean Of Birds, out May 20th via NewSong Recordings. The record was produced and mixed by Pat Sansone (Wilco, The Autumn Defense) and Josh Shapera (Liam Hayes, The Autumn Defense). 

Of their music, Pat Sansone says...

"I was mesmerized from the first moment I heard them. They have the ability to create a deep sonic landscape with songs that possess a mysterious and soulful magic." 

Max Hatt adds...

"We're from the American West...Montana. 'Wanted' is love lost wearing cowboy boots, ridin' through the pines, looking for some peace of mind. The imagery is classic western mythology. 'She stands in the door...' brings to mind John Ford's The Searchers, Neil Young's 'Big Green Country' or Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. Pure western existentialism."

Max Jury / <i>Max Jury</i>
Max Jury's album cover
Max Jury / Max Jury

A Conversation with Max Jury

Mike Ragogna: Max, we have a lot to get to but first of all, rumor has it you single-handedly destroyed Electric Ladyland Studios.

Max Jury: Well, I don't know if I single-handedly destroyed it. [laughs]

MR: It was irreparable. They had to build a whole new facility.

MJ: [laughs] What were we thinking, putting that in the press release, that's what I want to know!

MR: But there is an Electric Ladyland story, right? What is that?

MJ: Basically, we were listening back to a mix of one of the songs early on and on the lovely producer I was working with. He's an ambiance guy; he wanted some candles to set the mood. There were various candles set up around the room, some on the table, some on the dresser, and some happened to be on the speakers above the mixing desk. So we're playing it, and we turn it up really loudly and it starts bumping and one of the candles vibrates off the speaker and all the wax falls down into the mixing board and I see my life flash before my eyes. I was like, "Oh, this is not going to be good." There was nobody in the room at the time so they came in and were like, "What the hell happened?" and we politely explained and were asked to leave. But we gave it a couple hours, everybody slept on it, they were able to fix it and everything turned out pretty gravy, baby. No bridges were burned. We're all still friends. Nobody killed anybody.

MR: And you might say that those tracks were--wait for it--"on fire."

MJ: [laughs] I think so. That's fair to say.

MR: Max, this is your first full album and your previous EPs each made their own statements. What was the mission with Max Jury?

MJ: With the first record, it's more representative of a total perspective of what I wanted to do musically. I had the resources to assemble the singers and the musicians and see how everything played out the way I always wanted it to play out, in terms of adding some of the more soulful elements and some of the gospel singers. With this album, I basically had more time and more resources. I could fully see through the vision I had.

MR: The album blends elements of gospel, pop, alternative... Did you need these to properly communicate what you wanted to get onto your album or was it random?

MJ: Well, obviously, the roots background is what I grew up with--the Neil Youngs and the Bob Dylans and the Townes Van Zandts. But sort of parallel to that, I was always listening to stuff like Al Green and Curtis Mayfield and Prince equally. With the advent of the internet, I got turned on to whoever, whether it was Drake or Kanye West or whatever. I don't live under a rock, so those are all influences on me as well. That was the most difficult part of making the record, wanting to modernize it in a sense and take it to a new territory but also remain who I am stylistically and thematically. Early on in the process, I met with a producer named Inflow, and he came from a hip-hop-ish/R&B background. He had worked with The Kooks and I thought what he had done with them was really cool so we met for coffee.

I explained to him, "I come from this sort of sixties Bob Dylan perspective, a kind of folky, country style, but I'm really interested in exploring more modern kinds of soul because that's what I've been listening to a lot and that's what I've been writing like. I want that to come across." He was like, "Well, I've been listening to Simon & Garfunkel and all those people." I said, "That's great, let's try to meet in the middle." So we went to the studio. It felt really natural. We brought in some gospel singers and some of Alicia Keys' band and some electronic elements. Even when I was finishing the record at the home studio in North Carolina, we spent a lot of time trying to weave in these more computer-based sounds and electronic elements to make it sound like it was recorded in 2016 and somewhat fresh.

MR: Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan are a couple of the most intellectual artists who have ever lived. However, the main complaint about folk and folk-rock is they can be too cerebral with little soul beyond the lyrics.

MJ: I like wordy songwriters and I'm drawn to that, but I've never approached music in that way. When I make music, it's always been about emotion and heart and rhythm in a way, but up until this point I don't think my recordings really reflected what I have inside me rhythmically, or what I heard some of the songs sounding like. I guess I wanted to attempt to have this lyrical storytelling approach to songwriting, but I wanted to make it fun and groovy in parts, and not so static. I wanted it to move, and have dynamics.

MR: The album doesn't stylistically look like it's taking giant leaps from the two EPs that came before, although you added more technology. What was this batch of songs trying to accomplish? What's the thread?

MJ: This is really a look into my life and the lives of my friends for the last two years. I think this thread between what we did in New York and what we did in North Carolina and even what I did on my earlier projects is my style of storytelling and my life and my voice and my experiences. I guess that kind of guides the thread.

MR: How do you think you've matured since the EPs?

MJ: A lot of things have happened recently in my life. I think a big thing really is touring. On the early EPs, I didn't have a ton of shows under my belt, so you're kind of going into it cold. The more I've toured, the more I've desired to have that rhythmic element. Even to get away from the sonic elements, living life on the road and feeling disconnected from home and all those things, meeting new people, that gave me plenty to write about.

MR: Max, what's going on with your videos? It feels like you're more the narrator than the focus.

MJ: When we're doing the videos, there is a feeling of detachment, and I think that probably spins from feeling isolated sometimes, like you're outside looking in. That's also the direction Chris [Christophe Rihet] saw; I think that's the way he envisioned the music a little bit. I think it's combination of my songwriting and his vision.

MR: Though you touched on them lightly on your album, do you picture yourself as an artist exploring other styles and techniques even more aggressively to express your creativity?

MJ: Yeah, absolutely. I would say the EPs and the singles prior to this release were how I was feeling and what I wanted to do on that given day pretty much. This first album is the first step of permanence, a snapshot that I'm proud of, that I'm okay to have represent that part of my career. It is something I want to evolve as I continue to grow and learn. A lot of my favorite artists are a bit all over the place. David Bowie went from folky to glam rock to whatever the hell Low is, and that's something that I'm really interested in. That's something I want to do, just explore different sounds. My life has changed a lot. I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and it was quiet. Now I'm based in London and I'm exposed to different types of music and different types of situations. Knock on wood, if I get to do a second record, I think it will be different.

MR: You've developed an international following. Look at these tour dates. You're performing in Amsterdam, Cologne, London, Manchester, Glasgow... Oh look, you've also allowed a little time for your United States friends in New York and Los Angeles. You have world domination on your mind, don't you.

MJ: When you put it like that, it sounds kind of nefarious. [laughs] I do have a global outlook on my music. I want to reach as many people as possible without compromising what I do. That's my goal. Somebody from London saw me play when I was in Boston when I was eighteen. It's a funny story because they flew over and I auditioned for them, it was a management company. I had no fan base or rapport in Boston, so I had to audition for them in a hotel lobby. I had to call the Hilton and say, "Can I please play on your piano?" and they said yes. Then after that I started going to London to do demos and some writing sessions, nothing really panned out at that point in time. I think I was too naïve. I hadn't quite figured it out enough yet to have any level of success, so I came back to the States and bummed around a little bit, working odd jobs, going to school for a little bit. Then this management company showed me to a label when I was about twenty and I started going back over to the UK. This label is called Marathon Artists and the creative director is from Paris, so they're kind of the Paris/London label. That's where all the action is and was for a few years, so I was over there frequently. We just kind of decided as a collective that it would make sense for me to be somewhat based over here for the time being because there were a lot of shows and touring and press opportunities and it would just be easier for everybody if I was in the UK. That's kind of how it started. Hopefully, I can go back to the US soon and start playing there more. That's the dream.

MR: What do you bring back to Iowa when you visit your family? What do they see when they open the door?

MJ: They usually try to feed me. [laughs] Traveling, I think, is where you grow the most as a person. I think taking all of these perspectives from all these different countries and how they operate and their lifestyles and opinions on other countries, whether it's European countries or America, I think you can soak up a lot of wisdom from doing that. To me, that's the biggest perk of being a touring musician, getting to see all these places and meet all these people. I don't really think about what I bring back to Iowa. It is interesting to look at American music. Over here, what I hear on a daily basis is what's popular in London and the UK. You don't hear a lot of country and Americana. Our music doesn't export that well sometimes. It's interesting because when I listen to that kind of music now, I almost get homesick.

MR: Do you get homesick in general?

MJ: I do, actually. It changes from week to week. Some weeks I'm loving life and happy to be where I am, and some weeks I really wish I could go back to Des Moines and set up shop there for a little bit. I think it's one of those "grass is always greener" situations. If I were in Des Moines, I would probably be like, "I want to get on the road! I want to be back in London!" I just try to enjoy it while it lasts.

MR: Max, what advice do you have for new artists?

MJ: Be yourself, and stand your ground. You as an artist know what you do best. The world obviously isn't black and white but I think it's important to not shift your ideals and your visions for your career based on other peoples' opinions of you as a product. I feel like there's a lot of room for uniqueness in pop music, and if you bow to outside interests, eventually, all that uniqueness will go away. I like artists that are original and unique and inventive and live in their own little world. If that is you as a new artist, keep doing that.

MR: What made you decide, "This is it. This is all I want to do."

MJ: I'm not good at anything else, really, to be honest. I wanted to be a basketball player, but my height and a couple broken knees got in the way.

MR: But you're from Iowa, man! A Hawkeye 'til death!

MJ: [laughs] Yeah!

MR: Wait, we almost forgot one little detail, like your musical history. Max, what's your musical history?

MJ: Ever since I was a kid, I've sung everywhere. At an early age, I became obsessed with records, I'd sing in the mirror and pretend I was a rock star. It's always been something that I've wanted to do. I come from it as a fan first. When I was fourteen or fifteen year old kid I just consumed music at such a large rate. I just wanted to hear everything by anybody. I guess because of that it's always been a dream to add my two cents to that pile. When I started writing songs, I sent a demo out that I recorded in Des Moines when I was seventeen. I started to get a little bit of feedback, not a lot, from management companies and blogs and what have you, saying, "Hmm, maybe we could work with this." At that point, I realized, "This might not just be a pipe dream, it could be a reality. I've got to start really working hard and learning and growing and trying to make this happen because this is what I want to do." I think from that point forward I've just had the blinders on. I've really been going for it.

MR: By the way, I especially like the video for "Home" because it's the most connected you are to somebody within that narrative and "distant" approach. You're in step with the girl, yet you're not in sync with her. She's trying her best, she whispers in your ear, and then she walks away. Is that what's going on with your relationship, with your "home"?

MJ: A little bit. In a sense, I do feel transient in that way. With that video it's like I'm present, but there's always this sense of, "Whatever's going on, it's fleeting." That cloud of, "This is all temporary," is hanging over me throughout the video. I think maybe I do feel that way about home. I'd like to think that home is less of a place and more of a feeling or a person, but I guess at this point in my life I do feel like a lot of relationships and my home and kind of fleeting because I don't know where I'm going to be or what's next. It's a good and a bad thing. I'm not complaining, I'm not having a pity party, but I think we tried to capture that with that video.

MR: And I think you did successfully. I don't think it's an accident that you started the album with a song called "Numb." That theme seems to run through the album's videos and music. For instance, in "Great American Novel," you keep that detached perspective, but you have to have separation to narrate properly. However, the side effect of that can be something "Numb."

MJ: I think that's a really accurate insight. I don't know if it's like a songwriter thing, but I do feel like more of an observer and less of a person that's living in the moment. I feel like I wish I could go back a lot of times and be in moments of my life and enjoy them for what they were, but I guess retrospectively, I always feel like I wasn't really there. You're right, it's not a mistake. Throughout each song, there is this feeling of being numb. That's something I really try to work on, but I do feel sometimes like I put these shields up and protect myself from being hurt or feeling lonely or homesick. The downside of that is running into this feeling of numbness and isolation from the rest of the world.

MR: I think a lot of people build their castles in the sand when they become famous. I wonder if living in the moment is what will be your foundation. Maybe true evolution for you will be discovering what pops out of living in the moment.

MJ: You're absolutely right. That's probably my biggest goal in life, to live in the moment and enjoy things as they're happening and embrace the present and not think too much about the future or the past. I think a lot of the songs on the early EPs are so introspective because I was so hung up on the past. I think as I'm working to try to live in the moment the songs become less introspective and more hopeful and celebratory. A song like "Ella's Moonshine" has no sense of regret or remorse; it's just enjoying that character as a person and getting a kick out of her. I think that is where I want to move to.

MR: Where do you picture Max Jury five years from now?

MJ: Hopefully, doing this, but on a bit of a larger scale. Hopefully, I continue to keep getting better and growing and discovering new parts of myself creatively, going down different avenues and continuing on this journey of making albums and exploring different sounds. My goal--and I'm sure it's every artist's goal--is to get to the point where you make an album that feels very culturally relevant, like you've really captured life in that period of time. Prince's Sign Of The Times, or even The Beatles, they really captured life and documented it perfectly in that era. That's a goal. Do something like that, that's not so much about me, but about humanity, I guess.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

SHANNON LABRIE'S "ALCOHOL" EXCLUSIVE

Shannon LaBrie
photo credit: Rae Marshall
Shannon LaBrie

According to Shannon LaBrie...

"I wanted this video to feel secretive and hidden. I wanted it to look normal on the outside but devastating on the inside because, addiction is rarely so obvious. People hide it very well. This video image could be taking place in your neighbors house, your mothers house, your best friends house. This could be their lives every night. This video depicts only a small part of what many woman and men go through every day...alone. Ultimately, I want to encourage those who are ignorant of the effects of addiction to ask more questions and have more compassion. I want those who CAN relate to know they are not alone. We don't have to live in that dark room alone for our entire lives. We can ask for help. There is hope!”

Director: Fairlight Hubbard

For more information on support and to learn more about addiction and it’s effects on the family and loved ones of addicts visit: http://www.al-anon.org

DYAN'S "ST. JAMES" EXCLUSIVE

Dyan's Alexis Marsh
photo credit: Sinziana Velicescu
Dyan's Alexis Marsh

According to Dyan's Alexis Marsh...

"I wanted a spare sound to reflect the openness of the prairies where I grew up, a community called St. James in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The landscape seemed to draw horizon-long lines of expectation into the future, which I didn’t realize I resented until I couldn’t find satisfaction in success despite my ambition. But it’s not an epiphany so much as a quiet realization, after the heartache of striving, that failure isn't an end. And the next step doesn't have to be made in shame. Just understanding."

CONVERSATIONS