On a warm summer evening in Hackney, we got together with Max Bloom to talk Yuck, going solo, risk-taking and where he finds himself in 2019.
“They would put up posters, bringing over bands like The Drums, Happy Mondays, bands that they really liked, they’d hire unusual venues, do their own visuals, stuff like that.”
The above is a snapshot of the very warm conversation I’m having with Max Bloom at The Spurstowe Arms in Hackney. What’s apparent at this early point in the conversation, as Max mentions one of Yuck’s tours of China, is that Max has felt the music industry’s highs and lows and has come out of the other side of this with a great deal of understanding (and incredible stories).
He continues, “.. the venue was a basketball court cut in half with a stage one side and backstage the other. Mike (the promoter of Yuck’s shows in Hong Kong) is a designer, and his mate was making his own beer, and especially for us they made a Yuck IPA, Mike designed the label, it was so cool. We became very good friends.”
Yuck’s backstory, rise to prominence and successes are fairly well documented, rising from the ashes of Cajun Dance Party to forming Yuck and touring far and wide, Max is no stranger to the music industry’s moving parts. Going from guitarist to frontman in Yuck (Daniel Blumberg departed after their debut album) may have had it’s benefits, as Max today find’s himself in a position whereby all moving parts are fully in his control.
—– Going solo —–
Fast forward to 2019 and Max has written a solo record that so far, few have heard, except on live outings which at this point, have been kept to a minimum. The release of debut single ‘To Be Alone’ shows a glimpse of the journey he has been on. On the subject on his upcoming solo venture, his intentions for making new music come from a place of necessity. “I’ve written something that I’m really happy with personally, and its not like I wrote this album for any reason other than I needed to do it, that’s the only way that I can express myself, and I was expressing something that was very painful that I needed to process. I needed to do this because it was a life changing experience and I need to sort of try and make sense of that.. I made it for me.”
Within the first few moments of Max Bloom’s debut single ‘To Be Alone’, the tone is set. It’s an emotional track which tugs tightly on the heartstrings, and also features him playing and writing on piano. A perfect first step away from the distorted guitar sound that defined his earlier role in Yuck. Max turned to music in a time of need, with his solo album written and recorded at his family home. The reason for writing was to make sense of his situation, the release of music is part of the process of healing.
How has the process of approaching this record differed from previous albums you’ve released? “I would definitely say I’ve made albums in the past for the wrong reasons. Albums that maybe I didn’t feel connected to but felt like I had to make, not necessarily wanted to. I never planned this album, but it was something that I had to do to deal with what I was going through. It depends what kind of music you make as well – if you make emotional music, if you are singing about something you care about – you can’t feel that emotion all the time – you can’t feel inspired all the time.
“‘To Be Alone’ was the first song I wrote which started this whole thing. I don’t remember much around that time but I was living at my parents house and my whole world was shaken – I was writing a lot of music and I didn’t have any concerns or pressure from a label or a manager, it was just me making music for exactly the reason why anyone should be making music – to express themselves. Not with the knowledge like ‘I’m going to make this record and go on tour or sign to this label or whatever, it was just making the music in its purest form.”
—– Taking risks —–
I wonder how much of an impact Max’s experience with Yuck has informed his approach to music, and whether the tag of being ‘Max Bloom from Yuck’ affects him. “I think that everything I’ve done in Yuck has been a learning curve. In Yuck I would always pick up a guitar, put distortion on that guitar, and start playing around seeing what happened. I was very comfortable in that technique, in that style. But as soon as you start being comfortable, that is when you stop taking risks. I’m aware that me releasing a solo album is going to carry with it a lot of comparisons. It’s not like this is the first thing I have ever done so I think a lot of people’s perceptions will be coloured by things I have done in the past. It doesn’t really bother me that much. I think you always have to be learning, you have to be open to learn and for this album I’ve never written songs in this way before, I’ve never properly written a song on piano before and obviously ‘To Be Alone’ is a piano song. I was very eager to try something different.”
On his debut single Max detached himself from the Dinosaur Jr. or Pavement tags that fans of 90s alt-rock placed on Yuck and opts for the piano as his choice weapon. “I was listening to a lot of Harry Nilsson and John Lennon solo stuff at the time, it really made me feel emotional and I felt like it was the same emotion I was feeling and I wanted to put across in music, so I though okay I’ll try writing a piano song of my own. So basically I tried something I’d never done before, I know how to write a song, but this whole thing is out of my comfort zone.”
We’re a couple of beers in and suddenly struggling to hear each other over the energetic chatter of The Spurstowe’s beer garden. Everyone in Hackney seems to have ordered a platter of some sort and at the same time requires the use of my lighter as I await the answer to the question of whether Max has listened to the new Arctic Monkeys record.
We’re discussing artists who consciously change their approach album after album. We discuss ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’, the newest Arctic Monkeys record, which Max thinks is a progression for the band and respects the risk element of making that sort of record, before adding that he was never really into the band.
He mentions one artist in particular of that golden period of indie who he respects, in particular their approach to each album they produce. “MGMT’s second album is something I think about quite a lot because they were a worldwide success on their first record, it was like pure pop and then their second record, which is infinitely better, people were so confused by it because there was like 10 minute long prog songs produced by that guy from Spacemen 3.
“People were so confused, but in hindsight they took a massive risk and they made a record which really stands up and they keep doing it. On their most recent record they have reinvented themselves into something absolutely bizarre and strange, it’s the sound of a band who continue to take risks. I like to go back to the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s and listen to the band’s worst regarded album, I think there is a lot of fun shit in there to discover. Listening to bands who are struggling, in turmoil, often they come out with their best material I think, invariably.”
Capturing the fragility one feels whilst in the midst of emotional turmoil and the romance we all fall for in music, ‘To Be Alone’ seems to be the perfect palate cleanser between Max’s previous projects and his solo venture. Having been reinspired musically, and now on steadier ground emotionally, there’s a bag of new influences that he mentions have channelled his solo vision. “I’ve been inspired by a lot of American female musicians. Lucy Dacus has been a really big influence on me. The fact that her lyrics are very raw and I have always found it difficult to be very honest writing lyrics and this is the first time I have tried to be as open and honest as possible. I don’t use many metaphors in the lyrics I’m writing, it is very direct, I’m saying exactly what’s on my mind, not dressing it up. So people like Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, also Julia Jacklin, also Car Seat Headrest.”
—– Music in 2019 —–
“I think I’m old fashioned in the sense that everyone says that people don’t listen to albums anymore”. Perhaps he’s right, perhaps 30 second snippets of songs are all a new generation of music fans are after, or perhaps it’s all they know.
“I write in albums because I think that even though albums are still based on the fact that you can fit a certain amount of music on one side of a vinyl and a certain amount on the other, the length of an album, 45 mins to an hour, is very digestible and I have always been fascinated by the journey from start to finish of an album.”
I get the impression that Max would release his new record right now, upload it on the spot in the pub, such is his passion for it to be digested as a true body of work, and it’s need to be out in the world for his own sanity. He may call it old fashioned, but I feel he has a purist view on music, an uncompromising artistic vision whereby every step and industry moving part should serve the music’s progression. Forget money, forget fame, forget 5 minutes in the spotlight, longevity is key.
As our lovely early summer evening chat draws to a close, I wonder where Max sees himself in the future, as we’ve mostly talked about his past. A solo musician? singer in Yuck? Playing in other projects? “I have no expectations about this music. It could completely flop. I’ve been through so much with the bands that I’ve been in. What I would love is for people who have been through similar experiences to connect and listen to it, and feel the same way as i felt when I listened to ‘Twin Fantasy’ or other break up records. I feel like I put so much of myself into this record and I’ve written so candidly about myself and I would love people to feel like they relate to that.
“I don’t want to get to number one, I don’t want to be in the top ten. I would love to tour but it’s not what I wake up thinking about every day. Also, this is the first record I have made completely on my own… it’s all been on my terms.”
We say our goodbyes and I walk home with one main thought flowing through my head, how refreshing it was to discuss music as a form of true emotional expression. Too many new artists dilute their art through a process of bringing in too many people/ opinions to further aid their development, such as managers, PR and agents. It’s the age old struggle of negotiating your way through the music industry whilst making art. Whatever happens with Max Bloom‘s music, I think the experience of releasing his as yet untitled debut record will be a positive one for all.
You can get tickets for Max Bloom‘s first solo headline show at Tamesis Dock, London here.
By Karl Johnson