An interview with MAKS.
“Be careful what you wish for, you might end up with something you are proud of.”
SICK AND SOUND is introducing to its readers an exclusive interview our editor-in-chief Alessandra had with MAKS. We are exploring his solo career into country rock, blues and new wave and getting a deeper view into his latest album released in June 2017, 3FT No Diving.
For our track by track review please check out: www.sickandsound.it/unondata-energia-rock-blues-contagiata-dalla-new-wave-maks-3ft-no-diving .
- Dear Maks, a warm welcome to SICK AND SOUND. Let’s introduce a little bit of yourself starting from the name chosen for your solo project, MAKS. What’s the mindset behind the choice of this name?
Well, ages ago, way back in the last century, I played the drums in a New Wave band in Rotterdam, called the Dolbies. Since the guitar player’s name was Peter and mine is too, I decided to change my artist’s name to -very fashionable in those days- Maks A., short for Maks Antraks. Peter Barnouw and I are still good friends. He is more or less my musical sparring partner and has played an important role in the creation of my CD “3Ft No Diving”. We will be collaborating on the next CD as well. But anyway, when I decided to go and make my own music, I thought it would be a good idea to call the band (or rather “project”) MAKS. Why all caps? Just to stand out, I guess.
- We would love to go deeper into the inspiration leading to your project and would like to know in what measure your USA road trip has influenced your steps heading to a solo career. Tell us more about your experience as a JVT touring member. Some memorable moments you would enjoy sharing, the experience gained or the challenges faced, and how this role has contributed to your career.
Hmmm, that’s a tough one… One aspect that will always stay with me is the fact that people actually dance and have a great time when attending musical events. So called “pissy attitudes” are not tolerated.
I really had a great time on this tour with the JVT Band, but there was one memorable moment: the day we played the Shackup Inn in Clarksdale, we met this great guitar player from Kentucky, Tommy Stillwell. He was playing in Clarksdale in the evening and obviously decided to check out what was going on at the Shackup Inn. Jeroen van Tuijl (JVT), our guitar player, asked him on stage and he played some songs with us. What a great guitar player and singer Tommy is! I have the video to prove it. Tommy also played a great guitar solo on one of my tracks, “Look at You”.We played in Kansas City at a venue called “Knuckleheads Saloon” and the day before we played, we went there to see a jam session organised by local musicians. I was highly surprised by the enthusiasm and musical skills of the people on stage. This was quite different than the atmosphere in a band. No strings attached, just fun! Everybody, on and off stage was having a great time. I suddenly realized what I had been missing the last years playing in a band… FUN! And I also realized that the only way I could achieve this, was to go solo and make the music I really liked, without having to compromise and tip-toe through band politics.
- Your new album 3FT No Diving is following up Winter In Vegas and The Heart Machine. How has the songwriting process changed since your first record dating back to 2013 and what direction have your sound features moved towards?
The songwriting process has definitely changed since I began recording. Then I recorded in a more or less one-by-one order, since I already had 90% of the tracks in my head musically and lyrics were also more or less finished. So, there was not much songwriting at the actual start of recording. One other aspect was that the music was not recorded while using any form of click track or metronome or whatever. Hence, the recorded tracks have a lot of “swing” in them. A little swing can be good, because it adds a bit of a human feel to songs. From “3Ft No Diving” onwards I have decided to start off with a drum rhythm laid on a grid with a certain BPM. I do this in the software I use. I always add a dose of swing to it, but never not too much.
I now work on several songs more or less simultaneously. I get ideas from melodies -usually with words that don’t mean much- and record them for later use. If I work on one track too long I find it hard to stay focused. Then I switch to another song…or just call it a day. The lyrics come while I work on songs; I sometimes call them eternal works in progress. As far as I am concerned songs are never finished.
- 3FT No Diving is a rich and dynamic album where expressivity represents its top notch feature. While reviewing your album we got charmed by heartfelt songs and detail oriented songwriting which are necessarily spreading from a musician who doesn’t just play music around, but shows his very intense and intimate relationship with it. What can you tell us more about the role that blues, country rock and new wave music have played into your life? What meaning music has to you as a person?
“Ever since I was a young boy” (sounds like the beginning of a song, hahaha!) I have had a great interest in music. From the Beatles in 1965 via Woodstock, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Alice Cooper, Bowie, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Magazine, Jesus Jones etc. etc. I was fascinated by music and what it does to people. To me music is THE pressure valve to get me through the mediocrity and banality of everyday life. Sounds a bit harsh, but the possibility to create songs makes it so much easier for me. If this wasn’t the case I would probably be an angry -somewhat older- young man by now, drowning in his self-inflicted cynicism. The thought that I can still improve myself to write songs and music makes it all worthwhile.
- 3FT No Diving has been released independently. You have entirely worked on its songwriting, mixing and production processes. So what were the most challenging aspects you had to cope with on this massive autonomous project and what the most enjoyable ones?
Since I did the whole project completely by myself, the most challenging I had to deal with was to stay focused. There were times I really did not feel like making or recording music. Which is not really surprising, since I worked 7 days a week and more than 8 hours per day on the tracks. Another “danger” is that when you have been working too long on a project, you tend to lose a clear and objective view on what you are doing. At least, I do… Fortunately, I have some people I can approach to have a listen at what I am doing and to give me very useful feedback. The most enjoyable is the fact that I can do it all by myself. Nobody tells me what to do or what not to do. I really enjoy this freedom and hope to continue this for many more years.
- What is the main message or idea that you would love to spread with this record?
Actually, the main idea for me was to make some sort of “backup” of all the melodies and lyrics I had floating around in my head. I was afraid that I would lose them, when I wouldn’t do anything with it. And then it all got a bit out of hand, hahaha! I spent a few years re-inventing several wheels and teaching myself how to play guitar and keyboard. But it paid off in the end. So, if you want to call this a message: be careful what you wish for, you might end up with something you are proud of!
- The title chosen for your album is quite curious as linked to the swimming pool picture selected to best represent it. What’s behind the inspiration for 3FT No Diving name?
I have always been a fan of words made with templates and sprayed paint, like, for instance, band or artist names on flight cases. This picture was taken outside a motel in Kansas City. I had never seen anything like this before and just thought it was a funny picture. However, when I was contemplating about a CD title, it suddenly occurred to me that it more or less represented my vision on the content of my songs: “not too deep”. Not shallow, but please, do not look for hidden or cryptic layers in the songs, it’s just music.
- We would love to explore the reasons behind the choice of including two cover tracks, Stones in My Passway by Robert Johnson and Waiting for The Man by Velvet Underground. Where has the idea come from and what’s been the songwriting process behind them?
Stones in My Passway was a song from the set list of the blues-rock band I played in between 2007 and 2012. I wasn’t the singer in this band, but just for fun my buddy Peter and I recorded my vocals with the music we had already recorded. I was quite satisfied with the overall sound of my voice. When I started recording the tracks for my CD, I decided to do a version of Stones in My Passway, but I would only use the vocals. So I built a completely different song around the vocals. It turned out very original I still am quite pleased with it.
As you probably know, I am a great fan of early 70s David Bowie. He, in his turn, was a great fan of Lou Reed and played some of his songs live. One was White Light White Heat and the other was Waiting for The Man. I first planned to do a medley of those two songs, but as it turned out I “just” did a cover version of Waiting for The Man. I started off recording the guitar chords, based on an underlying sequencer riff, From there it evolved into a more modern and cheerful version than the original. By the time the song was finished, the sequencer riff had gone.
- What thrilling sneak peeks into some current and future projects are you willing to share with our readers?
There are a few, but since I can be rather unpredictable in a creative process, ideas and incentives can easily change or even be put aside. So, if these sneak peeks do not represent part of the actual end result, do not hold it against me.
But here’s the easy one: I will -probably- again do cover versions of two songs. One candidate is Lou Reed’s “White Light White Heat” and the second one is Bowie’s “Heroes”, which is already more or less finished. I know, I am taking a rather great risk doing “Heroes”, but hey, you only rock once!
Another sneak peek is the fact that I will try to combine a more aggressive sound with more personal aspects. Sounds vague and it actually is. Not quite sure how to combine this, but I will give it a shot.
OK, last one… The title of the CD… As far as I can see now, it will be “This Antidote”. Why? I will tell you when the CD is out.
Thank you for your time with us and all the best for your amazing solo project. We are very thrilled for more music to be dropped from you and support you with enthusiasm!
Thank you very much for this interview. It is always useful to look back and re-think about certain events in life.
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