Max Clarke's band Cut Worms offers a nostalgic take on ’60s pop rock, an easy-to-listen-to nod to the era of Bob Dylan and the Beatles.
Ahead of his show at the Ogden Theatre, Clarke spoke to Westword about his debut record, Hollow Ground, how music consumption was forever changed by the Internet, and making entertainment meaningful without inflating one's sense of importance.
Westword: What are you most proud of about Hollow Ground?
Max Clarke: I guess just that I made it [laughs] and that I was able to finish everything and put it out. It's easy to endlessly revise stuff and try to tweak stuff and never really finish anything.
Making something can become an endless loop of correcting and revising.
What was the most fun about making it?
I had a pretty good time recording with Jonathan Rado out in L.A. I’d say that was probably the most fun.
How long did it take you to record?
The recording process took a few weeks out in L.A., probably another few days when I was back in New York, and then…I don’t know – it took a while. It was like six months of mixing, mastering, editing, all that stuff.
How do you think you landed on such a throwback sound? Was that a conscious decision?
Not really. It’s just the music that I listen to and like. I kind of just made something that I would like.
What did you grow up on?
A lot of oldies radio stations, classic rock — stuff like that.
Did it take you much time to develop an ear for what your sound was?
I mean...I’ve kind of always gravitated toward a certain type of melodic thing. But I still don’t know if I’ve fully figured out what my sound is. This record was close to what I had in mind for those songs, but I think I still haven’t quite gotten what I was after.
Does that drive you crazy?
Yeah, a little. But that’s just part of it.
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Over time, do you think you’ll reach what you’re aiming for? Is it possible to achieve exactly what you're hoping to?
I don’t know. I mean, it’s probably not even good for me to think about that, honestly [laughs]. I think the best you can do is to create something that’s as honest or true to the moment that it’s happening as possible.
How have you felt the reception has been to Hollow Ground?
It’s been pretty good, I would say. It’s my first record, so I don’t really have anything else to compare it to. It didn’t seem like it got trashed anywhere, so that was always a nice feeling.
Playing the songs out live for the better part of this year and last year, really, it’s all been pretty positive. It’s been good.
How do you view your music fitting into the larger music landscape?
In terms of what’s happening right now?
Yeah, like how it fits in with what other artists are doing.
Yeah, I don’t know. It seems like there’s so much going on right now that anyone can choose what they like and never have to hear or see anything else if they don’t want to.
In some ways, it seems fragmented or disjointed in that way, where once there was a grand, cohesive music movement or something. Now it seems like there are individual, smaller ones happening all at one time and are independent of each other. At least that’s been my interpretation.
As if it’s television and you can curate everything you watch.
Right, yeah, yeah. Curate your own intake or whatever. Cultural intake.
Why do you think that’s happened? Is it a result of music streaming?
Probably the Internet has a lot to do with it, and the freedom to choose anything you could possibly want. Probably stems from that. I think I grew up and came of age at sort of a strange time; I caught the last bit of the ’90s, where the pre-Internet, pre-smartphone thing...there was kind of an overarching basic reality that everyone could agree on.
I think the more people are on their phones all the time and choosing where they’re getting their different stuff, it can make it a whole web of different realities.
Were you in other bands before Cut Worms?
I was in one other band before this, called The Sueves. It was a garage/punk-rock sort of thing in Chicago. They’re still a band, still going. All friends of mine, still doing good stuff.
How do you think your time in the Sueves has influenced you as a solo artist?
I think it taught me a bit about just what it is to go play shows and be in front of people. For once, to try to not take it all so seriously, if at all possible.
What's an example of not taking it all so seriously?
I don’t know. I guess there are certain acts that…I think it's good to, on a certain level, to take it a little seriously. Maybe not seriously, but just not treat it like it’s nothing.
I met some older guy when I was over in London, and he came to one of the shows. I was talking to him afterward, and we were talking about, like, at a certain level it’s good to care about something, to actually put some stock into it, because it’s kind of a whole industry of not caring. That everything is just for the sake of entertainment and feeling good in the moment or whatever. Just throwaway type culture. It’s sort of cheap and replaceable.
I think it’s good on some level to make something that you think will last or last a little while.
Being an entertainer and wanting it to be meaningful is an interesting dichotomy.
Right. But also, to the point of what I meant by not taking it seriously is just trying to avoid the self-importance that can easily come of that. If you have a little bit of success, people are telling you that your stuff is good or something.
I’ve opened for bigger bands and stuff. I won’t name names, but there are certain ones where it seems like an inflated sense of what they’re doing. It’s a weird business.
Is that just part of the business? Are there ways to avoid working with or around people with inflated senses of self-importance and still get to do what you want to do?
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To a certain extent, that’s just part of the business, probably. That’s just what show business is on a certain level. But I think there are ways that you can remain true to yourself and not totally give up everything in terms of — to preserve a sense of yourself in all of it.
Sounds like any other industry, where good and bad people exist and you may have to interact with them regardless.