With his latest solo project, Broken Temples, just days from releasing to the public, Kevin Max chatted with JFH's John DiBiase about the new album, his time with Audio Adrenaline, the 20th Anniversary of DC Talk's Jesus Freak, and... Star Wars...
This interview took place on: 3/5/15.
Click here for Kevin Max's Artist Profile page.
Album titles are always a very interesting process to me, because in reality, it should be just as important as the images on the album, the lyrics on the album, the melodies -- it all should be cohesive. And I'm such an old school music guy. I'm such an old album lover (most of the music I listen to is on vinyl), that album titles are very serious to me. I went back and forth with a bunch of different ideas but the resounding themes on this record were brokenness, being human, knowing your flaws, etc. yet being open to change and accepting forgiveness and grace which sometimes is hard to do. The idea of Broken Temples is that we're all fractured and without the Spirit indwelling and perfecting us, we won't live as interesting and great a life as we could if we did succumb to the Spirit and allow God to change us.
I had a really interesting conversation earlier this week with a guy who was basically saying that a lot of people are into this thing now where they say "I'm messed up and that's it, just deal with it." It's kind of like the new hipster Christian theology but there has to be a component of wanting to change in order for it to be a well-rounded outlook on life; to me, that's where this is. It's about redemption. It's the prodigal son story. It's me in my late 40's realizing that God has really changed my life. I was a pretty distorted, messed up character, for whatever reason for a few years, and God came in and really did His work on me. And He's still working on me. I'm still not perfect; I still have my problems.
Kevin: *laughs* Who is? Exactly. Y'know, without being too heavy-handed with the subject, I wrote these songs basically about what I was feeling. And "Just As I Am" is probably the one that nails it--how God just kind of accepts us because He's authored and finished our lives. He knows us down to the DNA. He's the one who accepts us in all of our mortality and we've got to rest in that thought. We have to rest in the fact that He loves us inside and out and loves us no matter what. It kind of goes along with the "Be Yourself" theology in Stereotype Be as well. They're not very different. The Imposter, same kind of themes throughout my whole career in a way.
Kevin: Most of the songs were written when I was still with Audio Adrenaline. I remember "Good Kings Highway," which is the first song on the album, and pitching it to the guys and pitching it to management and label for the next go-around. And everybody was super excited about it. We actually performed it at soundchecks. We were actually getting ready to throw it into the sequence to play it [for shows], but we never did. However, I didn't want to shelve these new songs, y'know? I wanted to let people hear these songs because I thought they were great and so that was the beginning of Broken Temples.
So two of the bonus tracks (on the PledgeMusic Deluxe Edition) strangely enough were written before I even wrote Kings and Queens. I got together with Paul Moak and we wrote "Lay Down Your Weapons" at his studio, and we pitched it to Kings and Queens, but it didn't make the record because it was thought too much of a throwback to The Beatles. "Freak Flag" was written after Kings and Queens, writing for the next album, and I wrote it with the ex-keyboard player of Audio Adrenaline, Jason Walker in his studio. We wrote "Freak Flag" as literally a 90's Audio Adrenaline song, y'know? Like, let's write a fun Audio A rock song. So when I messed with the songs to make them ready for Broken Temples, I kind of made them more like me and less like Audio Adrenaline, and they worked out great that way. And that's kind of where it's at and when you put all of those together I think that makes a cohesive album. I think without those songs, it is a bit like an EP or an extended EP. *laughs* "EP" means extended play, so I guess, "extra-extended play." E-EP, with the two Derek Webb remixes. And the reason for those remixes was I always loved electronic music, synth. And I was talking to Derek Webb and I really wanted to get him involved in the record in some way. And he goes, "Why don't you let me do a couple remixes?" And I go, "Dude, I'd love that!" So he sends them to me after a few months and they were awesome and I couldn't say "no." *laughs* I was like "OK, I'll throw these on there, whether anybody else gets them or not, I'll get them." And I love them. That's the reason for that. And those two songs are my favorite songs on the record--"Clear" and "Just As I Am"--so I'm glad those were done by him and he liked those too. "That Was Then This Is Now" was kind of an 11th hour song on the record. I had that as a demo laying around and towards the end of the process, we were looking at songs, and I said "Well, what about this song?" and my manager said, "Where did you have THAT one hidden?!" *laughter* Probably, arguably, the most "Kevin Max" sounding song on the record--if I can speak of myself in the third person--that would be it, "That Was Then This Is Now." It kind of reminds me of something off of, I don't know, Crashing Gates or something.
Kevin: Yeah, man! That was written with a guy named Sam Timminez and Matt Bronleewee, and we wrote that at Capitol Records during a writing session and just kind of all looked at each other and said, "Man, that's a really great song!" The interesting thing about that song is that those vocals are from the demo session. Every other process on the record was going into the studio and finishing vocals out with a different mic. "When We Were Young" and "That Was Then This Is Now" vocals were done in demo session so what you hear is basically me singing it through for the first time. Pretty cool. I love when stuff like that happens, y'know, like you don't need to go back over and do it again.
Kevin: It was kind of like a sister song to "Lay Down Your Weapons" where--I hate to say this, but I'm one of those people who is constantly aware of all of the brutality in the world and I tend to go look at it and am still amazed of what's happening in the world, y'know? It's just kind of marked me and I was like, "I Wanna write a song that's like a happy dance track that's basically talking about losing our innocence." It's a "I want to get back to when we were innocent." When we loved people no matter what. There wasn't any kind of racial weirdness or religious weirdness, y'know? When you're a kid, you accept people. You accept people for who they are. My kids, they never come back and say "I played with somebody that was black today!" Or "I played with someone who goes to a Methodist church!" They just play with their friends, y'know? There's no veil of hypocrisy with kids. So that's why I dug writing that. *laughs* It's not too heavy-handed and I like that. Same thing with "Lay Down Your Weapons." Same kind of principle of forgiveness and just loving people.
Kevin: It is, yep. She came in and stomped all over that thing.
Kevin: She's out with Hozier now, which is cool. The band that sings "Take Me To Chuch," y'know? She's doing great. She's a personal friend of mine. I was thinking we needed someone to come in and slay the dragon and she's the one. She came in and did it, man. She's amazing.
Kevin: Yeah, it was weird! I know. I know she thought that too. She was like, "It's not that weird singing with Kevin Max, it's actually really great!" *laughs* Honestly, the whole time, she was like, "Y'know, I've been a fan, blah blah--" and I'm like, "Whatever, Rachael! You're a WAY better singer than me!" and she's like, "No, no, YOU are!" It was like one of those singer debates.
Kevin: Yeah! It's kind of a grower. I mean, here's the thing dude, it's like when I wrote that song, I wrote it in a day with Kyle Lee, who's over there at Toby's studio. Again, it was kind of like a session writer's thing. And I came in and I said, "I want to do this kind of Blur / John Lennon kind of thing." And he's looking at me like "What are you talking about?" and when I started singing him the melody, he was like "Oh, this is kind of like Johnny Cash!" and I was like, "Oh, it IS kind of like Johnny Cash!" and so he took it in that direction. It is kind of like a weird hybrid of gospel and kind of a blues vibe and it doesn't fit with the rest of the songs, but I think that's the beauty of what I do is I'm never tied to one specific style. I mean, yeah, I probably like 80's synth pop, rock, alternative more than most. Like, what I listen to all the time is I have satellite radio in my car and I listen to channel 33 which is the First Wave and it's all New Wave 80's music and it's alternative 80's. So that's my jam, y'know? But I like all forms of music. I'm never really situated to one style. That comes out in what I do. Definitely, when I was in DC Talk, it came out in DC Talk, too. I was kind of like, "Well, no, every song on this record doesn't have to be a rock song, let's do a gospel song. Let's do an R&B song!"
Kevin: It was because DC Talk was not a real band. If you're U2, you've got guys who can only do a certain thing. Like, Adam can only do a certain thing on the bass. And the same thing with Larry. But you've got DC Talk where you have three lead singers. It's very much like a Beatles thing where the Beatles put out albums and one song would be completely on the other side of the universe. I like that about music. And I like that about bands that have lots of personalities in them, like The Eagles, y'know?
Kevin: We did.
Kevin: Yeah. Here's the thing, man. With a lot of videos that I've done in the past--with DC Talk, solo, Audio Adrenaline--you go in with an idea and sometimes it doesn't work. And then a lot of the times, you figure something else out and you do another one. So we went in with an idea and concept and it really didn't work. The management and me and a couple other people just kind of looked it over and were like, y'know what? It just wasn't really working. It wasn't like there was anything really massively wrong, it just felt like we were trying to be tongue-in-cheek and it wasn't tongue-in-cheek enough. And if you wanted to look at it like a serious video, you'd be like, "Why is he wearing a poncho and dancing?" It just didn't work out. And it's a bummer because I did it with friends of mine. But "Infinite" is kind of that oddball song; it doesn't really kind of play out with the rest of the album. So we're making a video for "That Was Then This Is Now" instead. And the concept is really cool and it's going to be an edgy, progressive, modern video. So I'm happy about that. "Infinite" was sent out to the people who were a part of it, and we might be able to do something with it in the future.
Kevin: Well, it's very similar to what it was like going from DC Talk to solo. It's being in the mainstream of Christian music and being in a group where you've got other people talking into it, and so now, as a solo artist, I'm kind of steering the ship again, and with that comes a lot more responsibility. And I think the overarching theme here is that Kevin Max kind of likes a lot of things and he embodies a lot of different things. (I'm talking in the third person as me the artist.)
Kevin: *laughs* (I was doing that for your benefit.) I'm never doing something and going, "I'm going to make this record because this is going to tie into this record and this is going to be the answer to the third record..." and that's one of the reasons I decided to do Audio Adrenaline. I wasn't scared of it. At first, I didn't think that it necessarily was a perfect fit for me, but I thought that it was an amazing opportunity because these were guys that I had grown up with, I loved what the organization Hands & Feet were doing, the opportunity to step into a friend of mine's shoes and write an album and have fun. I mean, it's kind of like "Are you kidding me?" It's like a dream come true. It's awesome. That was the feeling of me being a part of Audio Adrenaline's brand and doing their thing and then coming away from that. I was really wanting it to go further, but the fact that it didn't work that way, I had to come up with a decision of "OK, what are you going to do next? I mean, are you going to make an alternative record? Are you going to make a gospel record? Are you going to make a Christmas album? What are you going to do?" And my gut and my instincts--and I think as an artist you go with your instinct, and my instinct was to make a pop album that was sort of along the same lines as what I was doing with Audio Adrenaline, because the songs were there, y'know what I mean? Like if I woke up tomorrow and started writing electronic songs, EDM music, then I'd put out an EDM record, y'know? So I let my imagination guide me where I go.
So, yeah, I know that Mark [Stuart] and I have talked since I've gone solo again, with the new lead singer Adam Agee, and those guys, and I'm happy for them. I hope things go well, because I think Hands & Feet is a very worthy cause and I love the old Audio Adrenaline brand and the members so much that I want to see that brand done justice.
Kevin: First of all, that's sad. I just felt sad.
Kevin: 20 years it's been. It's been that long. Crazy!
Kevin: Yeah! It is amazing to think it's been that long and I feel like if I could go back and change anything, I probably wouldn't have been such a testy young man and headstrong. But beyond that, I wouldn't have changed a thing. All of those memories were so fantastic dude, to be honest. The opportunities that we had, the songs that we wrote. That record in particular was just so monumental in so many ways. Nobody, not even us, could have imagined its impact, on top of the fact that we were just writing those songs, completely innocent of the fact that they were going to be that big. I mean, we had some success with Free At Last for sure. That was a pretty big album. Going into Jesus Freak, it was kind of like we did what we felt what was natural in doing, which was kind of like taking it up a notch and trying out different forms of music. And, again, it's really an interesting thing to be in a group where everybody is putting in input and everybody doesn't have the same opinions. Y'know? And the same influences. And so we're all kind of bringing something to the table that in another type of band, like a real band where there's a bass player, a guitar player, and a drummer, you're somewhat limited, y'know? DC Talk had three lead singers that viewed music completely different. So when you put all three of those guys together, that's what kind of internally made those songs happen. And, yeah, so in kind of looking at it, I'm amazed and yet I'm not, that we came up with those songs. But then that the people kinda grabbed onto it like they did.
We were kind of expecting people to be scared of "Jesus Freak." That song became so huge that I remember when we first went to Australia, we had got the song out as a single, so it was like a CD single. And I remember selling the CD single and it was such a huge song. We played it the first night in Australia and people were chanting it after we were done [so much] that we ended up playing it again at the end of the set. So we opened the set with it and we'd end the set with it. So that's how big of a song it was. It was something that we couldn't say no to, y'know? And think about how weird that is in today's scenarios with a song. I mean, I know that other bands have huge songs like that, but not ones in the Christian industry where if you don't play it a second time, people start chanting it? *laughs* We just felt like, "Man, if people want to hear it twice in the same show, we'll do it!" I think we did that for a couple more times on that Australian tour and we took that idea and started doing it at other concerts along the way. We would open with it and it'd be one of the encore songs as well.
Anyway, that album, man, was just a really cool moment. And I remember even some of the days of recording those songs, specifically some of those mega, epic, long studio sessions where we'd set up and start working on a song and you know that it's going to be big, so you perfect it and you go over and over and over it and keep refining it. The only thing that reminded me of that was when I watched this U2 documentary on the making of Achtung Baby and they were kind of explaining the process of writing the song "One," and Bono was kind of explaining the fact that they had a couple of chords and they knew that it was going to be a big song, but they didn't know how they wanted to approach it, so they kept refining it and refining it, y'know? So there were a couple of moments like that on Jesus Freak where we knew that we had a song that was really big and you have to let the song take its time to come into being and not just rush it and finish it, and kinda session it out. That's, to me, one of the bad things about Nashville. People feel like they gotta write a song in 2 hours. Like, if we're not writing a song in 2 hours, we haven't had a good session day. To me, some songs take forever to write! I mean, I don't know if you know the story of Leonard Cohen, but it took him forever to write the song "Hallelujah," but when he finished, it wasn't that bad. *laughs*
Kevin: *laughs* Wow.
Kevin: I love that about you, dude. You're committed to your nerdiness and I love that.
Kevin: No! I'm totally a nerd. No, I tell everybody I'm a nerd. I'm fine with being a nerd. It's cool to be a nerd now, y'know? Back in the day it wasn't, but now it's cool.
Um, I have massive concerns. Massive, massive concerns. Mainly because of three words. Three words: Jar Jar Binks.
Kevin: I know, but we're talking about a franchise that allowed him into creation.
Kevin: And gave him enough screen time for like a real character. Y'know?
Kevin: And the last ones have been so CGI-driven, non-character-driven, I just gave up, dude. So honestly, I don't know if I'll even go see it unless I see a really great review. And if I think there's some characterization going on, I'm way in. Because my favorite is still A New Hope and nothing can beat A New Hope. I felt like Return of the Jedi was great, I felt like Empire Strikes Back was great, but A New Hope was it, and then it all kind of went downhill. And y'know, The Phantom Menace was so difficult for me to watch, I was cringing the whole time basically. So I mean, there's good moments to it, and then there was cringeworthy moments--Jar Jar Binks--where you're like, "Man..."
You go back to George Lucas and realize that that's a director that did not want to work with actors, and did not like actors. So you think about that and it's a miracle that Star Wars: A New Hope had such great characters and such great acting in it. So I hope they bring that back. My hope is that it's like A New Hope.
Kevin: I did! I mean, it looks great. And, y'know, dude, that director's amazing.
Kevin: And he did the new Star Trek, correct?
Kevin: Yeah, dude, he's unreal, and I have hope, but I have massive concerns.
Kevin: Thanks for talking to me, it's been great!
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