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JFH Staff Blog | Kevin Max

Friday, June 22, 2018

Song by Song Description of AWOL by Kevin Max

 1.  Melissa - One of the first songs written along with Yeshua & Moonracer for the album. I wrote this at Blind Thief Farm with Kieran Kelly and Erick Cole, starting off with chord arrangement ideas on guitars. After getting a finished structure of the song melodically, I wrote the lyrics down a few days later…. The song became a depiction of a couple different relationships I  had with people back in my high school days growing up in Grand Rapids Michigan. I always felt drawn to outsiders and misfits, and a couple of these stories came back to inform the character I sketched in this story. Melissa is ostracized from her surroundings because of being different and is obviously undergoing feelings of judgement within the church and school system. I  completely understood this as I went through some of these same feelings growing up in tight-knit Christian community. 

2.  Prodigal ( Run To You) - I  have always wanted to write a song as a modern parable reference and ‘Run To You’ was the culmination of real life experiences and the story of ‘The Prodigal Son’ from scripture. The first part of the song is a direct translation of a prophecy that was made over me about generational sin. I took this to heart and actually prayed against sins of the past and possible spiritual blockage from it. I also wrote about how most of us are always running from something, but inevitably want to find our way back home. I love the line ‘I know its weird but take a look at the trees, feel the universe in a gentle breeze and know, you shouldn’t be lonely.’ The parable of the Prodigal Son relates to me on many different levels, and I  am proud of the way I was able to reconstruct the story in my own way. God finds us where we are and most of the time, it isn’t where we should be. 

3.   Glory Boys - My producer on this album ( Kieran Kelly) and I, wrote many of these songs together and Glory Boys is a great example of us seeing eye to eye in our tastes and styles musically. We both have a healthy appreciation for the new wave 80’s movement, with bands like duran duran, The Smiths and The Cure. The idea was to create a song that was reminiscent of Rio from duran duran, with its energetic and exotic synth patterns. I wrote the lyrics based on what it was like being a teenager in the 80’s and being drawn to characters who were flamboyant and original. One of the biggest high school accomplishments for me was finding a home in music over sports. As athletics were such a huge part of growing up in Michigan as a teenager, I  ended up playing varsity tennis and baseball, but singing was what inevitably set me a part of my peers. 

4.  Half Of The Better One - Its a hallmark card of romantic origins but touched by the odd combination of my love for the band The Smiths and using ultimately awkward words in sentence phrasing. I’ve never written a song like this one before… as it is the most simple song about finding true love. I  joked with Kieran about writing a song for my wife that could be used at weddings in the future, but with one catch… It had to be a new wave wedding song for the future. 

5.  Eurorail - If Bram Stoker and Fodor’s Travel Guides got together and made a story about a gothic midnight runaway train in the middle of Romania, you would have the essence of what Eurorail aspires to. Its a great mysterious middle track in the sequence and I love the bass playing by John Maron. Kieran and I created the ideas for the music after going back and forth with demos that I  was creating at my studio in Franklin. The lyrics are a bit esoteric, but I  love the idea of a good mystery aboard a European train.  

6.   Moonracer - This song was written in the middle of the night at Blind Thief Farm Studio in Centerville TN. Before we moved back into suburbia, the wife and I decided to become adventurous and buy a rural property a good hour outside of Nashville. The upside of our decision was that the property, ( along with horse barn, log cabin and 23 acres on top of a beautiful hillside ) came with a recording studio built by a famous country songwriter. I  spent many evenings writing in the studio, while we managed Blind Thief Farm over a year of living among horses, coyotes and neighboring cattle. Moonracer is one of the songs in my career that I  cannot explain, try as I might…. it just came to me without any editing or contextualizations. The closest thing I  can surmise to its meaning is that it is about time travel and unrequited love. 

7.  Brand New Hit - Most, if not everybody that listens to this song for the first time, will know what I am talking about here. As a member of dc Talk I  was privy to so many great things that happened within this industry…some that we pioneered and some that we were just blessed to be a part of. Being in a band that was so successful in bringing about change, it is hard to be disassociated from it. So when I say ‘everything I do as a solo artist is cast under the shadow of the group I was in before it’.. I say that with pride.  However, it is difficult for some people to understand that I  am my own creative entity outside of dctalk, and that is the thrust of the lyrics behind the song. 

8.  Yeshua -  I’ve always wanted to write a song about Jesus that wasn’t like anything else out there. I  focused on writing about the duality of being God and man. There are glimpses of doubt and suffering within the lyrics that  speak to the human condition…. but there is also that side of Christ who was authoritative, a powerful teacher and ultimate savior of the humanity- those thoughts are encapsulated in the choruses as well…. It is by far one of my favorite musical tracks on the album and this comes from the fact that I had Andy Rourke of The Smiths playing bass on it, as well as Matt Johnson on drums. ( St. Vincent, Jeff Buckley ) It is a focused, urgent piece of music but I  also love the fact that lyrics are not overtly judgmental or high brow… it feels very visceral and honest. 

9.   AWOL - AWOL is my anthem…. it is the backbone to the album, and it isn’t a fluke that it is also the most rock and roll song in the sequence. “We are the sons of Liberty, we spread our love through unity….’ It is one of the most relevant songs because of how boldly it declares a need for peace in the face of ignorance and unrest. I’ve never been an artist that pushes a political agenda because honestly, I  am not political at all.  But I  feel that we live in a time where we need to embrace each other because we are made in the same Image of God who created us. The hatred and the judgement of other human beings because of being different or not fitting into a certain standard must be eradicated. AWOL is all about a peace train or a peaceful march walking through your town and instead of riding on tanks and holding guns, its participants hold trumpets and sing about the beauty of equality.  

10.   Irish Blood Up - This song started with a weird synth program that Kieran sent me and was build piece by piece into a swaggering rock B-side. I  call it a B-side because back in the day any song that wouldn’t be considered a single would be called a B-side. That said, I  do think it has its own merits as a well written song and has some of the funniest lyrics on the album. I  guess if you asked me its meaning… it would be like asking something like ‘ Is the Pope Catholic?’ It is most literately about what its name suggests…. 
11.  Cornucopia Of My Soul -  One of the songs that I  wrote prior to the album, which was slated to be on another release called ‘Mello Drama’ which is now in the KMAX vaults. I  rescued it as a strange little demo I had lying around on my logic sessions. I believe it was originally titled ‘Angels Cry Too’… or something ridiculous like that… Its probably my most vulnerable moment on the album and it could be contributed to the fact that I wrote it initially as a ‘break up’ song. Musically its also one of my favorites as it hearkens back to old school David Bowie or Frank Sinatra. It could literally be sung by Tom Jones as a lounge tune but I pushed it forward into the modern times with the synthesizer and the different chord changes. My good friend Tony Miracle took my original demo and added his graduated keyboard skills to the mix. I really appreciate that this song finishes the album because I  always like to go out with one of the best…. the first should be last… etc etc

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Exclusive - Kevin Max's Behind-The-Song for 'Broken Temples' Album

Check out this JFH exclusive behind-the-song look at Kevin Max's new album, Broken Temples, written by Kevin himself!

1.Good Kings Highway (Kevin Max, Josh Silverberg, Kipp Williams)
I started writing this song during the 2nd year on the road with Audio Adrenaline. This song came about one morning at Capitol records in Nashville, writing with my good friend Josh Silverberg.  Josh, Kipp Williams and I began to put together a track based on a melody that I had running around in my head.  We wanted to make the intro to the song a bit more epic than usual, so the original demo was much longer in scope. As the melody came into focus I started formulating lyrics on the spot, in the studio...I basically wrote out the finished lyrics within an hour or so.  The meaning behind GKH was taken from my visits to Haiti and seeing the lifestyle of the people, in conjunction with Hands and Feet orphanage.  I noticed so many men and women that had been displaced, and seemingly surviving on their own without any help.  There were many children growing up without a home or shelter, in the toxic conditions of a country on the edge of sanity.  I pictured a child in Haiti growing up trying to make his or her destiny happen without a parent or a society that could intervene. God's grace comes into play, and His natural way of helping us without us even knowing. The image of the open road or highway is a parallel to life… we walk down this road not knowing what will become of us, but trusting that somehow we will survive. The vibe of the song was obviously taken from the U2/Bruce Springsteen playbook…


2. You Light Me Up (Kevin Max, Jon Steingard)
This song was a grand experiment into writing a radio single. I have never really felt like I had the tools as a solo artist to accomplish this. Even on my first album, Stereotype Be, and its lone radio single 'Existence,’ I felt bewildered by the task. Radio has changed so drastically from the days of my early songwriting in the 80's and 90's.  I turned to a friend that had success within the marketplace and on radio, Jon Steingard of Hawk Nelson. We got together at his home and literally wrote 'Light Me Up' from scratch within a couple of hours.  The song came into being with me singing a falsetto line through a distorted guitar pedal. The opening vocal melody gave way to the overall track direction.  The lyrics of the song are obvious… well, at least to me they are… it’s a song about redemption, basically my story. 


3. Just As I Am (Kevin Max, Josh Silverberg)
 I have always been a fan of 80's music.  My first concert was Howard Jones in Grand Rapids Michigan, my hometown, followed by Adam Ant & U2. I wasn't like the other kids in my private Christian school who listened to soft rock or hair metal. I was fully committed to the New Wave. Those influences play directly into some of the songs on this album, and probably even the most obviously on 'Just As I Am.' Again this song came out of a publishers’ writing session with Josh and Kipp. I wanted to write a song about the prodigal son aspect of my life and that is the direction of the story. I would say that it is one of the more personal songs on the album, even though it feels like a dance track.  I have always loved the contrast between moody, heavy lyric content with joyful chord structure. *(See Morrissey or The Smiths for examples.) 


4. Clear (Kevin Max, Jeff Pardo)
Another experiment that I am trying to perfect in my writing process is the aspect of space within a track. The more you add to a song musically and instrumentally, the less space and or groove a song will have. By doing away with things that do not matter, you get to the heart of the vibe and the feel of the melody. When writing ‘Clear’ with Jeff Pardo in East Nashville, I brought him a recording of me singing the melody, and also a bass line that I had sung into my iTalk recorder. It might sound strange to start writing a song based off of a bass guitar line, but in this case it proved correct. This again shows the influences of my 80's New Wave self. In the vein of Duran Duran or Roxy Music, ‘Clear’ is definitely one of my favorite songs on the album.  It’s also very much my blueprint within music - mixing those 80's sensibilities with honest lyrics.


5. When We Were Young (Kevin Max, Sam Timminez, Josh Bronleewe)
The subject matter of this song was far more important than the melody or track, in my opinion.  I wanted to write about the fact that in this day and age, we are losing our innocence across the globe. I remember growing up and never worrying about terrorism or witnessing the grotesque nature of ISIS. As I was born in 1967, it wasn't until I studied history that I realized how much atrocity lived in the world. Slavery, war, bigotry, greed, malice… we as a human race have proved how evil we can become. It is through the grace of God that we can overcome this, and the song 'When We Were Young' proves that children are our better selves.  Going back to the start and realizing that we were once pure of heart was a concept that I wanted to convey.  It’s a bit like an early John Lennon song about hands across the world, but it’s also a spiritual application and extremely relevant. It also subconsciously deals with the fact that we have become desensitized through modernization. The Internet and television have dropped the veil from guarded innocence, and now we broadcast our hatred and judgment across the computer screen to the world. We may think we have learned from our past from our issues with segregation and judgment, but it is apparent we haven't done much about it.  The style of the song came from the capable hands of Josh Bronleewe, a great programmer and musician.  I wanted this song to again have a dance quality to contrast against the heavy lyric.  Its sister song on the album 'Lay Down Your Weapons My Friend,' was its predecessor.


6. That Was Then & This Is Now (Kevin Max, Cory Basil, Stu Garrard)
Before I agreed to become the new lead singer of Audio Adrenaline I had recorded a few songs to be a musical companion to my novel Fiefdom of Angels.  One of these songs didn't fit that structure and I kept it hidden on my computer for quite some time. In the early stages of joining Audio Adrenaline, I stayed at Michael Tait's house in Brentwood, as I had sold my home in Nashville and had bought a new home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Moving back to Nashville was an easy enough process for me as I had lived there for over 2 decades prior. Before finding a home in Franklin for my growing family, I stayed with Michael. He was on the road all of the time with Newsboys, so his house on the hill in Brentwood was constantly empty. During those first few weeks of house hunting, dieting and exercising, I wrote songs in the basement of his home.  Armed only with my trusty synth I began to flesh out the song "That was Then'… from the earlier demo. I invited my good friend and artist buddy Cory Basil to come by one afternoon to listen to the song.  He added some ideas and with that I took the finished product to Stu G (formerly of Delirious) to finish the track.  Stu brought his British sensibilities to my obviously dated-80's-cinematic-guilty-pleasure song. When Josh Silverberg and I began to perfect it again, as an 11th hour addition to this album, I envisioned the tune being something on a soundtrack like the film Drive.


7. White Horse (Kevin Max, Brent Kutzle)
In the mid 2000's I lived in Los Angeles, California and performed constantly on the Sunset Strip. At the legendary 'Viper Room' I had residencies back to back. During those years I performed with several bands that were up and coming as well as big names that had already become successful. Katy Perry, then Katy Hudson, shared the stage with me as well as a band called The One Republic.

I began a friendship with Ryan Teter and we wrote a couple of songs together before their hit single 'Apologize' blew them into the universal orbit.  I met Brent Kutzle during those years and called on him to help me with a track on this album.  ‘White Horse’ is a song that Brent had written and I only helped him flesh it out to a finished track.  Josh Silverberg co-produced long distance with Brent and we saw it come into shape over a few weeks of back and forth.  It’s obviously an apocalyptic subject, but I also feel an undertone of modern worship in the music. White Horse was something, much like "Kings and Queens' from the Audio A 2.0 album, that I could have never written by myself. 

8. Another Big Mistake (Derek Webb Remix) I am not a fan of re-mixes, let me state that first and foremost.  Whenever I see artists putting out a whole album of re-mixes, I cringe. I think it’s a lazy way of putting out product without having to create something through hard work. So… the reason I put a couple of re-mixes on this album are this. 1. I didn't want this to be an EP, and at the time we didn't have financial means or schedule to produce more songs. 2. My great friend Derek Webb, with whom I have the utmost respect for as a musician, agreed to performing his 'deconstruction' of my songs. Like a musical Picasso, I wanted Derek to take my two favorite tracks on the album and turn them upsidewaysdown.


9. Going Clear (Derek Webb Remix)
Same rules apply...

10. Infinite (Kevin Max, Kyle Lee)
‘Infinite’ was the second song written for Broken Temples.  The first was a song that never saw the light of day called 'Outside The Door.' It was a song I pitched to the early songwriting process of the 'Kings and Queens' album. It was deemed too 'Beatlesque' so I tampered it and wrote a song called 'Infinite.'  I recorded this demo on my trusty iPhone, iTalk app and brought it to a writing session with a gentleman named Kyle Lee. Kyle was set up in Toby Mac's studio in Franklin, TN, just down the road from my house.  Within a few minutes, we had the beginnings of the song already recorded. I'd like to say it was the quickest and most simple song I have written in quite some time. A friend of mine likened it to a nursery rhyme or Sunday school song… I take that as a compliment. The subject material of the lyrics is obvious.  Taken from the playbook of C.S. Lewis and William Blake, God is bigger in depth and scope than we can imagine.

11. Freak Flag (Kevin Max, Jason Walker)
During the 'Kings & Queens' process I wanted to write several old school Audio Adrenaline rockers. I was a big fan of their early career, as they were our compadres on Forefront. (dctalk discovered the band at Kentucky Christian College and brought their demo to the label ). I loved songs like 'Mighty Good Leader, Chevette & Scum Sweetheart'….but the 90's had come and gone in Christian Music, and sadly even when we played these old hits live, the crowds didn't seem to get them. That opportunity to write these type of songs never came, as management and label wanted a more mature AA. Mark Stuart and I actually did write a couple of songs that bordered on the old style, but the songs eventually saw their demise. ‘Freak Flag’ was written for the Audio A 2.0, album 2, which never came into being. Jason Walker, my friend and fellow band member and I sat down at his home studio and laughed our way through the first demo stages of the tune.  It was shelved for quite some time as I went through the gauntlet of the changes that would see me becoming a solo artist again and not moving forward with yet another incarnation of the Audio A brand. I took the song in its unfinished form and Rob Hawkins, the producer of the 1st side of the album, worked it up into what you hear now. It’s an anthem, its tongue in cheek, it has time traveled back from the 1990's, just for you.


12.  Lay Down Your Weapons My Friend  (Kevin Max, Paul Moak) Paul Moak… what an artist… what a guitar player… what a producer.  Paul auditioned as a very young lad with a very large pedal board for the dctalk solo tour.  He became my guitar player for my segment of the show.  He would open each performance playing a real Sitar. Many moons have passed and now Paul is one of the premiere producers in Nashville.  Situated in the most fantastical studios in Berry Hill, he creates the anthems for hipsters and serious musicians daily. I asked him to write a song for me in the early stages of writing for 'Kings & Queens.' We wrote this song in a day and recorded it.  Later, Paul put his finishing touches on it without even letting me know.  He sent it through the Internet completed and feeling like a track that John Lennon would have been proud of. Stylistically it also hearkens to the 1950's, with Stephanie Smith singing great background vocal embellishments. The lyrics are heavy and represent one of the biggest issues we are dealing with today: Forgiveness.



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