INTERVIEW: Max Foreman

Hi Max, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hi VENTS! Like everybody else, I’m continuing a process of intense psychological transformation, but overall, I can’t complain! I’ve taken up meditation lately, which has been crucial.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “State of Decay”?

“State of Decay” was written very, very early in the quarantine era. I wanted to write openly about my experiences without getting too topical—definitely no lyrics about sheltering in place or wearing a mask. State of Decay is a reflection on the deterioration I saw in my own emotional state and in my surroundings. Yes, decay connotes disintegration and fatigue, but there is also a sense of change and renewal that follows. I try to keep both aspects present in the song.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

The themes of the song began appearing to me the day before I wrote it. I was struck by the improvement in air quality as most of the cars in LA suddenly vanished from the roads. I also noticed the summer weather coming back prematurely in mid-April. The two moments juxtaposed each other. Can nature recover from all the damage we’ve inflicted? Certainly not on our watch. But it was interesting to enjoy temporarily clear air as an unintended byproduct of the chaos rampaging in our collective existence. I also witnessed a literal silent street parade on the Silverlake reservoir that night. It was sort of like the final scene in Russian Doll but with nobody saying anything. Very odd.

Any plans to release any sort of video for the track?

I’ve discussed it with a videographer, but I think we’ll be working together on a future project instead. My next song “Underground” has a music video dropping February 2nd! It was conceptualized, shot and directed by the extraordinary Elise Mesner.

The single comes off your new album Underground – what’s the story behind the title?

I wrote the song “Underground” the morning after an earthquake in Southern California that erupted just after midnight on April 22nd, 2020. As time passed, the earthquake stuck out as the central moment of the record. All of the songs on the EP were written within a short time frame. I was writing every day, and hit a groove where I decided that my writing would speak on whatever was happening in my life at that moment. It felt like the most honest way to make a solo record. The earthquake merged everything I was writing about into one moment: nature, chaos, deterioration, a rapidly changing life. We plan our lives to remain safe from external hazards, and then boom, the whole world literally gets shaken up. What does it mean? Underground was my means of exploring that question. 

How was the recording and writing process?

Very solitary. This was my first solo record. My girlfriend Becky would be working from home and she’d hear me making the songs in the other room. I’d play the results for her at the end of the day, if I thought they were good. When I say I was writing every day, I truly mean every day. I recorded dozens of demos that did not make the final cut. Once I had six songs that I knew were strong, I went back and re-recorded all of them with a better microphone and a freshly set up guitar. For the final track, I called in my longtime friend and collaborator Patrick Taylor to play bass. He and I have made music together for 18 years now, since high school. He’s the best bassist I know, and I was confident that he could lay something down that I’d be stoked to have on my record. It was important for me to get him in there. Other than Patrick’s contribution, I wrote, recorded, produced, played, and sang every other part on the record.

What role does LA play in your music?

I live here! That in itself means everything. I’ve loved LA ever since I first visited on tour, dating back to 2004. I moved here in 2010 to go to CalArts. LA lives deep in the fabric of the record, obviously in the lyrical imagery, but also in the music itself. So much of my musical identity has developed hanging out in LA record stores, playing shows here, watching my friends’ music grow. If I still lived in Northern California, Underground would be a completely different record.

Known for your somewhat surreal approach to music – how much did you intend to lean into this with this particular record?

Surreal times call for surreal music. On this record, each song pushes the sonic boundaries into new and unusual territory. Some songs like State of Decay have a minimal electronic palette, while some use more immersive arrangements. Without revealing too much, there is a distinct trajectory in the instrumentation and production that evolves across six songs. The sounds tell their own story parallel to the lyrics. And while I want the material elements of the music to challenge the listener’s ear, it’s the lyrics, melody and song structure that convey the true heart of the music. If I can deliver the spirit of the song with bold and engaging sounds, then this record has done its job.

So was the inspiration for the songs and lyrics as abstract and conceptual as the sonic direction?

If my sonic approach is abstract, I approach the lyrics from the opposite direction: literal and straightforward. My background in experimental music goes back at least 15 years, when I would make drone music and modular synth improvisations in college. My flair for the unusual never went away, and any music I touch is going to have some level of experimentalism embedded in its DNA. But my lyrics are mostly quite direct, with some poetic ambiguity sprinkled here and there for flavor. I wanted to make something honest, and the lyrics all draw from whatever I saw or felt in that moment. There’s no grand intention in the contrast between my musical process and my lyrical process. But the contrast is there, and it makes the final work unique to my experience.

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

I’m very process-oriented. Sometimes the process is, sit down and journal what’s happened in the last 24 hours. Sometimes it requires finding the perfect guitar tone to complement a drum pattern. If I commit to the process, then I commit to whatever comes out of it. There wasn’t a concept for Undergrounduntil after it was already completed. Once it was complete, the themes converged almost as though they had a mind of their own, and the concept revealed itself to me after the fact. But the pieces didn’t literally come together on their own: they all came from different areas of my subconscious, and once they were assembled as pieces of a larger work, it became clearer in retrospect what I was feeling at the time.
I rarely feel the need to question my creative decisions as they’re happening in the moment. They always seem to explain themselves after the fact.

What else is happening next in Max Foreman’s world?

I’ve already written another batch of songs, with at least a half dozen that will show up on the next record, and more to come. I can’t wait to put together a band to play this material live. Until then, I’ll be seeing you digitally, as I’ve been seeing everybody else. Thank you!

STREAM: “State of Decay” – 
Week In Pop / Streaming Services / SoundCloud

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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