Approaching, So Close: An interview with Josh Maxey


Josh Maxey - "Cycles of Sound"As guitarist Josh Maxey gears up for the release of his sixth album Cycles of Sound, he chatted with me about a variety of topics surrounding his 6-in-12 project.

About that project… with the goal of recording six albums in a twelve month span, Maxey has offered up a series of remarkable sets, distinguishable from one another, yet clearly springing from the same creative source.  Differentiation, yet maintaining cohesion.

Modern jazz that’s clearly beholden to the blues, Maxey has carved out a nice little corner of the music world with his identifiable sound.

Recorded live at the IBeam in Brooklyn, Cycles of Sound provides a satisfying finale, offering up the energy of a live performance while encapsulating the year-long project by performing tracks from the previous five recordings.

Cycles of Sound is being released January 31, 2013.  Here’s a free album track, which you may stream and/or download, courtesy of the artist.

(Just hit the little download arrow on the right hand side of the audio player above.)

You can stream the entire album, and purchase it, on Maxey’s Bandcamp page.


Bird is the Worm:  What ignited the decision to record six albums in a year?  Was it a single event or was it an inspiration that simmered for a long time then suddenly came to a boil?

Josh Maxey - "Incarnate"Josh Maxey:  As we worked on Incarnate, it had been a while since that session was tracked.  We were finishing it up and adding the first song, “Introduction,” and adding singing bowls and the rhythm guitar effect on the title track.

My friend Dave Parnell produced and helped me get that session in shape for release.  As we were eating pizza one afternoon, I joked that I should do five more of these albums this year, mainly because it was so much fun.  Both of us kinda perked up a little and were like, yeah, why not?

BitW:  Different albums, different personnel, different sounds… how much forethought went into planning the albums before the current one was completed?  Was there a big-picture roadmap or did you improvise the route from album to album?

JM:  A little bit of both.  They weren’t all tracked in order, so I was choosing what album was being written, what was being mixed/mastered, and what was being released next.  I have kept 2 or 3 albums going at a time since April of 2011.  I knew what each project was going to be that was about to be tracked.  I did not start out with them all pictured necessarily.

I do still have a sheet of music paper with a bunch of ideas I wrote down in Spring of 2011.  A few of those did end up being part of the series, but not all.

BitW:  Actually, on that subject… Was there an album that didn’t happen?  For instance, was there a recording that you expected to have a specific feel or sound, but which manifested as something else in the moment of its creation?

JM:  Ha.  Yeah, a little bit.  I’d still like to do one with vocals.  That was in the original list, but I definitely addressed the style of music I wanted to do.  The only vocals on an album are Dave Parnell’s chant of the word “Hu” on “Part IV” of The Language of Sound and Spirit, and also David Nicholson sings on Argument for the Blues.  I’d still like to do something with words and vocals at some point, but it’s an album or two away still.

I wrote most of the music for these records in the weeks leading up to each recording.  I started with about six or so songs, and a few of each are on albums 1-4 of the series.  The one thing that was continually amazing to me was how different the actual performances and sounds of the bands/recordings turned out from my imagination.  It was almost uncanny to hear how each song took shape and the life it took on.  Doing that many recordings is interesting.  There is little to no time between conceiving the ideas and hearing them played back by amazing musicians.  Really exciting and, at the same time, somehow confusing… but in a great way.

BitW:  About those musicians… Different personnel on many of these albums… how did the varied ensembles take shape?

JM:  I knew I wanted to work with Brian Charette.  That was the first thing on my list when Incarnate was finished.  I had seen Brian play with Rodney Jones a number of times. Rodney is a dear friend and mentor, so I knew Brian would be the first call I wanted to make for Approach.  McClenty [Hunter] played on Incarnate, and I knew they played together with Ed Cherry, so I knew that would be a good place to start for Approach.

From there, each record is a bit different depending on who was in town.  One of my favorite parts about Language is that so many of those closest to me were able, and available, to work on the recording.

joshmaxey_languageofsound_dssLanguage felt like a family-style record for me.  My wife, Jessica, plays flute.  Rodney was music director and produced the session.  My friends Mike and David play acoustic guitar and the singing bowl parts.

Brian and I had already tracked two of the series before Language.  I actually met Chase and Jeremy at the session.  Rodney recommended them.  They were immediately great.

BitW:  I believe the way I discovered the first album of the series, Incarnate, was simply by doing a search for vibraphonist Tim Collins.  Where did you know Tim from, and how did his participation come about?

JM:  Tim and I were at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass summer program years ago.  Tim also played on my first group “Plan A” debut album on two songs.  I hired him to play a few gigs back around that time also.  Tim is a great player.  I’d love to get him on another album in the future, when he is in NYC.

BitW:  Yeah, he’s in Germany now?

JM:  I believe so. I send him Facebook messages every 6 months asking if he’ll be back in NY for recording. (laughs)

BitW:  How did the actual recording of the albums come about?

JM:  I handled the recordings of the albums by tracking all the larger groups in the studio.  The on location recordings in the “kitchen” [Dave Nicholson’s loft space] and Cycles of Sound was recorded by Dave Parnell.  Dave is great at producing and recording the sessions.  We finished Incarnate together.  After Incarnate, every album has been mixed and mastered by my good friend, Andy Gabrys.  I send him the files and we work through the mix.  Generally, I ask him to turn the guitar up too loud.  All joking aside, Andy brings the same level of excellence to the production as the players do to the musical performances.  Andy and I have really shaped the sound of the series together.

BitW:  What has the 6-album project gained you?  How have you changed as an artist?  How have you changed as an artist in the business of his art?

JM:  Wow, yeah.

Recording this often has done a number of things I didn’t expect when it started….  The benefits have been profound and personal.  One benefit is the speeding up of the process of improving on the instrument.  I am finding the time between conceiving an idea and incorporating it into my playing is much shorter, as is the writing process.

This is true of my personal experiences as well.

I’ve feel like I’ve changed as much as I’ve remembered, in a way.  What I mean is that, I set out as a kid with the guitar and I had a pretty specific dream.  I’d heard Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and it sounded like a beacon to me.  I heard the heights of mastery in the music matched with a deep and moving sense of love and purpose.  I knew that is exactly what I wanted to do with my playing.

As we finished up Incarnate I remember thinking, “Man, I’m about to put out a record called Incarnate.”  To me the title is a nod to Coltrane and also, two of my favorite albums, Rodney Jones’ X Field and Doug Carn’s Revelation.  I thought, “Do I really mean this?” and the answer was “yes, I sure do.”

So, I’ve definitely changed and grown from all this work.  But in a way it was a lot of clearing away of different doubts and beliefs and just accepting that yeah, I set out to do this initially…..

It was time to take the leap.

BitW:  Well, you just hit on a couple of my next questions, but I’ll ask ’em anyways and see if you have different thoughts on the subjects… When did you have a vivid moment of self-realization that you were, in fact, accomplishing your goal?  A sense of the “bigness” of the moment, of the achievement.

joshmaxey_approachJM:  I mean, recording Approach was a real ah-hah moment.  When I set up the Approach date, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I hadn’t played with Brian and I really love his playing.  It had been a while since McClenty and I had played.  I thought going in, I might have gotten in deeper than I could pull off.

BitW:  Six albums was a big goal.  How did you cope with the (understandable) self-doubt?

JM:  Exactly!  I just jumped in.  As we started to record Approach, it became apparent quickly that we had something.  It was a lot of fun and the three hours passed without much of a conscious thought on my part.  I understood something very important.  I had no idea that I was beyond ready to do it, speaking to the self-doubt.

At the time I thought. Wow.  Those guys are world class musicians and we just did that.  I understood that I had overshot where I thought I was in my playing and writing.  It was an ah-hah moment.

BitW:  Let’s get back to the business side of things… With the internet providing a considerable amount of opportunities and challenges, what would you consider some of your biggest lessons learned over the course of the six albums?  What advice would you give to an artist who is about to produce their first recording?

Josh Maxey - "Argument for the Blues"JM:  Reach out to people and connect with people.  One of the most important things I’ve learned is to value connections with people more and more.  I think I might be a twitter musician. (laughs) I have been so happy to find people into this kind of music, and I do and connect with them.

When my first group released our, album it was 2003 and there wasn’t much to do online other than have a website.  Times are changing very quickly and I think for the far better.  It’s possible to make a great recording now without spending as much as might have been spent in the past.

BitW:  Talk about your use of the various social media and internet-based options out there… for instance, you’ve got your site tied in with a Bandcamp page.  You’re definitely on twitter.  You’ve played around with the Name Your Own Price model… where have you discovered the most success?

JM:  I feel like my primary presence online is Twitter. I update Facebook regularly, but less often.  And my website is a place that has everything in one place, but I don’t have a sense for how much people use that.  I think people visit Bandcamp more often.  I’ve used the name-your-own-price model for the whole series on Bandcamp as well as having the records on online retail sights.

I’ve been happy to have as many downloads as possible, and many of those have been free, as I always gave that option.  Recently, I changed over to having it set for free listening and individual track downloads, but I put a minimum of $1 on the album downloads. (laughs)

It’s funny, but I had more sales and downloads doing this.  Maybe that’s just because of leading up to Cycles of Sound this week, so more people are checking out the sight? Not sure. But, I am going to experiment a little with pricing on the album downloads while keeping the individual track downloads free.

BitW:  That’s not a bad idea.  I can think of several ways that acts as a psychological impetus to give more than a buck.

JM:  Yeah. exactly.

BitW:  Especially considering that most jazz fans consider themselves “album people” and would never buy a single track… even if it was only buying each track separately one after the other.  Jazz people are strange in that way.

JM:  I agree! We are album listeners!  You gotta relate track one to track seven!

BitW:  What kind of challenges did you encounter self-producing your albums?  What kind of epiphanies?

Josh Maxey - "Light Cycles"JM:  I mean, challenges, is just an obvious one of expenses.  I’m a guitar teacher and live in NYC.  All the expenses have been out of pocket.  So, I know I am making these records to make them.  I don’t think too much about if each one is earning… or not.

Having said that, I’ve tried to be very smart about it.  I pay each musician as much as I can, and my friends always say that I even pay a little more than some other situations.  I was even thanked and told that I take care of the guys.  So, I mean, I’d always like to take better and better care of the musicians.  I also try to make everything easy as possible for them

BitW:  Favorite album of the six (for any reason)?

JM:  I mean, I knew when I wrote and recorded Language, it was the centerpiece of the series.  The fact so many people close to me were involved and the music’s topic matter make it special for me.

I do like them all though.  I listen to my own albums a lot. (laughs) I know a lot of people don’t, but I’m writing the music I want to hear, really.

BitW:  Talk about the process of choosing album covers.  Did you spend a lot of time obsessing over it, did you not really care, did you hand the job off to someone else?

JM:  I’ve had help on the covers. That’s not a strong point for me.  My friend Matt Wirt designed Incarnate and Cycles of Sound.  Carl Lehmann-Haupt did the Light Cycles cover.  David and I had a great photographer shoot the Argument cover.  Approach was kinda home made; Jess took the photo and I added text.  I don’t have a vision for the cover to begin with really, but I’ve worked with the person doing them to get one that fits the sound of the records.

BitW:  What’s next up for you?  What’s coming up shortly?  What’s off on the horizon?

JM:  I have three things I’m working on now.  This week we release the 6th album tracked between April 2011 and April 2012, Cycles of Sound.

Next will be a CD compilation of the series, including some unreleased music and a thumb drive box set.

We have one more suite of seven pieces tracked that will be released this year.  And the main thing I’m working on now is writing and getting funding for album number ten in the series.  I’m going to launch a funding campaign on Indiegogo to do one last album in this series.  It’ll run between the Cycles of Sound release and the box set in March.

BitW:  What’s your vision for the future album?  When people listen to it, what about yourself do you hope to express?

JM:  Album number ten is a conscious effort to express the very real urgency I feel in in this music.  The music so far is a bit different than the previous records.  The songs are coming out high energy and exciting.  I am always reaching for the energy of Coltrane.

I expect that the next record will be a bookend.


Read my review of Maxey’s Approach, at Bird is the Worm.
Read my review of Maxey’s The Language of Sound and Spirit, at Bird is the Worm.

Listen to Josh Maxey on his Bandcamp page.

And learn more about his crowd sourcing project for his planned album for later this year, here, on Indiegogo.