Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pheaturing Max Carmichael

Hello, everybody, welcome to another entry of the Phile for a Sunday, and the last for July. Man, we are only a few days away from this whole debt ceiling business, A lot of people don’t understand what the debt ceiling is. So everyone can understand, it’s the ceiling for our debt.
In “Hamlet,” Shakespeare wrote, “Neither borrower nor a lender be.” Now where better to find financial advice than a play about a bipolar, suicidal man in tights? We are $14.3 trillion in debt, but the good news is we’ve got 14.3 trillion airline miles. The debt ceiling debate is such a mess right now, al-Qaida is desperately trying to find a way to take credit for it. If the debt ceiling isn’t raised by Aug. 2, the whole country can go into default and we won’t be able to pay our bills. Then we’ll have to ask our parents for money, which will be very embarrassing. President Obama urged the American people to call Congress and demand that both parties work together on a compromise. The calls are 99 cents for the first minute, and a trillion dollars for each additional minute. “Debt ceiling,” to me, sounds like a boring John Grisham novel, but apparently it’s very important. The company that makes the BlackBerry is laying off 11 percent of its workforce. You can tell it's bad, because the CEO's announcement ended with the line “Sent from my iPhone.” A man from Chicago won the national Air Guitar Championship this weekend. It marked the first contest ever where someone was declared both the winner and a loser. Sarah Palin’s documentary, “The Undefeated,” will be available on Pay-Per-View and On Demand by Sept. 1. The movie will be shown in English, with English subtitles. So, do you kids like soccer? More American kids play soccer than any other sport combined. That is not true, but wouldn’t it be interesting? In England, they call soccer fans that are crazy, drunk, and unemployed “soccer hooligans.” In America, they give them a reality show on MTV. Manchester United is the most valuable sports franchise in the world. A few years ago, it was the target of a takeover by Captain Evil himself: Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch was going to buy Manchester United for less than he usually pays for a prime minister. One of the most anticipated movies of the year came out this past Friday, and Logan and I are gonna go see that today. No, not Cowboys and Aliens... Cowboys and Aliens... I wonder what that movie is about.
The movie has cowboys shooting at aliens. We already have that in Arizona. Anyway, I am talking of course about The Smurfs. And here on the Phile, I have an exclusive screen shot.

Drunk Smurfs. This movie is gonna be good. Hey, kids, it's the Philosoraptor.

And now the very last...

Okay, I mentioned the debt ceiling, and it is confusing to a lot of people, so I thought I would invite a phriend of the Phile back so hopefully we can get some info on it. Please welcome back to the Phile RNC Chairman Priebus in a pheature I like to call...

Me: Hello, Chairman, welcome back to the Phile. What did you think of the President's speech last Monday, sir?

Reince: He distorted and demagogue the Republicans' serious solution to the debt crisis that cuts spending and ensures Washington lives within its means.

Me: Didn't the President ask for a clean bill not long ago? That is something, right?

Reince: A clean bill without any spending cuts in which he could increase the debt limit with no strings attached, that is right.

Me: Do you think he has a plan, Chairman, or do you think he wants to just blame you guys, the Republicans?

Reince: He had a plan, a number of them, but he didn't want to bore the American people with the details of every plan, because he doesn't have one of his own. He does want to blame Republicans who want to cut and cap spending and pass a balanced budget amendment.

Me: Chairman, I believe in the Senate Democrats' plan to continue President Obama's spending.

Reince: The spending binge that is destroying jobs and endangering America's future? Do you also believe in the Republican plan of forcing the Democrats to cut spending and taking away Obama's blank check.

Me: Yep. So, I guess the battle lines have been drawn. Please explain to the readers of the Phile what the Republicans want.

Reince: Friend, House Republicans' commonsense, conservative proposal to cut government spending and pass a balanced budget amendment is what America needs to get our fiscal house in order.

Me: Thank you, Chairman, I guess.

Today's guest is a the third artist to be pheatured in the Peverett Phile Art Gallery, and is an indie folk rocker, whose first commercial release was praised by the Village Voice, resulting in a headline gig at New York’s Knitting Factory. His new album's "Promised Land" and "Take Me Up" are now available on iTunes. Please welcome to the Phile singer, author, artist and dancer... Max Carmichael.

Me: Hello, Max, welcome to the Phile, sir. How are you?

Max: Great. I woke up to the birds singing outside my window!

Me: On the Phile I like to interview musicians, authors and artists and you are all three. For you, which came first?

Max: I absorbed all three at once from earliest childhood, because I grew up in an extended family that sang and played traditional mountain music, and at home my parents had lots of art and listened to jazz and world music, and I spent most of my time outdoors exploring nature. So as far back as I can remember I was making up illustrated stories about nature and banging on my mom's piano or my toy drum kit.

Me: You're also a dancer, right?

Max: I learned in about 7th grade that I love to dance. I studied modern dance briefly in grad school, but when I first encountered West African dance music in the SF Bay Area that was when it all came together. I realized that was my natural style of dancing. I was living in a big loft with a bunch of artists, and we just spontaneously started dancing together all the time, even when we were doing chores like washing dishes or mopping the floor. I was also into the club scene on and off, and I still enjoy some forms of club dance music.

Me: I don't know where to start, Max. Let's talk about your music, and then your artwork, which I featured in the Peverett Phile Art Gallery. I downloaded both your albums "Take Me Up" and "Promised Land" from iTunes and like them both, Max. Were they recorded about the same time?

Max: I worked on them both together more or less continuously. Initially I just began selecting new and unfinished tunes from my repertoire without a clear idea of the finished product. My goal was to end up with a cross-section representing the full variety of my repertoire - an impossible task because I strive for everything to be unique and different. First I had to prove to myself that I could achieve satisfactory solo recordings of a few songs in my home studio. I was learning digital recording technology on the fly. Then, before too long, I made the decision to split that collection of songs down the middle into two albums, "Promised Land" being the lighter, more rural side, and "Take Me Up" being the darker, more urban side.

Me: Which one came out first?

Max: They came out together, on purpose, because to me it was really two sides of my first solo recording project.

Me: They both have similar looking album covers. Did you do the artwork and make them look similar on purpose?

Max: Yeah, creating the album art was a huge challenge, as painful as any of the music production, and when I finally settled on the common motif, it was a huge relief. I could use that motif to frame imagery that would resonate somehow with the tone of each album, yet the common motif would show that they were both part of the same project.

Me: I have to ask you about the song "Come On Over Whitey", Max. Who is Whitey?

Max: That comes from when I was in college, living in the middle of the huge South Side slums of Chicago, during a period of racial hostility when attacks by blacks on whites were common, and I was mugged and repeatedly harassed in my neighborhood. I would be walking down the street and young black guys on the other side would yell out "Come on over whitey!" and start laughing. I grew up in an integrated rural community and was innocent and naive when I hit the big city streets. The song "Come On Over Whitey" plays off the insecurities of whites who are both attracted to and intimidated by black culture and society.

Me: It's a very Lou Reed sounding song... are you a fan of Lou Reed?

Max: I've connected strongly with that seminal Velvet Underground album at various points in my life as a bohemian, but I haven't connected with Lou Reed in his solo career - although others have pointed out the similarity. To me, the energy of that song comes more from the post-punk milieu I was part of in San Francisco, with bands like the Dead Kennedys and Flipper.

Me: It's hard to pinpoint your musical styles, Max, which I really like. How would you describe your music?

Max: I'm glad you like that, that's intentional! Describing it has been a huge challenge! My latest attempt is "electro-tribal-folk-rock". My lyrics are inspired by the mysteries of nature and the human heart, I play a wide variety of instruments, I use samples and digital technology, and I create unusual rhythms inspired by tribal dance music.

Me: Max, what instruments do you play? I am guessing guitar, but do you play any others? Sax I think.

Max: Yeah, sax was my first instrument, followed by guitar and mandolin. Guitar is really my main instrument, but I've created my own styles on both banjo and talking drum, I'm getter better on bass, and I've tinkered with keyboards since early childhood. Mastering the fiddle is a challenge I'm looking forward to next.

Me: Where are you from?

Max: Early childhood was outside Marietta, Ohio. Later childhood was in Rushville, Indiana. I went to college in Chicago and grad school in the SF Bay Area.

Me: You live in New Mexico now, right? That's a bit different then Ohio.

Max: I fell in love with the deserts of the southwest on a road trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas when I was in art school. The desert literally seduced me and became an obsession. I couldn't get enough of camping and backpacking and exploring, and ultimately I wanted to live in the desert. My spiritual home is a particular wilderness area in southern California, but when I started looking seriously, I couldn't find a healthy community in that desert, so I kept looking, striking out farther east in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, until I finally found what I was looking for in southwest New Mexico.

Me: You are a very talented man. When you were growing up, did you know you could do all the things you could do, or did it come with time? Your parents must've been very proud, sir.

Max: Gosh, thanks! Growing up as I did, in a family and a culture that took these things for granted, I really had no sense of being special, and my parents didn't make a big thing of it either, because they were both aspiring artists and musicians. Back then, there wasn't the culture of celebrity, American Idol or whatever, nor was there the kind of pressure to excel that you find in a lot of educated families now. There's a great quote from Kurt Vonnegut that every family used to have its own entertainers, but now that we're so celebrity-conscious, we're ashamed to entertain ourselves.

Me: With your music you have worked with musicians from all over the world. Where do you meet these musicians and do you do a lot of traveling?

Max: I met most of these people in the San Francisco Bay Area. It just fell together when I moved into a loft and started recruiting artists and musicians to do shows. Within less than a year I had met all the top African musicians in the expatriate community there, and over the next two decades I kept working in that scene. Frankly the only places I've visited outside the U.S. are Mexico and Guatemala. There are lots of wild and remote places I'd like to visit around the world, but my budget is tight and a lot of the places I'd like to visit are politically dangerous now. Also, my local community in New Mexico has some really inspiring traditional artists.

Me: And is it true you have worked with Beck and Moby, as well as Talking Heads or did I miss read the info? I have been known to do that a few times over the years interviewing people.

Max: No, no! These are artists that struck a chord with me, who have worked in similar styles, but I never even saw these artists live. Talking Heads were icons in my post-punk milieu, but they were such big stars they were unreachable. And by the time I'd heard of Beck and Moby, they were only playing huge venues, and I'm not much of a crowd person. Moby's background has some similarities with mine, and his career, doing his own production, has been a big inspiration for me.

Me: Okay, let's talk about your artwork, Max. I love your black and white Japanese sumi ink works. But you use different mediums, right? Ink, charcoal and pastels... what do you prefer?

Max: Thanks! This ink thing is very new, so I'm just starting to explore it. I had a long hiatus from drawing since the mid-90s, then I thought I would get back into pastels, but the ink was what captured me. It's all very spontaneous, I have no plan, but in the back of my mind I'm wondering if using a brush will lead me back into oil painting at some point.

Me: What medium do you use the most?

Max: Throughout my youth it was oil or acrylic on canvas, but when I began to mature as an artist, I craved the spontaneity of drawings on paper. When I moved to New Mexico I was deep into my "visual philosophy" project which was mostly digital and cerebral, but now I'm into these spontaneous drawings. I really have no idea what the future will bring.

Me: What was your first thing you started to draw, and what do you like to paint or draw the most?

Max: The first things I drew were animals and other features of my natural environment - we lived outside of town in a narrow valley beside a creek, between forested hills. I made up stories about animals and illustrated them. Throughout life, curiosity drove me to learn more about nature, through my own explorations, through reading, and through following scientists on field trips. Also, in college I studied anatomy and took a year of figure drawing, so I became proficient in drawing the human figure. When I make art, I "draw on" that familiarity with anatomy as well as with all the myriad forms of nature, to create stylized organic compositions that sometimes lean toward abstraction. Plus, I've had a lot of intense, memorable experiences both in nature and society, including "mystical" visions, that inspire my art in various ways.

Me: Do you try and tell different stories with your art like you do with your music?

Max: In the newer art, I don't actually TRY to tell stories, but I end up recognizing stories in the finished product. In the high art scene, from modernism to post-modernism, there was a strong reaction against the narrative art of the classical period, but for me, making marks on surfaces inevitably leads to some form of narrative, and I really like the idea of an unconscious narrative that appears after the work is completed. Like, "Hey, that means something that I didn't start out intending it to mean!" But I also like the "lowbrow" narrative art of people like Kenny Scharf, and I've done a lot of work like that in the past.

Me: I mentioned the sumi ink works you have done, is that your newest thing?

Max: Yep, like I said earlier, when I started drawing recently, I was all set to do pastels again, but the darn brush almost jumped into my hand instead. My old bottle of ink was all dried out, and after trying some new inks I found the Sumi stuff which had just the body I was looking for.

Me: Have you ever had your work shown at a gallery? I mean a real gallery, not my little blog art gallery. LOL.

Max: Short answer: No. But throughout childhood my work won awards and was exhibited in fairs and public buildings. In my year at CalArts, and for a few years after that, I was doing large-scale guerilla art shows in public gallery spaces, which would often be left up for days or weeks by the authorities out of respect for the artist. Then I was asked to do a show by an up-and-coming gallerist in LA, and prepared for about six months only to have it cancelled at the last minute - ostensibly due to over-booking. Preparing for that show burnt me out - I hated having to come up with a theme and create a body of work for that theme - it seemed too much like commercial art. So from then on, I made work spontaneously and exhibited it at public events in my loft.

Me: I have to ask you about your book your had published called "Precious Delirium", which I will add to the Peverett Phile Book Club. The book is full of your poetry, right?

Max: Yep, poetry I wrote during a two-year period while living in my SF loft, when my life was full of tumult and colorful characters, and the world outside was pretty crazy as well.

Me: Did you write poetry before you became a songwriter?

Max: Yes and no... I started making up tunes on the guitar as I was learning to play, then I started writing poetry, then I started writing lyrics - all within a few years, culminating in my first project with all-original music, in my senior year of high school.

Me: Do you still write poems?

Max: I do, but I haven't written anything like "Precious Delirium" recently! I write constantly, much of it stream-of-consciousness, when I'm experiencing life intensely, and the plan is to edit it all at some point. PD became the first book because the poetry was all finished, it just had to be organized.

Me: Would you ever publish another book, Max?

Max: I have a series of books planned, mostly prose, drawing on stories from my life experience. A lot of it is already in manuscript form. I could finish it off more quickly if I wasn't also working on music and art, but I want to keep a balance between the three.

Me: I have to ask you about this... you used to work for the movie industry? What did you do? You don't work in that field anymore?

Max: Most of my friends from CalArts ended up working in the industry in some way. Half of my old friends are in that LA movie-industry group. They pulled me into it in small ways over the years - inking mattes for rotoscope animation, acting as a courier on features, pitching concepts to studios. A friend had a production company in the 90s, and I once picked up the female lead on a feature film at LAX and drove her to the shooting location in the desert, where we met the male lead, Burt Reynolds. I've been on a lot of sets and I find it amazing that good films ever get made, it's a process with huge potential for failure.

Me: And I think this is cool, you started a harvest festival? Where is it, and how did you go about doing that?

Max: I came to New Mexico hoping to get involved in local agriculture in some way, and when I first came to this part of New Mexico, I was invited to stay at an intentional community around a hot springs in the Mimbres River Valley, which used to be called "the breadbasket of southwest New Mexico". It still seemed pretty lush to me, and there were obviously a lot of families there that had been farming and ranching for generations. But the community had no center and no real sense that it was a community, and of course everyone was getting their food at supermarkets now. I found out that one of my new friends was part of a small group that was trying to do things for the whole valley, health programs and food for the poor, and I suggested to her that we should start a harvest festival to promote local growers. We used the existing group as a base, put out the word and recruited more volunteers, and within three months had our first festival. It stormed pretty heavy that day, so we were all scrambling for cover, but we still had a good turnout, and every year after that got better, so that now it's recognized throughout the region.

Me: I like it that you started your own festival, doing your own thing. You really must like doing your own thing, Max. How long has the festival been going?

Max: I like doing my own thing, and I also like collaborating. Although I came up with the idea for the festival, I'm just one of about a dozen key volunteers. This year will be our sixth annual festival.

Me: So, what do you have planned for next?

Max: This summer I plan to finish some videos for "Promised Land" and "Take Me Up", and continue recording new material for the next release. Plus, hopefully, a camping trip or two.

Me: Thanks so much for being here on the Phile, Max, you are truly one of a kind. Why don't you plug your website and tell readers where they can purchase your book?

Max: It's been an honor! Anyone who's interested can look, listen, and read a lot more at, where I've got song lyrics and lots of photos. The website also has direct links to download or order music and to order the book at Amazon. Or you can just go to iTunes or Amazon and type Max Carmichael.

Me: And do you sell your art?

Max: I'd be happy to sell a picture to anyone that wants one, but I haven't set up a store yet, so at this point it would be a special request. The art is still in transition, but I do plan to set up an online store sometime soon.

Me: Thanks again, and please come back onto the Phile. I feel like I only scratched the surface with you, Max. Take care, sir.

Max: Thanks for the opportunity, and keep up the good work!

There you go, another entry of the Phile. Thanks to Max for a great interview and to Chairman Reince Priebus for a not-so-great interview. In tomorrow's entry I will have Patrick Gaspard, Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee to get a different view. Also it starts Alumni Month and the guest will be Marc Savoie from Infinite-Lane Highway, and the announcement of the fourth artist to be pheatured in the Peverett Phile Art Gallery. Also, I hope to have a review of The Smurfs. And then the Phile will be back next Sunday with Alumni David Melbye from Heavy Water Experiment. So, spread the word, not the turd and don't get snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye.

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