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Kevin Max, Broken Temples and the Art of Music
by Michael Tackett on 2015-07-20 17:03:57
Kevin Max, the man behind one of Christian music's most iconic voices talks with CMADDICT contributor, Michael Tackett, about the Art of Music, Broken Temples, and the anniversary of Jesus Freak.

Michael: “Was there someone that influenced or inspired your passion for art and music? Was there someone early in your life, or were you always drawn to that as a kid or teenager”.

Kevin: “Great question! The thing is, I think it’s all of the above. I always leaned toward the arts as a kid. I grew up in Michigan; kind of in the countryside. My Dad was an accountant, but also a farmer. So, my brother and I were always outdoors, on horses, motorcycles and going to the grain mill on Saturdays to feed the cows. So you wouldn’t think that would typically create somebody that is romantic about the arts, but it actually did because I was so isolated in the country that I read a lot. I can remember really getting into books early and reading the poetry of William Blake, and getting into science fiction and fantasy, so that kind of shaped my imagination. I grew up in a Christian home, so of course the Bible shaped my imagination, and I grew up always loving music.

I think my first experimenting with music was done in a church choir. In my school, I would step out in my choir and sing solo. Later in my High school years, I started getting compliments about my voice and it was kind of then I thought, “Maybe I can do this””.

Michael: “With the solo career, poetry and also music itself. When you write lyrics to a song, what really shapes it first, the melody in your head or the lyrics that come first?”

Kevin: “It goes both ways. It depends on the moment. Sometimes I have a poem written down somewhere that I really want to put music to, or it can be the opposite. I can sit down at my keyboard, and start coming up with a melody, and then put lyrics to it. I write a lot of lyrics, but recently I have been more on the keyboard...”

Michael: “With the recent release, Broken Temples, it was a huge success on the pledge campaign. Do you think these pledge campaigns give more control of their art while awarding fans with pretty cool perks?”

Kevin: “Absolutely! 100 percent. Back in the day, if I wanted create a t shirt, I would have to go through a gauntlet of people that would say yes, no, maybe until we came up with a design”.

: Both laugh :

Kevin: “And then you’re not in control of how many are made or shipped- it’s the industry. So, as an artist, crowd funding is the way of the future. Especially for artists who are a little bit more off the radar. I think bands, musicians, solo artist that have a huge crowd to begin with might still profit from being part of a big label.

So, when I did this first crowd funding, for me, I wasn’t really excited about it, actually. I was kinda scared. I don’t want to go ask people for money. I felt it was kind of debasing, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it could actually be a fun exercise. This one was an experiment to see “will it work”, and it worked rather quickly, and we were very excited.”

Michael: “With the title of “Broken Temples”, how did that title come about?”

Kevin: “For me, titles have always been pretty important to the overall work. It’s the theme and the statement, and Broken Temples sums up being fractured and being imperfect, having doubts, not knowing where you’re going, but having faith that The Creator is going to take care of you, and that your Maker has your back; it’s giving into Grace. My story is a story of redemption. Everybody knows that I’ve gone from DC TALK to living in LA doing mainstream music, and then coming back to Christian music, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg of my life. So, I’ve put a little bit of my life’s story into this music, but that story is a story of redemption and believing, and a story of going through doubts and trials and temptations, and then believing and then having doubts and having faith. It’s a constant struggle that we all have of trying to figure things out. And you know the truth is, you can’t figure things out on our own. Specifically, a song I wrote called “Clear”, talks about being in the silence and really owning the tension of “waiting”, and I think that’s a perfect picture of God. We think He will take care of our dreams, but really he is tempering us to be something better, you know. Having patience and the tension of defeat and failure is what makes us stronger and better.”

Michael: “I’ve listened to the record and agree. It’s an honest record of…having doubts, faith, and more doubts. Musically, did you approach this record any differently than past records?

Kevin: “Not really, but you know I have seen that a lot in people reviewing this album who write “his 80s side is showing more”, and I feel like it’s always been there, but I have not really excursed that synthesizer side of my brain. Traditionally, on other albums, I have written with guitar players. Like with “Stereotype Be”, I wrote line shares with a friend who is a guitar player. So, we would sit down and I would sing a melody and he would come up with chords. So, the basis of most of those songs, “Stereotype B”, “Between the Fence”, “The Universe” and “The Imposter”, was guitar ordinated, so it wasn’t really till after that time that I started writing songs on a synthesizer, and that’s what I did with “Broken Temples”. I started with melodies on the synthesizer, and then I would take them to guitar friends, like StuG, and Josh Silverberg.”

Michael: “Infinite is the album closer and also this great Gospel track where the message is whatever you think of God far surpasses who He actually is. How did that song come about?”

Kevin: “Yeah! I actually took this song, and all the these songs are interesting because, previous to Broken Temples, I was in Audio Adrenaline and a lot of these songs I had demoed for being the follow-up to Kings and Queens, but “Infinite” was a song that I had around sitting in my head and went into writing session with Kyle Lee. I already had the idea and lyrics, so when he put the groove down it changed a little bit from John Lennon’s “Give peace a chance”, to something a bit more Johnny Cash. The idea of God being infinite is where my head is at because I’m a science fiction lover. When I think of God, I think of God as fathomless and not in boxes. My gut instinct is that God is much larger than we can imagine. I feel he is so infinite that our brains can’t understand.”

Michael: “Coming up on 20 years with Jesus Freak, which is insane, did you have any idea while making that record that it would be this special record that would spread like wild fire? Like in the process of making it, did you ever think “man this thing has legs and I think it’s going to stick around” or was it “we are going to make this record and see where it takes us”.”

Kevin: "I think back in the mid-90’s, in Christian music, there was an aesthetic, so you could create a little bit more, and that was a really exciting fun time to create within Christian Music because the pioneers that set the stage; The Larry Normans, The Rich Mullins, The Petra’s were able to carve out a little bit of space so that bands like DC TALK could really create something fun and deep and wide. So working on Jesus Freak, we were earnest on wanting to create something bigger and better than Free at Last. We went in trying to recreate and were very tapped into the times with the explosion of grunge, which really influenced a lot of the record. You hear it in “So Help Me God” to “Jesus Freak”…It’s influenced by grunge.

What’s interesting about that record, is that even though it’s influenced by the grunge and Seattle movement, there is still a lot of Hip/Hop, R&B and a lot Euro element to it, and the Euro side really came from me and was used a lot in the follow up- Supernatural. It was a very fun record to make.”

Michael: “I listen to it now and the topics at hand really are relevant today. I think it’s one that every new Christian should listen to that will give them the history of Christian music and where it has gone. When that record released, did you see the industry change their viewpoint on you guys at all? Like the business side going “these guys actually make good records and make hits even in the mainstream”. Did you see a shift in opinion about you guys?”

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Kevin: “Absolutely. Free at Last had proven ourselves as a live show because the production level and ideas wowed people, so going into “Freak” we already had some petty basic respect from people, but I don’t think we had massive respect for being song writers, and I think that “Freak” answered that in a way that made people say “oh wow, they can write something other than R&B and hip hop”. I remember in Pollstar, we would be in competition with Springsteen and Rod Stewart and it blew my mind I was like “wow we’re competing with the big dogs”. It also opened the door for other bands like Jars of Clay and Switchfoot to walk through the door and own it. It was an exciting time!”

Michael: “Exactly”

Kevin: “But you know I don’t look at Jesus Freak any differently than anything else we did. It got all the accolades, but it was just another step in our progression, and I felt Supernatural was an even bigger step.”

Michael: “For this new generation of musicians coming up, what would your word of advice be for those fighting their way through the industry to get noticed, or maybe they don’t want to get noticed they just want to create art? What would one piece of advice you would give them out of your history in the industry?”

Kevin: “Be weird!”

::Both laugh::

Kevin: “No, No…I would say be true to yourselves. I feel like what is missing is that people let other people influence them, and what comes out is a fraction of what you could be, and I think that being true to yourself is a bigger deal than you may think it is. It’s also more difficult to stand up for your individual thoughts than you might think. Being true to self is not giving into corporate or industry, or those who will tell you “this will sell, this won’t sell”. Go with what you’ve been given- don’t try to be someone else. Be who you are, and utilize the gifts and inspiration and passion that you have, and don’t try to follow anyone else’s path. It’s easier said than done. I found myself doing it all the time. When I’m writing a song, all of a sudden Johnny Cash, John Lennon, David Bowie and Larry Norman show up in my head. And I have to push them out of the space and say, “no, I’m going to do this”. Also, constantly pray and be in constant touch with your Creator. When you’re out of alignment with your Creator then things are a shadow of what they could be.”

Michael: “Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I really appreciate it!”

Kevin: “Thank you! It was great talking with you! “
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