Seriously, what distinguishes Maxwell is the man's new CD, his own eponymously-titled indie production. It's got a hot pink label, but this is no bubblegum music. Maxwell's acoustic guitar-driven sound and smoky, Springsteenish vocals ache with emotion, but the record rocks hard too. The best-known names in his band are electric guitarists Marc Ribot and Robert Quine, but the other musicians on hand have played with the likes of Lenny Kravitz and Jewel. Nor is this any 10-cent garage production; the disc was produced by Grammy winner Ben Wisch and mastered by Greg Calbi at Sterling Sound.
Maxwell, 35, played CBGB in New York recently, and has performed all over the country, but this is his first CD. He's a native New Yorker who studied film and music at SUNY/Stonybrook on Long Island, but his songs frequently have that folksy mythical-Americana feel, which may owe something to the fact that he names novelists like Dreiser, Steinbeck and Vonnegut as his major influences. "It comes out in my lyrics," he says. Musically, he describes his style as falling somewhere between former Replacement Paul Westerberg and former Eagle Don Henley. Not a bad niche to settle into, but "it takes a lot of work to sell an indie record," he says. He offers the $10 discs at his shows, of course. He also advertises a bit and sells them on the Web (www.pinknoise.net), but exposure is hard to come by. Maxwell did get some radio play on Vin Scelsa's show on WNEW in New York, for which he considers himself "very lucky," but, on the other hand, he points out that "the thing about an indie record is you don't have to sell an awful lot to make money. If I sell 30,000 copies, I'll make more than if I sold 500,000 copies for a major label."
That's certainly encouraging, and so is the Pink Noise reel, which features spots for clients like Canon, Panasonic, Lugz, Dannon and Champion. Maxwell singles out an uplifting folk-rockish spot for the U.S. Air Force as one of his favorites, in which a young man talks about his hopes for the future. "It's a good example of the emotional impact music and sound can have," he says. "It's organic instruments with some interesting inorganic sounds complementing it - a combination I like."
Pink Noise, now six years old, was started with Dennis Hayes as a subsidiary of his editorial house; when Hayes retired, Maxwell bought the company. There are currently six composers and sound designers on staff besides Maxwell, who sees no conflict between the two sides of his musical life. "The nature of the music industry has redefined what an artist is," he believes. "Today, you have to be part businessman, you have to be your own label and your own distributor. I've always seen my personal and professional work as being one. And because I'm in control, I don't have to follow anyone's mandate about scheduling." Regardless of what hat he's wearing, "I'm a student of emotional impact," he adds. But what if he were to become a big pop success? Is that it for Pink Noise? "No way. If this were to explode on me, I wouldn't see it any differently than what Tony and Ridley Scott do."
Speaking of film and TV, Maxwell is planning a DVD with videos for several of his songs. "I'd really like that, putting images to the music. Sort of reverse emotional impact." Whether his video finds its way into the Buzz Bin or the cutout bin, he's very upbeat about the record. "I think I can do at least 30,000," he says excitedly.
Mike, may we make a suggestion? Enclose a free riding crop, you'll go Gold, man.