Maxwell Musick, pop-musician born in San Francisco, raised in Oklahoma (with a brief stint in Missouri), has lived in more cities than most (recently, he added Berlin and New York to his repertoire). The common thread between all these places, though, is his continued devotion to his craft. Having been inspired by Björk at a young age, Musick describes his admiration for pop as an integral way for him to connect with people. The far-reaching genre can be a light-hearted cure to the woes and loneliness that inevitably plague everyone.
Following his return from a five month stay in Berlin and a heavy break-up, Musick has released his latest single, Re-, the first in a series of songs that capture the desperation of returning to an empty city and the regrowth and self-reckoning that can take place.
Below, we catch up with Musick about his beginnings, his views on the music industry, and the personal significance behind his latest hit.
Max, tell me about your origins as an artist. Where are you from, and what prompted you to make music?
MM: “I was born in San Francisco, lived in Missouri, but grew up primarily in Oklahoma. What got me into music was actually my dad—he always had an appreciation for music and had this huge record collection. I never felt any desire to buy a record myself because my dad had so many. He and I would watch late-night music video compilation videos where they would play music from the ’80s and ‘90s. One of the the most memorable for me was, when I was about five years old, a series on all the music videos Björk had done. I watched that, and that was it.”
How would you describe your identity as an artist? What makes your music yours?
MM: “Vulnerability is important to me as an artist, as is being genuine. I really value creating multi-tier listening—music that you can just have on, that’s slightly uplifting but also has lyrical and emotional depth. That’s what I look for in my own writing.
“SZA is a huge inspiration for me. The amount of internal conflict she has in one song is amazing. She does a beautiful job of switching lines up, saying at one point that she loves someone and at another saying she only wants them to love her.
“In terms of my own artist image, it’s sort of, boy from the Southwest who loves romance and constantly fails at it. I go between indifference towards sex and love and romance to still craving it and also finding it to be the most worthwhile part of life. Falling in love with someone or something, or just having really intimate moments with another person—those things are super-relevant to my music. I want my music to be a fine line between thoughtful and sensual and a demonstrated juxtaposition between life back in Oklahoma versus here in New York City.”
A lot of your music, especially this video, is about regrowth and coming into yourself—how has that become a running theme? How does that impact your writing?
MM: “This song, Re-, is purely my response to the period of my life when I went to Berlin for a semester abroad, kind of lost myself in the partying and drug culture there, came back to a boyfriend who broke up with me, and moved all my stuff out of the apartment we shared. I had to move in with strangers that I found on Craigslist. I was also dropped from the modeling agency I was signed with. Everything in my life had just disappeared.
“I got used to all these constants in my life, but when everything you were used to suddenly is taken away, you have to regrow and find worth within yourself. Romantic relationships aside, this song also considers whether it’s possible to fully move on from yourself. There are a lot of mistakes that I’ve made that I would like to redo, but I can’t. There are some problems you just can’t get rid of. It’s important to realize how those negative things have shaped where you’re headed. I’m realistic, but I’m also a positive person. I want my music to sound optimistic. When I’m upset, I can only listen to pop. When my mom was going through cancer, all I could listen to was Ariana Grande; when my [now ex-]boyfriend and I were going through difficult times, I listened to Sky Ferreira. This kind of music is a driving force to get you through the day.”
I think one of the takeaways from this song is to accept yourself, while also acknowledging that you will always be growing, rebirthing, and changing. I see it as almost a love song to yourself, or the parts of yourself that you find hard to love.
MM: “Yes, I spent two and a half years loving someone so much, devoting all my time and love to the relationship and my classes and jobs, caring essentially about what other people thought. I was constantly around other people to the point where I’d lost part of myself.
“In New York, I’d never had a room to myself. I never lived alone. So I ended up hating the apartment I lived in after my boyfriend threw me out. But the music video is shot in that apartment. It was the first time I had my own room. Those stupid tropes of dancing in your underwear by yourself, I was doing all of that. Coming back and not having a strong support system, living with strangers, I was more alone than I’d ever been. But it was also the first time I had true independence. It was a huge coming to terms with who am I and made me ask: Do I really like myself?
Sometimes I joke with friends and say ‘Yeah, we’re really pulling it together,’ referring to myself as a ‘we’ because it sometimes feels like a team. You have the side of you that you don’t like and a side that’s trying to like it. I’m now just starting to dive into the different sides of me, get comfortable with them, and see where they come from. The song is about finding an interest in myself again, rather than in external people and factors. The song is the first song released in this collection I’m working on because it’s sort of the first step of me becoming the main character in my own life. Regrowth is amazing, but it also goes beyond one moment of feeling amazing. It’s a constant cycle and uphill battle you have to fight with yourself.”
What was the making of the music video like?
MM: “The music video was made by my friend, videographer Olivia Peters, and I. I had no budget at all. I wanted it to be really mundane things. I was trying to capture the boredom and loneliness of what was actually happening in my life at that point. When I get sad I dance alone, and take a lot of showers, sleep a lot. So I ended up drinking an entire bottle of wine, getting a little drunk, crying a few times…and then Olivia was like, ‘Cool, I think we got it!’”
What are some exciting projects you have coming up in the near future? How to you plan to expand musically?
MM: “I have a song coming out in late February. I’ve been working on that for four years, and people told me I should finally release it. I also have a song called “Midnight Cowboy,'” which is based off how I relate to the character Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and to Midnight Cowboy. Olivia is shooting that as well; we’re shooting a recreation of both movies. Then I have, hopefully!, a five song EP that will come out in the summer. But these things take time.”