‘It feels like it just happened’ says Maxwell, singer/songwriter and pioneer of the neo-soul sound, of his debut album Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite which debuted in 1996. Now as he launches his latest album, blackSUMMERS’night, he explains ‘I haven’t lost touch with who I was twenty years ago, I’m still solid with who I am as a being.’
Words by Hollie Moat, Photography by Max Vadukul, Menswear styling by Nicolas Klam, Womenswear styling by Anya Ziourova
The past two decades have seen the New York native rack up millions of record sales and two Grammy’s, but fans have been waiting seven years for Maxwell’s latest musical offering. ‘Because my records have been so far and few between, I don’t really have time to get wrapped up in the ego game of who I’m supposed to be to people’ he says, although today he has gamely agreed to play the part of spotlight lover for our shoot. Between posing in Farfetch’s sharpest tailoring and goofing around with model Sharina (‘I was so pleased it was her - I knew the shoot would be real looking because we’ve hung out and are friends’) we pinned Maxwell down to tell all about his latest comeback.
You released your hit debut album twenty years ago, have you changed as a songwriter since then?
‘I have changed, I go with my gut a little more – the songs kind of write themselves now rather than me trying to write them. And that’s because I have a lot more security in my belief than I did before. For me the important element [of being an artist] is just to maintain your health and be on point with what you do creatively.’
We’ve been waiting seven years for this album – what’s the reason behind your hiatus?
‘It wasn’t a conscious decision, it’s purely down to anxiety. You’ve just got to get it right you know? I don’t want to put a record out that makes me go “Oh yeah that’s the nineties, oh yeah that one is the 2000s”. We have to be really conscious about keeping it classic, not being slang-heavy or talking about things of the moment. My attitude is that it takes time to make something timeless.’
Tell us a bit about the new album
‘It’s definitely the second instalment of the trilogy - the songs here are the part deux counterparts to the tracks on Part 1 [2009’s BLACKsummers’night album] – they all connect to continue the story. And that came naturally because even though it’s been quite a while between releases we’re working during that time, recording and retooling the album. It’s not like I started writing this one three weeks ago! And there’s a contextual feel to it sonically, in what we did with the audio, the way we used analogue. We didn’t use all the new technology the kids are using now to make their voices sound so clear and amazing - we really wanted a more organic sound.’
Does the music leave you time for anything else?
‘I do allow myself to have a life – I think that’s really important. I lend my hand to philanthropic work and education. And I love the simple things like riding my bike, or going to the beach or reading a good book. And I love my [hair]brush! It’s a Mason Pearson, which is a really good brush and it gives a good massage.’
Album aside, you seem very comfortable onstage…
‘I love being onstage, more so than recording. A lot of stuff we don’t rehearse, we just get the bare bones version of it locked down and then on the night it’s off-the-cuff, my band and I will kind of improvise and react to the audience. I want to give people a sense of humanity, a sense of “I know you’re here”. An acknowledgement that who’s on stage is conscious of you is a pretty fantastic feeling - I’ve had it many times myself going to see people like Prince. So that’s what I try and put into my performance as much as I can.’
How do you decide to wear when you’re up there?
‘I like to be proper, you know? More than ever I’m aware that ticket prices can be high and people might have had to get babysitters and make all kind of arrangements, so you want to be well-dressed and well-groomed and showing your audience that you’ve taken time to make yourself look presentable for them, because they’ve made the effort to come and see you. I’m a grown man and I can’t be up there in ripped-up clothes and all the new trends, being that guy who is 43 but trying to forget he’s 43.’
Are you a fashion man – what’s the Maxwell look?
‘Very low-key, I like a pair of jeans, some Stan Smiths, white shirt, black pants. It’s not like I’m walking around like I’m on stage during the day! Label-wise I like the classics – Saint Laurent, Maison Margiela, and there’s also the Parisian label Ami. Paul Smith I’ve been wearing a lot of for twenty years now. I like the sense of humour in English fashion, where it looks good but it’s not so stiff. On the Farfetch shoot I loved the Common Projects shoes because they’re a sort of sneaker/shoe hybrid and pretty smart.’