Max Degroot has recently kick-started his music career, giving us two new songs in only a few short months. Phoebe Metcalfe had a chat with Max about his experience in the industry and his upcoming album set to release this year.
A few weeks ago I finally went to my first post-COVID-19 live music gig. It was a small intimate gathering, held at The Rogue Scholar in the middle of Newcastle. Although this was just a cover gig, the man on the stage had such an engaging presence and powerful vocals, that I had to follow up on him.
Max Degroot is a 31-year-old musician originally from Sydney. After spending some time in Port Macquarie, he now tours up and down the East Coast including, thankfully, Newcastle!
After some very thorough digging, I was able to find a lot of Max’s influences on his amazing Spotify playlist (sadly no longer available) which includes a lot of big players such as Hozier, Neil Young, Maggie Rogers, and Coldplay.
Max has recently released two singles; the first ‘Slow It Down’, from 2020, and only two weeks ago ‘Call My Name’. Both of these songs feature a beautifully strong acoustic track, with a melody and haunting romantic lyrics reminiscent of Hozier, and vocals that are warm and raspy – such as those of Matt Corby.
Thankfully, Max was able to take some time out of his very busy schedule in Sydney, while producing his self-titled album, to have a chat with me about his experience in the industry and what we can look forward to hearing from him this year:
You’ve been spending a lot of time in Sydney recently, recording stuff for an upcoming album, how’s that process going for you?
It’s good, it’s exciting. Um, it’s probably, like, a little bit more tedious than I was expecting this part of the recording process to be.
So, it’s less the writing, and more just the-, the finalisation of it all?
Yeah, I guess I’m finding that my skills in the production area are found wanting, a little bit. I have a great producer, Nick Franklin. So, he’s, like, really helping me see the potential in the songs and seeing where we can take them away from the typical, sort of, folk singer/songwriter that I naturally produce. ‘Cause I write on a guitar, yeah.
Yeah, well, you are a solo performer as well, so when you play live you’re just playing with your guitar, too. So, it’s definitely like a hurdle that would be fun to get over though, even though it’s tedious right?
Yeah, no, definitely! I love seeing the songs, like, come together and that creative, sort of, collaboration between Nick and myself when we’re in the studio, and it’s just us. And that’s, like, I think-, that’s probably less overwhelming than if I was to try and include too many session musicians, or anything like that. So, having one other brain working on, you know, creating, you know, this soundscape to, sort of, carry the meaning that I want across. Definitely helpful just having just one extra person in there as well. So, not butting too many heads.
Yeah, that’s good, especially ’cause it’s, like, your self-titled album, right? So, you want it to be completely and authentically you, as well. So, you’re originally from Sydney, is that right?
Yeah, I was born in Sydney…
…and then you spent some time in Port Macquarie and around the East Coast of NSW. On like-, comparing places that you performed in, where does Newcastle sit from Sydney up the East Coast?
Oh, okay. Well, when I first started playing I was doing mainly covers gigs and the occasional open mic nights. So, it was really dollar-driven for me for a long time and so, it’s kind of a two folded answer, I guess. Is that-, when I’m playing covers gigs, any-, they’re all the same really. And in a way it just depends on the night, you get certain people going and how they support you or-, or how they heckle you [laughs]. And that’s totally fine, it’s just part of the territory. But when I’m playing original shows just on an acoustic with a crowd that wants to be there and is expecting to hear you play, um, I’d say that none-, none of the other locations really matter, as to the style of the gig. So, instead of playing at a venue which I-, I get so-, I get so nervous when I play at a, like, a venue itself.
But when I’ve done a few house shows, house concerts, where people are, you know-, some of them may know you through friends, or some of them may have heard some stuff, but when you-, when you get there you have everybody’s undivided attention and-, and it’s so much more intimate on a familial base. It almost feels like you’re already entering that family, sort of status, in your relationship with people. Which is kind of odd when you really haven’t met anyone at the time that you start playing, really. You might have had a drink with a couple of them, you know, before. But yeah, I’d say that house concerts are where it’s at for me, at this point in time in my career, as to how genuine the feeling is of being able to share what I wanna share.
Yeah, and speaking of those larger venues, I know that you’ve had some experience backstage of the entertainment industry when you managed to land a gig behind the scenes of the MTV Music Awards in, like, 2006 or 2007…
Geez, that was a long time ago.
…how has that, like, affected how you perform or carry yourself through the industry at all?
Short answer, no. It was a great experience, and probably gave me more-, okay, so I guess it has affected me a little way. Maybe a bit more conflict of-, at the time, and this has been a process of getting over my understanding of where I wanted to be in the industry. But, a friend of mine was doing a lot of the backstage management and-, or a friend-, a friend’s dad was, and so he got me in to do, like, a work experience thing. And I did, like, you know, the few days bump in and bump out sort of thing. And I think seeing a lot of the talent and the performers, you know, coming and going and-, and some of them being really genuine, nice people to everyone they came across. No matter how low you were in your position or status behind backstage. Then some who were less than nice…
[laughs] And there’s no way you would name names, is there?
Never [laughs]. But, it kinda just-, one, it obviously it just, sort of, made, like, the point for me of how important it is to treat everyone equally. But, also not sure that I wanted to achieve any-, like, any such, sort of, status because, I guess, I didn’t want the risk of turning into something like that.
Yeah, totally. And because it was such a long time ago, I guess, having your first album coming out now, are you in-, do you feel like you’re in a completely different place, headspace-wise, or do you still feel like you don’t want that title?
I think it’s definitely changed and developed. It’s not about wanting or not wanting the title, it’s probably more about being less focused on, like, obviously worrying about things you can’t help in the moment. And trying just to be honest and creative. I guess the most constant struggle for me is remembering that even though music is my creative outlet and it’s something I love to do and I feel like I’m-, I can-, I’m good at it and I wanna keep doing it, I-, I guess I don’t really wanna focus on the money side.
Because the album that’s coming out, you said with-, in the Something You Said interview that it’s got over 10 years, or up to 10 years, worth of songwriting included, has it been difficult to collate what you want to include in the album because there’s such an expansive time frame?
Yeah, I think it’s also, like, a solid challenge for Nick and I to convert songs that were written stylistically totally different to the direction we’re heading now. Like, one of-, one of my oldest songs that I co-wrote with my brother, Joel, is called ‘Hardly A Man’, and that is like a classic, sort of, folk storytelling, you know, like, yeah. And, I guess, trying to bring that out of that space into, like, that more, like, groove, like, folk-pop-rock-funk, kind of, whatever…I haven’t really figured out what to call it. Somebody else will be better at it…
We’ll call it a fusion for now [laughs]
…okay, yeah great, fusion. All those things, you know, yeah, I guess I’m finding it difficult just to, like, be able to walk into the studio ’cause I’ve sat with the songs for so long, and just, like, come at them completely open-minded, I guess. That’s why I need Nick in there because he has heard them a few times and so, yeah. Difficult to amalgamate 10 years’ worth of writing, for sure, but I think mainly on the production side. Because I find that the lyrical content-, because I write mostly around morals, and relationships, and who I want to be, and who I wanted to be, I don’t think that I feel, like, they’re any less important to me today than they were then. So, really it’s just transitioning them from, stylistically, where they were.
And do we have any idea when you’ll be releasing anything?
I’m hoping in the next four or five months, but it could blow out a little bit because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I might even-, I might even end up releasing some acoustic tracks in between now and the album anyway. I’m not sure. Maybe.
‘Cause we’ve already got two songs from you, so far, this year. One of them is ‘Slow It Down’, and the other one is ‘Call My Name’, and they’re both available on Spotify, as well, at the moment. Where else would people be able to listen to them?
Literally, I think, any major platform.
And will those two be on the album, as well?
Yeah, they will!
Great! Well, thank you so much for having a chat with me this afternoon. I really appreciate it…
Thank you for having me, Phoebe.
…and I can’t wait until the album comes out!
Thanks so much, appreciate it.
Watch the interview with extras here:
Feature Image: Single Artwork courtesy of Max Degroot, no changes made.