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The Tom Maxwell interview, part 3 of 3...

JB: How do you plan on marketing this album?

TM: It's interesting, isn't it? There are avenues of marketing which are obvious and there are other ones which should obviously be avoided.

JB: Are you marketing it as a jazz album?

TM: No, I'll probably market it as music, I don't know. I hate pigeonholes and categories, I despise them.

JB: But you can't sell a record without a pigeonhole.

TM: Aw, fuck it. I'll see what I can do. College radio and NPR were very loyal to the Zippers even before we had a hit, and were very good and enjoyed diversity, so that's an obvious way to go. The rest of it is that I will have to work off my notoriety with the Zippers.

I can't take this thing to so-called "alternative" radio stations. It doesn't have a prayer. They said that Perennial Favorites didn't have a swing song on it. It's enough to make you puke. I mean, that's cool, but what the fuck?!

I'm going to work it on the Internet as well. More than just my web site, I'm going to let some sort of Internet music label get it and work it. There's some pretty cool stuff going on. That's the only level playing field in town.

There are going to be some fragments of songs you can download from my web site. Right now it's a work in progress.

JB: It's lovely. I've never seen a format like that before.

TM: Good! My buddy Tim, who used to be in What Peggy Wants is doing it. He owns a web design company in New York so he's doing that for me. He's talented; he's really good.

I'm going to have the physical product in my house by the middle of November, but people right now are ordering it from the web site. I'm ready to go. It's hard for me to crack the whip too hard on Tim because he's doing all this amazing, complicated work for free. He told me that the site, before it was even up, got about 10,000 hits. That's amazing to me!

JB: So you're just doing the 1,000 units from the web site and the album won't be coming out until March or April?

TM: Yep.

JB: So are you going to do all your own marketing or is someone going to help you?

TM: I'm farming it out. I've retained a publicist, and he's starting in December. It's not like I'm going to sit in my house until April and then I'm going to release the record. There's all this advance publicity that has to happen, it has to be sent out to reviewers and stuff. Then there's also advance that has to happen with college radio and all that kind of crap. Work on that phase two release is going to commence in December. I'm pulling together the artwork now for the thing and all this stuff. I'm workin' it hard.

But I just couldn't stand the idea of so many people knowing about it and not being able to hear it. It was buggin' me. I just don't think that's appropriate. I would love to put out a record a year.

Things were changing. I had to get that 1,000 units out, let's face it. If someone like you or someone who really wants to hear the thing, knows about it, is interested in it, gets it and likes it, that's the best promotion in the world. You can't buy that. I want people to get a hold of it and play it for their friends and get excited about it.

JB: That's another part of the whole grass roots aspect of it. You recorded it grass roots and take it all the way through.

TM: That was the record I just really wanted to make. It's one of the few records that I can really sit down and enjoy. I don't want to sound big headed about it, but it has gotten to the point where I'm adequate enough as a singer and performer to not just wince at everything I've ever done. And all the players on there are top drawer.

JB: How are you going to be touring with this?

TM: Well when it hits the street I am going to try to pull together a core group to take the thing out. If I can get Duke and Chris Mullins… you bet, I'll get 'em. Kenny and Chris P. want to get out. Tom the piano player wants to go so it's all good. Holly is having a baby, like, in a week and she has terrible migraines so she's not really an option. The quartet isn't really an option because it's four guys for just a few songs. So it'll probably be just a piano, maybe some kind of bass, maybe sousaphone, drums…Kenny and I can play reeds…and there's melophone and trumpet.

JB: Could you have Mel come and sing instead of Holly?

TM: No way. She doesn't want to. Laughs She doesn't like the idea of touring, she thinks it's boring. She used to play drums; she gets stage fright real bad. Laughs It just doesn't interest her.

JB: Well that's too bad. What kind of venues are you planning on playing?

TM: Beats me, man. I guess whoever's gonna have me! I have no idea how I'm going to land on this thing. I only need to do a fraction of what the Zippers did to do as well. With our contract, we only made about $1 per record and not many people know that. Everyone thinks we're millionaires. We wrote and recorded our records and we made one dollar from the $15 the record was being sold for. Then, we had to split it seven ways after everyone else was paid off- lawyers and managers and booking agents, you know. So, it was not much money, comparatively.

I can make at least $3.50 to $4 a record doing it this way.

JB: Do you make any money from the shows?

TM: I'll probably lose money touring it. I have to pay the players. I'm not going to go back to the same venues the Zippers were doing. I'm certainly not going to be getting the same kind of money; I don't anticipate that at all. But it sells records, I love performing, and it's a good promotional tool. So I'm going to do it.

JB: Do you have any bands you think you'd want to tour with?

TM: Well I love the Dirty Dozen and a lot of the bands that came out with the Squirrel Nut Zippers, I'm a big fan of. I love the Cigar Store Indians, I love Bio Ritmo, I love Andrew Bird's band, Bowl of Fire. These are all phenomenal bands. It might be in my best interest to hook up with a larger act as an opening slot, just so I can make some money and pay the bills. I doubt I will be commanding headline money right off the bat, I don't know.

JB: Are you still having legal problems from when you were in SNZ?

TM: Oh yeah, all that shit is still goin' on.

JB: Are you involved in that?

TM: Yes, can't get away from it. I'm named personally in those suits and that's the way it goes. It's horrible, and it never goes away. You keep spending money on it, don't get me wrong, and it never goes away. It's a nightmare! I don't recommend being sued to anybody. That's the dharma of the situation, that's the way it is. You just gotta muddle through and try to resolve it in some way.

At least I have something to work towards for this year. Before it was like we were shut down for a year and all this shit kept coming in and it was pretty dire.

JB: How are the remaining Zippers going to work it with playing your songs, the songs you wrote? Are they going to be removed from their catalog now?

TM: You'll have to ask them, I don't know.

JB: Isn't it up to you?

TM: They can perform them with my permission, but they've never asked me and I doubt they will. Of course, I'm speaking for somebody else. I don't think that anybody is going to try doing "Hell." I mean, Katherine could do "Put a Lid on It"…

JB: Do you give them you blessings?

TM: I don't know, they haven't asked yet. Probably. I might be doin' some of their stuff, too. I mean, I'm not going to do a Zippers set by any means. There are just some songs that I like and I've always liked doing. Anybody who comes out to see me is probably going to want to hear some of the stuff and I don't have a problem with that, that's great. I want to give the people what they want, know what I mean?

I just hope people enjoy the album, and that it potentially opens their eyes a little bit to something I think is a sad part of the human condition, which is this cycle of Samsara.

JB: What is that, exactly?

TM: It's the endless cycle of desire and dissatisfaction. It's basically what keeps you Earth-bound. It's the one thing you can't have. If you get the thing you want, you don't want it anymore. A lot of people are motivated through desire- desire of a person or a thing or money. In a lot of ways it's sadly limiting. I'm not trying to be preachy about it, but it's amazing when you sort of come to some understanding about however much of your life is ruled by this thing it's only then that you can start regaining any control.

JB: Is this any reflection of your career as a "rock star"? Is that what it grew out of?

TM: Sure. The music business is all about that, and Western culture is all about that. It makes money off of instilling a desire in people and making them feel that somehow they are not whole or complete until they get their product.

JB: And here you go again, starting your cycle again.

TM: Well, the thing is only selling itself. I don't have a problem with that, that doesn't bug me.

But you like it, huh? How do you think it will sell?

JB: Well if you look at the market now that's centered around the average teenager, adults aren't running out and buying albums. It's all Backstreet Boys and Brittany Spears. There's a good number of people that are disinterested in that and hopefully can appreciate good music and still want to hear that stuff, and want to learn about music history. Our parents aren't teaching it, because they grew up in the 60's with their own musical revolution and that's their Bible.

TM: Well there's a lot of great stuff that was made then, too. A lot of crap but you know…

JB: Well hopefully this will fly. The Zippers took off because they started playing "Hell" and people recognized that it was different and they wanted to hear more of it.

TM: That's what I thought. I thought, "Can diversity actually be introduced into this stultified marketplace?" And I think a lot of the people responded to it because of that. But what happened was that "the machine" found that it had a new fad and a new format, and sadly what you got was a lot of substandard music which was just used to sell product. It didn't have legs, it didn't have validity. At best, it was a sad mimicry of what came before and not going in a new direction that was based in tradition. That fad, of course, is over.

JB: The American market is so fickle…

TM: That's because the real shit that is happening is that if it doesn't fit the format or the trend, you're never going to hear it. You have to really seek it out. That's sort of samsara in high gear- these motherfuckers forcing the shit down your throat with a guaranteed high turnover rate, because when that stuff is overused it's time to move on to the next one. They just cycle through it as fast as they can.

It has nothing to do with nurturing an artist or having a career. It's not what these people are thinking about in the music industry- they're thinking of how to maximize profit in the shortest amount of time.

JB: That's the way you make money, though…

TM: Well see, I'm taking a new direction with this thing. I'm extracting myself from this machine as much as possible and just utilizing the aspects of it that will benefit me. I'm just not going to be mercenary about this thing. How can I be? I didn't make the thing that was guaranteed airplay or whatever. I made the thing that I thought might make some sort of contribution or have some longevity to it. And that's pretty much what I'm going to keep doing until I croak.

JB: The way that you put your soul into this music really comes through in the album.

TM: I'm sure it does. Anybody that I listen to that really moves me is totally emotionally centered in that music. They may be limited musically. Some of the guys I listen to are the greatest ever, and some are not the greatest players ever. They just have an incredible emotional appeal and you know it immediately when you hear it.

JB: The people that are going to buy the album are going to be looking for music like that, and hopefully there's more than you think there is.

TM: Anyone that's not in a band doesn't understand the difficulty of being in a band. It's a complicated and fragile thing. It also doesn't last. It just doesn't last. So you get as much as you can out of it. I was glad we never got to the point where we were phoning it in. It was going to happen, where we were just going to stop giving a shit. I didn't want that to happen. We never sort of stumbled or delivered something that wasn't better than the one before, which was always my criteria.

JB: How do you think the direction of the band is going to go now?

TM: I don't know. I haven't heard them; I haven't heard the guys they brought in. Jimbo's a great songwriter. They're still the talent that was there already, but in terms of direction your guess is as good as mine. I don't know.

I'm doing my thing, and I couldn't even tell you what direction I was going in. Laughs The direction I was going in before was kind of weird.

JB: As long as you're doing what makes you happy…

TM: And I always will!

JB: You want to say it's all about the fans, but they're not the ones who have to drive across the country in a van.

TM: It's got to come out of the artist first, and then it's for the fans. If you start doing writing or performing for what other people want, you're screwed. So you start doing things to please yourself and if you do, and you're successful at that, it will come through in the music and people will respond, you know.

JB: What do you plan on doing after this, after this album comes out?

TM: Well I'm just going to make another one. I gave myself a lot of latitude. I'll just make a better record! I love pipe organ music. There was a pipe organ song that I didn't put on this album that I'd probably put on the next one. There's a lot of stuff on this album that will probably reappear in different forms because it's still really music I get a big kick out of. It's not going to be exactly the same styles repeated, regardless of how successful this record is because I'll be on to something else or some permutation of something that interesting to me at that time. So who knows…hopefully this won't introduce another shitty radio format. I doubt it will. But it could be part of the new Chinese opera craze…

JB: There could be a new pipe organ craze where kids are bugging their parents to take them to church more often.

TM: Laughs Yeah, I have every intention of reintroducing the pipe organ as a popular musical instrument. And I'm going to be as every bit alone in that as Fats Waller was in his day. There's no beating a good low-down blues progression on a big honkin' pipe organ.

JB: You can't tour with a pipe organ.

TM: You can't tour with it, no, but that's why you should put it on your record. You want to give somebody something that they don't normally get. People will probably scratch their head, but they'd be so excited. I love the thing, it's really incredible.

JB: Maybe you could start touring churches.

TM: Yeah they'll love that. But they're phenomenal instruments and should be played. Just because boring music is played on them doesn't mean they aren't capable of delivering the goods in a big way and scaring the pants off of people. That's what I'm screamin'…

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Photo credits:

Snake animation and Kingsway pool are property of Tom Maxwell and
Chinese instruments are blatantly stolen from Frederyk's Studio
Shoeless Tom photo in graphic is property of AP Magazine, Oct. '98
Other photos of Maxwell are very much a property of The Shrubbery, J. Brandt and A.J. Morris, c. '98.


Tom Maxwell, Ken Mosher, Dave Doll, the boys and girls on The Landing, and Frederyk, whoever he may be.

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