Songwriting, as it is often said, is like therapy, and learning the full meaning of this comparison is Max Bloom. The Yuck frontman has always had a loosely cathartic connection with music, as the intensity behind Yuck’s occasional ‘wall of sound’ approach has regularly felt to carry a wave of emotional pertinence within its cacophony. However, the turbulence of the late 2010’s didn’t fail to touch Max’s life in some unexpected and poignant way, and after an intense break-up of an 8-year-long relationship the musician’s affinity towards his art was changed to an almost unrecognisable point.
Retreating back to the family home to pick up the pieces and process the sudden feelings of emptiness, creating music gradually became less about writing in reaction to what felt good and more about using the medium as a way to heal. For the first time, Max was focusing inward for inspiration and, by taking advantage of being away from the watch-tapping gaze of any industry influence, began to unpick all the knotty feelings one feels when the connection with a loved one is sadly severed. The result of the process is ‘Perfume’, an album which explores with utmost clarity the turbulent ups and downs of separating from someone you love.
Throughout the album’s running time, ‘Perfume’ delicately tasks itself with the goal of achieving closure through self-reflection. Lead singles such as ‘Bottle’ and ‘Call Me When It’s Over’ calmly ruminate on key moments of a relationship souring, whereas album deep-cut ‘Happy Alone/Into Eternity’ verbalises the feeling of reaching the final phases of moving on and the serenity that comes along with it. Ultimately, the ten track body of work is a delicate balance between the light and the dark and warmly encourages you to investigate deeper into its backstory.
The setting for this investigation is at a small kitchen table inside musician Oliver Wilde’s flat; a place where we’ve all gathered together for a meal before Bloom plays a gig at the small but locally lauded Bristol venue Café Kino. The environment almost feels as exposed as the music Max is about to play, as housemates dart in and out of the kitchen interrupting a conversation that feels candid, moving and much more intense than one would typically expect. However, the conversation unfolds naturally, ending in a shared warm embrace as we both emerge on the other side of Max stoically bearing his soul unscathed.
In previous comments to the press, Bloom has spoken about the influence of Stoicism upon the writing process of ‘Perfume’, a philosophy that, in Max’s words, “is about taking the adversity you face and using it to your advantage, taking the negativity…and turning [it] into something positive.” Finishing the interview with the gesture of a hug somehow solidifies that sentiment and captures perfectly Perfume’s timely intended takeaway: opening up about trauma, forming deep connections through honesty, and coming away a much better person for the experience.
Wax: I’m interested to know what started your relationship with music. You’ve built quite a legacy from previous musical ventures, but for your solo project you openly state that this is the first time you’ve used music as a way of dealing with your feelings. This is a little bit of a surprise to me, so how were you treating the process of writing before this point?
Max Bloom: When Daniel (Blumberg) left Yuck and I became the singer, the situation I was left in was a very difficult one. All of a sudden the focus was on me, and I found it difficult to make music and to write in a very open way. However, I still wanted to put out Yuck records because I had a lot of songs and the motivation to do so.
I think what changed with regards to my approach to songwriting was that when I made this solo record, I made it not because I wanted to make it, but because I had to make it. It documents a time when I ended a long-term relationship, and I think when something like that happens it’s simply a life-changing experience. So I used writing as a way of marking a painful period, closing the book and moving on.
You recorded and wrote a bulk of your solo material at your parents house. Did the familiarity of the family environment help when it came to writing? Was it easier to write about some of the more sensitive subjects because you felt you were in a place of security?
Yeah, I think so…that’s a good point actually. It was a really difficult time for me: I was going to therapy, I was on anti-depressants, and I was just generally enduring a lot of trauma. But I think, because I was living at my parents house I didn’t have to worry about much of the everyday type things. So having that freedom to write music, focus on myself and just get my life back on track, that is what definitely shaped this album. I was reworking my life, essentially.
Was there any sense of reluctancy to take these songs outside of the environment they were written in due to their candidness?
Yeah, there are a few lyrics where I imagine what my ex-girlfriend’s reaction might be to reading them, so I do feel a little weird about it. It’s funny, though, because I’ve moved on so much since that time. When I used to sing these songs, especially when I was recording vocals, I would be nearly crying, but now I sing them and I feel quite happy because it shows how far I’ve come. It feels good singing these songs now – it’s like a mark of how much I’ve improved.
The songwriting sessions you embarked on in 2017 were not only a cathartic process, but also a reinvention of the sound palette you normally use. There’s a noticeable lack of distortion in these songs which I feel may parallel the exposed and vulnerable nature of the lyrics. Was it a deliberate choice to remove those sonic elements, or was it more of an unconscious process?
When writing for Yuck I would kind of turn on the distortion pedals and just work from there, but with these new songs I was very focused on the songwriting only. I was listening to a lot of classic songwriters who didn’t use distortion and who mainly wrote on acoustic guitar or piano, so I think that’s what partly influenced the change.
I’ll always love the music I used to listen to in my early twenties, but I don’t really listen to that kind of music anymore. Some bands can just make the same music for years and years, but I don’t think I can do that. With Yuck there were certain boxes that needed to be ticked to make it feel like Yuck, but I don’t think I’m able to do that any more.
I feel that an fx can have a serious influence on determining how you write a guitar part. Was it strange starting off with a sound where the guitar was so bare and honest?
Yeah, I think that’s true. With these new recordings there really wasn’t anything that didn’t need to be there. On the second (Yuck) album there was so much going on – and that was really fun to do – but now I think my ethos is to only have what is necessary and to just let the song kind of do what it does. Anything that gets in the way I just disregard because I feel that’s more of an honest representation.
Using the piano on ‘To Be Alone’ was another first for you. Did the unfamiliarity of the piano help you to express yourself more when it came to songwriting? I imagine writing on an instrument that feels foreign makes you much more sensitive to its sound rather than navigating it through movements based on learned patterns and shapes.
I think on guitar there are certain places you automatically go to, but with me using the piano it was just an exercise to push myself into an area which I was uncomfortable with and to see what might happen. It’s definitely not something I was used to.
The album narrative is something which you’ve expressed a lot of enthusiasm for when it comes to consuming music. As we’ve already heard four songs taken from your upcoming release, I’m wondering where they sit in context with the other compositions on the LP, and whether you’ve deliberately tried weaving in some sort of story or life-lesson into the track listing?
Really, this album happened because of ‘To Be Alone’. It’s the first track on the album that I wrote and which kind of kick-started everything else. I thought it would be a really good opening track, and then everything else just kind of fell into place. The album is quite chronological in construction, although it’s not really a concept album as such. It does, however, move along on a wave of what I was feeling at the time: the album travels through quite a depressing period, then through an uplifting period, then a kind of denial, and then ends in a certain place. So I think it’s definitely a linear thing, but it wasn’t written as a concept album – it just naturally fell into place bit by bit.
Is there any one particular song which you feel perfectly sums up all what you were going through, one which you’re most satisfied with when it comes to communicating that emotional experience?
They’re all kind of about very specific situations. ‘To Be Alone’ is about when me and my ex-girlfriend moved back into my parents house and then she left, and ‘Bottle’ was written when we kind of went on a break and then broke-up fully. They’re all very frank, but there’s not one song which optimises everything. They’re songs that talk about certain situations that were on my mind which I needed to get off my chest to be able to move on.
I feel the life changes that you’ve gone through have had quite a bruising effect, but I also feel that it’s given you a new lease of life creatively which has afforded you opportunities to heal. As this project was started as a vehicle to vent your own emotional distress three years ago, how do you see the project progressing as you move on from the subjects which inspired it?
I mean, I’m always making new music and maybe the new album will be about something really happy. It’s kind of difficult to say where it’s going to go, but I do plan to keep on making music under my own name. It will always be an autobiographical thing and I don’t think there will need to be another band for me to write about something different – this is just the thing that kicked everything off. Ultimately, if people who have been through a similar experience listen to what I’ve written and can connect with what I’m talking about, then that’s the ultimate compliment.
Max Bloom’s debut album is out now. Order the record here. Stream the album’s lead single ‘Call Me When It’s Over’ from the link below:
Words: Dan E Brown Photography: Jacob Perlmutter and Dan E Brown