When you’ve reaped the rewards of hard work, where do you go from there? For many, it could be seen as a chance to kick back and reflect upon years of grafting by simply having fun. For others, it’s a chance to set new challenges and start afresh. On their Top Of The Stairs EP, Maxband manage to make these two approaches coexist harmoniously to create a record that is equally as compelling as it is carefree. Boasting two frontmen in guitarist Max Savage and bassist Patrick Smith, the New York group have followed up their 2018 cassette Perfect Strangers with something that at times brings the same level of urgency as Savage’s primary band Parquet Courts, but also incorporates the breeziness of Smith’s work as A Beacon School. Alongside them are longterm friends Tim Nelson and Eric Read on guitar and drums, and it’s clear that there’s a strong collaborative bond that propels the band through the five songs on this release as they use their range of influences to create something familiar, yet distinct from their other work.
While it may be easy and completely fair to draw parallels to Parquet Courts on ‘Unsaid’, the opening track does serve as the most direct track on the EP, and even if the hallmarks of the riffs and vocal delivery bear a strong resemblance to the work of Max’s older brother Andrew, the track offers enough by itself to serve as a strong mission statement for the rest of the record. Debut single ‘Cut It Loose’ and ‘Good Time’ begin to show signs of the group paring things back a little, taking on a stronger influence from Smith’s solo output with a more soothing voice, and clearer pop sensibilities peeking through the laid-back guitar interplay. Completing the release are ‘Rural North’ and ‘Case Of Dust’, each bringing further new elements to the group’s sound, with the former showing a more introspective and ennui-filled side to the lyrical content, while the latter toys with building layers to finish things off with a triumphant climax. Even though at times it does feel like a band who are cycling through the many faces of guitar-driven indie and post-punk, there’s still plenty of character in the songs thanks to the fact that it’s been created by a group of individuals who simply know how to do things well.
Having recorded their debut on a basic four-track tape, the more polished production from Doug Schadt really adds a new dimension to the band and allows them to express more confidence in their songs. Not only does this release see the band take a step forward in production values, but it has also garnered the attention of the Sports Team-run Holm Front Records, who will be giving the EP its official vinyl release. Chatting to Wax Music in their first ever interview, Maxband expanded upon the recording process, becoming a stronger unit and their hopes of taking the show on the road for 2021.
Top Of The Stairs is your second release, following the Perfect Strangers cassette – how do you feel you’ve developed your sound since the debut tape?
Max: We played a lot more shows in between the release of the tape and recording of the EP. We became a much tighter band during that time, and we honed our focus on what we wanted to sound like. By the time we arrived at the studio to record Top Of The Stairs, we were more confident as performers and as songwriters, and had a stronger sense of how to write and play together.
How was the process of getting these five tracks together for a release and how did it compare to the frantic rush and basic setup of the debut record’s process?
Patrick: We definitely were more deliberate this time around. For our first tape we just wrote a batch of songs so that we’d have enough for a live set, and then laid them down in our practice space for the cassette. This time we talked more about what we wanted to accomplish and pared down an initial list of about 20 songs to the five we felt were the best representation of who we are as a band. Bringing in Doug Schadt to produce was also huge, as it gave us another set of ears to help find our strengths and make a recording that showcased them.
Eric: I’ve worked with Doug since our college days. He produces a lot of pop songs which I get called to work on from time to time, but when we aren’t recording we’re usually hovering over beer and a Subway sandwich discussing records. We knew he’d be a good fit and would naturally raise the quality of recording and take us out of our lo-fi preferences. It’s a more calculated and logical process, rather than a cathartic and emotional one.
What were your aims with this EP – considering how you’re all involved in other projects, do you view Maxband as a refreshing opportunity to try something new and how do you go about separating this from your other work?
Patrick: For me personally, this band is the perfect counterpoint to my other project, A Beacon School. I love the collaboration and camaraderie of being in a band where everyone brings something different to the table. With A Beacon School, I write and produce everything, so sharing creative control in Maxband opens me up to unpredictable and exciting musical directions I never would’ve explored on my own.
The EP is being released on UK label Holm Front Records, how did your involvement with them come about and how does it feel to have joined an ever-growing impressive roster?
Max: We met the Sports Team guys (who run the label Holm Front together) when we played a show together last year in Brooklyn. They reached out to us a few weeks ago and were really enthusiastic about putting this EP out on vinyl. We are very excited to work with them, and can’t wait to hear how these songs sound on wax.
With the world still on hold for the time being, what are your plans with regards to taking the group on the road in the future?
Max: We have every intent to continue touring once it is safe to travel and perform to crowds.
Tim: We were lucky enough to play a few dates with Bambara back in February before everything got crazy, and it couldn’t have been a better experience to take these songs on the road. Hopefully 2021 will give us some chances to get back out there and see what kind of reaction they get now that they’re out in the world.
Words: Reuben Cross
Maxband’s ‘Top Of The Stairs EP’ is out now via Holm Front Records, stream the record below via the Soundcloud.