“I’m incredibly moody,” Maxim Ludwig admits of himself. “I’m the life of the proverbial party one minute, then a son of a bitch, and a puddle of snot and tears if you look at me funny. I live between charming and motherfucker.” Between the myriad of influences that color Ludwig’s charming music is a sardonic, cheeky and deeply introspective character who knows himself only too well. Ludwig’s upcoming debut album, seven years in the making, is the result of his restless and relentless artistry – a snapshot of the lives he’s lived and the faces he’s worn.
Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering “W8 4 U,” the third single off Maxim Ludwig’s upcoming debut Libra-Scorpio Cusp (out June 2, 2017 via Hit City U.S.A.). The LA-based artist — because to limit him to singer/songwriter-dom would be a grave mistake — blends pop melodies, folk harmonies, and rock guitar in a song that evokes the likeness of everyone from The Byrds and Steve Miller, to Springsteen and Lord Huron.
However, don’t let these comparisons fool you: Maxim Ludwig is best kept out of the box, free from identifiers that further inhibit our already limited point of view. Every song on Libra-Scorpio Cusp was recorded in a different way, and Ludwig seems particularly proud of – or at least, amused by – that achievement. “I get bored very easily in the studio. If it takes too long to get a guitar sound or figure out what’s buzzing, I’ll usually start drinking, sleeping or reading whatever is lying around. I get off on mistakes.”
Ludwig’s music is a testament to the power of patience, persistence, and trial-and-error. His three song releases – “All My Nightmares,” “No One Has to Know,” and now “W8 4 U” – all share a different part of his layered personality, not only telling completely distinct stories, but also doing so in very different ways. While he sounds like a grungy Prince in his previous single, Ludwig plays a self-absorbed douchebag in “W8 4 U.”
I was shot in the back
I won’t come back
Break up and you’d break down
I was getting used on a one-way track
I could not be bound
I’m a little insane
And I’m about 5 foot 9
I was letting go and I disappeared
And you weren’t on my mind
“I wanted the song to be breezy, sunny, vaguely stoned and driving down the PCH, with lyrics sung by a douchebag,” explains Ludwig. But this isn’t the badboy persona written from the good guy point of view: This the real deal, told from the point of view of the would-be Lothario who can’t see past his own nose.
Who among us isn’t selfish? Are we not so proud that we blind ourselves to our own faults? Ludwig isn’t claiming to be any better or worse than the rest of us; he’s just telling it like it is: “I wanted to write a song from the perspective of a selfish dickhead, because we can all be selfish dickheads.” The more you dive into Maxim Ludwig, the more you realize how much one might learn from him.
And it is for this precise reason that Atwood Magazine dove deeper into the life and times of this intriguing personality. Many years ago, Ludwig fronted a promising up-and-coming group called the Santa Fe Seven. The band was hyped, signed, …and silent. Seven years later, an invitation to tour Europe with a friend brought Maxim Ludwig back into the industry, and the rest is history – or so the story goes. This time around, Ludwig isn’t w8-ing 4 anything: He’s taking it for himself.
“Over the last seven years I’ve been compiling my own drawer of fragments, melodies, words, and ideas.” 28-year-old Maxim Ludwig is a wearer of many hats, a person of interest who is finally ready to share his observations, experiences, dreams, and (perhaps most importantly) music with the rest of the world. Enjoy Atwood Magazine’s stream of his latest single “W8 4 U,” and learn more about Maxim Ludwig in our exclusive interview below.
Listen: “W8 4 U” – Maxim Ludwig
MEET MAXIM LUDWIGAtwood Magazine: Tell me a bit about Libra-Scorpio Cusp. What does this album represent, to you?
Maxim Ludwig: Every character on this album is inhabiting the same neighborhood. They live in the same universe, like with Raymond Carver and John Cheever stories. They are all dealing with similar existential problems, but in different ways. It’s easy for me to jump into characters because I’m incredibly moody. I’m the life of the proverbial party one minute, then a son of a bitch, and a puddle of snot and tears if you look at me funny. I live between charming and motherfucker. These songs are all feelings I’ve turned into characters. All of these guys are like me, but not me. They are completely lost and searching and searching in places that lead them to more questions. I made an album I want to listen to because these songs didn’t exist. Listening to it excites me because they fulfill something other music doesn’t give me. It’s not just a want of self-expression, but a need for a certain type of song to be heard.
A seven-year gap from music can feel like a lifetime. Did songs come back to you naturally - had you previously severed that creative outlet, and if so how did you re-discover it?
Maxim Ludwig: I took a seven year gap from releasing an album, but not from making music. LSC took 3 years to record. We did the entire album once, I left for a tour for 4 months and when I came back, I threw away more than half of it. I’ve always been writing, demoing, playing shows, and playing for other people in the meantime. Songs are always floating around in my head. I’m very interested in other artist’s processes. Not to recreate their method, but it can make you feel less alone. There’s that two-part Woody Allen documentary where he’s got all these pieces of paper with ideas on them in a drawer that he pulls from. Whenever he’s done with a project, he opens the drawer and looks at them and once he connects with one of them, that’s the path to follow. Over the last seven years I’ve been compiling my own drawer of fragments, melodies, words, and ideas.
Your songs take advantage of a wide range of sounds and timbres. How do you approach the recording studio? Are overlaid licks prepared in advance, or is there a degree of spontaneity in the process?
Maxim Ludwig: On the album, every song was recorded in a different way. I get bored very easily in the studio. If it takes too long to get a guitar sound or figure out what’s buzzing, I’ll usually start drinking, sleeping or reading whatever is lying around. I get off on mistakes. I’m inspired when the synth is plugged in wrong or the amp is broken. I think recording a song is just like a charcuterie plate. Either you don’t like that meat or you do like that cheese and you should eat it or leave it til you’re full. There’s no intellectual reason behind the music I make. Those games are good when you’re stuck, but if you start to record a song from your brain rather than what feels right, you’re just bullshitting yourself.
“W8 4 U” started as a very Byrds-y thing on acoustic guitar, but when it came time to demo it with Sean (O’Brien, producer), we wanted a beat that felt staggering and almost mimicked a broken clocking ticking. Sean and I like to pick an instrument to work on and just pass it back and forth until that track is done. I remember we kept talking about Steve Miller while recording the demo.
We were feeling a bit lost on the outro when we asked Adam Gunther (Dzang) to listen. He started playing an almost Nigerian horn line on a bass running through a synth, which we ended up re-recording with saxes. It’s never lost on me how lucky I am that most of my best friends are my favorite musicians, and doing a take with them is only a call away. Once we went in to re-track the song, I realized the demo was where it was at, and rather than chase our tails capturing that magic of discovery, we just needed to add the drum fills, horns, and whatever else we needed on top.
Describe the relationship between music and lyrics on “W8 4 U.”
Maxim Ludwig: In art, you can go a plethora of directions. You can stick with form, and master that form and make that form your thing, but you’re never going to write a sonnet about love like Shakespeare. The bawdy and the beautiful aren’t mutually exclusive. The rub is what creates that tension. There’s a triumphant quality to “W8 4 U” that I wanted to play against lyrically. I wanted the song to be breezy, sunny, vaguely stoned and driving down the PCH, with lyrics sung by a douchebag.
What is your favorite lyrical aspect of “W8 4 U?”
Maxim Ludwig: I wanted to write a song from the perspective of a selfish dickhead, because we can all be selfish dickheads. To be completely free and unbound is a basic yearning we deny ourselves for the sake of love. I always thought Odysseus was a selfish dickhead. Also this guy is a liar. He’s not 5 foot 9. Anyone who says they don’t make make mistakes doesn’t understand the backwards logic of that statement. He keeps conflating tenses, as if he knows that he’s never going to change and probably doesn’t want to change. When he says that he is a part of all that he’s met, he shows how narcissistic his world view is, but he really is apart from all that he’s met. He doesn’t want freedom to roam the world as he claims, but to escape the world so he doesn’t get hurt. I love this guy. I feel for him.
Who are some of your poetic/musical muses?
Maxim Ludwig: Vic Chesnutt, St. Vincent, Robert Creeley, Prince, Henry Miller, Tom Waits, John Cassavetes, Louis CK, “The Killer Inside Me” by Jim Thompson, Bowie, Sly Stone, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Tao Te Ching, Leonard Cohen, “The Sonnets” by Ted Berrigan, Lou Reed, D’Angelo, “Lolita”, “Crime and Punishment”, my dog, Thin Lizzy, Aimé Cesaré, Barry White
What do you think “W8 4 U” tells listeners about you, that has yet to be shared in your other releases?
Maxim Ludwig: That I was never gonna w8 4 them, and that I can play lead guitar when I feel like it.
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cover © Lena Pentelute