Max Jury: “I tried to make a pandemic record but it wasn’t going to happen”

The singer-songwriter talks his new album, Avenues, and why he re-recorded half of it in just a few days

Perhaps ‘Dylan-esque’ is chucked around too lightly these days. Max Jury certainly makes it clear that he doesn’t take such comparisons seriously. But there’s a reason that the Iowa native is being compared to some of the biggest and heaviest names in songwriting – his compositions are rich in narrative, filmic in their imagery and skilfully wrought.

After bouncing back and forth between England and the States over the course of several years, he’s found himself back in London once again, gearing up for a residency at The Slaughtered Lamb that will see him play a series of shows between 24 January and 7 February. All this comes ahead of the release of Avenues, a wandering, folk-tinged voyage of an album that arrives on 31 March.

We caught up with Jury ahead of his new shows to discuss his bumpy start in music, learning to love playing live, and why he re-recorded half his album in just a couple of days.

Max Jury (feat. Delilah Montagu) - Is This Love? [Official Video]

How are preparations going for the residency?

Good! We’ve starting rehearsals – rehearsals being just me running through all the songs by myself. But I start rehearsals with the band tomorrow. It’s my old band that I used to play with from years ago so we know half the songs. So, good. That’s my official answer.

Are you always so laid back when it comes preparation for shows?

I like to keep it pretty laid back. You know, I haven’t played a show for so long. I just want to be – it’s gonna be fun, honestly, so I want to keep that energy and not be too stressed about it.

You’ll be playing the venue three times over the course of a few weeks, so I imagine you’ll become really familiar with it.

Yeah, for sure. I’ll tell ya, I’ll be working the mic by the end. But yeah, it will be nice. I’ve been there before – it’s like kind of a basement venue, which I like.

How do those kinds of shows compare to the massive ones?

I have a limited experience with massive shows, but I have played some big shows, and I think those are easier. There’s like this invisible wall when you’re playing for like, 10,000 or 15,000 people at a festival or opening for somebody. It’s like, it’s kind of impersonal. And I suppose the art of it all is to make it personal, but you can kind of just be in your own world. Whereas if you’re playing for 100 people at the pub you can clock everybody’s face. If you’re at a festival and you make a mistake, it’s like, “Oh, nobody’s paying attention. Everyone’s drunk anyway.” They both have their charms.

Max Jury - Leaving Song [Official Video]

Your new album, Avenues, comes out at the end of March. Where did that album start for you?

I mean, there are demos dating back to probably spring 2019. Because of the pandemic and various different things, it’s kind of been a long winding road to get here. But I’d say the most of it was recorded in 2020/2021. And then it kind of came about in a strange fashion. We spent a lot of time crafting it at the home studio in North Carolina. And at the last minute last spring we re-recorded half the record very quickly to give it the right feeling and energy, to make it feel a bit more off the cuff. I didn’t want it to feel too laboured over. So a lot of the record ended up being recorded last May or June, just in a couple of days.

What is it for you that makes it better if it feels off the cuff?

I don’t know. It’s just the energy on some of the songs – not all the songs, but on some of the songs the energy felt a bit… static maybe is the right word. Not because it was bad, but just because of how I was recording it. It was a lot of overdubbing myself, in the home studio, trying to create these things without any musicians playing. Obviously we were limited because of the pandemic, but then we were also limited because that’s just how I chose to do it.

I eventually made the decision that I needed more humans involved, so it felt live – or livelier, rather. And I think when you do it that way, it has more of an urgency. There’s also something exciting about hearing the band play the song. Some of the songs like ‘Love Too Fast’, that’s the second take of the band just being together, just playing through it. I think it needed that energy. It gave it a little bit of life.

When you work on a song for years, do you ever start to disconnect from it a bit? Does playing a new version with a band help to bring you back to the place you were in when you wrote it?

100%. Yeah, eventually the lyrics become just, like, word mush. Because you hyper focus on how you’re singing or how you’re delivering the vocals or how the arrangement is, and it does start to feel… maybe stale is the right word.

It was funny, too, because I had worked on the album for so long. And I was sick of the songs. You know, I’m like, “Oh, God, here he goes again.” But when the band started hearing them, they’re like, “Oh, man, these are really cool songs”. And I’m like, “Oh, you guys think so? Okay, cool. Well, maybe it is cool. All right. I’m reenergised”. So, yeah, definitely, it does bring that back full circle.

Max Jury - Love That Grows Old [Official Video]

I guess playing them live brings that round again?

Oh, absolutely. It’s a totally different experience. I kind of go back and forth between what I prefer. Obviously, both things have their charms and there’re different approaches. But even though I’m not an extroverted person – I wouldn’t say that I’m hungry for the spotlight and it feeds me – I just love playing music. And that’s kind of how I got my start, just playing live and playing in bars. Just the act of doing it, you know, is really important. And that’s been missing for four or five years in a lot of people’s lives. So it’s really good to get back to it.

You gave some quotes a few years ago about how it was difficult to play live, early in your career, because you were quite introverted. Is that feeling completely gone now?

It is completely gone in the sense that I’m kind of used to it now. I know that’s maybe a boring answer, but you know, it’s practise. If you’ve done it for however many years, it’s kind of second nature. You can almost separate it. Playing music live with people, and in front of people, is something that I really like, and then being introverted is another thing. But I still get a little nervous. I’m not particularly nervous at all for the shows coming up, I’m more just grateful and excited to be doing it because it’s just been so long.

How was lockdown for you, and making music in isolation?

It was okay. I had it pretty good in general. I have this place in North Carolina, and before lockdown happened, I had plans to go work there. But that got pushed back, obviously, but before everything got really serious I bought a little bit of home studio. I was living in Des Moines at the time, and I was in a studio apartment. I bought some very basic things to demo songs out. So I pretty much just spent the first few months writing and trying to figure out what I wanted to do next, and seeing if anything would come out.

I think there’s two sides to that coin though. I think some people were really inspired during that time, because if you had the luxury to take time and focus on your work, that was helpful. But also, in some ways, it wasn’t helpful at all, because the collaborative element of music and making art is really important. I tried to make a pandemic record, but it just really wasn’t going to happen until after the fact.

Max Jury - Home [Official Video]

In your music you come across as someone who is very introspective – you give the impression of someone who can just sit in a room by themselves and write. Is your actual process anything like that?

Sometimes, yeah, it is. I think the first step of the process is me zoning out, trying to get the bones of the song. But then eventually I take it to people and have their input. Some of these songs were written with people – ‘Love Too Fast’ was written actually in Los Angeles with a writer named Wendy Wang. I used to be very hesitant about writing with other people, because you get in this mindset, even if they’re very talented, of like, “Oh, it’s gonna ruin this vibe I’ve created”. But I’m liking collaboration more and more – especially with people that I’m friends with and have a relationship with. I have a close team of people I like to work with, which for me is the dream, because I can still be collaborative but I’m not spreading myself out too much.

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

There’s probably three that I like. ‘Love Too Fast’, because I just like the way it sounds. I think we got that one right on the recording – not that the others are wrong, but you know, sometimes you go, “That one I like”. I like ‘Feel Free’ too. Just because it’s kind of a personal song and it means a lot to me. And then I like ‘Peace Of Mind’, just because it’s a little vibe switch for me, a little rock and roll, which I don’t get to do that often, or don’t figure out how to do that often. So that was really fun.

I had the most fun recording all those songs. All those songs were recorded and finished in London with the band, which kind of leaves a nice memory about the songs in my head. They weren’t laboured over, you know – it’s just fun.

How long have you been in London now?

I’ve been here since December. But, you know, I’ve been back and forth since I started coming here when I was 18 doing sessions. I’ve kind of been splitting time most of my adult life.

When you first came over here, when you were 18, what brought you over?

It’s where the opportunities presented themselves. Somebody had heard a demo that I’d made when I was still in high school and they sent me over to do some writing sessions and to meet with some people. But at that age I was so green, and I just wasn’t ready to do any of it, you know, both in terms of personally as well as my talent level, for lack of a better description. I had a weird experience here when I was 18. It was kind of chaotic. So I just kind of took a break, and I said, “You know what, I’m not sure if I want to do this”.

I didn’t really do anything musically between, like, 18 and maybe 21. I kind of just tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. And then I’d written some songs and I was like, “Oh, well, nothing else is working. I’ll just send the songs back to these people and see if I can record them”. I’m joking, but that is kind of how it worked.

Max Jury - Great American Novel [Official Video]

What else did you consider doing in that period when you weren’t doing music?

Boy, I don’t know. Well, I thought about, you know, like different ‘Avenues‘… I’m just kidding. But I was like, should I be a creative writer? Should I write short stories? Should I be a filmmaker? But no, nobody would have wanted that. Nobody. Horrible. I was in music school when I was eighteen. And then I went, “I want to do something different and non music related”. It just felt like I was already kind of worn out at that age. But I was young, and I was from Iowa, so it was just kind of a culture shock. But I got over it.

How’d you find it now?

Now, I’m fine. I know who I am. I know what I like to do and what I don’t like to do. I wouldn’t say I’m an optimist, but I’m not really a complainer, either. I like to keep working, do my best and see how people respond to it. I guess I just kind of keep to myself in that sense. I’m happy that I still get to do this, honestly. And I know that sounds kind of like cheesy, and I don’t want it to be cloying, but it was a long few years. So to be doing another album release is like, “Alright, cool. Still no normal job… I got this.”

Thinking ahead, do you know where you’d like to be in three or five years time? Or is it more just taking what comes?

Taking what comes I think is probably the best answer for me, although, you know, I’d still like to be making records. I’ve put a lot of time and energy into it over the years, and it’s what I’m passionate about. I think, you know, if I’m looking into the future, I have a hard time seeing myself touring all the time, if I’m like 50 years old. It’d be cool to get into other things. Whether that’s scoring films or doing stuff like that, I don’t know. I think it’d be nice to vary it up. But yeah, I’d like to make another record. I’ve still got songs in me.

Max Jury - Numb [Official Video]

What made ‘Avenues’ the title track for this record?

It was written early on in the process – it was actually written pre pandemic. I think it was the first song that spoke to me. It was a bit bulkier, but it had this atmosphere. At the time there was – and I’m not saying that it ended up like this – but it was kind of in this Mazzy Star meets Neil Young world. Writing that song, I was kind of like, “I think this could be a cool world to live in, you know, sort of updating those kinds of singer-songwriters that that I like.” And I think in terms of lyrics it has more questions than answers, I guess. That’s one of my main takeaways.

You pulled back a little bit there from comparing yourself to some big names. A lot of publications have made similar comparisons – do you feel like you find it difficult to acknowledge that you might be moving into that space?

I mean, if the people want to say it, I’m happy to acknowledge it! But you know, I just think that’s a weird headspace to live in. I don’t like the idea of competing, whether it’s with your heroes or your contemporaries. I’ve got my own things that I’m trying to accomplish in my head with music and recording and writing, and I’m just trying to tick my own boxes, if that makes sense.

It’s also weird to perceive your own music at all. I listen to people that I think are great, like Joni Mitchell or Neil Young, and there’s a huge emotional aspect to it. I mean, I think that’s where the genius of it is, in how the sound makes you feel. I can’t have that perspective on my own music. I’m hopeful that it affects people in the same way.

I guess I do shy away from it. I don’t want to hype myself up. But if they want to do it, I’m not going to submit any formal complaints…

Avenues will be released on 31 March. Max Jury will play the Slaughtered Lamb on 24 Jan, 30 Jan and 7 Feb. Find tickets here.