While many of us attend festivals regularly, not all of us get the chance to sit down, have a drink and just kick it over casual conversation with the bands we pay to see. As a writer I feel that if I have the chance to make that connection for an audience then I should take it, which is exactly what I did at this years Mojostock, held annually at the Sleepybear Campground in Noblesville, IN.
Mojostock provided a nice dark, dank and cool “green room” in the back of an old barn that enabled talent and media to get out of the sun, relax and chat. I took this chance to sit down with the Max Allen Band comprised of Dace Robie (Bass), Max Allen (Guitar, vocals) and Shaan France (Drums, vocals) and ask some raw questions that sometimes people just forget to ask. I invite you to take a look as we discuss their rise in the scene, the future of the band, the influence of EDM music and drug use in the local music community.
CL: As kids how did you first get into music?
Dace: As a kid I started playing saxophone in the school band, and later on I picked up the bass. Then I went to butler for 4 years, studied composition there, played bass in the orchestra and the jazz band there, and was pretty much a school kid.
Shaan: Same thing for me, I played percussion in the middle school band and in high school. I went to college, got a music education degree with an emphasis in percussion. Played in jazz bands, and the drum set has just always been there.
Max: I know it sounds weird to say it but I’ve been playing guitar for 21 years.
CL: And how old are you?
Max: 29, and I have just been playing on the scene for 14 years and it has been my only job since 15. It’s just been a constant, every day just DO SOMETHING, that’s something my father would always tell me, just do something every day. This is some advice I could give any musician trying to make it, which is just do something. Every day do something to try to help benefit your career. Whether it be small or large.
CL: So how did you get started being a touring Midwest band?
Max: I started playing the bar seen about age 15-16 and did a lot of blues stuff. I played a lot, had the whole child prodigy thing going, which helped getting a lot of gigs and press. This helped me get a name for myself, after which I kind of changed and started listening to the jam scene like the Funky Meters, John Scofield, Phish and we started changing the whole band. We picked up Dace about 4 years ago, but Shaan and I have been playing together for about 7 years.
CL: In terms of marketing, have you stayed primarily grassroots, or have you utilized the rise of digital marketing as it has grown around you in the years that you have risen as a recognized band?
Dace: Social media is a means to an end, but it is not THE end, because there is a lot of noise on the Internet. And when everybody is blowing your shit up on Twitter or Facebook, especially about coming to your show you kind of become numb to it all. It is still about what people listen to, what their friends listen too.
Shaan: In the same sense though we still challenge any big band out there, that’s our thing. Yeah this band has that; that band has this; but give us a shot, we will impress you.
Max: We’ve been told we have the sound of a bigger band. For a three piece band we have a BIG sound.
CL: Being a smaller band that’s been around for some time, do peoples perception of you as being small effect how much you get paid in comparison to a larger band that hasn’t been around as long?
Max: sometimes venues are more compassionate towards bigger bands, because it costs more with all those people out on the road. But we can take some lower paying shows that are more for publicity and it doesn’t hurt as hard. Really it’s a numbers game and you get paid more if you bring more people, and it’s just a matter of building your fan base as big as possible.
CL: So Dace and Shaan, you both said you had classical training where as Max it seems like you were already on the scene so to say, were you going to any of these small music festivals or “hippie gatherings” or did you just stumble upon it?
Shaan: I was, I’m a little bit older and I’m not gonna give out my age, but I started doing festivals a long time ago, and drum set was just something that was always there. For me and for what I grew up doing, being an orchestral percussionist, drum set was always there. So when I moved here in 1998 I didn’t know anybody and I was looking for a way to play jazz vibes but everybody was saying they needed a drum set so I started picking that up. Really you just have to sell yourselves. We’re musicians; we’re prostitutes; you just gotta get out there and sell yourself. You have to be your own salesman. You’re the employer, the employee. You gotta push your own self.
Dace: When I started playing bass I wanted to play in a rock band. When I went to college I wanted to write orchestral pieces. By the time I got out of college I was playing in a rock band, so I came full circle.
Max: I did a lot of training with random instructors, and the one instructor I took most of my instructions from was a professor from Butler. I studied classical guitar for 4 years or so and just being in the field playing shows. I’ve been conditioned to get paid with money, food and booze.
CL: Being classical musicians, musicians of rock bands, how do you see electronic music taking over or influencing the scene?
Dace: Everything coexists now. We’ve talked to some booking agents that say rock bands are in limbo, nobody wants to book rock bands. It’s all EDM or its bluegrass. Its like people either want all computers, or they want absolutely nothing to do with computers. I think things never take over completely and things never go away completely its just all a big conversation. I see that computers are going to be more common, it’s going to become an important scene and its good to see Indianapolis catching up with a lot of music scenes. But really it’s all about finding your right demographic, obviously it wont appeal to every band.
Max: I’d like to say that where we’re going with the whole EDM thing, we’re a hybrid, we’re not afraid to use it. And some musicians are very traditional and completely turn their noses up to any sort of electronic or any backing tracks. I think if it makes the song or makes the performance more entertaining, if it fills up the space, I don’t see why you shouldn’t use it. You are only shorting yourself. You want to stay with the times, but you also want to stay true to yourself.
CL: As a band, how do you see yourselves evolving? Do you see yourself changing from where you were a year ago?
Max: Oh yeah, were completely different then where we were a year ago. There were some people that hadn’t seen us in over a year until last week, and they were just completely blown away. They could see all the work we’ve done, and it’s great because we all come from different backgrounds. We’re not afraid to go outside of our comfort zone to find something that sounds good. Regardless of what it is, there is somebody out there that gets in their car on the way to work and it just fucking pumps them up for the day, and it can just totally make their day. So we try to be as best of observers as possible and use it to our advantage.
CL: What is the 6-12 month plan, or direction that you see for the band?
Max: We’ve been talking to some agencies about getting us down south more. Colorado is always on it, and monetarily if makes sense to go out west we will.
Shaan: We actually had an offer to play a gig today down in Chattanooga, that we got today from the guy that is trying to get us down south more. We are definitely trying to pursue that different direction, as many people say that the Midwest is EDM, down south its still a lot of good rock and roll type shit.
Max: Down in Georgia, that whole region, it’s where our bread and butter is.
Shaan: That is where we are trying to get ourselves down this fall and winter, get ourselves a little more established down there.
CL: What do you feel is the importance of music festivals?
Max: That’s an easy question, to play our music for a crowd that might not normally see us. You get a festival like this where people are coming from Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, they are coming to a gathering place. What also helps is with a lot of these music festivals is there are a lot of people that are somewhat like-minded, listen to the same sort of things and have the same mindset.
CL: You come to a music festival, and the idea is the music puts out a vibrational energy that connects and puts everybody in attendance on the same plane in a sense, do you intentionally go out there achieve a goal like this?
Max: This is my spirituality, playing music, and I don’t have anything else that compares to it.
Dace: I definitely think we drive the vibe, and even if we are aren’t talking, the vibe we are putting out is underscoring the conversation. I don’t really think of it as cosmic, but I do think there is a unifying aspect to it all.
CL: Do you see yourselves “vibing” off the crowd as you play?
Max: Fuck yeah
Shaan: Absolutely, I feel that my job as a drummer is that if I’m not making that person shake their ass, then I’m not doing my job. If I cant make anybody shake their ass then I need to think about what I’m doin’.
CL: Do you find yourself wanting to play festivals more than bars?
Max: Oh yeah if I could stop playing bars and just play all festivals, or festivals and theaters, but its hard to do.
Shaan: Sometimes its hard to get into a festival, a lot of times it’s about who you know, not which kind of a band you are in or how talented you are. It’s politics.
Dace: It’s funny about the music industry, because it’s art, and art is so subjective, with music who is going to say this band is better then that band? Musicians want to hire their friends, promoters what to hire their friends, they want their friends to do well in the music industry.
Max: Don’t think it’s NOT a competition because it is. You are competing for the audience, for the crowd, for fans.
CL: There appears to always be a separation from stage and crowd and not many people actually get to hang out with the bands they see and make assumptions or judgments, what are your opinions about drug use, drug use in the scene and even the use of drugs like marijuana, mushrooms or LSD for medial or therapeutic purposes?
Max: F-I-F, I plead the F-I-F
Shaan: I have to concur with my colleagues and plead the fifth. However I will say this, a person can do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t mess with me or hurts anybody around me. If people are responsible enough to handle their shit, let them do whatever the hell they want to. I’m not saying I condone it, or that I do it, but if everybody can be happy and live together and nobody is getting hurt then whatever. But I will definitely say I plead the fifth.
Max: I have seen a lot of benefits that marijuana has done to the lives of people, medically, spiritually, mentally and I think as we grow older and as time goes on, the old ways of thinking are going to die out and the new ways are going to come in. I will say be safe and be smart, there are safe drugs and there are dumb drugs, but moderation is key.
CL: What advice would you give to the next up-and-coming regional band that is trying to make music their life?
Dace: Quit now and come to our gigs.
Max: Ya get a real job, something that pays. No but really though, find a team, this shit takes a team of people to make it happen. Indymojo has a team, a team of people all working for the same thing and that’s how a band should be. It shouldn’t just be the band working for the dream, it should be a well thought out plan, practice and make yours hit as good as possible. Practice your instrument, practice your instrument practice your fucking instrument. Go meet as many people as you can and spread the gospel, because it is a religion. Thank you.