Every musician always says when they put out a new album that it puts their old material to shame, but listening to Everyone Thinks You’re Weird, the Max Allen Band‘s new album slated to release on May 18th, one gets the feeling that this truly is the band’s greatest work yet.
“I’ve always tried to make an album that captivates you from beginning to end and I think this one has really hit the mark,” Allen told me over a cup of coffee in Broad Ripple on a Wednesday in early March. The Danville resident was in the village, as he is on most Wednesdays, to host The Mousetrap’s weekly open mic event, The Family Jam.
We met to discuss Everyone Thinks You’re Weird, touching on everything from lyrical inspiration to the album’s artwork- the outside a photo of Max and a girl from his childhood neighborhood; the inside tiled with childhood pictures of the band, their families, and fans. The assortment of people and personalities in the photos is representative of the music found within: a delightful fusion of many different backgrounds and styles. It’s an all-encompassing body of work that cares less about blowing your mind with face-melting guitar and more about showcasing the collective, well-rounded talent that the members of the group possess. (okay, there’s still plenty of face-melting, too)
Old vs. New
“I’m not trying to show off my guitar abilities because there are a gazillion guitar players that are ten times better than me,” Allen tells me when I mention the lack of epic solo jams on the album. He continues, “I want to show off that we care about music and we care about writing a song and we care about the way that song comes across.”
Max Allen and his band achieved this by digging deep within their repertoire to dust off previously unreleased songs, adding and updating them along the way. “You’re Gone” was written in Max’s formative teenage years and features legendary Naptown emcee Rusty Redenbacher. The polished new track boasts the album’s only guest vocals. Allen comments, “We just thought it would be nice to bring something kind of old back and give it a new, fresh vibe.”
But there’s plenty of new material on Everyone Thinks You’re Weird, too. “Moorish Invasion” was unknowingly written by Max in Songo, a very specific style of Latin groove music. Born during a time when the band had been playing frequently in the 7/8 time signature, the technique unintentionally bled into Allen’s composition and he was later informed by his rhythm section of the feat he’d accidentally accomplished. As we sipped our coffee and discussed the album’s highlights, I quickly learned that many of the tracks have a unique story to be told.
Win the War
“Win The War” is another once-forgotten track risen from the band’s song graveyard. Looking back on the editing process, Allen recalls, “It literally almost did not make it [on to the final version of the album]. I wrote two pages of completely new lyrics for that. I re-recorded all new lyrics for it; canned all those. That one’s got a lot of work into it just to make it where it is.”
Surprisingly, it’s not the first time “Win The War” has been so hotly contested. Allen says it almost made it onto their last album, but was ultimately vetoed by the band. “It has a positive message in the lyrics, so it comes off as being a little wimpy, I guess. The guys thought it was too soft.”
Allen seems proud to hear feedback that the song is, in my opinion, one of the best on the album. While some may read the lyrics as wimpy or weak, others will see an admirable message of inner peace and tranquility. As he sings, “I’m not gonna hate on you brother, even if you are hating on me. I got news for you brother: I’m a man who lets bygones be bygones,” it’s easy for the listener to relate to the confrontation of an out-of-line troublemaker. Allen sounds rich with wisdom as he continues, “But still you keep on fighting. What the hell are you fighting for? If you keep on losing battles, how can you expect to win the war?”
Standout track “Competitive Goods” is a far cry from electronica, but certainly the closest MAB has ever come to it. Bass player Dace Robie takes credit for the song’s foundation- both in lyrics and structure. With his groundwork in place, the band turned to Gary Mielke of Static Shack to help them bring it home.
“Dace had a lot of electronic parts that were already pieced out and they sort of worked, but we were hoping that Gary could help us out and piece what ideas that we had together,” Allen says.
The resulting song is a raw, bluesy jam that’s lightly crisp around the edges with a hint of electronic texture. The distinctive “wahhhh” that comes mid-chorus is bold and inciting- begging listeners to raise a clenched fist to the air.
Allen draws parallels between the song’s lyrics and the current trend of incorporating EDM into popular music. He explains, “In the chorus you hear ‘They just don’t make things the way that they used to’ which causes you to think about music nowadays. The whole first part of the song is touching on the way music is going and where it’s headed- lots of electronic stuff going on. And then toward the end there’s that [stripped down] part that’s the band as it used to be, and then it comes back around to the electronics at the tail end.”
Allen recalls the evolution of “Competitive Goods” as a “happy mistake”. At first he and the band didn’t realize that “music” is what “they just don’t make the way that they used to”. The lyrics were actually inspired by an economics class Dace took while in college, which explains the bridge about eating a candy bar. But as the band got further into the mixing process and started adding wobbles and other electronic elements they realized that the exact process they were in the middle of was a testament to the notion that things- music included- are certainly not made the way that they used to be.
Another notable track you’d be amiss to overlook on Everyone Thinks You’re Weird is “Bodgea”. These lyrics were also composed by Dace- this time inspired by his residency in New York. The preceding intro track is called “117” (named after his address) and accurately sets the mood with a lightly strummed guitar medley that paints the image of a desolate man with his head hung low and his feet kicking at the dirt. It ramps up quickly as “Bodega” begins- most likely right as the lonely man spots his friend crest the hill on his bike. The song opens-
From an anonymous location, I drove my bike across the bridge.
I understand you had to take the ferry.
I bring you little boxes- boxes that outlive their contents. Me, who used to play with Eagle Eye Cherry.
It is so good to see you, my brother.
They are, of course, singing about “specialty” delivery services that are commonplace in The Big Apple. And the Eagle Eye Cherry reference? That’s from the time an actual member of Eagle Eye Cherry made the special delivery to Dace’s doorstep. Full of feel-good vibes and groovy guitar licks, “Bodega” is galvanizing and begs listeners to sing along.
“Everybody has this feeling about that song,” Allen says. “It doesn’t sound like the way it does live. When we were mixing it down and editing, everybody wanted it to seem like there was more energy in it. But there was no way to translate it. I think it’s powerful live.”
Indianapolis will have their first chance to see and hear it, and the rest of the new album, live on Saturday May 18th at Radio Radio. “Slap-bop jamtronic looper” Mikial Robertson will open the evening, followed by a progressive set that will begin with the Max Allen trio and feature special guest sit-ins throughout the night.