Maxwell Drummey was driving a stick shift on zero hours of sleep on his way up to Boston. He said it was still a good time for an interview, and casually let slip the reason he’d been up until the wee hours of the morning: he was working for one Miss Hill. As in that Lauryn Hill. Still, he’s super nice, happy and also happens to make really good abstract, experimental music. On top of all that, he is a bona fide smarty pants from Harvard, where he studied social anthropology.
“It’s the same as any other college,” Drummey, who lives in Crown Heights, said with a laugh. “It just thinks it’s better. Basically, they’re just really rich, but like most rich things in America, having tons of money does not mean it’s great.”
You may or may not have heard his previous project, Chester French, which is a fun, alternative-pop-rock two piece. They’ve got some pretty serious notches under their proverbial belt, too: Chester French signed to Pharrell Williams’ Star Trak Recordings, and Rolling Stone hailed their first album as “a collection of pop songs with Brian Wilson melodies, early-Beck humor and synth beats that celebrates romance over digital-crisp surf pop.”
Drummey’s first solo album, 10 Perfect Songs, has a more dreamy vibe, and it’s available today. I talked to Drummey about being a Harvard-educated musician who wrote the album while being a semi-hermit in New Mexico.
Maxwell Drummey does a lot of things. Apparently one of them is haiku. I’m a sucker for haiku. This was on his artist page via his PR agency:
Max makes records, scores movies
His dog he loves most
To live like hermits
Max moved to New Mexico
This music made there
So, Drummey is a musician, first and foremost. He plays all the instruments and does most of the production on his new album himself, but he started playing in experimental indie-pop duo Chester French with D.A. Wallach when the two met at Harvard, where he found a way to understand the world through social anthropology.
“It’s the most important discipline,” he said. “It comes in handy, but, I think anything that you study comes in handy just as a rubric for understanding the world around you. Toward that end, social anthropology is very useful. It’s good to understand things about them, and it’s especially good for stoney armchair philosophy. I was gonna do physics and math, why would I do that? That’s hard.”
I asked Drummey about some major differences between Chester French and his solo project.
“For one, D.A. (Wallach) is not there, and he tells great jokes, so there’s nobody making great jokes,” Drummey chuckled. “That’s a bummer. But it’s very different music, more abstract and more expressive and less about entertainment. I think there was an entertainer-y quality to the music I was doing (with Chester French); this is more direct and emotionally expressive, more abstract musically.”
Chester French was pretty great, as you can see in this fun video for the very poppy, very danceable “She Loves Everybody.”
But on the new album, Drummey’s music is a bit more dreamy, more trippy even. Check out this single, which gave me a serious Flaming Lips vibe (circa Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots):
The songs on 10 Perfect Songs are “exactly how I wanted them to be,” he said.
“That’s a result of doing everything myself, but at the same time, I think it’s a result of part of it was going away and isolating myself so i could not be distracted and focus on not only how I wanted things to sound but also how I wanted things to be.”
The “going away” he’s referencing here is going to New Mexico by himself for a while; most of the album was made there. He mentioned it in the above haiku (To live like hermits/Max moved to New Mexico/This music made there). Well, he had his dog, but they lived deep in a national forest. He says it was cool, but very isolating:
“Living like a hermit,” he continued, “you get very comfortable with yourself because there’s never any need to be self conscious or embarrassed about anything. A lot of people, when they make music, will be concerned about what other people think. And while it is important to make things people can listen to, its also important to make things you like. Art is a fun and safe space for new ideas, so try to have those.”
Prior to moving to New Mexico, Drummey had bounced around between different American cities and music scenes. From his hometown of Boston, Drummey went to Cambridge (for Harvard) and played there for a while. Eventually, though, he and his Chester French partner Wallach relocated to L.A., then New Mexico, and eventually Brooklyn. He’s been an off-and-on Brooklynite since moving here in 2008, but he’s reclaimed our fair borough as his home base, settling in Crown Heights after also spending some time in Williamsburg. As for his recent hermitude (is that a thing?), Drummey says he’s happy to be back in Brooklyn.
“I was only able to recuperate my social well being and awareness by moving back to Brooklyn,” he said. “See other people on a daily basis, that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Agreed. I’m sure that Social Anthropology degree comes in handy people watching in our weird little city. I asked him for some observations about Brooklyn’s music scene, as compared to the other ones he’s been involved in. He thought for a moment.
“Everybody works really hard, basically,” he said. “One thing I noticed that’s different from LA is that everybody in LA is focused on this small sliver of the pop world, trying to get lucrative but very boring gigs. New York people work harder, they do a lot of things at once, they do cool shit without trying to be a superstar. Also, people in New York are better at jazz.”
I asked Drummey if he had any favorite places to play in Brooklyn. He didn’t want to answer at first, since he is “not a big favorites picker,” but he did tell me he likes playing at Music Hall Of Williamsburg … mostly because there is good vegan food nearby
“It’s a lifestyle, not just a weird culinary preference,” he said. “It makes me feel good. I tend to pick places to go based on their proximity to good vegan food.”
Let’s go back to that thing about Drummey working for Lauryn Hill.
“She works really late, so I was doing that til 6am. Miss Hill is wonderful — very talented, and very generous to me. I do a little bit of everything, I guess: I play keys a lot and some guitars, I do some programming, I compose orchestral and string arrangements and sometimes I conduct those, sometimes I help with mixing.”
So right now, Drummey is a bit of a nomad, currently visiting his mom in Boston (thus the whole driving-the-car thing). But he’s excited to return to Crown Heights. There’s no record release show set, at least right now, but keep your eyes peeled.
10 Perfect Songs is available today, “all over the internet,” in all its dreamy, almost ambient glory. Be sure to check it out.
Lilly Vanek is the Music Editor for Brokelyn. For more about local music and musings, follow Lilly on Twitter. And to pitch her for New Music Friday, email Lilly at lilly [at] brokelyn [dot] com.