Whether he’s based in Djakata, the Amazon, or Mars, High Wolf’s Max (last named withheld) is truly a citizen of the world. The French-born one-man drum-circle considers himself part of a global psychedelic music community that includes the likes of Sun Araw and Not Not Fun founders Britt and Amanda Brown, who released his debut Ascension LP last year. When he is not busy with High Wolf, Max spends his time running his own Winged Sun Records, and working on various side projects, like the more ambient Iibiis Rouge and the more improvisational Voodoo Mount Sister. I caught up with Max in Los Angeles the day after seeing him play a collaborative live set with the members of Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras. We discussed his recording style, his travels in India, and the importance of international friendships
AZ: What city are you based in?
Max: People like to ask me where I live, and sometimes I give different answers. There is a new 7” coming on Baselic records, and the label guy asked me what city I was from. I was with a friend, and we were talking, and he said I should say I was from Djakata. So I did, and then it was on many websites. On the High Wolf MySpace, it says that I am based in Brazil. Many times people think I’m from Los Angeles. Many times I’ve read descriptions for a record or a show, and it says we are from Los Angeles, or from the UK, and I think its funny. When you hide something from people, they really want to know it. If I said I lived somewhere, and and that my name was "such-and-such," they really wouldn’t give a shit. Now with Facebook and MySpace and the Internet, you can know everything about anyone. Let’s say I go to your Facebook, and see that you have a boyfriend, and I see a picture of what he looks like, and you have a dog. Your dog is vegetarian, or whatever. When you don’t give that information, people get very frustrated, and start to ask me for the information that I’m not giving providing. It's not that I’m like, “Oh, its my private space." I think it's funny to play around with that.
AZ: How and when did you first start writing improvisation-based music?
Max: I started as a teenager. At first I did some stuff with computers, like ambient stuff, so it wasn’t really improvising. I didn’t know any real instruments. I realized that you can improvise even with electronics, that you can react to what’s happening-- just with your ears. That was the first kind of improvisation that I did. Then I started to try with guitars, and drums, and saxophone, and all different types of instruments. Then I tried it solo, which was easier than with other people because sometimes we didn’t have the same aesthetic.
AZ: How did the live collaboration with Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras I saw last night come to fruition?
Max: I do a lot of live collaborations. This network is very international, so you don’t get to see the people you’re friends with on the Internet that frequently. I first met Cameron [Stallones] in 2009, when he was touring Europe with Sun Araw and Pocahaunted. It’s very hard to collaborate when he's touring Europe because he has a very busy schedule and plays so many shows. We said that when I was in LA, we would play together. We’d decided that I was going to handle the beats, and we were going to jam on top of that. At some point, it just felt very cool to play with those guys, to see Cameron going nuts, and Barret as well. I’m staying in the US for two months, but I’m playing less than fifteen shows. I have time to hang out with friends, and jam with them. I’m not into the one-show-a-day situation. I don’t like that.
AZ: How do you connect with like-minded musicians from around the world?
Max: I have way more contacts everywhere in the world than in my own city, or even in my country. MySpace was pretty shitty a few years ago, but it was also very good for getting in touch with people. There are so many people doing interesting music everywhere, and who really want to share it. Being part of an Internet-based community is also a good thing, because I can do my thing. I can kind of quit with all that when I want to. If I were living in LA, for instance, I'd be hanging out with Cameron and Alex and Britt all the time, and it would be very hard to disconnect from that. It’s very important for me that all my friends are not making music. It’s slightly schizophrenic in a way.
AZ: What would you say was your best musical experience when you were living in India?
Max: Near the Ganges river, where they practice cremation, there were these bleachers, and this crazy guru who was just stationed there, talking non-stop. I didn’t know what he was saying, of course, but people were really into it. Every fifteen minutes or so, this group of musicians who were sitting around him would starting play while he took a break-- like a commercial break-- so that all the people would stay focused. So they would just jam for ten minutes. The guy talked without stopping for three days. I’ve been to India twice. I really want to go back.
AZ: Would you say you've been influenced a lot by Indian music?
Max: I don’t know anything about theory or whatever, so I couldn’t analyze Indian music, or the patterns. But I have been very influenced by all the emotions I experience when I listen to it. When I’m in India, and I see people perform it live, that’s the best; but when I'm home, I listen to Indian ragas a lot on record. I also bought a lot of instruments when I was there: tablas, an electronic tabla box, and a lot of bells and drums. Every time I travel I come home with new instruments. I overdub a lot of stuff, and when I am in the process of writing a new piece, I realize at some point that I’ve used three different drums: one from India, one from Nepal, one from Mexico-- and also a guitar from Thailand. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but there is something kinda spiritual about that. All these elements were supposed to be in the same piece of music; they were spread all around the world, and I just brought them togehter.
AZ: Did India help you grow as an artist?
Max: It changed my life. And when you change your life, and change the way you think, and change your personality, then your music will be changed. The first time I went there, it was such a shock. I was used to traveling only in Europee. When you get there, you have to forget everything that you thought was the truth. Not only did it change my way of making music, because I was making a lot of droney stuff before, but also also made me ask myself, "What do I want to do with my life?" I’m going to relocate in the next few years, and travel a lot, and try to meet people, and make friends.
AZ: Do you consider yourself spiritual in general?
Max: I’m not religious, but when I hear Michael Flower playing the Japan Banjo or Cameron playing guitar, it’s basically just someone picking a metal string, with the sound passing through electricity. There is no way to explain why it creates such a strong emotion. Music is very spiritual-- way more than what we think it is. When you play music, you are really give something from yourself, and people really receive it.
A Guide To Healing 7" will be available March 22 from Bathetic Records. Grab last year's Ascension LP from Not Not Fun now, and check out High Wolf's own imprint, Winged Sun Records, while you're at it