Max Clarke's home-recorded demos introduce the tender songwriting of Cut Worms on his Jagjaguwar debut, Alien Sunset.
You've announced your Jagjaguwar debut. The EP is essentially the demo tape sent to the label. How did the first Cut Worms songs come together? How was the demo recorded and how long have those songs been workshopped?
I was living in Chicago in 2015 when I first started recording these demos. I was mainly just trying to get them out of my head and into existence. I’d gone through a few different lineups and attempts to start Cut Worms, none of which ever really got off the ground… But I finally ended up getting together with some friends — Josh Condon and Andrew Harper — and we started playing out around town, opening a lot for Josh’s other band The Glyders. We played around for about a year or so in Chicago, during which time I was writing and recording these songs at my apartment, then playing them live with the band.
You've played some higher profile bills than most artists with one 7" out in the world. How did your opening spots with Foxygen, The Lemon Twigs, Nick Lowe, and other more established acts come about? How did those shows help you develop as a performer?
Basically I got kind of lucky. After moving to NYC and playing a couple shows, I was fortunate enough to meet some great people who heard the songs and wanted to help me out… people with infinitely more connections in the music world than I had. I started off doing a karaoke-style performance, singing to a backing track comprised of my home-recordings minus the vocal tracks. I guess I figured it was New York, I didn’t know anyone to start a band with, I could act like anyone I wanted to. That was the first time I did any kind of performance like that, and it certainly opened up a lot of possibilities for me.
Through that I ended up finding some great musicians to play with, which was always the goal. Opening for a bigger act is exciting and the crowds are bigger, but they’re not really there to see you, so it’s kind of like an audition every time—you have to vie for their attention, and sometimes you don’t get it. I think that’s kind of forced me into becoming a better musician and sort of thickened my skin a bit as a performer.
How do you achieve your raw and simple sound? What's your studio or recording style like?
I’d been writing my own songs for years and tinkering around with a little 4-track digital recorder that had a built-in microphone. I had attempted to go into studios a couple times but I wasn’t quite able to get what I was after, so I finally just bought a slightly better 8-track digital recorder and a low-grade condenser mic (this was the most I could afford) and decided to try to do it all myself. A lot of people say I have an ”old” or “vintage” sound or whatever, which really wasn’t intentional believe it or not. I was trying to make it sound as good as I could, but I just wasn’t very good at recording. Also, I just like reverb… who doesn’t?
You're cover of Truly Julie's Blues appears on the Planned Parenthood Benefit record, Cover Your Ass Vol 1. How did you choose that track to cover? How did you become a part of this compilation and what was it like using your art to promote social change in this special and creative way?
I got the offer to do a song for the compilation through my manager and it seemed like it was a good thing to do. As far as song choice, I’d always loved that song, which is by Bob Lind — and I thought it had a perfect kind of bittersweet vengeance that fit right in with what I thought the mood of the compilation ought to be. I’m maybe too cynical to think that me recording a song I that like actually affected any kind of social change, but it’s a nice thought and a step in the right direction at least.
You moved from Chicago to Brooklyn recently. What's been different about living in the two cities? What made New York the place you chose to launch the official Cut Worms recording career from? Has your move impacted your songwriting?
I’d always wanted to live in New York City, but just never had the guts to make the move. I loved Chicago and still do, but it seemed time for a change so I left. My girlfriend Caroline had the idea initially and sort of had to convince me that it was the right thing to do, but obviously it was. I wasn’t so presumptuous to think that I was going to move to New York and then finally “make it” as a musician. In a lot of ways it was a step backwards—I didn’t know anyone here and I didn’t know anything about the local scene. I was also pretty unfamiliar with any record labels, and the thought of approaching any of them hadn’t even crossed my mind. I really wasn’t expecting anything to happen, just wanted to try something different and it ended up working out in my favor—or it has seemed so thus far.
What can you tell us about the LP that’s due out in 2018? What can we expect to hear?
I don’t want to say too much about it other than it’s a more thorough realization of my songs and it’s closer to the sound I was after when I was recording the demos, but didn’t have the know-how to achieve. I’m pretty happy with it as a whole and I hope people can make a connection with it when it comes out.