Monday, August 14, 2006

Song For Max

It’s been a year since our friend and talented musician Max Vague killed himself. Although efforts continue to find a label to release his final recorded album, Drive, and Max’s music remains available (for the time being) on CD Baby, his web site has been taken down and all that remains of his music is the memory. We thought that we’d share this tribute that was published last year on our Alt. Culture.Guide site as well as make available some MP3 files of this visionary artist so that other folks can hear what we heard.

MONDO NEWS, SEPTEMBER 2005

It is with great sadness that we report the death by suicide of an old friend and one of our favorite musicians, Max Vague. A multi-talented musician and producer as well as an enormously skilled graphic artist, Max was a leading figure in the Nashville rock music scene for over a decade. Although relatively unknown to the music world outside of the southeastern U.S., Max nevertheless recorded and released six albums without any label resources and, with various bands, toured the region relentlessly.

Max's musical career began back in the early-80s in Monterey, California. He taught himself to play keyboards and, known by his birth name – William Hearn – played with a number of popular local bands, including Bill Hearn and the Freeze. In 1984 he packed his bags and headed to Los Angeles where he supported himself as a freelance graphic artist and musician, writing the scores for several documentary films, including a special on the GM Sunraycer. While in LA he changed his name to "Max Vague" and began an incredibly prolific period of songwriting and recording. In 1992 Max recorded his first album, Love In A Thousand Faces, moving later that year to Nashville with his debut disc tucked beneath his arm.

Max made an immediate splash in the Music City. This critic, writing about Love In A Thousand Faces in Nashville's Metro music magazine, said "the songs presented here – hard-edged pop/rock replete with melodic experimentation – evoke a variety of influences: the Beatles, Peter Gabriel, many electric British folkies, but are freshly original and completely uncategorizable." Shortly after arriving in Nashville, Vague recorded his sophomore effort, S.O.S. The Party's Over. Produced in his home studio, Max contributed nearly all of the instrumentation for this solid collection of songs. "Imaginative, colorful and intriguing, the songs on S.O.S. are like a puzzle box whose solution awaits discovery," I wrote in December '93 in R.A.D! Review And Discussion of Rock & Roll. Support for Max came from unlikely places, such as from NASA Space Shuttle Captain Michael Baker, who carried Max's CDs with him on two trips into space, subsequently mentioning Vague when interviewed by MTV's Tabitha Soren for the cable network's Week In Rock show.

Over the course of the next twelve years, Vague recorded and released four more critically acclaimed albums, each more musically complex and rewarding than the previous. With The Field CD, released in 1995, Max began recording with a full band that included guitarist Steve Green, bassist Ross Smith and drummer Robert Kamm. Two years later Vague recorded the Timing LP with Smith and drummer Buddy Gibbons. It was with the addition of Music City rock veteran Kenny Wright to his band, however, that Max would hit his creative peak, the trio of Vague, Smith and Wright recording the powerful Kill The Giant album in 1998. Together, these three toured the southeast and drove home Vague's immense talents to appreciative audiences. Max's work received airplay on local and regional radio stations and accolades poured in from publications like the industry trade paper Cash Box, Bone Music Magazine and the Nashville Scene alternative newsweekly.

In 2002, Vague returned to the studio to record the self-titled maxvague CD, his darkest and most personal effort yet. A solitary figure in the studio, Max carefully crafted the songs, playing nearly all the instruments while engineering and producing the album himself. Of maxvague the album, this critic wrote, "there's no denying the power of his music, Vague's gift of artistic expression and his instrumental prowess making him the most consistently interesting and intriguing artist working in the American underground today." A masterful collection of songs, the album nevertheless went largely unnoticed by the mainstream and alternative press alike.

After the release of this self-titled album, Max retreated from music somewhat, supporting himself as a graphic artist. He never stopped writing songs, however, and before his death had nearly completed work on what would have been his seventh album, titled Drive. Max and Kenny contributed a track, "Oh Well, Okay" to the memorial CD A Tribute To Elliot Smith, released earlier this year by Double D Records. Max had found new love, was beginning a new company and was seemingly looking towards the future when he came to the decision that he had accomplished everything that he had set out to do. Sometime in the early morning of August 13th, Max took his own life at the too-young age of 44, leaving behind his fiance Danni, his mother Gay Cameron, his sister Lynda Cameron and brother Jim "Spyder" Hearn. At a memorial service held at The Basement club in Nashville on Sunday night, August 28th, a packed room of family, friends and fans heard Max's siblings Lynda and Jim share their memories of their brother. Former bandmates Ross Smith, Kenny Wright and Steve Green also spoke as did Ben Mabry, one of Max's oldest friends and biggest fan and the Rev. Keith A. Gordon, who presided over the memorial service. Mike "Grimey" Grimes, co-owner of Grimey's Music and booker for The Basement graciously provided the club for Max's memorial.

The family has plans to keep Max's web site up and running as a living tribute to this incredible talent and will try to release his last album, Drive, at some point in the future. A year or so ago, Max had made a CD of his work available for free download on his web site. Readers curious about this talented musician can listen to a good representation of Vague's work from his six albums. The Reverend's review of the maxvague CD can be found here. Most of Max's CDs are still in stock and available from CD Baby for those wanting to purchase one. An intelligent, complex, multi-faceted and extremely talented artist and musician, Max Vague's work will live on long after his tragic death. As a friend and champion of his music, I'll miss Max and look forward to meeting again on the other side.

Link t0 the Nashville Scene article on Max's death

Max Vague remembered - MP3 files
(right click and 'save as' to download)

"Lights Out" (from maxvague, 2002)
"Spirits Run The Shoreline" from maxvague, 2002)

"Radio Breaks" (from Kill The Giant, 1998)
"Kill The Giant" (from Kill The Giant, 1998)

"Timing" (from Timing, 1997)
"Cold As This Machine" (from Timing, 1997)

"Rapture" (from The Field, 1995)
"I'm OK" (from The Field, 1995)

"S.O.S." (from S.O.S. The Party's Over, 1993)
"Believe" (from S.O.S. The Party's Over, 1993)

"Love In A Thousand Faces" (from Love In A Thousand Faces, 1992)
"The Wheels Are In Motion" (from Love In A Thousand Faces, 1992)

"Here's why
I dipped my fingers in the light
I climbed up into paradise
Where everything will work out"
...Max Vague, 2002

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