Life as an 18-year old is hard: probably just out of high school, in that awkward stage between figuring out what you want to do with your life and how to get there; not able to indulge in the pleasures that adults partake in, while still holding the title. It can really bring a person down and squander hopes. But for Max Williams, life is just beginning. This 18-year old has busted out of high school in a small, suburban town in Western Washington to establish himself as a musician outside of Seattle. With a sound comparable to Tom Waits, Max and his group of musician-friends (under the title “Legion Of Sparrows”) have taken a brand new look at suburban rock music and killed local shows over the past 3 years. Now, he has a brand new EP out and is kickstarting his own music project! So while growing up is hard, Max is stepping into the light and into the music scene for good! I sat down and facebook’d with Max about his music and life:
Pick&Pen: What first inspired you to start making music?
Max Williams: I started because I grew listening to music, and loved singing, or I guess screaming, along with whatever was playing. My dad listened to a lot of ‘grunge’ and ‘post-grunge’ (Collective Soul, Creed, Soundgarden), and my mom a lot of pop-country (LeAnne Rimes and Shania Twain). So they kinda compromised with Marc Cohn and the Beatles. So… basically, I just wanted to make noise myself and be allowed to scream without the radio having to blast. I was a narcissist at a young age, haha.
P&P: What type of music do you classify yourself as?
MW: Agro-sappy emo-folk-grunge. With Jamaican Dubstep and Hardcore Polka influences.
P&P: Why the name “Legion of Sparrows”?
MW: I picked the name ages ago. I think when I first started playing guitar, actually. So the meaning really depends on the mood I’m in. At first, it just sounded cool, and I liked imagery it portrayed. That was when I started my first band.
I think I picked it back up just cause, to me, it’s the idea that if we had a thousand little sparrows running around trying to make things better, we’d have a better world really quickly. I guess its also because I perform and write and jam with so many other musicians, and I liked the idea of not being limited to one sound or person or group. One night LoS could be just me, the next night a 10 piece jazz band, the next night a kazoo choir.
P&P: How has living in such a small town like Sammamish affected your music?
MW: Hahaha, shit. I hated everything around me in Junior High and High School, so my attitude was definitely affected. Punk rock, grunge, black cloths, that whole ethic. So I guess I gravitated towards that music just as a release. And when I started getting more active in the queer community, and in social justice in general, as sort of a way to ‘change’ Sammamish or something like that (I don’t really know what I was thinking then), folk music and punk lyricists really started to affect me. Kimya Dawson, Bob Dylan, Black Flag, ect.
It sounds petty now, but I just hated that whole damn town. Rich kids who didn’t know how good they had it and made life hell for anyone who was different. Lot’s of my gay and non-white friends got harassed to different degrees all the time. Snobby soccer moms and their obvious disdain for teenagers. The high schools who didn’t give a fuck about the kids other than their GPA’s. And no real outlet for art or any kind of culture other than Neanderthal-esque sporting events. I just saw so much evil and stupid shit happen living there. So I guess that effected my music; the energy and the message.
P&P: Who are your influences for your music?
MW: Right now? Bright Eyes, Titus Andronicus, Man Man Andrew Jackson Jihad, Dillon Warnek, Talking Heads. But I think the Seattle Scene is just in my veins. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Modest Mouse, Kimya Dawson, Beat Happening. And I mentioned Dillon, but I think (in a non-hipster/trendy way) local bands have always influenced me to a degree. Masters & Johnson, Grynch, Sol, Blue Scholars, Kung Foo Grip, Seahouse, Bo Tree when they were around, and groups like Silicon Girls. All of those guys continue to blow my mind.
But, like I said, growing up was odd. There was Bob Dylan around with my grandma, and Eric Clapton. The first time I realized I was listening to Nirvana was Tony Hawk Pro Skater, which had Blew from Bleach on there. That sort of stuff.
P&P: How did you first learn to play guitar?
MW: I got a guitar from my uncle when I was 7 for my birthday, but I didn’t pick it up till I was 11 or 12. It’s this old Ibanez six string, and it was falling apart when I got it. Still have it, too. I took some guitar lessons at a local music shop for a month or so, but we couldn’t afford to keep going. So I taught myself chords and learned to read tab. First song I ever learned was Seven Nation Army [by the White Stripes], and after that I just started messing around with scales and chords. Lot’s of screaming, lot’s of noise. Almost no sense of rhythm or melody. Which is exactly what I wanted to do, and I guess that’s still kinda true.
P&P: What is the process in which you create a song?
MW: A feeling? Just depends. Sometimes I’ll have a lyric in my head for weeks before I can write it down, and sometimes it’ll turn into a song then and there. Sometimes it’ll sit around for years and never get used. Sometimes I just start playing, finish a whole song that’s completely structured, and go back and write it down.
P&P: Where do you go to find inspiration for your music? Or is there a certain person/other place that inspires you? Why does that place/person effect you in that way?
MW: I feel like songs are just 3 minute long Freudian Slips. I start writing about a social issue I care about, or a person or a story, and then out comes some stuff about my self I didn’t think about or even realize. The subject is still kinda the same, but in a different context for me. So I guess I’ve recently stopped trying to explain songs. Less because I want other people to figure them out, and more cause I’m afraid of what I’ll learn about myself, haha.
P&P: Being so close to a musical-hub like Seattle, do you find yourself gravitating closer to their music scene or has living in the Lake Sammamish area been more enlightening? Why or why not?
MW: I really consider myself more of a Redmond musician than a Seattle musician. The Seattle scene is kinda bi-polar. Some people are really accepting, and there are some cool venues and great bands. And some have this indier-than-thou attitude, where you’re not ‘it’ enough. Or other times the music goes out the window, and it’s more important that you have a record and have been in some newspaper than the fact that your music is perfect for the venue and you can bring a decent amount of people. Redmond, everyone is accepting, the few venues out there are great places to start and meet people, and the culture is more about cultivating your talents and sharing art. Especially places like the Old Firehouse and SoulFood Books. Still, the crowds are in Seattle.
P&P: What is your favorite song that you’ve created? Why is it your favorite?
MW: Oh, jeez. Uh, I love them all equally, like a good parent should. And cause I’m an artist, that means I hate them all equally.
P&P: I really love “Something Beautiful” and “Harmony,” and they are two amongst others on your debut EP Max Williams and the Legion of Sparrows that are quieter but gorgeously crafted (often just you and a guitar). Why did you choose to go with more acoustic tracks than heavier tracks like “Brutal Love” and “What’s Prohibited?” (which is my favorite song on the EP)?
MW: Thank you! That means a lot!
I don’t like bands or albums or EPs or anything where every song sounds the same. It’s just always erked me. So for the EP, I wanted to put out a well mixed sound. Happy, melodic, angry, almost poppy. I guess lyrics are really important to me, but just as important as the music. So for the songs where the lyrics are more abstract or heady, I want the music to reflect that. With Brutal Love and What’s Prohibited, they dynamics are more raw and heavy because the subject matter is much simpler but just as raw.
P&P: Where is your favorite venue to play or see shows in?
MW: The SoulFoods parking lot is my favorite venue to play. I love being on stage, but theres nothing like playing a new song or some covers with a bunch of friends out in a field. And SoulFoods definitely attracts that crowd.
To see shows? I really dig the Vera Project in Seattle, but you can’t beat the Fire House in Redmond on a good night. Especially seeing new and talented bands that are local teens and young adults getting started.
P&P: What’s next for Legion of Sparrows?
MW: We’re playing shows all this month. Black Dog in Snoqualmie on Saturday, Ground Zero in Bellevue on the 28th, The Can Can in Seattle on Pike on the 6th of next month. A few more that I can’t remember or don’t have the dates for. We’re also working on a kickstarter, promoting the crap out of that. And that’s to finish up recording, producing, and distributing our first album. So check it out! (Shameless plug here)
P&P: What is the first album you’ve ever bought?
MW: Badmotorfinger by Soundgarden was the first CD. Moon and Antarctica by Modest Mouse was the first iTunes download, though.
P&P: Where do you go to find new music?
MW: Facebook, Pitchfork, friends, local shows, other musicians. I really don’t have any secret to finding great music. There’s a lot of crap out there, and you need to search through it. So if you were looking for some sort of Holy Grail of good music sources, readers, suck it up, cause there isn’t one.
P&P: What is one thing you can do that’s pretty unique?
MW: I can say that I am a ginger AND have a soul simultaneously. I haven’t found anyone else who can say that.
P&P: What is your drink of choice?
MW: Uh, milk, ma’am. I not be old enough to drink nothin’ else.
P&P: If you could play with a band that’s around or not around anymore, who would you choose and why?
MW: Titus Andronicus or The Moldy Peaches. I love both band’s music and lyrics, and I think playing live would be fricking awesome. I can’t think about this question too long or else I’ll have a thousand bands to say. But I think those two, just cause anyone bigger and I’d just ruin their sound or their history or something.
For now, here’s the song “Harmony” off his debut EP:
EDIT: Max Williams and the Legion of Sparrows just got signed to the Century Records in Olympia, WA! Congratulations Max!