Chris Maxwell is a quintuple threat: gifted songwriter, singer, guitarist, producer, arranger. He’s best known for the catchy, jagged junkyard rock he made with the legendary New York band Skeleton Key in the 90’s and more recent work as half of the Elegant Too production team. With the latter he’s composed and recorded music for hit TV series like the Emmy Award-winning Bob’s Burgers and produced artists like They Might Be Giants and Jon Spencer. Now Maxwell is gearing up to release his second solo album, New Store No. 2, which is being released February 14th (Valentine’s Day!) via Max Recordings.
Maxwell wrote, recorded, and mixed New Store No. 2 at Goat House studio, adjacent to his home in Woodstock, New York where he’s resided for the past two decades. He was joined in the studio by the likes of Cindy Cashdollar, Rachel Yamagata, Marco Benevento, Amy Helm, Zack Djanikian, Conor Kennedy, David Baron, Mark Sidgwick, Jay Collins, Aaron Johnston, Jesse Murphy, Cheme Gastelum, and Larry Grenadier, among others, along with longtime collaborator Ambrosia Parsley. The album has range and luxuriousness – a horn section, strings, lap steel, shimmering touches in the vocals, and – on occasion – utterly blistering guitar. It contains both personal songs and what Chris terms “the pop songs.”
Maxwell was born in Arkansas and cut his musical teeth in Memphis where he worked with legendary producer Jim Dickinson, Grammy winner John Hampton and shared stages with cult heroes such as Alex Chilton and Tav Falco and the Panther Burns. He was principal songwriter and clever guitarist of the Gunbunnies, the first band to be signed to a major label out of Little Rock, Arkansas. In the mid-90’s, he relocated to New York City and became an original member of the noisy, wired, perversely catchy Skeleton Key, appearing on two indie EPs and their critically acclaimed major label debut.
In the years since, he’s focused on writing and production as part of Elegant Too, a team responsible for creating the opening themes and/or scores for dozens of notable television series including Bob’s Burgers, Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and Inside Amy Schumer. They’ve also created music for major motion pictures and countless commercials. In addition, they’ve teamed up with St. Vincent, Yoko Ono, They Might Be Giants, Iggy, Fiona Apple, A.C. Newman and many others.
Eventually, Maxwell felt the need to make music for himself again. He hunkered down in the Goat House to write and record, emerging in 2016 with Arkansas Summer, an album of wistful Americana filled with dark confessional tales from his childhood: artfully told stories of tragedy, triumph, abuse, addiction and redemption, all presented with indelible guitar hooks. With New Store No. 2 he’s revisited those times and tales with still greater intensity and artistic acuity and created a small masterpiece.
Today Glide is excited to share an exclusive premiere of the music video for “New Store No. 2”, the title track on the new record. Written about his maternal grandfather, K.J. Jamell, who came from Beirut, Lebanon and settled in a small town in Arkansas and opened a store there, the song is soulfully mixes a 50s doo wop sound with swooning power pop and mellow, everyman rock. Maxwell lends his highly literate and visual songwriting style to the song as he shares this all-American story of immigration, chasing a dream, and ultimately losing it to corporate globalization. While this is undoubtedly grim and all too familiar for any American who grew up in a small town during a certain period, Maxwell offers a sort of optimistic viewpoint that is translated in the vibrant, warming instrumentals and harmonies. Ultimately, he delivers a simple yet poignant tale with a catchy, universal sound that would make acts like Bruce Springsteen proud.
In discussing the inspiration behind the song, Maxwell points out that his grandfather “emigrated here from Beirut in the 1920’s to a small town in Arkansas. He pedaled from a horse and buggy, opened a general store and married the prettiest girl in town – the textbook ‘American Dream’ until the loss of manufacturing jobs and the invasion of Wal-Mart not only killed his business but the heart of the town I grew up knowing.”
Speaking on the process of creating the song, he says, “When I started the song I could only come up with weird fragmented bits. He was always an enigma to me, probably a combination of him being so different culturally and his mangled English. I incorporated what had become a sort of mythology that circulated around him within the family along with my own memories. The song is a telescope, a way of looking and remembering this distant person, his vibrant little town and the hole it left when it all disappeared.”
Chris Maxwell releases New Store No. 2 on February 14th. For more music and info visit maxwellsongs.com.
Photo credit: Bobby Fisher