The Musician Who Left Chester French To Write '10 Perfect Songs' You Need To Hear
There were a lot of metrics for measuring how well things were going for you in 2008. You could take note of how long you spent straightening your hair, or in my case, as a sophomore in high school, how heterosexual you appeared at any certain point. For some people, the metric of success was how much Perez Hilton gushed over you while rocking a haircut that could’ve only been cool at the turn of the century. By that measure, Maxwell Drummey’s band Chester French was absolutely slaying the indie pop game. Onstage at SXSW, while introducing them to adoring fans, Perez smiled and called them amazing. It was a glorious pop culture moment for a band who had transcended their Myspace page, become one of Rolling Stone‘s Artists to Watch (where the aforementioned video can be found), and landed on the covers of magazines as far ranging as Vanity Fair, Nylon, and Teen Vogue.
It’s been eight years since Drummey and his bandmate D.A. Wallach took the stage to Perez’s delight, and a lot has changed. Obama became president twice, Perez adopted a baby to use for well-intentioned-but-creepy photoshoots, and the Harvard grads whose band sounds like an exotic dipping sauce (but is actually named after sculptor Daniel Chester French) broke up. Despite the fact that the band ignited a bidding war between Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, and Jermaine Dupri when they first emerged (no really), the duo walked away to pursue other projects.
For Drummey, getting away from the spotlight to trade in whirlwind shotgun weddings to Peaches Geldof and musical fame for a professional life as a film composer was a much-needed reprieve. He shied away from social media, used his expertise in twelve different instruments to help other artists on their albums, and took a lot of walks with his dog Lu.
Now, he’s stepping out of the shadowy depths to present ten perfect songs. No, really. His new album is called 10 Perfect Songs, whether you agree with their quality or not. He announced the record with a haiku and a cheeky single called “Muff,” and he’s done away with any chesters or European languages. He’s releasing music as Max now, and he’d rather talk about the health benefits of veganism and peanut butter than about indie pop stardom. I caught up with him as he perfects perfection to talk about snacks, non-vegan tattoos, sharing communicable diseases, and more. Here’s what you need to know about Max’s muff-heavy comeback.
What’s it been like to go from being in this huge indie pop band in the 2000s to going off the radar?
I would say that it’s been nice. For the last six years, I’ve been working on film projects and other peoples’ music as a day job to make life get lived. It’s just that I recently made the decision to share some music that I’ve made. I’m very ambivalent about the idea of using music to draw attention to me personally. That was one thing I found frustrating in the Chester French experience. In making art, there’s an element of egotism that’s inescapable, but I think in how you pursue art, there are ways to make it more amenable to your personality.
I’ve decided that a necessary thing to do in order to make working on my music a bigger part of my life is to share it with people. I also think it’s silly not to share it with people because if you make it and somebody might benefit from it, you’re being a dick if you’re not sharing it with them.
“’Sharing is caring,’” says the guy with the horrible communicable disease. That’s not caring.”
Yeah, definitely. Sharing is caring!
Yeah that’s one way to care but that totally depends what you’re sharing. “Sharing is caring,” says the guy with the horrible communicable disease. That’s not caring.
Right! Yeah! Sharing can be careless. That doesn’t rhyme but it’s equally true. Oh shit. Oh shit.
We just ruined one of the nicest phrases in human history.
Man, you just really exploded the whole…
Damn, what have we done? [Laughs]
We’ve learned something together, so thank you for helping me learn.
That’s what I’m here for! You talked about the frustrations you had when you were in Chester French because of the attention. Your band was on the cover of Vanity Fair, Nylon, Teen Vogue, and a lot more magazines. What was that experience like?
At least that’s honest! What kind of magazine would you want to be on the cover of?
Oh, I’ve never really thought about that. I don’t know that I’d ever want to be on the cover of any magazine.
Reader’s Digest, maybe? If they still make those.
You know what, I haven’t read a Reader’s Digest in a long time. I go to Trader Joes mainly, so I don’t really see those anymore. If I go to a regular grocery story I’ll see what’s at the checkout, but at Trader Joes, they’re just trying to sell me snacks.
Do you ever pick up the dark chocolate peanut butter cups?
I haven’t. Are they vegan? They might be. Sometimes dark chocolate is fair game.
Do you have any favorite snacks from Trader Joes?
You know what, they make a peanut butter that has flax and chia seeds in it. I’ve been trying to think lately about my favorite things in terms of my behavior by volume rather than what I’d abstractly say about something. That peanut butter might be my favorite food not because I think it’s the best food, but because by volume, I think I consume more of it than anything else.
Yeah, your body is probably 50 percent peanut butter now.
I’m not sure that’s totally how it works, but there’s a lot of flax and chia coursing through my veins right now courtesy of this peanut butter.
That’s definitely safe! How long have you been vegan?
Seven years, I guess? I’ve been vegetarian for thirteen years.
“I’m just glad I didn’t get a non-vegan tattoo that said “vegan” because then I’d really feel like an asshole.”
That’s awesome! I’ve been vegetarian for two years but I just made a really great vegan pizza for dinner last Friday so that counts for something.
Right on! No, it all counts. I heard this guy from the Humane Society talk and his whole argument was that progress, not perfection, is what we should be encouraging in the world. I think your vegan pizza is a beautiful thing!
I understand and accept that it’s an ideal and there’s no way to actually reasonably think you are 100 percent vegan. There’s no way. I was living in Los Angeles and down the street from my studio, there was a place that offered vegan tattooing. That blew my mind because then I’m standing there like a dickhead looking at all these tattoos I have being like, oh fuck. Whoops. I’m just glad I didn’t get a non-vegan tattoo that said “vegan” because then I’d really feel like an asshole.
That’s a good reason for just releasing music as Max now! When you announced the new album 10 Perfect Songs you mentioned having a dog. What kind of dog is it?
She’s a small mutt. Her name is Lu but I also call her Hog. I guess I could send you a picture of her if you want? I feel bad that that’s an insufficient description but I don’t have a solid understanding of what she is. She’s my life. My life partner. I don’t endorse these tech rapture guys but if they do find a way to help us live forever in the Internet, I would go there with my dog.
That’s a really touching heartfelt tribute to your dog! Speaking of tech people, you don’t have a big social media presence online.
I don’t have any social media presence! It’s just not a thing I like doing so I don’t see why I should do it. It’s the same thing as veganism. Eating meat and being on social media are things that I don’t really want to do. Social media isn’t solving a problem in my life the way that Trader Joes flax and chia peanut butter is.
That solves a real problem.
Solves a real problem! I need to get a reliable source of protein and healthy fats.
Facebook doesn’t do that!
Facebook has no protein. There’s no caloric value.
Absolutely. Moving away from veganism, I want to talk about your new single, “Muff.” Why that name?
Probably because it’s a funny word. It was in the song, and I said, hey that’s the most noteworthy word in the song. The things it rhymes with in the song are rough, tough, and enough. Out of those four, you’ve gotta go muff.
You have to go muff. Why’d you go with just the name Max when you started making new music instead of something bizarre like Chester French?
I thought it made the most sense to ask to be called what I normally ask to be called, which is Max. I think there’s something weird and potentially infantilizing about the pervasiveness–in music especially–of people ascribing “artist names” to themselves. I go to meet somebody in a studio and they’re like, “Oh hey I’m Beatsmith 9400.” I don’t want to use their name because I don’t want to make fun of anybody.
But I’m sure there’s someone named Beatsmith 9400 making music in the world somewhere.
I mean, I hope not that’s a shitty name. More often than not I’m like really? You want me to call you this now while we’re hanging out? What’s your fucking name, dude? Oh, you’re Kevin. Okay cool.
So, what’s the next move for you after 10 Perfect Songs comes out?
Well, I’m going to do that and then I’m going to put out more music. I’ll let you in on a secret, which is that there’s a large amount of material.
Good, maybe 11 Perfect Songs will be next?
Maybe! You know what, that might be true but it might not be called that. Eleven perfect songs will be next but whether they’re called 11 Perfect Songs remains to be seen.
For more from Maxwell Drummey, check out 10 Perfect Songs, coming this summer.
Lead image by Kathryn Chadason. Images courtesy of Maxwell Drummey and Team Clermont. Additional images via Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Interview.
Stay tuned to Milk for more vegan music.