Just 21 but undeniably an old soul, Max Jury comes on like the missing link between Gram Parsons and George Harrison, shot through with the grace of James Blake. An impeccable song-crafter, he’s got one foot in the cornfields and the other in the nearest dive bar whilst his fingers skip across the keys of his Fender Rhodes. An Iowa native, he binds together timeless themes of the struggles of being young, drinking the bottle dry and love lost and found with a small town perspective, topped off an airy croon that’s bound to break as many hearts as it heals.
Growing up in rural Des Moines, surrounded by wide open spaces and with the city’s biggest musical exports, those jumpsuit-sporting new metal titans Slipknot, looming large, he sought creative solace in his dad’s old bluegrass and new wave records and his mother’s mixtapes. “I would find them and play them in my room,” he recalls of the cassettes. “I didn’t know who the artists were at the time, but looking back it was stuff like The Beatles and Lucinda Williams and Elvis Costello.” Through Lucinda Williams he discovered The Flying Burrito Brothers and the hippy country scene, which would eventually lead to him naming his French bulldog after Emmylou Harris. “I also wish I had a ferret named after Tammy Wynette,” he muses.
Max started playing piano at six and wrote his first song at 13, around about the same time his life was shaken up by Ryan Adams and Wilco. “I had always liked country music but there was always a certain corniness, or it was dated, like Conway Twitty, but Ryan Adams in my mind made it cool,” he says. “Here he was singing about life in Jacksonville, North Carolina.” Recording at friends’ home studios throughout his teens, he went on to attend Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, but dropped out. Twice. “I don’t know how much good it did me,” he explains. “I wanted to learn by doing it, as opposed to being in the classroom. It drained me of my creativity outside of the classroom – you go home and the last thing you want to do is pick up your guitar or play the piano after you’ve been doing it all fucking day.”
Instead, he honed his craft by ensconcing himself in the records of Tom Waits, after his piano teacher handed him a copy of ‘Rain Dogs’. Max also did his best to live a life worthy of writing songs about, however difficult that was in his small town. “I just get as much experience as I can and I’m not afraid of being vulnerable or emotional,” he comments.
“If you surround yourself with a mood and creative people, it’s easier to write songs. But it’s not always easy to find that in Des Moines when you’re a teenager”.
He’s not done half bad. Following the inclusion of the barreling Bright Eyes style swagger of ‘Day Drunk’on the ‘Rough Trade Shops: Counter Culture 13’ collection, comes his forthcoming EP, ‘Something In The Air’. Made up of songs composed on late night drives and walks to the cigarette store, the three track release includes the sumptuous ‘Christian Eyes’, about falling for a pastor’s daughter who won’t look at you twice. “People ask me if it’s a religious song, but it’s more about wishing you were a better person,” says Max. “I lived out my desire through the song.” The honky tonk title track saw Max indulging in some Tom Waits style method acting, thanks to his band. “I was playing the piano solo and it was all very rigid so they kind of decided to get me liquored up and give it a few takes,” he smirks. “The take you hear is the very last take I did all the way through. I was fairly intoxicated.” It’s rounded off by the acoustic guitar led ‘Crooked Time’, which began as a Neil Young parody and ended up as a delicate, mournful duet laced with a distant brass section.
Though he’s a fan of the lovelorn stories of Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell, don’t be too quick to pigeonhole Max as a country musician himself. He calls his sound “a big stew”, which also encompasses his love of rock’n’roll and British invasion bands like the Kinks as well vintage soul, modern pop and contemporary roots music. As a live proposition, Max either plays solo or with a full band made up of friends and ex-lovers, who made their debut at a sold-out, 2000 capacity venue supporting Lana Del Rey, after being flown out to Chicago personally by Tom Windish of The Windish Agency. “It took all the nerves out of performing ever again!” remembers Max. “It was like pulling a band-aid off really fast.” So far, playing that massive show has been the strangest moment in Max‘s burgeoning musical career. “I haven’t had any really weird experiences yet,” he thinks, “like where a girl gives me a vial of blood after a show.” However, if he carries on like this, such fevered fandom is inevitable.