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Kevin Max Returns to His Roots

By Chris Carpenter Program Director

CBN.comThe always enigmatic Kevin Max, one third of Contemporary Christian super group dc Talk, has crafted a new, soulful, hold the edge of your seat gospel album called The Blood

The arrangements may be quite different from what you are accustomed, but Max’s latest offering is an exploration of the spiritually charged sounds that helped shape music as we know it today.

Never one to mince words, Max recently sat down with Program Director Chris Carpenter to discuss the eclectic nature of The Blood, the importance of traditional gospel in the history of music, and whether dc Talk is getting back together in 2008.

You left Nashville several years ago, went to Los Angeles, came back to Las Vegas somewhere in between, and now you are back in Nashville.  What is going on with all of the re-location?

I just like to throw 3,500 square feet of furniture into big trucks and move it all over the place.  It is so much fun.  I went to L.A. because I have always loved it there.   When I moved from Nashville to L.A. I was actually kind of going there for music – just trying to sell a new record and work on a new record.  What really influenced my move back to Nashville more than anything was my wife.  She wanted something larger for the kids, and so we both thought that Nashville would be good place for that.  I know Nashville so well and I know the market.

You mention parenthood.  How has parenthood changed you as a person and as an artist?

Oh man, massively as a person.  It is very difficult to be a touring musician and be a husband and a dad and all of that kind of stuff.  I have learned how to kind of balance it now.  That is the best way of saying it.  I know how to balance my time now.  It is amazing to be able to carve out a time just for the family.  One of the reasons we moved to Nashville is so that I could do that.  In L.A. we were always flying out of town.  We were always doing things.  In Nashville, a lot of the shows are local so I can play locally.  All of the studio stuff is local so I don’t have to fly anywhere.  It has just been great to be able to spend time with my kids.  We just had a new baby a month ago – my boy. 

What I would say about your solo work is that with every record you break new ground.  Tell me about your latest, The Blood.  It is really a record that goes back to your roots.  It is gospel music.  Tell me about how it all came together for you.

I had a commitment to this project that goes much deeper than most projects, because these are songs that kind of in my mind paved the way for Christian music today.  Even rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and whatever … these old gospel tracks, these old spirituals are the foundation for a lot of the modern music today in America.  And so not only the history inspired me but you know, just kind of going back into my roots as a singer when I grew up singing in the church.  I was amazed at what the power of music could do.  That was a pivotal change for me.  A lot of these songs I have handpicked.  I have been studying up on what songs influenced what kind of genre – like “Jesus’ Blood Can Make Me Whole” is a Blind Willie Johnson song.  That song influenced blues and slide playing.  He was a very influential artist.

This poses a good question.  There are literally thousands of classic hymns.  How did you arrive at the 12 that comprise The Blood?

I wanted to take a bunch of songs and put them into a project that kind of went outside of what people would hear every day.  There are songs on The Blood like “Up Above My Head I Hear the Music in the Air” which is an old spiritual that Sister Rosetta Tharpe kind of made somewhat popular.  It is kind of like this infectious, almost like a Louis Armstrong track.  It has a totally gospel lyric.  It is the kind of song that would totally push the Church a different way.  “Trouble of the World” by Mahalia Jackson … it is that kind of thing – really brooding, post-Civil War kind of feel.

In a press release I received about this record you say, “Gospel deserves as much attention as any musical genre in existence.”  Why do you think gospel music is so underrated?

I think people are scared to sing those words that are absolutely taking a side.  I think the most liberal Christians that I have ever met would want to take something like this and introduce stuff that could be a little bit more outside the box, a little more radio friendly, a lot of “He’s” opposed to Jesus.  For me, I am trying to stay away from the opposite end of that – the opposite spectrum which is the “Jesus per Minute” factor because that is not what I am about.  What I am about is getting to the core of what gospel music was and is.  Gospel music is about spreading the Good News and even more importantly, identifying with the suffering of Jesus Christ and understanding that the death of Christ absolved us.  My Catholic roots play into that too.  I think the overwhelming power of His blood is the basis for a lot of really, really cool rock and roll songs.

Sifting through the people who make guest appearances on this record, you have Chris Sligh of American Idol fame, Joanne Cash (Johnny Cash’s sister), Mary Mary, and your two old dc Talk band mates tobyMac and Michael Tait.  What I want to know is why did you choose this group of people to collaborate with?

Chris Sligh came to me at the last minute.  He was a fan of dc Talk and came up to me at GMA (Gospel Music Association Week), and I told him what I was working on.  He got excited about the idea of doing something with me.  Joanne Cash for sure.  I wrote a song for this record called “One Way to Love”.  I wrote a song specifically for Joanne in tribute to Johnny.  We did that together as a duet.  The Mary Mary factor is from Central South/Infinity.  Their label got them on board.  I loved having them sing on this record because they bring a lot vocally.  And Toby and Mike just because we talk all the time, and I told them what I was doing and they were interested.

Kevin, this begs the question.  I know you get this all the time, but it would be irresponsible of me if I did not ask you this.  You know what is coming.  Is there some sort of a reunion down the road for dc Talk?

I would definitely love to do something down the road.  The question is just how soon.  Doing a tour is easy but actually getting in the studio and writing and recording a new original album is a completely different matter.  I’m not against it.

I apologize because I know it is a question that you are likely tired of answering but it is one that must be asked.

It doesn’t upset me because it is part of who I am.  It is what we do.  dc Talk is something that could still be a viable band in the industry today if we were really on the same page as far as writing and actually getting together to create something.  To be able to just get out there and tour is not huge undertaking.  Toby and I just did a show in England just a month and a half ago.

You just turned 40 over the summer.  Obviously that is an age of reflection for many as far as where you have been, where you are presently, and charting a course for the future.  Based on your career to this point, what has been most satisfying for you?

The crazy beauty of life in my mind is to constantly realize that we are constantly on the edge of not even having it.  We can live every day just thinking, ‘You know, I could walk out that door and somebody could put a gun to my head and blow me away.’  There is not much of a difference between life and death.  It is a thin veil.  I think that when we can live like that it is great.  Too many people get pent up with trying to do the comfortable thing.  People always tend to lean toward living in comfort as opposed to just going out on the ledge a little.

Final question for you, this is very much a departure based on your first three solo albums.   After people listen to this record what do you want them take away with them?

Doing a record like this is kind of comfortable but at the same time I look at this as a sort of tribute.  These are the kinds of songs that put me here in the first place.  I kind of wish that Contemporary Christian Music would look at it and say, ‘OK, I get why there is an actual industry called CCM now.’  It is because of a few very pioneering people.  And before them it was people that dug into their souls and wrote songs that were all about their need.  Now, it is so corporate.  Today’s artist is singing the same thing over and over again.  It is like they are singing the answers as opposed to being in a place where you need something.  To me, that is a little more where Christ was.


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