A rising star, Max McKenzie is your go-to host, some-time comedian, more-time musician and certified bringer of vibes. Kat Friar caught up with Max to talk creativity, his debut release and future world domination…
UD: What came first, the music or the comedy?
Max McKenzie (MM): Comedy came first, in terms of writing jokes and actually having that fire in my heart to pursue the career. Music kind of came with my surroundings, my friendships and my love; music was almost like a right place, right time kind of thing. The only reason why I really make music is because of Orii Jam – they nurtured that sort of artistry in me. They gave me a place and a platform to generally practice and get better in front of people. At the moment my freestyling is way better than my recording process. I drop some gems in my freestyles. I go crazy. I’m just slowly learning how to take that energy into the studio. Yeah, but comedy definitely came first. I’ve always been funny, I’ve been funny my whole life.
UD: How do you want listeners to feel when they hear your music and what do you do to achieve that in the creation process?
MM: So personally, I don’t really make music for my listeners yet. I’ll just be making music for myself, most of the time, especially in the studio. I’ll be making stuff for me and my friends if I’m being completely honest, so I haven’t got to a place where I’m worried about listeners as of yet. Maybe one day I’ll get there where I’m like, I want my listeners to feel a certain type of way, but I just want them to – as of now – to hear the emotion, what I am going through, or what I’m trying to work out and the stuff I’m trying to compartmentalise in my life, at that moment in time.
However, eventually, as I get more comfortable as a recording artist, I know I’ll probably get a bit more experimental. The newest song I just recorded is really funny. If you listen carefully it’s a vibe, but if you listen really carefully, there’s some funny moments in it. So, I guess I want them to listen out for parts of my personality.
UD: Who do you listen to that influences how you write?
MM: Probably everyone, because have you ever just been out and about and you’ve had a conversation and it’s inspired your writing? I think everyone can inspire your writing. If you take it in, like I said, before I started writing any sort of music, I was doing comedy. So it’s like, even for my music now, the stuff I’m gonna release, it’s very different to the two songs out already; the two songs I have out were just to prove to myself that I could release music and not feel like any type of weird way, like the world doesn’t set a fire if I release music. I just needed to do that social experiment. But now I’ve got songs where they’re inspired from conversations I’ve had with my mum, conversations I’ve had with family, and then musical inspirations like Mos Def, Kendrick Lamar, Ms. Lauryn Hill and a few others… I’ve got some like weird ones – there’s this guy – he’s like a country folk singer, cutest man on the planet, Michael Franks… So, I guess I would say my biggest inspirations in terms of artists are those people and I met this man called Jean Claude Madhero, and I met him on the train bruv… I was just chilling one day, and I’ve sampled his rhythms, so inspiration is everywhere. This guy only gets like 32 monthly listeners – this guy is cold.
“Inspiration is everywhere, if you’re open and willing to receiving it.”
UD: How do you feel being a comedian helps you write music?
MM: My punchlines… there’s always something in the word, ’cause in comedy each word you whisper matters, it’s make or break. You can say something like ‘sad’ and ‘depressed’, if you use those two, like “I was a bit sad this weekend”, it’s lighthearted and jovial. People aren’t gonna be too worried about you. But if I said “I was depressed this weekend”, you are like ‘panic – in the disco, is he okay?’ And from comedy, I’ve learned the importance of words, I know not to waste words in my lyrics either. If there’s a way to get a point across, because I’ve been able to get my points across doing standup for this whole year and a half, [with] music getting my words across, make sure they’re not wasted, is the same sort of thing. But I’m a bit more emotional in my music than I am in my comedy. However, they’re both gonna merge very soon.
“And from comedy, I’ve learned the importance of words, I know not to waste words in my lyrics either.”
UD: What do you enjoy about music that you can’t find in comedy? And what do you feel is enjoyable about both that crosses over?
MM: Okay, I’m gonna say what I enjoy in both, because I don’t want either to be neglected. What I enjoy in comedy that I can’t find in music is a sense of bullying – like in music, everyone’s so nice to each other, it’s too much. Everyone’s like, “oh, like I love your songs.” Unless you’re like a drill rapper or something, the ting’s too nice, like people are too sweet. Too much hugging and kissing. I love it, genuinely. It’s what I love in that also, which is not in comedy. In comedy, we’re more rough with each other. We help each other out as such, but we get to bully each other a lot more and there’s a lot more brutal honesty, which I really love in comedy, ’cause it’s so much fun and it’s the only way you learn.
In terms of actual art, in music, you can sing how you feel. In real life, if someone comes up to you and starts singing how they feel, you would spit in their face. So, if my bredrin came in my house and started singing about how much he misses his ex, I would throw a drink at him, you know what I mean? Get yourself together, son. But in music, you can actually do that. You can express yourself in a way where it’s like emotionally you can just let all that out in a scream or shout or ‘ooh’ or ‘ah’, you can express that. It’s quite beautiful and obviously you could do hooks and stuff. Pretty cool.
Art is all one thing, it’s all one big thing. It’s like cooking, you know what I mean? It’s like enjoying eating good food. Good art is the same, it’s just different flavours of it. I would say comedy is niche, so I’d say it’s like baking. Some people don’t even like cakes, some people don’t like comedy. It’s very niche. It’s a small sort of community, even though it’s like grand in terms of its effect on the world. Everyone loves good comedy films, comedy TV shows this and that. The actual community of artists that are in it – not as big as music. Whereas music’s like dinner, there’s music in comedy. It’s a main course meal, everyone needs music all the time. There’s never a time where music is wrong – like a funeral – music is needed. Baby shower – needed. There’s not a place music doesn’t fit. There’s not a people that don’t have music they enjoy. Whereas if I start bussing jokes at a funeral, it could go left. That’s what I love. It’s all art, it’s all an expression. It is all supposed to bring people together and show people who they are, so it’s nice.
UD: Freestyling seems to be your forte, even when you’re hosting – as witnessed at the UD x Timberland Open Mic night – what goes through your mind when you’re freestyling and do you have a thought process behind the lyrics you’re putting down?
MM: Nothing. This is just pure subconscious, no thoughts, just bars. Just words. I just believe in myself.
UD: How was hosting the UD x Timberland Open Mic?
MM: Hosting the UD x Timberland Open Mic was inspiring, it opened my eyes to my own talents as a professional artist and showed me that elevating a rooms energy is indeed a talent and that it’s a desired one. I genuinely adored introducing each artist to a space full of warm loving energy which was reciprocated by their art and through the night, building a relationship with all the artists and the crowd. One of the best moments of my year!
UD: How has being in a community of likeminded individuals help you create?
MM: I don’t think we’re likeminded, but I feel like, I think I like it ’cause we’re all so different. I think that’s what makes me happy to be around these man. I think the only thing we have likeminded is that we want to live off of our art. I think that’s what makes us all so similar. That’s that one thing we have likeminded, but then in terms of like religion, morals – sometimes my morals don’t line up with my friends. All these things, there’s so many things that make us different that makes me happy to be around them, because if we were all so similar I would learn nothing. I’m just glad we’re all doing art because we all want to express ourselves. I was chilling with all of them the other day. I was just looking, I was like, “These are weird guys, bro.” They’re weird. They’re all weird. In a good way though. They know it. We all bare know it. Weird is beautiful, by the way. If you look at all of us, we’re all so different, but I think that’s what makes it fun. We even got a teacher in the group, it’s jokes. We’ve got a teacher, a lawyer, a comedian, photographer, a director, bare rappers… I think we’ve only got like four. No, we’ve only got three rappers… And then we’ve got singers, so many beautiful singers. When they start releasing music, it’s gonna be crazy. The rappers right now, they’re doing their ting, they’re killing it. You’ve got script writers, theatre writers, artists, painters, graffiti artists. So I guess it’s like the like-mindedness. We are very different, we always talk about it. How the art comes through us, but it is every time I hear them talk about it. But if you ever hear a conversation between me and Araba, like me explaining why I do comedy and then her explaining art, It’s like we’re talking foreign languages to each other, ’cause I can’t paint for s***, but she can tell a joke though.
UD: Tell us about your two latest songs. What was it like to collaborate with Mar!k on your first two singles?
MM: I like them both. I think, because they’re not just my songs, it’s me and Mar!k, it was fun. I enjoyed the collaboration process. I really enjoyed it actually, It was like therapy. I like ‘BANGERS WERE MASHED’ ’cause we were just having so much fun. We made both of those songs on the same day and released them on the same day, because we were in the studio like we just have to do it, what we’d done in this room – so we released ‘Blameworthy’ first.
We were both going through some stuff, in terms of like his girlfriend lives all the way in Antigua. Wow. Obviously he just misses her in general. So he was writing about how much he missed her, if you listen properly. He just talks about what he goes through every time he misses her, which is so beautiful to have within the song. And I was just talking about missing someone who’s not good for you, and that’s what the whole song’s about: always wanting someone when you let them go, who’s really to blame, that’s why I named it ‘Blameworthy’, ’cause it’s your own fault. That’s why he’s in the middle, ’cause his bit, if you take it in – isn’t toxic… Whereas like the breading is the toxic stuff we’re used to, so I really enjoy that song. I feel it will get better with time and obviously the more you listen, the more you actually understand it in deep.
‘BANGERS WERE MASHED’ was a one-take freestyle, which we were pretty proud of – it was pretty sick. We went a bit nuts ’cause we were in the studio, two lads a bit emotional. We both just poured our hearts out and we were looking at each other like, “This is a bit weird, let’s just slap on a YouTube beat.” ‘Cause we really, we went through the whole mourning and grieving process of making that song, which was therapeutic. And then we went and just had fun on BANGERS WERE MASHED and left on a high note. And that song is so funny once again, ’cause he says some hilarious stuff. Please listen to it and peep, like my favourite bar was “Ha ha ha ha ha ha, I’ll choke you out like I’m Homer and you’re Bart”, it was dumb, but it makes us laugh so much and that’s why I think that’s why we released both of those, ’cause it’s like two sides of a coin. Just cause you can make sad music doesn’t mean you can’t be happy and make a fun freestyle. That’s why I’ve done it. But I’m releasing my third song soon anyway.
UD: What’s next for you?
MM: I’m gonna release, ‘Sorry Lover’ soon, [I] just need to get the correct files for it.
UD: Do you wanna say anything for the people?
MM: Make sure you come to On The Common: Reflections to see me do some comedy. If you wanna see me freestyle, come to Mezzo’s Corner every Thursday, I’m there every week. Come to Orii Jam on Monday and Orii Jam South on Tuesday. If you want to see if I’m actually good at it in person, these are places you can meet me. If you wanna send me beats, you know, send me them beats, ’cause the better the beats, the more creative I can get with the music. If you want to collab, let me know, I’m trying to get into that collaboration bag. If you’re trying to make skits, let me know, you know what I’m saying?
“London doesn’t have to be on a lonesome ting, we can do this together, guys. We’re all on the same team.”
Words: Kat Friar. Kat is a freelance journalist, DJ and photographer with a passion for music. She likes to cover all bases regarding music so whether it’s a new album, a rising artist or a gig, she’ll be writing about it.