Max Bennett Kelly - Sound In The Signals Interview

Abdi Ibrahim
I recently had the opportunity to interview Max Bennett Kelly. We discussed writing and recording new EP ‘Junk Male’, exploring the sounds of the ’90s, creating a short film, and more. Check it out below. 

First, thanks for the interview.

Thanks for having me!

You released your new EP ‘Junk Male’ on June 23rd. Will you tell us more about it?

It’s a collection of songs I wrote after moving to LA for music, and realized chasing my dream was turning me into someone I didn’t like. I started dating around, partying a lot, and around that same time lost a close friend. Forgot what my initial vision was and began questioning if any of this was making me happy. 

It features your song “Superinlove (Roll Credits)”, which served as the introduction to the EP and is also the epilogue to the story you are telling throughout the EP. Can you tell us more about the writing process and the lyrical themes you explored?

A lot of my lyrics are pretty meta in the way they acknowledge that they’re a part of a song, or they talk about my “artist project” as something separate from myself. This wasn’t really intentional when I wrote them, but looking back at these lyrics it really shows a lot of disconnect between my values and my actions. Just a guy who’s really lost. This song was that guy’s attempt at a love song, but it’s all in past tense, and talks about “love” only in reference to what this relationship contributed towards his songwriting process and career movement. It sounds like a nice happy song, but it’s really not.

Can you tell us more about the recording process? What came easiest in the process and what took the longest to complete? 

I like to write music really, really quickly. Lyrics take me like an hour tops to write - anything beyond that feels forced. To me, this gut reaction is what elevates any song, which is why even poorly recorded music can often be super impactful. But for this project, I wanted to make something cohesive, so I reimagined all these quick demos I made during 2021 as being played by a live band. Then I got my friends in a studio and learned how to engineer and produce live music, which was a huge challenge to me. It was also really difficult for me to re-open Pandora’s box and try to capture the same feeling I had when I wrote these songs, since before then I never would revisit songs once the initial flurry of an idea had passed. 

You’ve said you tried to make an authentic ’90s album in the 2020s. What inspires you about the ’90s? How did you go about accomplishing this feat? 

This was a reaction to the “pop punk revival” trend that came about in 2021, and my song “Happy, Healthy, Well-Adjusted” got looped into it. I don’t necessarily hate it, but I am always reluctant to trends and I didn’t like that my music was put in this bin. Aside from the chorus of “Happy, Healthy,” the song doesn’t fit at all in that neo-pop punk world, and I felt like a lot of people got the wrong introduction to me. So I was like, fuck, if I’m gonna be in this pop punk world, I wanna do it “right.” Which meant emphasizing the parts of that genre that speak to me. 

As a kid, I loved Say Anything and Taking Back Sunday and Brand New and wanted to incorporate that side of the pop punk thing, since it felt like everyone else was rehashing the blink-182, Green Day, etc influence to death. I also loved the story of Weezer’s album “Pinkerton” and how its rawness was a reaction to the success of “The Blue Album.” 

So I just went on Wayback Machine and read all these gear forums for tips on what mics, amps, pedals, etc these bands used back in the day and just used those. The whole EP has very little plugins or samples, it’s all analog. So I ended up with this record with no reverb on the vocals and the tone knob turned down on my Boss DS-1 and I’m like, well, I did what I set out to do. But at what cost? Haha.

What do you hope listeners take away from the EP? What did you take away from the process of creating it? 

Making this EP was super insular. I (mostly) mixed, produced and wrote this whole thing by myself. At the time it was a point of pride, but it makes me sad looking back at it. I was using music as this excuse to hole up and push people away. I was kinda my own yes-man for this whole thing, I didn’t want outside feedback, I didn’t let anyone in. It was all from a place of fear. I decided I’m never doing that again - doing it myself made the whole thing painful, and probably limited how good it could have turned out. Going forward, I’ve learned to love collaborating. There are so many people so much more talented than me that elevate my music and hold me accountable and don’t let me get away with being that angsty loner version of myself. The Junk Male. 

I’ve heard that you’re releasing an accompanying short film shot entirely on 360 cam. What can you tell us about that so far and what was it like collaborating with Ella Purnell on it?

There must have been some wires crossed here. I did the “Superinlove” video all on 360 cam. The short film was done with a huge crew, 30 or so people, and some scenes had over 50 background actors in it. It’s fucking awesome. It also has nothing to do with the lyrics of the EP. In the film, my character is a boxer with a supernaturally powerful left cross. That’s about all I’ll tell you. Ella directed and co-starred in it and she’s phenomenal. It’s a gift to be able to collaborate with your partner, and she really brought this thing to life. I was floored by her dedication and attention to detail. She’s obviously an incredibly talented actress, and now I know she might even be better as a director and leader. It was so awesome working with her on this film.

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