Maxeen: Info

Listening to Maxeen is akin to a shuffling through someone's really killer record collection. One tune conjures skinny-tie power-pop. Another tips its hat to the mod sensibilities of the Jam. Still another brings to mind the ragged chords and livewire yelps of early Police albums, or utilizes the ominous reggae-punk grooves first perfected by the Clash. Even hints of a gothic underbelly and new wave's pop skiffling appear.But don't think that the Long Beach trio - vocalist/bassist/keyboardist Tom Bailey, guitarist Shannon McMurray and drummer Jay Skowronek - is having an identity crisis. On the contrary, Maxeen ties together (and transcends) its numerous influences with two main weapons: an ability to craft distinctive, infectious hooks and limb-loosening beats that careen like a game of pinball.Such eclectic tastes prevailed again in early 2006, when it convened at Sunset Sound studios in Hollywood to create its yet-to-be-titled Warner Brothers debut. Drummer Skowronek dug the post-punk of the Futureheads and drew rhythmic inspiration from Adam & the Ants albums during recording, while Bailey revisited the jazz of Dave Brubeck, Steve Reich's minimalist compositions and even the ivory-tickling "Charlie Brown" theme.Helping the band assimilate these disparate influences was veteran producer Neal Avron (Yellowcard, Fall Out Boy), whose meticulous attention to detail aligned well with Maxeen's own self-imposed perfectionism."He didn't let us settle at all," Skowronek says. "He really forced us to pick apart our songs and put them back together again like a puzzle, to see what fits."But while Bailey says that there's "definitely more piano-based music" on the album, he also asserts that Avron isn't messing with Maxeen's core sound."He's trying to intensify what we're doing," Bailey explains. "He's enhancing it and making sure that the best of what we do is brought to the forefront. Our first record was a little bit by the seat of our pants, and we've taken a lot more time to flesh ideas out."To this point, in fact, frantic is what Maxeen has done best. When guitarist Shannon McMurray initially brought Skowronek (a Connecticut native who attended film school in Boston) together with Bailey (who spent his adolescence playing music in Akron, Ohio) in June 2002, the three musicians dispensed with the usual first-rehearsal awkwardness."We jammed the ideas for eight of the songs on the first record," McMurray says of that night. "Jay was smart enough to see if they had some recording device at this rehearsal studio. They happened to have a little two-track tape machine, and Jay got it all down on tape. Ten months later we recorded our first record."Maxeen's self-titled debut was eventually released on well-respected indie label SideOneDummy in late 2003. Stints on the Warped and Take Action Tours, Japanese dates with Blink 182 and tireless gigs with a diverse cross-section of bands (icons X and Bad Religion, emo-twangers Limbeck, femme-punks Tsunami Bomb) helped Maxeen build a devoted fanbase.After signing with Warner Brothers in October 2004, the three finally had the chance to slow down and focus on writing tunes -- a luxury that they paradoxically found stressful."The biggest pressure we had was the amount of time we had to spend waiting to unleash ourselves into the recording studio," Skowronek says. "We knew we had to make a record that was better than our last record by tenfold. It had to be a great record. We're on a major label now.""I feel like the stakes are higher," Bailey agrees. "I want to do twenty times better than the last record. Here's a shot that you have when you work with a major label, you have the potential to become more of a mainstream figure."That's really where lyrically and writing-wise I get inspired, just by what's going on around me. So of course the fact that there was a tension and wanting things to be great, that was a sense of inspiration."Indeed, although Bailey stresses his newest songs are influenced by "just living, taking a breath for a second, looking around to see what's happening in the world," there's a dramatic sense of opposition inherent in his new song titles ("Block Out The World/Wrap The World Around You," "Two Of Us"/"Replace Us").While this theme emerged subconsciously from Bailey's brain, it's easy to apply the idea of being at a crossroads to Maxeen's current situation."When I think about this last year, I think about a lot of push and pull," Bailey says. "I think about a lot of running forward and then being scared and running backwards. These songs run anywhere from personal things to political ideas. That's kind of the way life is. We're always in this state of flux, wondering what the next step is."