Maxwell Plots New Album, as ‘Rigorous, Rewarding’ Intimate Nights Tour Wraps
There's only a handful of dates left on Maxwell's ambitious 50 Intimate Nights tour – and while he has enjoyed the shows a great deal, he doesn't sound all that upset about the prospect of getting off the road for a while.
"It's been great. On a music level it's been fun," he tells the Boombox in a phone interview. "But I'd be lying to you if I said that getting around to every city is easy. You arrive at six in the morning and the show is more than 12 hours later. It's a lot of work, a lot of dates squashed into two months. I didn't expect it to be so rigorous. But it's been very rewarding at the same time, seeing these incredible places, venues I haven't been to in such a long time, being able to test out a new song, play songs people have known for many years, celebrate musicianship. It's been amazing."
Of course, there's no need for concertgoers to ever wonder about getting anything less than a full effort from Maxwell. "At the end of the day this is a thing that I wanted to do, and the fact that I still get to keep doing this job, not because I have to keep the lights on, feels pretty good," he said. "It's a commitment. People have been committed to me for many years, so to show them the respect of saying hello and thanking them for the years that they've been around is pretty amazing to me."
In addition to celebrating the 20th anniversary of his expectation-defying sophomore album Embrya, getting the chance to debut "Shame" – the first single from Maxwell's planned 2019 studio album – has also helped keep things exciting and somewhat nerve-racking. "I'm always nervous before any show. It takes me a little while to remember that this is what I do sometimes. I also had these years recently where I didn't really perform, so it's almost fresh again. Those butterflies definitely kick in," he said. "But what I love is when a song is new. 'Pretty Wings' was a new song, nobody had heard it in 2008. I did a similar tour like this one, and you know ... the audience listened to it, they clapped, but who would have known a year later that same 'new' song that people were just vibing out on, became the song where if I don't do it, they'll be upset. I'm excited by that. It's nice to see songs catch on and become familiar."
Maxwell also enjoys the chance this tour is giving him to mix up the set lists and show off the improvisational capabilities of his band. "It's funny, [the set list] depends on the city. It depends on what part of the world you're performing in. Some people want to hear other things. It's very weird. You go to Africa, there's a lot of stuff off Embrya that they prefer to hear – as opposed to North America, where there's a different, specific type of thing that they want to hear. I try to give people what they want, with a little bit of what I want, too," Maxwell said. "In the middle part of the show, I try to be experimental in terms of just the band, the musicianship around me, the fact that we can come up with things off the top of our head [to show that] the band is live and the mic is actually on – that it's not rehearsed to the point where it has absolutely no spontaneity at all. That's what's so nice about these intimate nights is that we can do that. When you do an arena tour, you're pretty much locked into what you're doing. It's a lot of people and you're playing to a big, broader audience that definitely want the first seven things that are listed on your "most played" Spotify playlist. But with these shows, you get to give people the rare songs that they wish they could have heard over the years, but couldn't because we were on such a trajectory playing larger venues."
He's pleased by the early commercial success of "Shame," but says he's learned to keep such accomplishments in perspective. "They told me a few days ago, it's the 14th top 10 R&B song I've ever had or something. I don't really know that," Maxwell said. "I don't look at numbers. I always felt that to hang your self-worth on a chart was strange. Awards, as well. I mean I'm grateful for the ones I've received, for sure, but it's not what I get up in the morning for. I'm not looking for No. 1 records. I'm just looking to make good records. But it's nice to see the reaction. People know it now; people call for it. I get to feel brand new again."
Watch Maxwell Perform 'Shame'
If all goes according to plan, 2019 will also be the year that Maxwell concludes his decade-long studio trilogy project, which began with 2009's BLACKsummers'night and continued with 2016's blackSUMMERS'night. "That is the hope, yes, that is what I want to do. We do have the songs – we have a lot of songs – and I'm excited, I'm scared, all those things all at once. For me with this particular album, it's about celebrating all the different eras that I've done in music," Maxwell said. "So, each song touches on a little bit of every past album a bit sonically, but of course they are all new songs. So, it's challenging but very rewarding at the same time. Because it's not just painting by numbers. You really have to think: The words have to be meaningful. They have to be be specific, but also vague so people can take their own meanings from them. At the end of the day, as much as I may like the album, it's always going to be about what people make it become. I hope they make it something special."
But first, there's just a little bit more roadwork to do. "Everything up to getting onto the stage is ... not the best, but when you do get to the stage it's just like, 'People are here. Wow. OK. They showed up!'" Maxwell said. "You have a great time, and an hour and a half just flies by out of nowhere. I hope people like what we do. I never take it for granted."
Maxwell 2018 Tour Dates - Tickets Available at musze.com
12/05 - Boston, MA @ Orpheum Theatre
12/07 - Wallingford, CT @ Toyota Oakdale Theatre
12/08 - Upper Darby, PA @ Tower Theater
12/09 - New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre