Max Swan | photo by Mike Ryan
The building blocks of Max Swan
A conversation with the Philly saxophonist, singer, composer, and producer about his musical journey.
Our guest this week on WXPN Local is Max Swan: a saxophonist, a singer, songwriter, and producer from Philly. You can find some of his production credits on local hip-hop artists like Kuf Knotz, Mic Stew, and Aime. He’s made a name for himself in the city for projects such as The Fisherman, Slow Jail, and his most recent project, Heaven Is… Slow Jail Live From The Church Part Two.
In our interview, we talk about the music that shaped him, from Stevie Wonder to Lalah Hathaway to James Blake. We also talk about his new two-part project, recorded live in the gorgeous setting of St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood. The intent was to capture himself and his band in an area where they thrive — performing live — and Max refers to the recording as a “spiritual event.” “So much of what happened in those recordings could not have happened if it wasn’t in that space,” he tells me.
Listen to our full conversation above, read some excerpts below, and check out a live video of “Sheesh” from Heaven Is…. For the latest on his live appearances and events, give him a follow at @maxswanmusic.
…on what it was like growing up in Bucks County.
I moved back to the area with my family when I was nine. When I was little we moved to Georgia, just outside of Atlanta, for two years, then we moved to Marlborough, Massachusetts for two years and then came back to Perkasie, because that’s where the whole family was at. I started doing music after I got over the jarring re-entering my home area. I was born in Lansdale, we came back to a little different of an area. They’re basically the same, our high schools competed in all the same sports, but once I got over that weird first interfacing it was basically time to like if you want to be in the school band, you’ve got to choose an instrument.
…on learning music at a young age.
We had this band director who was really incredible. Everybody has a different relationship with teachers, everybody’s got good stories and bad stories, but I could not have had a better foundation for music. He was the first one who basically sat at piano and gave me a scale when I was in sixth grade. He was like “use these notes, I’m gonna play some stuff,” and you can just play whatever you want to play. And that was the seminal moment, that was really the watershed moment where it’s like oh man, instead of me being decent at saxophone — because my mom had the foresight to start me taking private lessons in the beginning, which I was very fortunate for — I was like I actually think I might like this now, I might be able to run with this a little bit.
…on albums that shaped his style.
The one that always has come to mind first is Talking Book by Stevie Wonder. That was one of the first CDs I bought myself, and I listened through it on repeat for years. Constantly, constantly. Another one is Brian McNight. I was huge, huge on Brian McNight. I was in love with a girl in fourth grade, driving home from the beach with my family, headphones in, listening to “Anytime” on repeat. Like, “I’m gonna tell her how I feel this year. Just wait until fifth grade starts.”