T Max is a musician, a graphic designer, an editor and a publisher and so much more. He’s one of the most vocal proselytizers of the New England music scene who has ever lived. Yes, he’s a force of nature. Musicians and music fans alike should be thankful that he spends every waking hour either making music or telling the world about the music that he’s discovered or rediscovered.
Here’s a video of T Max singing his song “Shake.”
T Max, Chelsea Berry, Willie Alexander, and Andy Pratt will be performing at the me&thee in Marblehead on Friday, December 13.
You’ve been an integral part of the Boston and New England music scene for how long now?
I came to Boston (from New York via Martha’s Vineyard) and started performing there in 1980 in a new wave rock band called Art Yard. In different outfits I’ve played the Hatch Memorial Shell, the Boston Common, the Paradise, the Middle East and almost every other club in the Boston area. I’ve been playing publicly since 1965—starting out as an underage teenager (thanks to my brother’s ID) in the bars of Long Island.
What inspired you to start publishing The Noise? Tell us a bit about the magazine, where it’s distributed, what kind of reactions you get to it and so and so forth!
Ahh—The Noise started in 1981. I saw an opportunity to help publicize all the great musicians I met. There were way too many talented musicians for the mainstream newspapers and magazines to cover. For 28 years The Noise focused on Boston’s underground rock scene–and then it graduated to all kinds of music in New England. Distribution is heavy in the Greater Boston Area and the North Shore—we also hit Providence RI, Portsmouth NH, Portland ME, the South Shore, Cape Cod, the Lowell area, and Western Mass. Many musicians grew up with The Noise in Boston, getting their first media exposure, and then moved out of town. The most common message I get from people who moved to other parts of the country is… there is absolutely nothing like The Noise here. Since we’ve spread out our distribution, I’m constantly running into old readers who are excited to re-find The Noise in their neighborhood. In general musicians are grateful for the coverage they get in The Noise—we review more musicians than any magazine in New England and we’ve also been around the longest.
I’m fascinated by your passion for rock opera. Can you tell us a bit about the productions that you have been involved with?
When I was young my dad used to sing like Mario Lanza and I would mimic him. He was just glad to hear me sing with that operatic voice, and told me I should combine opera and rock. I don’t think that’s what I was consciously doing years later when a lightbulb went off in my head to organize the best Boston musicians I knew to do a live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar. Boston Rock Opera’s shows sold out all the time. We did many other rock operas, including the Kinks’ Preservation, the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Who’s A Quick One, Harry Nilsson’s The Point and Tim Robert’s Crackpot Notion. After Boston Rock Opera, I led Sgt. Maxwell’s Peace Chorus (me with a cellist, drummer, and a backing choir) on a peaceful mission performing my own Why Do We Go to War? Then went on to write and perform Shake, a musical Earth tale with narration (like The Point). It was fun to create musical pieces that were larger than a song, but I’ve gotten that out of my system now and aim at just entertaining an audience. I like adding my own life stories to my shows, because I always find it interesting to learn more about a musician than just hear his or her music.
And you’ve written your own rock opera called Why Do We Go to War? I’d love to hear more about that. I’m assuming you’re a pacifist and the music reflects that…
Yes, I am a pacifist—and Why Do We Go to War? reflected my basic feelings about war. The bottom line, though too simple for most people, is Thou Shalt Not Kill. Besides performing the show with Sgt Maxwell’s Peace Chorus, I also designed it as a one-man folk rock opera and performed it solo all over New England. It involved singing, playing, and also doing narration and acting. I’d actually go through the physical movements of a soldier non-intentionally killing a young boy he knew when his officer ordered him to fire on people running from the triggering of an improvised explosive device. The story is heavy with the hardships that relationships go through when they are affected by war. I think I was asking my audience to take in maybe too much of that heaviness, and that’s why I’ve moved on to a more audience-friendly show.
Thinkin’ Up a Dream is your latest solo album. It is true that you had a creative outburst upon your move to Gloucester and that’s how the album came about?
I regularly have creative outbursts. Over the years I’ve been a graphic artist, and artist in wood, and a serious chess player (yes, I consider that a creative outlet). But with the art of music there is a double-fold level of excitement: 1) there’s nothing like going into a studio and creating your own music—I’m currently mixing in the sound of geese at the Topsfield Fair (they are amazing at keeping time, and they work cheap). And 2) getting up in front of an audience and showing them who I am—the live element allows anything to possibly happen. Thinkin’ Up a Dream is definitely my best recorded work to date. It’s serious. It’s funny. It has something old, something new, and something blue. Seriously.
What’s unique about the Cape Ann music scene? How would you best describe it?
The geographic placement of Cape Ann has forced the scene to be pretty insular. That said, the talent is amazing and wide ranging. This show—Cape Ann Invades Marblehead—is the tip of the iceberg, and offers a glimpse at the range of musical form. Chelsea Berry is an unbelievable powerhouse of a voice in a young body that reeks with maturity beyond her years. Willie “Loco” Alexander (check out who’s on the December issue of The Noise) is a super creator who is willing to change his successful musical direction and go to places where no musician has gone. Andy Pratt is a rock legend (I’m sure of this because I read it on his business card) with the biggest legit hit of all—”Avenging Annie”—you can’t take your eyes off him when he performs. And I’m the new kid on the block with a fanzine and live performance that just keeps ticking. As you, Kathy, once said about me—I’m a force of nature—and I promise I’ll remember to wear clothes for this show. As I’ve said privately and publicly, me & thee is my favorite venue. The sound of the room, the people who work there, and the audience, are far more than any artist can ask for, and I’m looking forward to returning to that lovely stage, where the word “peace” hangs high above every performer’s head.
Top photo by Louise.