Photo | Courtesy of the Saenger
Maxwell’s “50 Intimate Nights Live Tour” comes to the Saenger Theatre Oct. 14.
Band: Maxwell with special guest Marsha Ambrosius
Date: Sunday, Oct. 14, with doors at 7 p.m.
Venue: Saenger Theatre, 6 S. Joachim St., www.mobilesaenger.com
Tickets: $26.50-$96.50 available through Ticketmaster
One of the frontrunners of the neo soul movement will be bringing a special evening of music to the Jewel on Joachim. Since his debut album, singer-songwriter Maxwell has charmed audiences with his smooth, passionate brand of R&B shaped by the soul sounds of the ‘70s.
With an eclectic combination of crowd favorites and deep tracks from his extensive catalog, Maxwell’s “50 Intimate Nights Live Tour” is crafted for his true fans, both old and new. From “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite” to “BLACKsummers’night,” his Azalea City crowd should expect the unexpected on a variety of levels.
In a recent conversation with Lagniappe’s, Maxwell spoke of all things soul as well as his new single, “The Glass House (We Never Saw It Coming)” and its companion visual.
Stephen Centanni: You were a part of the birth of neo soul. What do you think it was about that sound that resonated with people?
Maxwell: First, it was amazing company to be in, for sure. It was D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, even The Fugees, in my opinion, and, in many ways, Mary J. Blige. I was born in the ‘70s. I came up during that whole period. I see neo soul as a movement of not only hip-hop and hip-hop/soul, but I also see it continuing in the current movement that I see today, which is the Afropunk movement. I think it’s just another label within a tradition that is soul music, which is always ever-evolving. That’s how I look at it. I’m just glad to be part of the team.
Centanni: You’re right about the Afropunk movement, and it’s steadily gaining in popularity. You recently had a chance to go over to France and be a part of Afropunk Paris. What was that like?
Maxwell: It was crazy for many reasons. The World Cup was that day. Paris had won the World Cup. It was awesome being in front of, funny enough, the youngest audience that I had ever been in front of in a long time, probably even in my entire career. In the beginning of my career, most of the audience members were people who loved music from the ‘70s; they ranged from 20s to 30s to 40s. To go to Paris and to see kids in their early 20s decked out in all this amazing African/Afropunk-type style and knowing the music that I had done, like, 25 years ago, it was very exciting to me.
I’m always a little bit ahead of what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s not that I’m ahead of my time. I’m just a little bit early to the party with my thoughts. Some people realize that something can be commercially successful. It’s a comparative industry sometimes where you compare what was the last big record and who produced it.
When I came into the scene, I was working with people who weren’t necessarily a part of R&B culture. Stuart Matthewman was because of Sade (Adu). My boy Hod David, who I wrote “Pretty Wings” with and “Lifetime,” we were just new guys out here. It’s nice and just amazing to know that years later I can still do those songs, and it can mean something to not only the people who grew up with it but also the people who were raised by it or probably born to it. Who knows?
Centanni: There have been a lot of musical genres that have evolved both instrumentally and vocally. The vocal aspect of soul and R&B have basically stayed the same since the beginning. It’s always been this smooth mix of jazz, blues and emotion. Why do you think the vocal aspect of soul has gone unchanged for so long?
Maxwell: I think it speaks to the core of people’s emotions. We’re in a world where we’ve been moved to be disconnected and detached from each other, especially in this new digital age. You don’t have to see anybody to see what’s going on. You don’t have to speak to someone to communicate to them. I think that music, or hopefully the music that I’m a part of, opens people up in terms of their feelings and being able to be vulnerable, which is very key in this music.
The great thing about hip-hop is that it’s the antithesis of it. It’s about strength and bravado and confidence and “you can make it” and “fight the power.” It’s all those things that rally people to get excited about their confidence. I think R&B and soul and neo soul have a way of saying to the listener that it’s okay to feel sad. It’s okay to feel scared. It’s okay to be in love. It’s okay to have your heart broken. Here’s a song to take you through the process.
Centanni: Your latest single “The Glass House (We Never Saw It Coming)” seems a very personal one. What was it like rolling through all those emotions and memories to create that one?
Maxwell: It was inspired primarily by Mr. Harry Belafonte. I had the pleasure of playing his Many Rivers to Cross Festival two years ago. I had met with him before the second part of the trilogy (“BLACKsummers’night”) was released. “Lake by the Ocean” was just about to be released. He’s been an idol of mine for as long as I can remember. He’s been the blueprint for me in terms of style, grace, voice and the way he cares about people and humanity and the marginalized/disenfranchised people of the world. He’s always been that person.
I was called upon by him to take part in a project he was trying to do; that project got delayed but the song was done and the visual was done with [Gerald] Bush and [Christopher] Renz. If it were not for him and Gina Belafonte, I wouldn’t have known them. They connected me to these two amazing directors, who have done Kill Jay Z and “Love Lies” with Khalid. They’re pretty badass.
We flew out in December, and we shot this video with Yomi Abiola, who is like a Ted Talks specialist and a beautiful woman. She was very pregnant in that video, and she had her kids about five or six months after we shot. Now, I’m working with them again on this new song that’s just about to hit radio. I think some people are playing it now, because we’re performing it live. It’s called “Shame.”
We just wrapped a shoot with them, which was about two weeks ago. We had to keep it so under wraps. In this game with the internet and social media, everything is known before it’s done. It’s a very interesting time. I’m excited about the future, and I’m happy that I got a chance to do that song. Hopefully, the topic with resonate with people and [help them] understand all the differences that we share cannot compare to the loss of the planet that we live on.
Centanni: Tell me about the “50 Intimate Nights Tour” and what we can expect from the show.
Maxwell: You know, I gotta be real with you. I’ve been touring for about 24 years of my life. I’ve done all the songs that have been expected of me. I’ve sung “This Woman’s Work” 50,000 times. I’ve done “Something Something” even more than that. This tour is about getting together with people and giving them what they want but experimenting and having fun. Every night, the set has not been the same. There’s been a new song, or we try something else out. I just want to meet the people who made me become what I am now. I wanna have fun with them just like I did when I was 23 years old and just had four songs and had to figure out what kind of covers what I would do.
Now that there’s enough music to go for three or four hours, I have to be more selective and choose to go with a feeling more than a formula. It can be exciting for some and not for others. They wanna hear “that song.” I can assure the people that will be coming, that we’re definitely gonna play what they want to hear, but we’re also gonna play what I hope they wish they would’ve heard or what could’ve been a single in the times that it did come out.
I’ll be back around again with a bigger tour. There’s a new album coming, and there will be a more curated show for the masses.