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Underwriter Message

Fort Wayne native musician Max Wells discusses new album, Indiana roots

Ella Abbott
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Photo Illustration

Fort Wayne native musician Max Wells released his album Chrysalistic early this year. He took a moment to reflect on the vulnerability of the album, which follows his growth from his first album Caterpillar, and how growing up in Fort Wayne affected his music career, both positively and negatively.

Along with the album, Wells released a short film on YouTube, which will premiere at the Hobnobben short film festival in October.

You put out an album a few months ago called Chrysalistic. Tell me about that.

Max Wells: So it's actually a part two of a album that I released in 2020, called caterpillar. And it's essentially part two of what's going to be a trilogy. It wasn't a trilogy to begin with, like, Caterpillar was just its own thing. And then Chrysalistic, which is what this new one is called, literally just came, you know? It was like, at that point when I realized, wow, this is a trilogy.

It was it was such a different process than what my normal, like creation process has been. And I think it's because, you know, I became a dad in between those two projects, I had moved from LA back to Indiana, kind of taking a step back from the industry in a way like I still was making a bunch of music, but I just had a bunch of stuff I had to figure out.

It's a very high energy, almost upbeat sound.

MW: Yeah, the reason for that, honestly, is, for the longest time, I was making a lot of music, like, it was hard for me to find what I wanted to do, you know, like I was, I was inspired by hip hop. But I also was inspired by alternative music, and I really loved like indie music and acoustic music and singer-songwriter type stuff. But I didn't see myself as a singer like that. And I didn't see myself as a rapper.

So, I kind of like found this middle ground for the longest time, for the beginning of my career, it was like I was floating like, in the middle, right?

And when this came about, when this project came about, I don't know, something switched, where I was just like, I don't know, it was like, the inspiration just kind of came from how busy I felt, you know, and just like how much how much life had I had experienced, you know? The things I ended up choosing and the things me and my producer would go through, it just kind of worked out. Because that's how my mind is all the time, my mind is definitely always racing like that. I think I just really was trying to embody, like how fast paced life moves, you know, we got to take advantage of it.

It's interesting that you describe this as like that part two of Caterpillar and this next journey in your life, because that's very personal, that's very open.

MW: So there's like a whole other element to the album that actually has to be paired with the short film to be able to understand it. So I had realized that there was like this "shadow," you know, putting up air quotes, like it was like this shadow almost following me of the things I'm trying to grow from, kind of like, not disappearing, you know? And I think it's weird to say it out loud, but I feel like that was kind of like the driver. Essentially, this project is like me, entering into the chrysalis and being okay with the solitude and just like, being okay with slowing down. And I know, we're talking about being fast paced. But all of that comes with being able to like, take a moment, you know, the last song, it's Changes, which is pretty much the hook is like "breathe more and think less."

And you mentioned it, so explain that, the short film aspect.

MW: Yeah, so the short film, I did that with a local creator here, his name is Zach Vessels. He works with Top Sphere Media, is the company that we worked with. And one day, we were just talking, and we had known each other from way back, and I knew I wanted to do something visually for the project. I didn't know if I want to do a music video.

And then you know, the internet's changing a lot. So I, I mean, I said, I didn't know if I want to do a music video, I kind of had an idea. Like, I was like, I don't want to do a regular music video. Like I just had just these thoughts of like, I want to do something visual, but not just like a performance video.

And I got to thinking like, the journey of what the project was. And I was like, 'Okay, I need to, like, visualize this beyond the lyrics and beyond everything that I'm talking about.'

So we pretty much sat down one day, and we just met and talked about, essentially what the album was about, you know, kind of like how you and I are. And then we both kind of came up with some ideas of how we're going to portray that. And then we literally just set a date, we, the two of us, it was just a two man team, we went out and shot it I think one Saturday.

We essentially like, because the short film is it's it's pretty much about me, seeing that there's something following me and then it's dropping hints to me, like you know, this is "shadows" that character shadows is like following me and I keep noticing that there's something trying to - how can I say it? It's like making me like look in that direction.

To point me in either the right direction or the wrong direction, you know, and it's like, I use the term 'I look within' like that's kind of like a phrase I've been using to kind of explain the album too, because it's like, I explained how the song shadows was me breaking away from a part of myself that I feel like needed to be just broken off. That even though that's like a negative, you know, side, it still was necessary for me to be able to find the right side.

Is there anything about being a part of Fort Wayne, whether it's being from or just having lived here for so long, that has influenced your music at all? Obviously, Austin, Texas is a huge music place. That's gonna have a big influence. But is there anything about Fort Wayne especially that's had any of that influence?

MW: Coming up? I would have said no, you know, and that would have been the whole reason I left honestly. Well, not the whole reason, but a lot of it. But the more that my career went, yeah. So, Fort Wayne is really interesting, because Indiana, you know, the crossroads of America, right? Everyone knows as that, everyone knows Indiana. Most people even know Fort Wayne. But what do they know about it? They don't know anything about it.

I think, you know, like, like I said, looking back at it, it kind of made me feel a little directionless as I was really coming up because I was just kind of making music. I started recording music, and just writing stuff when I was kind of like in middle school, and then kind of started taking it a little bit more serious in high school where I would get little studio sessions and stuff. But I was not pulling from anything like, directly. It was literally just like, oh, wow, I like writing. I love music. I’m kind of good at this. Let me just keep trying it. I would find instrumentals here, I would find random friends online that would make me beats and I will just do it that way. You know, so I wasn't like pulling from anything culturally.

So for a while, I felt like that, like they really sent me back, you know, because I didn't know I didn't have anything to go back to you. I didn't have any roots almost, right? It was just like, I was just from here. And then, in a way because I don't know if this answer would suffice as the same, but it's like, it inspired me to actually go for it. And because I realized that I couldn't do things to the caliber I wanted to being from here. Not because like I couldn't, but because I didn't see it. You know, like I had nothing to reference it.

I went to the same high school as the Ready Set. He's a few years older than me. I think he may be four or five years older than me. So, I didn't know him or anything like that. But I would remember, you know, hearing the song on the radio and stuff. And people be like, 'oh, yeah, he went to our school.' And it was always a very specific thing for him not to acknowledge Fort Wayne.

And it was all because, you know, he was like a kid who was bullied. You know, where I grew up on the side of Fort Wayne I grew up in is the suburbs. So it was not like the nicest place if you were an outcast, you know, and I was one of those people who I, I've actually had this thought recently, not to go too far on a tangent, but like I saw myself as someone who was in every friend group.

But when I look back at it, I think what it was I wanted to be in every friend group, but I ended up being like a major outcast. It was just me trying to fit in everywhere. So again, now that I have a little bit more maturity and like emotional maturity, I look back at it, I'm just like, wow, I feel like that helped mold me into really becoming who I am. And like having the courage to actually put myself out there and be vulnerable and like, care about what I'm doing. For the sake of like expression, you know?

This album came out in May of this year. With this being the second part of a trilogy, where do you go from here? Where do you foresee that next album?

MW: I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because like I said, you know, I became a dad in between the two. And then I moved across the country, you know? So, like, my music creation process changed so much. You know, when I was living in LA, I was pretty much working on music all day, every single day for the past seven years. You know, like that was what I was doing.

Well, then my daughter comes, things change a little bit. It's a little bit more risky and you're able to do that when you're by yourself, you know, and then I had my daughter so I'm like, okay, I'm getting like part time jobs.

The creation process, I wasn't able to do quite as much you know, so like, once I really locked in to finish the project, I was excited because I had almost got the spark back of like doing stuff, but I also felt kind of drained in a way that I've never felt before. I told myself once I put this project out I'm gonna take an actual break creatively and mentally and I actually went I think a couple months without really recording anything at all you know and kind of just letting it simmer and then I'm actually back to making stuff right now but it's not like, I'm not necessarily making stuff for the album right now you know? It's like I kind of wait for that to come.

Ultimately, there's a goal here and it's not just to put out music. It's like this is me kind of putting out like my journey kind of on the line. I'm kind of just right now trying to keep myself in my mind right and like myself going in the right path that way it'll just come to me. So, I don't know I guess we'll have to see.

Ella Abbott is a multimedia reporter for 89.1 WBOI. She is a strong believer in the ways audio storytelling can engage an audience and create a sensory experience.