Earlier this month, Max Clarke released his newest record as Cut Worms, a sprawling double album of folk, Americana and rock that spans over an hour. Clarke shared in a press release that the thematic elements of “Nobody Lives Here Anymore” include consumerism, the American dream and the fleeting natures of both. And while written and recorded well before coronavirus took hold, the country began to grapple with institutional racism and a pivotal election loomed on the horizon, it’s eerily timely. Clarke talked to District Fray about his approach to recording this time around, what it’s like to release a record during lockdown and more.
District Fray: Congratulations on the new album. I’m sure you never imagined you’d be releasing it into an even more chaotic world than the one you started writing it in. What’s that been like?
Max Clarke: It’s been kind of strange, for sure. Myself and my manager had briefly discussed earlier in the year how a lot of people had been shelving the work they had been doing and then postponing the release indefinitely. But I just didn’t want to do that. I felt like the music and project I had just done were never going to be any more relevant than they are now, regardless of whether I can go out on tour. I just wanted to get it out.
Has the overall meaning of the record changed for you when you look at it through the lens of what’s transpired throughout 2020?
It was all written and recorded before all this happened. But I think maybe some perceptions of it changed, especially for anyone who is just coming upon [Cut Worms] and doesn’t know any of the history. They might think that it was recorded during quarantine. But I guess that just goes across the board with everything right now. [This year] has kind of changed everyone’s perception of reality.
You recorded the record rough draft-style. Can you tell me a little more about that process, or any other parts of the process that differ from your previous records?
With the first record, I had already recorded all those songs on my own as demos. When it came time to record them properly, the process of recording that album was chasing the feeling that was in my home demos, which ended up being really difficult. I was trying to recreate the moment when these were written, and you can’t really do that. This time around, I tried to preempt that problem by just not making demos, or if I did, just doing very rough things. The plan was to flesh it out in real time when we were doing the real recording.
Why did you opt to make “Nobody Lives Here Anymore” a double album?
I didn’t know if I was going to try to record two albums worth of material and then split it up into two records or what. Once we did it and finished everything, it felt like all one piece. To split it up into two things didn’t make sense.
You made illustrations that you’re sharing online to accompany each song as well, right? Why decide to lean into this visual aspect?
Incorporating the illustration stuff is something I’ve been interested in for a while. I went to art school for illustration and I’ve done that for a long time. I have always been pretty interested in comics. The idea was to make [panels] like in comics, where there’s an image with words above or below. They go together and you experience them both at the same time. You experience it like reading a comic almost.
Normally at this point on an album cycle you’d be off on a tour, sharing it in real life with everyone. How are you dealing with the fact that you can’t do that right now?
It’s kind of anticlimactic. On the release day itself, it’s sort of like a birthday. Everybody’s talking about it and there’s a big influx of press and stuff. But immediately after you’re like, “Now what?” because you can’t do anything else aside from just continue to try to keep people interested on social media. I’m still working on these illustrations to try to finish them, so hopefully people are still interested in seeing those.
What are you listening to, reading and watching right now?
It kind of depends on what mood I’m in. Sometimes, my girlfriend and I will watch “The Great British Baking Show,” because it’s light and nice and funny. I’ve been reading this book called “Underworld” by Don DeLillo. I just read a graphic novel by an old friend of mine from art school, Nick Drnaso, called “Sabrina.” He’s pretty big influence on my drawings and illustrations. His stuff is really incredible. I just listen to the same old records that I always have.
To learn more about Cut Worms, visit www.cut-worms.com. Follow @cutworms on Instagram for the latest, including Clarke’s illustrations. Listen to “Nobody Lives Here Anymore” wherever you stream your music.
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