Max P (High Wolf / Black Myth Zone Chant) “I wouldn’t be satisfied, as a performer, with an audience of people like me.”

The mysterious Max P has been active in the underground music scene as High Wolf since 2009. He arose as label owner of Winged Sun Records, releasing about a third of his discography there while nailing his first releaseSuper Modern Temple on tape via the infamous Krayon Recordings. From there, he landed works on Not Not Fun, Crooked Tapes, Bathetic, Stunned, Sun Ark, and Holy Mountain, and his newest LP Growing Wild hits listeners this June on LEAVING Records. Max P also rides under a different project as Black Myth Zone Chant, providing a more beat-driven (no guitar) fueled project. Under that name, he released Straight Cassette in 2011 on Laitdbac, and just this year followed it up with Mane Thecel Phares on Editions Gravats.

Max P gets deep on both of these projects in the questions and answers below, instigating thoughts from conscious readership to North and West African radio to a variety of other flights of thought only Max P’s hive-mind could buzz up.

How has the transition from winter to spring treated you?

Quite alright! I had a not-so-busy Winter, waiting for the new High Wolf and Black Myth Zone Chant LPs to come out, so I didn’t play as many shows as usual. It gave me time to get new gear and train with it, and to create the first Black Myth Zone Chant live set. I basically spent winter inside my home studio, and by the time I needed to go out there again and play some shows it was Spring already.

Do the seasons influence your music, ever?

Not so much. I am always very focused on what I want to do, so what’s going on outside can be secondary. When I’m at home, I spend lot of time in my studio, so it doesn’t matter if it rains or snows outside. I am focused “inside” of me and separate myself from the outside world. Of course, I’d rather be in the summer wearing a T-shirt and shorts, but bad weather will not affect my ability to create or motivation to get things done.

So typically it’s the gear that changes your creation and motivational process, if we’re talking “outside” your internal mindset?

With no gear, I can just clap my hands and sing (that’s already a lot). So of course, what I can use will lead me somewhere, and vice versa; I need some specific instrument if I wanna go to a specific place. Though, what I use is one thing, the way I use it is another thing. It doesn’t change my motivation to create, but it feeds the excitement providing new possibilities.

What new gear did you grip and being practicing with? Is your gear interchangeable from High Wolf to Black Myth Zone Chant?

Analog synth and drum machine, basically. Also I’m doing my first steps in the modular world and that’s a lot to learn, really, it’s like going back to college or something. I want to use it for both projects, but use it differently; use it accordingly to my vision of each entity.

How has is your first Black Myth Zone Chant set creation been different than making High Wolf sets?

Well, no guitar for one. I have this simple, but effective narrative in High Wolf live pieces where I alternate between themes and solos/improvs with the guitar. I had to do things differently, there is a lot of twisting knobs in the Black Myth Zone Chant live set, but that was taking more and more space in High Wolf set anyway. I think Black Myth Zone Chant live came right at a good time for me to experiment an electronics-only set (except for minimal vocals), when I couldn’t really do it as High Wolf because I don’t want to get rid of the guitar just yet.

The creation was somehow lead by the same purpose: creating an atmosphere. Black Myth Zone Chant’s atmosphere is different than High Wolf’s atmosphere, so their results are different, but the process (except this guitar thing) was similar.

Did you grow up in France, and what locations do you think about in terms of sound when you think back to your childhood?

Yeah I grew up in France. It’s hard to tell how accurate are my childhood memories. I remember that I was always psyched when we would catch the radio from Paris because there was those stations dedicated to “immigrants” music (North and West Africa), and I always liked it more than French pop music. Even then I was responding to music as a signal showing me that there were other worlds out there.

Was their a particular show, DJ, announcer, or musician/genre you like(d) from West/North Africa?

Not really, I wasn’t paying attention to that, it was just the music that I felt was way more satisfying than the regular French pop music we were hearing everywhere, all the time. It felt real as opposed to hit music which felt like clean, not dangerous, SAFE.

What’s your favorite touring locale?

I love to tour the U.S. because it’s always some kind of journey. Long distances, amazing variety of landscapes, cities… But it’s more difficult to get good shows in North America than in Europe, so professionally speaking, Europe is better. Being based in Europe, I play most of my shows there, so touring the states has also this “exotic” and temporary feeling that makes it very exciting. I don’t know what location has been the most responsive to my music. I wanna say Russia treated me well, Italy, France is not to be forgotten, as well. UK and U.S. have been good to me too but somehow crowds are a bit less into going crazy, I feel like.

Have you ever made an album (or most of one) while touring America or anywhere, really?

Never while touring. I did record a bit when in L.A., but it never came out. I cannot work as I want to when on the road. Not enough time, no possibility to really dive deep. I need to be home, to be comfortable, to have time. I take a lot of time creating music. I consider a lot of variables, I try lots and lots of things within a piece of music. That’s another psychological determination of mine. Hard to put an end to a work in progress.

How have people gone crazy at a High Wolf show, if the U.S. is a bit more timid than you’re used to? This sounds awesome!

I mean people dancing, screaming, getting sweaty, shirtless, losing their shit, etc. I haven’t had that in the U.S., but my sets there were probably a bit more calm. And it’s not that they’re timid in the U.S., no way, but also there are less people at a show and it’s almost strictly musicians in the audience, so they just checked out the live show in a different way, they’re here to listen, and it’s good too. It’s the way I am myself when attending shows, 90 percent of the time! I wouldn’t be satisfied, as a performer, with an audience of people like me.

Those intuitions are, for me, messages sent from my subconscious to conscious, subconscious slowly cook things, all those musics heard, all those life experiences, mix them with my deep-personality/mind-patterns/neurosis, and when it adds up, my mind sends a message.

I imagine your label lineage goes fairly deep in a network of cross-over and cyclical relationships through friends and acquaintances (Britt, Ryo, Cameron, Matthew, Phil, etc.), but I’m curious how it began…

Well, it all began with Stunned Records I think, which was run by Phil French, also a member of Magic Lantern at the time, a band that was on Not Not Fun. This was the beginning, my entrance point in this scene. Phil was also a close friend to Cameron, also in Magic Lantern.

I made a couple of things on Stunned and then started to work with Not Not Fun. Then in 2009, there has been this NNF euro tour and I played a couple of shows with them, so we met in real for the first time. Then I crossed path many times with Cameron, because Sun Araw played a lot in Europe back then, and sometimes promoters would book us both. That was stage 1.

Stage 2 was my first U.S. tour, in 2011. I stayed for a little while and spent time here and there, meeting many people from the scene, playing shows, collaborating, etc. It has been extremely important for me, I learned a lot and it made me work differently. I was amazed by how professional and good all those musicians were, and it made me want to get better. I stayed in L.A., spent time with the guys from Sun Araw (at that time Cameron, Alex Gray, and Barrett Avner) and many other great musicians. Ryo was there too, I already spent a month touring Japan in 2010 with his band Topping Bottoms, and they came to play SXSW, so we went there together in an epic drive from L.A. with the Warm Climate guys. Few days later I drove back from Austin to L.A with Matthewdavid, whom I met through Cameron (them being neighbors), and stayed at his house.

So you see, it’s all connected. And last time I’ve seen Matthew was last fall in Tokyo, and Ryo was there too. There was this night when Ryo’s band Dreampvsher played, and it was the best live show I [saw] last year, easy. This band is insane, him on modular and Mike on 707. Ryo is a very talented musician, but for some reason he never really released anything with his bands/projects. We have very different personalities him and me, and it can be a conflicted relationship somehow, but he really pushed me, saying the right things at the right time, some kind of smart criticism. All those guys have been very important to me, Britt, Cameron, Ryo etc. I owe them a lot.

Your music is active in the way that there is a lot of sounds churning at once, but in fluctuating (yet match) time signatures: is this activity something to you delve into on tour?

I see live in the same way, yes. I cannot be inactive for even half a second when performing, so I constantly change this, that, minor details sometimes, but it is constantly evolving. I think my goal is to find this middle way between evolution and repetition, and also between order and chaos. A subtle balance. Keep the groove and the hypnotism of repetition, food for your subconscious, and at the same time stimulating your consciousness with variations, breaks, scale changes, whatever.

I recently discovered I was probably slightly hyperactive, in my own way. My music helps me to figure out stuff about myself, I think you can do a psycho analysis of an artist through their art. There are a few things in my art that probably say a lot about me. The fact that I have so many layers together, that I am unable to be minimalist, that things have to change all the time (each song on the new Growing Wild is basically two or three songs in one), my obsession for details etc. My “style” was never conceptually built, it’s all post-analysis and deductions from what has been done instinctively. That’s why I believe my music has a lot to do with the unconscious, and maybe that’s why it can have some spiritual depth for variety of people.

Do you believe there is a duality of energy in LIFE that is also attributed to your music? As such, do you believe it’s natural (i.e., “If there is no good, there is no bad,” as you said “order and chaos”). More-so, do you find your music is a battle of mind vs, equipment, or self vs. self?

Man, I don’t know. I do believe in duality for sure (yin and yang, particle and antiparticle, supersymmetry… it’s everywhere). Good and bad is different because it’s moral/judgement, so in that way I follow Nietzsche, and I try to think beyond good and evil. Order and chaos have no moral judgement (although, maybe a little), but you’re right, they are human invention, chaos is just an order we don’t understand.

I don’t think my music is a battle as much as it’s an attempt to link the inside and the outside; to share my sensibility in a language that is not verbal. I don’t know why I do that really, but I KNOW there is a deep psychological NEED/NECESSITY for me to do it because I feel it with no doubt: this is what I want to do. It’s good and satisfying and rewarding that I have a few listeners, but when no one cares about what I do anymore, I won’t quit. Not because it’s a self vs. self battle, but because it’s self helping the self process.

If you’re suggesting your music is unconscious and post-analyzed, how did you come about buying the instruments you use to make it? OR, did you start out as a musician that planned out certain sounds/genres/songs, and then it evolved into something more improvisational?

I come from 100 percent improvised music. Because I was very attracted to it as a listener and I didn’t know how to do anything, so it was the best way to start. What can you do when you like challenging/authentic music and don’t play an instrument or don’t know any theory? You plug pedals with each other, you crate feedback or drone or whatever, you mess with the knobs, you try things. Then you feel, “I’d like to add percussion to this.” So you buy percussion. And you experiment with it. And then you will feel the need for something else, and something else, and so on. It’s one of those intuitions I was mentioning before.

Instrumentation is a step in the construction of a certain sound you want to build, whether you want this sound for a song, a live set, or an album. And you’re right, seeing someone or hearing someone is part of it, in like, “Wow this is exactly what I am looking for right now.” I am influenced by my fellow musicians. Of course. I don’t want to copy anyone though, for many reasons (including ego).

Maybe I’m wrong, but I hear deep raga and riddim influences throughout your time-line as High Wolf. Do you find inspiration through these mediums and/or see one has an influence more-so than the other?

Influence is very relevant to my process. I listen to a lot of different styles for my pleasure, and somehow my unconscious retains fractions of influential elements and ideas I hear, and they will come back in my music. Though, it’s never pre-determinated. To be fair I think raga might be more influential than riddims because I listen to it more. Aesthetic — same as the concept — never comes first with me. I start by improvising, searching for something, and when I find it, I can think about it and conceptualize it a bit more, or at least try to define aesthetics. That’s what happened with Growing Wild. I made a few pieces that were very African-influenced, and it seemed coherent to build the full record around this vibe.

Beyond just the process of skilled music-making, do you feel like there’s a specific internal visual processes you could describe about making your music?

It’s not a visual process, or at least not strictly visual. It has a lot to do with “Intuition” in a philosophical sense, the way Bergson or Schopenhauer talk about it. There is this instant of clear vision, breaching through illusion to see a hint of pure reality (or a breach through reality to reach pure idea if you’re transcendentalist, I think it’s just the same), it’s a completely sensitive process — sixth sense-style — that gives the fundamental note (metaphorically speaking) of the aesthetics you are looking for. To put it simply, there is this light in your mind, and you are like, “That’s it!” But it’s a sensation more than an intellectual idea, so then the hard work begins: trying to keep this intuition alive and try to convert it through your art.

There is this instant of clear vision, breaching through illusion to see a hint of pure reality (or a breach through reality to reach pure idea if you’re transcendentalist, I think it’s just the same), it’s a completely sensitive process — sixth sense-style — that gives the fundamental note (metaphorically speaking) of the aesthetics you are looking for.

There are several levels of intuition, to my experience, big intuitions for big pieces of work (intuition for an album, intuition for a new project/band), and smaller intuition, of the same nature, but of different degree, that will lead you to a breakthrough within a piece/song. And to join with what I said before, those intuitions are, for me, messages sent from my subconscious to conscious, subconscious slowly cook things, all those musics heard, all those life experiences, mix them with my deep-personality/mind-patterns/neurosis, and when it adds up, my mind sends a message.

But consciousness and subconsciousness talk different languages so you have to interpret the message. And subconscious is somehow out of time, so a flash of information can be the equivalent of a 300-page book of precise conceptual and aesthetic development information.

Who mastered Growing Wild?

Matthew mastered Growing Wild. His mastering gave it a lot clarity in terms of fidelity, obviously. Though, while making this album, I started to get new gear that sounds better. Like, a proper sound card for instance. Always neglected to buy music gear that wasn’t playful, but I felt like it was time to start to slowly, but surely, find a way to get a better sound.

I never listen to my music when it’s released — maybe I will 10 years later — but once in a while if I heard my music in a DJ set, for instance, I always felt that sound was crappy and very flat opposed to all the other records the DJ would play, so I really wanted to change that because I think it was deserving the music, and was unfair, considering the amount of effort I was putting in it.

Do you prefer to release music on vinyl, cassette, CD, or digital?

I think vinyl is my favorite, but I also have a thing with tapes. I did a lot of those and I will keep doing them. Now, I see tapes as a good format for different exercises and experimentations. I never did a digital-only release, but I am not against it, I think it can be a different way to do things, with the advantage to be immediately out there. I will probably try it sometime soon. Generally, format has an influence on the music. Some people say they don’t care which format, but I know if I make a vinyl or a tape or a CD, it won’t be the same music. It’s part of the identity of the release.

So listeners can expect more Freedom or Death-type releases on tape than say Know Thy Self?

Definitely, but not only. Improvisation edits like Freedom or Death, definitely. But also more conceptual stuff — kinda style exercises — like I want to make a beat-only (drum machine and percussion) tape, or digital. And same for Black Myth Zone Chant. But if it comes out it has to be good enough. It’s not like, “It’s a tape, who cares?”

I think my goal is to find this middle way between evolution and repetition, and also between order and chaos. A subtle balance. Keep the groove and the hypnotism of repetition, food for your subconscious, and at the same time stimulating your consciousness with variations, breaks, scale changes, whatever.

Say a label contacts you about releasing something of yours ONLY on LP, does this notion stir more within your conscious musical mind-set while bringing forth the light of your subconscious?

Well, labels usually get in touch with a specific format in mind, for sure. But it’s not a big issue because you are currently working on something, or about to, with an idea in your mind.

I remember reading something about this constant presence of a third party in your mind in the creation process. It was about writing and how you have this reader constantly there when you write, something like that. Well there are some conscious “pollutions” when you create. And labels can be one of those; you can be influenced going one way or another just by the mental presence of this label. That’s why I prefer to send a finished thing, the way it was with Growing Wild through Leaving Recordings. I think this “reader presence” — that you feel when you create a live piece for instance — is some kind of desperate try to judge your output as if you were someone else. It can be something else than “art corruption,” decision you’d do to please someone or to succeed.

If you could obtain a “target audience,” specifically an audience that could practically never obtain your music — in your wildest imagination — who would it be and WHY?

Hmmmm…Well obviously African music is very influential on my work of the past couple of years, but somehow I would be kind of intimidated to perform in Africa. It’s a matter of self-confidence, but I feel like I’m not good enough, BECAUSE African musicians are so good at what they do. But if I get rid of this mental obstacle, I’d say I’d love to perform with Dogon Masks dancers in Mali, even though it’s not my primary musical influence in this country, it is a longtime fascination regarding rituals.

Black Myth Zone Chant’s atmosphere is different than High Wolf’s atmosphere, so their results are different, but the process (except this guitar thing) was similar.

Can you best describe your thought process in switching between High Wolf and Black Myth Zone Chant?

Both entities are living and evolving, so the frontier between them is constantly fluctuating. It’s also based on intuition: some things are High Wolf and others are Black Myth Zone Chant. I just know it. It’s clear to me. It’s not the same vibe, not the same problematics. But High Wolf from five years ago is probably as different from High Wolf now than Black Myth Zone Chant is different from High Wolf today. I’m not interested in getting stuck with any project. When I feel that is the case, I leave the project behind, temporarily or definitely.

I’m excited about getting new information, learning, reading new authors, discovering new bands, it’s a very strong aspect of my self, therefore I want my projects to try new things as well. It’s some kind of silver lining; a never-ending quest. I’m a full time musician, meaning I don’t have another job, and I am still excited and motivated to make music in an almost daily basis, and it’s only with new perspectives, new challenges, new ideas, that I can keep this “fire” alive to keep creating. I hope this feeling will last for a long, long time.

Would you say the general LIVE difference between both projects is one is more performance than the other is a presentation?

They’re not so different in the process. The music is different, but the live exercise is seen in the same way. It’s in both cases a matter of balancing many parameters . It has to be faithful to the project aesthetics, but also be new and surprising. I only play new and unreleased music; all my sets are entirely created for live performances. I create live music especially for a live performance and if it has to be released later on a record, then it’d be in a different way.

Because the context is different, Black Myth Zone Chant live is still very new (started to do it in April), so maybe later the method will differ. But I think a solo live performance based on a multi-layered (loops, sequences) and multi-sources (beats, synth, effects etc.) instrumentation determines a method just by this configuration. If I had a solo trumpet project, then I guess it would be different than what I have done so far. Black Myth Zone Chant and High Wolf share the same methodology.

Do you see Black Myth Zone Chant becoming a frequently released project like High Wolf?

I think so. At least for a while. As long as I will feel I have things to say with that flag. There was one Black Myth Zone Chant tape in 2011, then nothing for four years, but already 2015 has seen a LP and a mixtape (on CD). There will probably be an EP and another LP for sure within the next 12-to-18 months. And we’ll see where it goes from there. Touring with this project is definitely a strong commitment that puts it as a top priority project for me, getting equal to High Wolf probably.

Are you planning on tour as either or both through the U.S. any time soon?

I have the desire, but no solid plan yet. We talked about touring the states as High Wolf supporting the Leaving LP. As said, touring the U.S. is extremely difficult financially, so now, as I did the last two times I’ve been there, I have to wait for a good opportunity (a festival invitation) that pays for the flight and then I can build a tour around it. Simple as that. So if someone invites High Wolf over, there’ll be a High Wolf tour, and if someone invites Black Myth Zone Chant there’ll be a Black Myth Zone Chant tour. And that goes for any other destination in the world.

Have you considered going beyond the musical appearance of your work and incorporating a visual or scented or touch sensation?

Actually, I do use visuals for most of my live performances, but it’s far from being as developed as I would like them to be. I don’t have the skills (nor the time) to do it myself and High Wolf/Black Myth Zone Chant are too small projects to pay someone to do it. I recently saw Le Révélateur in a festival I played as well, and there was live visuals that were absolutely amazing/mind-blowing. I would like to have that kind of possibility.

As for other senses, I have to say I have no clue. Another dimension I would like to develop is writing; I’d like to write something that would be integrated into some records. I have the desire, but never took the time to even try to do it. For instance, I’d like to include some kind of obscure/metaphysical prose poetry for Black Myth Zone Chant in the future.

Considering your newest album is on Leaving Records, do you feel like this may be a new home for the project or do you plan on continuing to jump around labels as a vagabond musician?

I have no idea, we actually never discussed it with the label. We will see what happens, I’m good with both options. What I can say is that Leaving Records has treated me very well so far, and Matthew has been very supportive (like really supportive), inspiring his confidence in my music, and sending very positive energy all through the process of making that record.

There are so many labels out there that I’m very appreciative to be on with other musicians, because it’s important that your music gets a chance, it shows that at least people know it exists and others can listen to it, so they can decide if they like it or not. Great bands miss many potential listeners just because the information doesn’t go through the wall. It really is a tough “competition” out there and I feel lucky that I have listeners.

When can listeners expect a Winged Sun return?

That’s a good question. It’s not really on my agenda. I still have some brief desires sometimes to make a tape batch, but I know it’s a lot of work for me: doing the music and the artwork, printing sleeves, duplicating tapes, selling online, sending packages. I know that I might get sloppy. It’s always tempting to do a million things at the time, but what I learned with experience is that sometimes it’s better to do your best with five things than doing 10 things in a bit of a rush. Now, I have two “very active” projects, both doing live and records, and a new “band” on the way (a duo) and it’s already a lot for me.

Is this new band the next step listeners can expect from you in the near future? Or do you have a Euro tour all planned out? Or both?

Well yeah, it’s this duo with my friend Low Jack. There has been lots and lots of talking and almost NO music done so far, BUT we have our first gig planned for early September, so no choice, we’re gonna have to do something.

I’ll be touring Europe from now until August. I’ll play shows on and off as Black Myth Zone Chant (mostly May) or High Wolf (mostly summer).

[Photo: Kasper Vogelzang]

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