Max Norton is many things. He plays drums with Benjamin Booker and tours all over the world, meeting new people, seeing amazing places. He is also a photographer, his photographs are timeless. But for now, he is producing/creating his first solo album, Blood Moon. Norton is spending time off the road from touring by writing and mixing, unable to simply stop making music. He moved to Nashville a couple of years ago after recording the first album with Booker here at The Bomb Shelter studio back in August of 2014. He has been playing the drums with Booker for close to four years now. “I was immediately drawn to this city, I could definitely see it as a place to come home to after being on the road,” says Norton. Since then, Norton has been travelling internationally, looking out from some pretty big stages.
I caught up with the musician on a hot, unforgiving and humid day in East Nashville. We sat outside the Portland Brew Cafe, among the bustling little community. I love coming to east Nashville and hanging out. There is this sense of peace and balance, it’s no wonder the artist has picked this as his home. Max grew up in Tampa, Fl which is where he met up with Benjamin Booker after attending and graduating from private school there. “I feel like I grew up going to the school from Dead Poet’s Society. It was a really small class, 40 or so and they instilled in me my love for writing. They were adamant about making us write everyday about everything.” He was inspired by great singer/songwriters that his parents would have playing around the house such as Tom Waits and Neil Young. His first concert was when the artist was ten years old. “My mom took me to see Steve Earl, and I thought this is it!” His first instrument was the violin, being classically trained at an early age. He soon became bored and his mom suggested the drums, since she’s pretty sure he has A.D.D. He took right to them and hasn’t looked back. “I always listen to the drums in a song first. I feel like that is what the sound is based around, it makes the song.” Recently he’s been playing Mandolin, he says “it’s an easy transition from the drums and it’s such a beautiful instrument.”
The new album, Blood Moon has lots of influences of psych music from the 60’s, but with an Americana-folk rock feel. All nine songs are acoustic-based because that is what he had at the time, but it’s still evolving. The name “Blood Moon” comes from a trip out to Joshua Tree, which he says is his go-to place to reset himself. “Joshua Tree reminds me of Dr. Seuss Land, it’s my escape to reset and become this weird new person. It’s kind of cliché, but my girlfriend and I took a trip through the desert in a VW van, there was a blood moon out that night. It was amazing and it stayed with me. It’s also the title of the last song on the album.” The vibe of the album will stay with you too. “It’s mostly about firsthand experiences. Meeting people touring, dating, and travelling, all those experiences come through with each song in a different way. It’s hard to pen it down to one genre.” Ironically, Norton played all the instruments on the album except drums. “I was doing too many other things, I didn’t want to take away from that. I had a friend, Jacob Edwards, who also played drums with The Avett Brothers step in and there are lots of players on this album with strings and organ.” He is hoping to have everything ready to go by the end of the year, with an early release for the beginning of next year.
Blood Moon was recorded with Mindy Watts of Thirdman Records. They met after doing the live show at Thirdman with Benjamin Booker. Hanging out backstage, she was dressed up in her lab coat as they do there, and let them check out the album being cut right after their performance. “She has this older house in East Nashville with a recording studio, it was the exact vibe I wanted for this album. She’s [Mindy] a very positive and upbeat person, always saying ‘Let’s do this!’ It was a great experience.” I asked him if Benjamin Booker likes the new album, if he says anything about him putting out his own music. “He is glad that I am working. He is pretty cool about it all. He hasn’t heard the whole album yet. At the end of the day I am 100% invested with him, but when we have time off this is what I love, I love making music.”
He says that Japan and Australia were probably the most different places he has played. His favorite scene was Paris and London. “They are such old cities, so much history and everyone is there because they want to be. I could see myself living in Paris.” He would like to visit Africa and India one day and play there. One of his favorite venues here in Nashville he says hands down Fond Object. I feel like we bonded over that little admission, it really is an awesome place to check out music and the local scene here. Another place he enjoys seeing music is Marathon Music Works. “It’s such a big open area, music sounds good there. It’s fun and I like that area of town.” He mentions Tame Impala and the band Temples as being his favorite artists right now.
If he has to pick a favorite social media, he says he will go with Instagram. He likes the ability to share a photo with so many people. “Social media has become something artists almost have to do, people want to know what you are up to constantly. It’s a blessing and a curse.” He says he can’t ignore the fact that so many people have been discovered through all the different outlets.
Norton is a natural when it comes to photography. His photos really do come out timeless. He likes to photograph people more than just landscapes, it makes it more of an experience. He laughs when I ask him about growing up in a photography studio. “My mom would pick my two older brothers and me up from school, then for the rest of the day we would be at my dad’s studio… for hours. He taught me a lot, what to look for aesthetically. Looking back now, I appreciate it, I didn’t really at the time. He was always pushing us to be better at music, photography he taught us, is for fun.” He uses an Epson Rangefinder and for his panoramic stuff he uses a $1 camera he found that he absolutely loves, at a thrift shop. Some of his photos from his Joshua Tree blood moon will be on the inside cover of the new album.
I will keep you posted on a release date for Blood Moon. For now check out his first two releases off of the album on his bandcamp page. You can follow him on Instagram and like him on Facebook and check out his photography through his website.
Photos from Soundharvest 2015: Jess Sneed