Michael Green Interviews.... Max Trense
Originally posted on August 17th 2020 here is a Q&A with singer-songwriter Max Trense.
Max Trense is a singer, songwriter/arranger, multi-instrumentalist, producer and teacher based in Bedford. As well as his on-going originals project St.Clair, he also plays in many cover bands and performs covers as a solo acoustic performer. He is also a freelance sing-over artist and writer for radio jingles and a bespoke songwriter/arranger.
Where did it all start for you getting into music?
As everyone did, I grew up listening to whatever music was playing in the house/car by my parents or older siblings; this was mostly a mix of Country, Classical and Irish music. The first music I laid claim to as ‘my own’ was the electronic ‘dance’ music of the time (a lot big beat/rave stuff like Prodigy/Chemical Brothers and more commercial stuff like Nightcrawlers, Baby D, N-Trance etc). From this I got into Jungle and some Hip-Hop based purely on the rhythms and, because I foolishly thought I could recreate these rhythms, I convinced my dad to get me a drum kit. Who are your influences? My first foray into making actual music was with my older brother who started learning guitar (he was mostly into the Britpop/Indie stuff of the time - Oasis, Weller, OCS) and so I started playing drums along with him. We had a rule in the house where I wasn’t allowed to play drums without him playing guitar so, when I was home and he was out or at work I would instead start to try and play guitar. He had a band with some of his mates and they had started to write some songs (mostly lyrics) and, one day, instead of attending my Maths GCSE exam, I found a set of the lyrics and wrote some chords to it. When he got home, I showed him and he made me show the rest of the band and I started playing/writing with them. One of our biggest influences at the time where Counting Crows and other American bands (Matchbox 20, Goo Goo Dolls etc) and so these had a massive effect on the music/songs I eventually started writing myself. I also got into more ‘alternative’ bands from the US (Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Offspring) and the UK - I became a huge admirer of Radiohead around this time. Later on I got into Elbow and Sigur Rós and these both had a massive influence over the way I wrote music. More recently (in the last 6-10 years) I’ve been a great lover of Indie/Folk music (Lumineers, The Oh Hellos, The Lone Bellow - big fan of everything Bon Iver) and this is what mostly shines through the music of St.Clair but there are still big hints of Sigur Rós, Elbow and Counting Crows in there too. I think the best thing you can do as an artist or as a songwriter is learn to recognise, appreciate and embrace the influence of everything that has come before you; no music is created in a vacuum, it HAS to come from somewhere and the most important thing is about how you make it sound like you.
With songwriting where do you tend to get your inspiration from e.g how do you start your songs & what's your process?
As with my influences, my songwriting process has changed SO much over the years. At first I would write entire songs ‘out of the blue’ and then spend weeks (sometimes months or years) looking back on them and then slowly realising where they came from. As I became more aware of this I would sometimes shy away from a song if I thought it sounded ‘too obvious’ or was worried people would somehow know where I ‘ripped it off’ from. This made my writing process much slower and I spent many years not performing or in a band so had no real ‘reason’ to write songs - as a result a lot of my songs from this time are very disjointed and/or unfinished. This carried on into my project Fischer where I would regularly take 2+ years to ‘finish’ songs - meaning we had quite a limited repertoire.
Nowadays my process is a little more regular (it still takes just as long though) and , usually, takes the following process;
Idea - sometimes musical i.e a chord progression/riff etc and some idea of melody which I will usually ignore then, if it keeps coming back to me or I feel it’s already a good idea/resonates with me then I will record a short phone memo of it.
If it’s a lyrical idea then I will make a note of it (either on my phone or computer/Gdrive) and keep a little collection of them. When/If I start to spot a theme or pattern in these ideas then I will start to put them together as a song. You grow very aware of what will work rhythmically with meter and rhyme etc and thematically so you can more easily shape these ideas to fit a specific song idea
( Nb this way of working has led me to two minor ‘problems’ I encounter a lot and these are 1, not having a ‘good’ title for the song and 2, struggling with the second verse; as the chorus and 1st verse usually come with the initial idea, I can often spend months/years trying to come up with a second verse)
Demo - When these ideas become more like actual songs then I will produce a quick demo of it in my DAW. These can sometimes be just a guitar/piano and vocal or, more often than not, this will be where I start to get ideas for instrumentation/arrangement etc - usually these ideas snowball off of each other so by the time you’ve written/record a drum part then the bass part will come to you and you’ll want to record that and so on and so on.
Performance/Recording - depending on whether not I am rehearsing for a live band show or if I need/want to add songs to the live set, then these songs can be further developed at this stage. Alternatively, during periods where we are not performing/rehearsing (like during this covid pandemic for example) then I will record these songs in more final forms. This is another opportunity to further develop/fine tune the songs - sometimes completely adding, dropping or changing parts during the recording process.
As a live project St.Clair works a little differently to most ‘bands’; as mentioned above, I will often write/record lots of parts in the demo process however, these will not always be the parts that are then performed live or, if the song has already been recorded before we add it to the live set, then these parts can be changed then as well.
I don’t always use the same people in the live band and, when we record, I will often collaborate with different vocalists or musicians. This means that, as different players have different styles/play different parts, the live versions of songs will sound different from the recorded versions. It’s really important to embrace this and see the recorded version of your song as A version rather than THE version; songs have different meanings/feelings attached to them literally every time you play/sing them (as we are not always going to be feeling the same way we did on the day that we wrote/recorded them)
How important is it do you feel it is to listen to current music as well as music from the past?
I think, as I said before, It’s massively important to listen to as much music as you possibly can; with more modern mediums we have now this is ridiculously easy - just search for some music, click and listen.
If you can actively listen to music (actually paying attention to what each part of the music - rhythm, harmony, melody, lyrics etc - are doing) then you can start to pick these things apart and learn how to apply it to your own music.
Do you feel it is important to watch other acts perform and to watch other live music?
It’s the same thing as above; Watch as many people (from different genres) as you can (if you can’t physically go and watch them then watch videos etc).
Look at how they interact with the audience, what’s the vibe they give off? What’s the message behind their songs? How are they getting that message across?
You can learn so much just from being open to things and learning how you can apply that to your music and performance.
Finally what tips do you have for anyone starting out when it comes to songwriting & performing?
The best advice anyone can give is to just start….whatever it is you want to. If you want to be a performer then get some songs together to perform and go and find somewhere to perform. If you want to write songs then just start writing songs. If you want to produce then get some software and start producing.
Accept that your first efforts might not be that good; don’t be put off by this, keep going, and, when you’ve done something you are happy with, don’t be afraid to share it with others.
Be open to criticism but also be aware of where about that criticism is coming from (is the critic just trying to put you down or help you?)
Be open to trying new things.
Be accepting of the fact that you are a never going to truly stop learning so long as you are open to learning; no one has ever ‘finished’ music.
To find out more about Max go to:
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