Max Gowan Just Wants You to Feel Something
A conversation with local musician and AU student Max Gowan on graduation, people, and becoming okay with uncertainty.
by Noah Stevens
A few days before the release of his fourth full-length album, Bygones, I’m sitting in Max Gowan’s living room, talking with him and listening to his roommate, Robbie Green. Robbie is playing synth and distorting Max’s vocals from an adjacent room (more of a long, brick closet filled with instruments and amps) that Max and Robbie affectionately call “the Jam Room.”
His house is lived in. Max’s roommates are everywhere: in the kitchen, singing and making dinner, working at the dining table, which is perpetually stacked with everyone’s stuff ─ they move in and out of the den as we talk, stopping to crack jokes about Max’s album, the interview, and everything in between. It’s hard not to smile when Max talks with his roommates. When he looks at them, he takes them in. Max turns towards everyone who comes in the room, opening himself up to them. He looks into their eyes, a smile spread wide across his face, like he’s experiencing all of the joy layered in his friendships within these small interactions.
Most of the album was recorded in the Jam Room, with bits and pieces on breaks at Max’s parents’ house. He tells me music is an extremely sonic experience for him ─ “Sounds are what make me feel.” ─ and most of the record started that way. The origins of Max’s songs are often a vocalization or an acoustic guitar part that he likes, but a lot of Bygones began with drums.
“It’s my In Rainbows,” he tells me, laughing between sips of beer. Robbie laughs from the other room, coming out to share his progress on the track he’s working on and riff on Max’s Radiohead joke.
Another new element on the record is the sampling. Max tells me he took a lot of inspiration from the world around him and from field recordings he made, like the one of two older men talking on the first track of the album, “Overpass.”
“I kept coming back to this thought about the way people spend their days,” Max says of the lyrical inspirations for the album. Throughout the year he spent recording Bygones, Max had been enamored with the points of view of other people ─ he was entering his senior year of college, realizing his days were about to change.
He settles into the couch a little, rubbing his chin, explaining. “Things have been super uncertain,” he says, revealing his apprehensions about graduating. He had wondered what life was going to be like, and in turn, what life was like for the people around him ─ the people he didn’t know ─ and how they made it through their lives.
Max tells me that over the last year, he’s spent a lot of his time “becoming okay.” There’s some version of himself wrestling with insecurities on the album ─ insecurities about being good enough in his relationships, making music people want to listen to, becoming more popular ─ but at some point, he had a realization. “It was like, ‘Oh my god. People are the only thing I give a shit about,’” he says.
His becoming okay makes its way onto the album in spades. Some of the most powerful moments on Bygones think back to childhood events, trying to apply to them new meanings based on all the life Max has lived since then. On the album’s third track, “Mylena,” the speaker in the song seems to wonder about an old classmate, regretting the way they were treated, wishing to “push out all of that time with a quick flick of the wrist,” and make things right. All he can do now, though, is be thankful. Thankful for the people around him, a house full of laughter and light and music, and the seemingly endless years ahead. “There’s more to life than the first job you have out of college.”
Max’s observations about people, and ultimately his love for them and his reliance on those relationships, are the heart of Bygones. Late on the record, he sings of his good fortune: “If it should run out sometime / When it's gone, can I please come knocking?”
“I never know what people want to hear,” Max says. “I just make what moves me and hope other people feel something when they listen to it. I’ve never known what people want.”