Where did it all go so wrong for Max Vanderwolf? When did he lose his faith in love and goodwill? Why did he give it away so callously or casually ? And what did he trade it in for? Some songs? Some words? Some memories of a vaguely good time that will haunt him for his remaining years?
Considering the 10 stunning tracks on False Starts and Broken Promises by his band Last Man Standing it may have been a fair trade. The songs are memorable, the lyrics powerful, and it sounds like he's stumbled down a colorful if crooked path.
"I thought, if I let these themes takeover the songs, maybe they would get out of my life. I thought that by their very materialization as a song that somehow I would be redeemed. I thought that I could give these problems to you or you or you... Then I could report it all at a safe distance like someone commentating from the sidelines of hell. But it didn't happen that way."
Vanderwolf felt this darkness grow inside of him. And after several attempts at recording a new record, the New York-based songwriter gave up and slipped in and out of various forms of self-abuse. Various demo tapes circulated through the music community and they became well-known amongst the community of underground song-writers.
Robyn Hitchcock recalls, ''He was taking all the wrong stuff. Bagels with too many capers, cream-cheese with lox from the wrong side of Delancey. One morning I found him clutching
his guitar on Broome St, staring vacantly into an empty cup of chicken noodle soup:
"What's up, Max?" I enquired
"Up? Up..." muttered Max as if he'd never encountered the word up before,
and had decided to take it for a walk. "Up? Up is down and back again"
He thrust his Telecaster towards me, then thinking better of it, slung it
over his shoulder and padded down into the subway. He grimaced and was gone.
I realized I hadn't offered him one of my antacids.
Poor Max - that finely tuned stomach would be the death of him. Yet his new
album was already advertised in Bleeker Bobs. Jon Fox had been playing the
shit out of on WNYU, and hopes were high. ''
But nothing more would come of it. Vanderwolf turned his back on music production he left his hometown of New York City and moved to London in 2000 vowing to keep his head out of the trappings of imagination but it wouldn't last long.
"Its a cycle. I'm a workingman. You could say I work in a factory. I work long hours and have responsibilities beyond my capabilities but I somehow hold it together. And then, I start to feel desperate and crazy and I think: this can't be it. There's got to be something more. And the only healthy way to escape is to follow the dream, follow the music. Just write a little, just play a little, just record a little. Soon I'm 9-men strong ensemble. Personal standards must be met and the demands on ones purse and personal sacrifice must be justified with a plan for success- no matter how preposterous the plan is: Yes folks we're bringing back big band values and raw decadence and composerly electric sounds in 2007 single-handedly because I say so.... Then I go mad until I crash and have to straighten myself out again with a dose of reality."
Thrusting himself back into a world of despair and obsessed with artistic endeavour Vanderwolf finds himself in rehab. In an attempt to maintain normalcy, he joins a rehab book club where he is immediately discovered by guitarist and former-pill popper, Chris Cordoba who has himself experienced the verisimilitudes of the music business:
"His demo tapes were widely known to the few in the know that knew. They were the stuff of legend - well, sub-legend--or probably sub-sub legend. After a discussion on that weeks reading, Evelyn Waugh, I think it was, I asked him point blank: can I produce your next recording? He agreed immediately without knowing a thing about me. We dropped out of rehab that week and started on the record."
Soon the band was playing gigs to enthusiastic audiences. A regular fixture at The Lost Vagueness burlesque parties in London, the band was invited to perform at the Paradiso in Holland for the ''London Calling Festival'', support slots with the Polyphonic Spree, Mercury Rev and Circulus, a weekly residency at Madame Jojo's and festivals including V Festival, Lovebox Festival, Secret Garden Festival and Electric Picnic Festival in Dublin.
"Now I'm in deep again," says Vanderwolf. " And I'm losing my mind- everything must go. Sacrifice it all. Damn the torpedoes. March, soldier. I can almost taste victory. Or is that nerve gas?
Recorded against great odds, under great constraints and with great ambition, False Starts and Broken Promises, is the soundtrack to someone's downfall- hopefully not Vanderwolf's.