Max Crumbs: 'I’m Still Learning To Use My Machinery'
DOUG WALLEN talks to Max Kohane (aka Max Crumbs) about learning his craft, finding inspiration on the road, collaborating and how Brain Children bandmate Mikey Young is too self-conscious to sing.
Known formerly as Crumbs, Max Crumbs is the production outlet of Melbourne’s tireless Max Kohane. Trailing a long list of former bands, Kohane still juggles genres as drummer for grindcore champs Agents of Abhorrence and his experimental duo Pivixki with Anthony Pateras, as half of the pop-damaged electronic duo Brain Children with Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s Mikey Young and as singer of the lesser-known grindcore trio Internal Rot.
Meanwhile, his debut Max Crumbs album Maidenhair on Sensory Projects develops the splintered production of his earlier Pieces & Portions EPs into something more spacious, psychedelic and swirled with sunny pop brightness. It’s still head-nodding and wavering, though, in keeping with Kohane’s association with Melbourne’s //This Thing// Collective.
You were originally planning to compile your two Pieces & Portions EPs for Sensory Projects but decided to just make a new record. Why?
I’m still learning how to do it all. I’m still learning to use my machinery the way I want to. And I’m still learning how to, I guess, make a proper record not relying on anyone else. Just myself. So I thought it would be a bit of a cop-out, in a sense. I was really happy someone wanted to release it, but I thought I could do better.
Was it partly because those EPs were already out as free downloads?
That was big part of it too. I thought it’d be a bit weird having someone be charged for a record that’s been out there for download for a year or so. [Laughs] It’d be a bit cheeky. But it was mainly about quality control: those ones are free and hopefully I could make something someone [would pay] for. Plus it’s more fun to have a goal, y’know? Get the record done and say you’ve got a record, instead of two downloadable EPs.
Did the record take a long time compared to the EPs?
Yeah, it took forever. [Laughs] [Sensory Projects owner] Steve [Phillips] was really patient with me. I thought I’d get him something finished within about a five-month period, because I’d done the EPs really quickly and I thought it was gonna be this swift thing where I’d just concentrate after coming home from tour. But it didn’t turn out like that at all. It probably took me a year-and-a-half. I was about a year or a year-and-a-half late [compared] to what I told Steve.
Why did it take so long? Did you have trouble self-editing?
Yeah, that was a bit of it. I definitely was getting overcritical and I was throwing out beats left right and centre just because it wasn’t good enough. I got a bit heady with it all, but also I was pretty busy with my other music so I wasn’t really around to just concentrate in a room with my toys.
You’re still doing Agents of Abhorrence. Is Brain Children still happening too?
Yeah, me and Mikey [Young] still make music together. It’s just one of those things that comes and goes. After we did that [Brain Children] record, we had a lot of unreleased stuff just sitting around, which is still sitting around. We hope to get a record out this year, but I think it’s more an excuse to hang out and trade sounds and play music with each other. We’re DJing more together than anything.
Yeah, Pivixki as well. That was pretty busy up until earlier this year. That was the main thing I was doing last year, during the process of making the Crumbs record. I was traveling a lot and just spending a lot of time doing that with Anthony [Pateras].
Is that what you were touring for?
Yeah. I toured with Agents last year a bit, and I did two different tours with Pivixki last year, one through Europe and one through America and Canada. Another band I was singing in, called Internal Rot, did [that] tour as well.
I was going to ask you about singing, because some of the people in Melbourne doing similar production stuff sing as well as all the production.
That band’s name is Internal Rot, so you can kind of picture what it sounds like. I guess I’m not really “singing.” [Laughs] On a few of the earlier Crumbs songs I sing. There’s no singing on the album, but I don’t know why. I’m not that comfortable with it. I sang on all the Brain Children songs on the EP, because Mikey and I couldn’t really find anyone to do it.
Mikey didn’t want to sing?
Oh, god no. He would never sing. He was singing on some of the songs, and then in the mix he would drag himself right down practically so you couldn’t hear. He’s very paranoid in that regard. Some call it “humble”, but I think he’s just paranoid. [Laughs]
I was going to ask too if the touring you did informed this record, whether thematically or just hearing from new sounds in different places.
Yeah. Being away or traveling or touring – wherever it takes you – helps a lot in the sense that whenever I’m away, the first thing I’ll do is go to a record store. Or see who’s playing and find out what’s going on. It’s a good way to find new sounds, rather than continually visiting the same spots in Melbourne. I had more time on my [recent] tours than I usually had, so I ended up going to a lot of places specifically trying to find bits and pieces for the record.
But the more tours I do, the more I realise how much I love Melbourne. So it’s all about me coming back to Melbourne: come back to my place in Carlton, sit in a room for a really long time and make a record, even though I actually didn’t have time to do that for most of that year. I felt like I was getting little bits and pieces – little treats – and bringing them back home.
When you go to record stores, are you getting things for sampling or just things that might inspire your work?
A bit of everything. I like so much music. When I’m really looking for stuff to sample, I’ve got like a little point mechanism. If I pull out a record that’s got a good cover and it’s produced in an era that I like the recording style of or something like that, I skip through it looking for three or four points that make it a great record for me to sample rather than the actual music being amazing. It could be just a snare hit or something weird. But both are pretty essential. I often find random stuff I’ve been looking for for a long time.
Speaking of record stores, I saw you play on Record Store Day at Polyester in Melbourne. Do you do many live performances as Crumbs?
No, I haven’t yet. I’ve done probably two or three now, including that one. So it’s definitely something I haven’t yet mastered and don’t know which avenues to take, as far as making that a much more impressive thing to watch. Or sound.
It sounded great, but when it’s just one person doing stuff like that…
Yeah, exactly. That’s why I was hoping people would keep shopping while I played. [Laughs] So they wouldn’t need to look and just go, “Ah, yeah.” I’ve got to work on it a lot. It also helps to have a dark room and a big sound system for that kind of thing. But it was never my goal to make it a live thing, because I do live things in other [bands]. I’ve felt in the last couple months not that I have to, but that it could be something I could play out live and show people my music a bit more. But it definitely needs a lot more work.
And you’re playing this Saturday [May 5] in Melbourne?
Yeah, I’ve got the launch. It was organised really quickly because the record just came out but I’m going on tour in a couple weeks and I just needed to do something. Friends of mine, like Galapagoose and Dylan [Michel, aka Wooshie] and Andras Fox, are all releasing records around the same time and they’re all part of that //This Thing// project. We just needed to pull something together.
You said you’re touring after the launch. Is that as Crumbs?
No, that’s Agents. An American tour. So I’ll be nicking off for a while.
“I’m still learning to use my machinery the way I want to. And I’m still learning how to, I guess, make a proper record not relying on anyone else.”
What’s your relationship with //This Thing//? How much do you hang out with those guys and compare notes?
I mean, a lot of those guys … everyone comes from a different place in that scene, and Dylan comes from a bit of a punk and hardcore background as well. I knew him through a friend of mine when he first moved over [from Perth]. He was pretty instrumental in bouncing ideas off and trying to establish something we could grow together. He introduced me to a lot of amazing artists. Most of the roster’s pretty amazing in my eyes. I guess I get to look at what they’re doing and see how I could relate it to myself, because I never really had that contact. It was always me alone, for a number of years, just with the MPC. Most of my friends don’t listen to that kind of music, or just think it’s elevator music. [Laughs] Not as immediate and great as their music. I guess that’s been instrumental for me.
I was wondering how much you see your background in heavier music come out in Crumbs. There’s a bit of ‘Choked on Yoga Mat’ that I felt was more menacing.
Um, I kind of don’t remember what that song was. [Laughs] I’d have to listen to it. I name my songs randomly and when someone relates to one, I kind of forget what songs they are. But that probably wouldn’t have been intentional. To me, this is probably the lightest thing I’ve ever done. But it doesn’t sound as good to me if it’s not raw and loud. Every time I do something, I try to at least push it in that regard. So most of the stuff is probably a bit rawer in that sense.
You mentioned song titles, and there’s some pretty funny ones on there, like ‘Booger Dam’ and ‘Nougat Marathon’. Do you take pleasure in finding these colourful names?
I guess so. It’s just a bit of fun for me, at the end of all the “umming” and “ahing” and being really serious about music. It doesn’t really matter too much, because it’s an instrumental record. I’m skeptical of overthought, processed kind of words. For ‘Nougat Marathon’, I remember being in the back of a tour van with a shitload of nougat in front of me. And I was starving. Maidenhair is probably the only one that correlates back to [something bigger], ’cause I made the record in my old house. It was basically the tiny kitchen with my studio set up next door to it. I guess I tried to get a bit of that house involved. ‘Missing LJA’ is dedicated to Liam Andrews from My Disco, who I lived with for a really long time and is an old friend of mine. I lived with him until he left the country; he’s living over in London. The rest of it was pretty much just a stupid piss-take, I guess.
But what does the word “Maidenhair” mean?
Just the actual maidenhair plant that I have hovering over me when I make music.
Oh, I didn’t realise it was a plant.
Yeah. Most of them look a bit different to each other, but they’re really sweet-looking plants. There are lush green ones that you can have indoors. They’re really nice. [Laughs] Google ‘em. They’re good.
You used to do production for Catcall. Do you still want to do things like that?
Yeah. Catcall, I heard some of the bedroom things she had been doing. And she was just a mutual friend of mine from Sydney that played in some punk bands that I played with as well. I’m always open to collaborating with people. Anyone, really. I find that if I rely upon myself too much, it gets really boring and I get stuck on things.
I wasn’t sure if it was a decision you made to focus more on your own thing.
No, I have approached a lot of people about collaborating. I’m open to it, whether it be a rapper or a singer. Brain Children started singing because I couldn’t really find anybody else. It’s definitely not a choice. Most of the solo stuff ends up being like that because no one writes back to me. [Laughs] I’m confident enough to play music in front of people and play drums and be in a band and do all that stuff, but when it comes to a studio project I’ve got to come from a different angle [where] nobody really knows me and I don’t really know those people either. Because I haven’t spent my life establishing those connections. That’s why it’s a bit fun for me like that, like a brave new world to conquer.