If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then by this point R&B fans adore Maxwell.
The singer-songwriter, who entered mainstream consciousness in 1996 with the album “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite,” stayed out of the spotlight for most of the millennium’s first decade, with an eight-year gap between 2001’s “Now” and “BLACKsummers’night” in 2009. Then, another seven years passed before fans got the second in what Maxwell’s described as a trilogy; “blackSUMMERS’night” saw daylight in July of this year. Now, he’s getting closer than ever to his audience, going on a co-headlining tour with another R&B legend, Mary J. Blige.
amNewYork caught up with the Brooklyn native to talk about his upcoming tour, soul music and why (WHY?!?) it takes so long between Maxwell albums.
One of the qualities your career has been marked by, especially over the last 15 or so years —
—is how I frequently I release records?
It’s like, people are so over me! I mean, it’s just so many records!
So many newer artists are constantly releasing new songs online, or putting out new videos, and you seem to take time to live between records. How important a choice has that been for you?
It’s really not a choice — you’re ready when you’re ready. ... You have to maintain the quality of what you’ve done before. I can’t just put anything out, because you’ve got to live up to what you’ve already done. And you can’t do the same thing, because it’s like you’re insulting people’s intelligence by trying to carbon copy something you’ve done before. It’s difficult to go through life, and then come up with a sense of what you were in the beginning, but then evolve beyond. It becomes hard to judge at times, and there’s great anxiety that comes with that. It’s like trying to name a child — you only get one chance, so you better like this name. I’m just grateful that a lot of people have been patient and waited.
This tour pairs you with another artist that’s carved out a 20-plus-year career in R&B, and fans still want to hear those ’90s tracks from each of you. Why does soul music age so well?
If you listen to the Gap Band, it still tears the party up. If you listen to Maze, old Michael Jackson records, there’s just something about real instruments, and a voice shining through as its own thing. The basics, they really work.
The vulnerability of your work seems to cross generational divides, too.
A lot of times when those things happen, when it gets so honest, it’s just a one-take thing. It’s like something I’m blurting out in real time. And then I listen back and go, “Man, maybe I should change this. I sound like a punk.” But there’s a part of me that says, no, you can’t. The older you get, the more truthful you have to be. The more you realize that the mistakes are just as important as perfection. ... Those are the things that are like God. “Lost” was one take. “Hostage” was one take — kind of. A lot of them kind of just happened. And then it just takes me so long to decide what to put on the damn record.