“It’s f*ckin’ life’s work figuring out who you are… I mean I’ll probably figure it out again in 2 months.”
Ludwig says this to me not as a piece of advice, but instead as a bit of a reassurance to himself. He had just finished explaining the inspirations behind his newly released songs “Assembly Line” and “All My Nightmares” when the thought came to him.
Maxim Ludwig is a 27-year-old singer-songwriter, and after a litany of other bands and half a lifetime of trying to navigate the music industry, he has seemingly reinvented himself and emerged once again as a solo artist. Last month, Ludwig put out two songs with accompanying videos. These brand new singles are both excellent blends of rock, jazz, and soul that functioned as a superb introduction for me to an artist who is equally as talented on-stage as he is off.
Last week Ludwig and I chatted on the phone where I was able to to get the full story of his musical career.
Indie Current: So where are you from?
Maxim Ludwig: Well, I was born in New York, but my folks moved out here to Los Angeles, where I am right now, when I was about 5. So I grew up in LA but also in this town in Germany, my dad’s a German guy.
IC: So in terms of music scene between LA and Germany, what’s a big difference there?
ML: I mean I have no idea to be honest because this town is so tiny, it’s like 5,000 people, and it’s right in the middle of Germany, so I didn’t really have too much of an exposure. Also, y’know, I would go to Hamburg and places like that, but I was never really immersed in any kind of musical community… except that when I was like, 8, I was a… I was really amazing at harmonica [laughs].
LA’s a very small community when it comes to musicians around my age. I’m 27, and we all just kind of grew up playing these sort of shows, and as you get older you kind of get sick of playing the Roxy ‘cause you start realizing it’s pay-for-play but you don’t think about that at the time, you’re like, “Oh I’m selling tickets!” But you’re not making anything. ‘Cause I never cared about that side, I’m a really bad business guy, like I’m really sh*tty at it [laughs], and all I wanted to do was just be like, on stage f*ckin’ playing music for people, and shaking my butt and acting like an idiot and having a great time.
IC: So when did everything really start in LA?
ML: I started playing guitar when I was about 11, but never really wanted to be a guitar player, I just kinda used it, like my heroes growing up when I was getting into music. I liked the darker side of stuff, like Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop. I was exposed to that kind of more sinister side, I guess, at an early age, and I just, the three chord thing really appealed to me. So I started picking up the guitar more as a tool to write songs, ’cause I kind of, y’know, I wanted to, I wanted to be like Lou Reed when I was like 11, 12.
I wanted to be that kind of songwriter, so I just used it as a tool, started a couple bands with my friends, and we would just play around town. I just wanted to play music live, I always just wanted to be, like… the frontman.
IC: What came next?
ML: I went to Bard in upstate New York, and it was really f*cking great. And I was writing these songs and I was super into The Band, y’know, Neil Young, that kind of thing. That was right before the sort of Americana roots-rock thing had its explosion, I feel like… I always feel like there’s something in the air where all these people start getting into the same sh*t at the same time. But I was going to college, living in upstate New York and writing these songs and put together a band and decided I was going to make an album and I quit school because I wanted to finish the album.
That was in, uh…. 2008? 2009? And it’s… that’s the year the financial crisis happened, really everything, all your rock and roll dreams kinda go to sh*t, and you have to figure out like, what the f*ck am I gonna do?
IC: So you put out the album. How do you feel about that record nowadays?
ML: It’s good, the way I look at it is it’s a very ambitious… I hear a very ambitious 18 year-old who’s never made a record, who’s producing it himself, who’s really just, just trying to make the music and trying to find his own voice.
IC: What happened after the album was released?
ML: I put out the album, and I’m like… I’m proud of the album, but y’know, I was a very headstrong guy when I was young, I probably still am [laughs], all through my high school and college I had done everything my way, and I had gotten to a certain point where the LA Times was writing about me. And I’m getting all these really hyperbolic quotations that are coming out about me, hyperbolic articles. One of them was called “Someone Sign Maxim Ludwig by the End of the Day Please.” And you’re 18 and you’re just like, oh my God, so this is how it is, I’m gonna be a rockstar in a year.
ML: Was this crazy for you, this explosion of success?
IC: Well it wasn’t an explosion of success, it was an explosion of critical success and buzz, that’s all it was. It was not success. Like nobody was making money, the band kept on falling apart because everybody thought that, y’know, as soon as somebody writes an article like that about you and starts calling you this and starts calling you that, bands start to get scared and freak out and self-implode.
IC: Looking back, did this publicity do more harm than good?
ML: Um… yeah, it did a little more harm than good, because I ended up doing some… I lost control of what my sound was because I started thinking, okay, I’m at this place now where people really care, time to get the manager time to get the agent, and they’ve been in the music business much longer than me, y’know I’m a newbie, they’ve been there for 30 years. I kind of, I gave up too much control.
“I’m a Springsteen fan, so I was like really upset because I was like ‘Oh my God, I’m not Springsteen, I’m one of the characters in his songs.'”
IC: So what happened next?
ML: It wasn’t like, I wasn’t… feeling fulfilled as an artist, and that made no sense to me anymore as to why should I even do this. And then the band fell apart and I ended up working in this warehouse in downtown LA. I kinda quit music, I played guitar for a couple like local bands, just to make some bread but… yeah, I worked as a foreman and supply chain manager for a boxset company, the most depressing job on Earth because like, you have to put… I’m one of those guys that had to put liner notes in CDs. Like that’s not a machine that does that.
Yeah, and I’m like, I’m seeing this, I’m seeing my friend’s bands, I’m doing this… all of a sudden we get an order for a friend’s band, and I’m just like “Jesus Christ if they could see me now.” So I was y’know, super depressed, and working in this assembly line, and I learned how, I’m a Springsteen fan, so I was like really upset because I was like “Oh my God, I’m not Springsteen, I’m one of the characters in his songs.”
IC: Was that the lowest for you, you think, working on that assembly line?
ML: Uh… that was, that was the lowest. The lowest day y’know, was, I was cheating myself, I was telling myself I was still working in the record business because I was working on these boxsets, right, lying to myself. And they uh, and then one day this truck comes in and I tell my boss I’m going back to the truck to start unloading everything, it was very On the Waterfront, it was, it sounds like a joke, like this… I felt like such a could’ve-been-a-contender joke. But I get in the back of this f*cking truck, like I was using, I had bought an Econoline 350 van for my band, like with the little money I had, and now I was using it at this boxset factory to deliver boxsets to recording studios and artists and stuff. But I get onto the back of this truck, and it’s an order, and I’m like, “Hey, I uh, I think you got the wrong truck, they’re all women’s shoes,” like boxes of women’s shoes. And my boss comes out and he’s like, “No, we’re actually gonna start doing women’s shoes too,” and that… I had to quit. I was just like, “I can’t do this.”
Then I got a call from an old high school buddy who’s a songwriter, his name’s Robert Frances, and he, y’know, was like, “Hey man, I’m leaving on this European tour.” I hadn’t talked to him in years, “I’m leaving on this European tour for like a month and a half, and then a US tour for a month and a half and then another US tour to promote this new album and we don’t have a guitar player and a keyboardist, would you like to be the guitarist and keyboardist?” And I was like, “Sure, if I can open.”
The European tour and a re-introduction to music was the beginning of the long trek that has culminated with the release of Ludwig’s newest songs. These stellar tracks are shining examples of a fully developed and realized artist who has seemingly been through it all. Ludwig is comfortable with himself now and the confidence of his new music reflects this.
In terms of what’s next, Ludwig is reluctant to give me many details. He can’t give me an estimation on when we might hear a new album, but he ensures me that one is in the works and that there will likely be new music and videos in the coming months.
The one thing we can be sure of is that music is once again the most important thing in Ludwig’s life. Writing music and playing live matter above all else to him. When I asked him when he would stop playing music he left me with this:
“I’ll always want to play live as long as my knees don’t give out… yeah, y’know, actually f*ck that. I’ll sit in a chair.”