Concert Spotlight: Interview with Maxwell

Back In The Groove At Madison Square Garden

images-uploads-gallery-maxwell_ericjohnson_05_2016_3495_10x15_2Brooklyn-born neo-soul star Maxwell returned earlier this year with “BlackSUMMERs’night” (the second in his trilogy) to critical acclaim and returns to the stage at Madison Square Garden November 10 co-headlining with Mary J. Blige for their joint King and Queen of Hearts Tour. Since his 1996 debut Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, Maxwell has racked up 12 Grammy nominations, winning twice, and has been nominated and won several honors at the BET Awards, Soul Train Music Awards, and NAACP Image Awards. Maxwell’s previous album “BLACKsummers’night” garnered the smooth crooner his first Grammys for Best R&B Album and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Pretty Wings.”

Maxwell’s popularity is due to his authenticity, lyrical honesty, and R&B artistry unlike most major acts, taking large breaks between albums to fully form his ideas and flesh out music he believes in, such as top hits like the groovy, falsetto “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder”) slow jam “Fortunate,” romantic Alicia Keys duet “Fire We Make,” and new single “Lake By The Ocean.” Maxwell, along with Mary, are sure to deliver a night of nostalgia, with hits from the past and present. Maxwell hinted at a current TV smash to describe his tour, he talked about how special New York is for him and how grateful he is to still be creating music over 20 years since gaining fame.

King and Queen of Hearts will be your first show at Madison Square Garden since tours in 2009 and 2010. What has playing this historic venue meant to you over the years and what will be different this time, having your fifth album out there for the world, touring alongside Mary J., taking your time between recordings to get your albums just right?

I go away so much that I’m just as surprised that people remember and care so much for me. I wish I could surrender to that.

I’m just grateful because whereas most artists would be over after a four or five-year hiatus my fans somehow stick around. It’s a gift that does not happen to everybody. I want the details to be perfect and I want it to be the truth. Going to Madison Square Garden is so special cause I’m from Brooklyn and it’s been one of the highlights of my career working with Mary J. Blige because she’s not only from my era – I’m a kid in a candy store right now.

What is special to you about being a musician born and raised in New York City and what do you miss the most about NYC when you are away?

There’s no city like it, coming from parents who are immigrants. New York is like many worlds on an island, it’s like everybody from the world is in New York. There’s an energy about it, you learn what you need to have to survive…that’s why I don’t want to get too comfortable as a star or a celebrity. That’s why I go away to work for it again. Hopefully it captivates people when I come back.

images-uploads-gallery-maxwell_1The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is of course filmed in NYC and you did your first televised performance on the program for the first time in seven years. Was there a lot of excitement leading up to this and is there a reason you haven’t done TV in so long?

Look, I love television. I’ve been doing this for twenty years. If you look at the cover [blackSUMMERs’night”] my hands are over my face, it’s like anti-fame but I’m very proud of the music. You just want to be different, you don’t want to use the same tactics in order to be successful. I’m not judging anyone’s game-plan, I’m just not doing any features, no Auto-Tune, though at times I may need it. Things I think about, how would I last over time? I try to do my best to keep things so they can last past the time when we made them.

You have toured with Jill Scott, Common, Alicia Keys in the past. How did you and Mary J. decide to team up and what has it been like joining forces with one of the other great soul singers of our time?

We’ve been trying to do it for a while. When we got in the room that’s when I was like, OK, I looked in her eyes during that interview and we were just talking. It was so difficult for me because I’m such a fan and I started asking her questions. I’m a fan, she loves what I do. We have a real camaraderie. She’s a national legend. It’s going to be fun to watch her every night because she’s a tough act to follow.

“Summer” was the major theme in “BlackSUMMERS’night” including lead single “Lake By the Ocean,” while the first album in the trilogy bolded “black.” Even though we will be in November, what kinds of imagery, emotion and musicality will be evoked to convey the essence of summer during this tour stop at Madison Square Garden?

We’re definitely going to go backwards. Where are you going? Without giving it away, it’s kind of like an episode of “The Night Of.”