Don’t Fade Out

Cut Worms’ shimmering new record journeys through time and space
By J.L. Sirisuk | Music | 15 August 2023

With his third record, self-titled album, Cut Worms‘ Max Clarke muses on time; existing between the joy of the moment and the melancholy of knowing it won’t last. How do we tether ourselves to a dream as change inevitably drags us away? Posing these questions with honesty and without any need for concrete answers results in a record that rides the waves of emotion and melody.

Ushering us into the dancehall frequencies of Clarke’s universe, a gentle sway leads us across nine tracks and a sonic terrain of sweet serenades, 60s-style harmonies, and love songs. The work is immersed in the musician’s unique concoction of pop essentialism with serenades to fragments of memory, and there is no overarching concept to frame this sonic journey as Clarke instead steers with creative instinct – allowing tracks to naturally mature and evolve into expressive vignettes.

It all stemmed from a new approach. Working with friends and collaborators Clarke varied his methods and locations: writing and recording between his shared rehearsal space, in Brooklyn with Brian and Michael D’Addorio of the Lemon Twigs and in Hudson Valley with Rick Spataro (of Florist). Below, Clarke takes us through the process behind the record, collaboration and embracing the now. 

J.L. Sirisuk: Between your previous album in 2020 and your current release, what sparked the idea for this record?
Max Clarke: I’m always kind of working on something. The last record came out during the height of the pandemic, so I didn’t tour that record at all really. The most I did last year was a three-week thing, which also got cut short by people getting Covid. In that time, I was still writing stuff. I guess the song that started the whole thing was Use Your Love! (Right Now). That was probably the first one I was working on and continued to work on for a long time. I mainly just like experimenting with recording and mixing and stuff like that. I’m not necessarily proud of how long it took, but it just went through a lot of iterations and I wasn’t in a huge hurry to finish it. I was just trying things, I guess.

JLS: It sounds like it was a very organic process. How did you decide who you wanted to bring onto this record?
MC: Noah [Bond] played on the whole last record and he plays in my touring band. The rest of my touring band, like John Andrews and Kevin Lareau who play keys and bass respectively, also played on this new record on a couple of songs that we recorded live, which is something I always wanted to do because I always tend to work just solo or overdubbing a lot of things. But as far as who I was choosing to work on things with, just friends and people that I trust and people I feel comfortable with. I think that’s the main thing. Like Rick Spataro, I worked at their studio upstate and initially went with John Andrews because he was recording up there, and I kind of went to play on John’s record a little bit and ended up doing a day of recording my own stuff too, and just really liked working up there with Rick. It was just a very easygoing experience. That’s really the main thing, people whose taste you trust, people who are also just kind of a good hang.

JLS: And how long did it take to write and record everything?
MC: It took probably the better part of a year. I mean, the writing is harder to say because some of it is just ongoing. The recording and mixing and all that, it was start and stop, but went from maybe August of last year until November or December. I was mixing along the way, but then really did the intensive final mixing at the end of December into January. 

JLS: I really enjoyed the track I’ll Never Make It. What can you can share about writing that one?
MC: That one I actually had for a long time – I want to say eight years ago. I feel like the original melody for that came to me in a dream, which never happens to me. You always hear like, Paul McCartney talk about that and you’re like, “OK, Paul. It came in a dream. Great.” But I think that one did actually originate that way. In my dream, I was at either a Lou Reed or Velvet Underground show and Lou was playing this song, but it wasn’t an actual song they had made. Once I woke up, I figured I was free to take it. It stayed unfinished for a long time. I had the structure of it, then I forgot about it for a while and remembered it when I was working on these new songs and finished it.

JLS: It has a great video too, how did that idea come about?
MC: My partner Caroline [Gohlke], she’s made a number of music videos for me now. She does writing and directing. I knew I needed another music video and kind of sprung that on her last minute and she just came up with that concept. We drove out to Staten Island and found a carnival that was going on. We showed up and asked if we could film there. They were like, “Yeah. Go for it. We don’t care.” So that was really nice because we went there two days in a row and used the place as our playground.

JLS: The album makes me think of first love or things blooming and then ending. Do you feel there’s a little bit of sadness that runs through the album?
MC: I think so. I think anything to do with time passing and just life itself is a little bit sad because it doesn’t last forever, but it’s also what makes it good, or what makes it meaningful.

JLS: In terms of the passage of time, do you feel a sense of urgency to create more work?
MC: I’m definitely conscious of it. Just like wanting to get out as much as I can, while I can. I’m also not necessarily one of these people who always has to be working. To some extent, I can only really like let myself relax for so long and then I feel like I’ve got to do something. I try to appreciate the moment that is happening rather than just rushing along to the next thing and the next thing all the time.

You always hear like, Paul McCartney talk about that and you’re like, “OK, Paul. It came in a dream. Great.” But I think that one did actually originate that way.”

JLS: When I listen to the album across the nine tracks, it reminds me of a book of short stories. Can you tell me some lyricists or novelists you enjoy reading?
MC: There’s a lot, in terms of novelists or writers I really enjoy, one of the recent ones has been Don DeLillo, and George Saunders for a long time now. I’ve been a big fan of David Foster Wallace, all of his stuff, I can pretty much always jump right into his world. I like that about him, it’s such a strong voice and nothing like my stuff per se. That’s what I really like in a writer or an artist or whoever, as soon as you pick it up, you’re in it, and they pull you along. What makes something engaging? Sometimes it has all the elements on paper that, for me, mean it should be engaging, but then it’s just not. 

I think anything to do with time passing and just life itself is a little bit sad because it doesn’t last forever…”

JLS: It’s the personal reaction to it. I know you recently had a show in Brooklyn. How has it felt to perform these songs live?
MC: It’s been great. Each night was special in its own way with different guests and other acts. I was fortunate enough to have some really cool people there. It was nice to be able to play all the new songs so soon after the release, whereas, the last record came out in the height of the pandemic. It was like October of 2020, and the release party was just me, my partner and my dog, with a six-pack and a pizza, which was nice in its own way, but it was fun to be able to really do it up for the release this time.

JLS: It must be nice performing live. More of a celebration. After writing, recording, putting the songs together, do you listen to the whole thing at once, or take it song by song? How do you feel about the finished record?
MC: It’s kind of both. In the process of finishing everything, I’ll be listening intently to each song over and over to get everything right. Then once things are all actually finished, it’s sequencing the record, finding the right order and how it flows together. I had to listen through that whole thing multiple times in different iterations. I won’t say that it did what I set out to do, because I don’t know what I set out to do with it, but I’m pretty satisfied with the result as a piece of work.

Cut Worms is now out via Jagjaguwar


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