The West-London artist opens up about transcending his “party boy” reputation and breaking onto the music scene to establish himself as a front runner in the next wave of Alt R&B through his progressive debut EP “Captions”.
Since launching his music career in 2020, Maxi Millz has cultivated an irrefutable excitement that has only been catalysed by the release of his debut project. “Captions” showcases Maxi’s refined sonic fusion of R&B, Hip-Hop and Funk which underwrites an intricate narration of modern love, oozing a myriad of emotions from heartache and growth to unrequited love. As he chronicles both romantic and platonic relationships, love is the common analogy that underpins the process of his songwriting. The project condenses 20 years of relationships and friendships into 8 tracks, each personifying an intimate window into Maxi’s relatable personal experience — reflecting the emotions of a generation.
An intrigue into the history of music has seeded Maxi’s sound, as he assuredly says, “I wanna make the type of music that Quincy Jones won’t turn his nose up to, but for our generation… a sound that they’ll appreciate”. Understanding the roots to the soundtrack of his childhood — from Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers to Aretha Franklin and Minnie Ripperton — has laid the foundations to his songwriting. Maxi was brought up immersed in the rich music culture of New York and Baltimore as well as London, which has undeniably infiltrated the refinement of his own sound.
Since breaking onto the scene last year, Maxi has seen support from the likes of DJ Target, Maya Jama, Tiffany Calver, Yasmin Evans and Pa Salieu to name a few. As the buzz he elicits around himself and his music continues to snowball, Maxi is well on his way to painting his own path as a pioneering R&B artist of the next generation.
We caught up with Maxi over Zoom in his usual studio. Before settling into a comfy spot on the sofa he introduces Zeus the husky, who he says is hands down his best friend in LA. Read on to delve deeper into Maxi’s story, discover his plans for a (conceivably illegal) warehouse live show and find out what goes down in The Chimney…
Congrats on the debut EP! How do you feel now it’s finally out there?
I’m happy! It’s actually been a bit of a journey. I had a 6 song project ready to go last year back off the hype of “Sound Of A Gun” and “Burning Ears”, I wanted to get that out but then Corona hit. It was basically just 6 songs that were good pushed next to each other rather than a body of work. But it was kinda divine timing — in the moment I thought it was fucking me up with everything getting in my way and I couldn’t do what I wanted. But it worked out good cause with the extended time I feel like I’ve created more of a little album, like a proper body of work.
2020 has been quite the year to break onto the scene and you’ve certainly taken it in your stride. How have things been since you launched your music career? Has your journey through the creative process of the project been a smooth ride?
It’s been slow I think. I’m quite an impatient person so if I wanna do something I wanna do it right now, I tend to lose interest. But music is the first thing where that hasn’t happened to me so I’ve been patient with how slow it’s been. I was live singing when I was a kid and I did stage stuff, so I was looking forward to doing little live shows and probably would’ve done a couple of magazine things here and there, some fashion week stuff too. I’ve kinda been looking forward to breaking away from being the “party boy” who throws events and I haven’t had the chance yet. But it will happen and hopefully by the time that it does, shows won’t be 100 capacity they’ll be more than that. Cause lowkey performing to 100 people is scary cause you can see all their faces! I wouldn’t mind starting with 300 lowkey. But it’s been good, it’s definitely been weird doing Zoom sessions… I feel that artists at my stage of their career would be going into loads of sessions with loads of new people but I haven’t been doing that. But that’s also a silver lining cause those sessions can be a bit of an overload of people.
And I think you can refine your own sound more, maybe it’s a bit of a blessing that you’ve had more responsibility for the development of your music?
Yeah definitely, it’s worked out quite well. I think a lot of artists who can record their own vocals, produce and do everything from their house with people around them to create with, have come into their own this year — I feel like it’s creating the next generation.
“Captions” is an intricate narration of modern love through reflections of your own experiences, does it come naturally to you to combine artistry with such personal narratives?
It took me years to really start realising that I wanted to do music. I was doing so much other stuff before, I was throwing parties and I also had a brand doing London Fashion Week. When I was a kid I used to write little poems and they were always kinda deep but on the outside, I don’t show those feelings. Writing has always been my way of getting rid of my sadness or any emotions that I don’t want to show people overtly. So when it came to writing for “Captions” luckily I was around a bunch of people I was comfortable with. I’ve only started taking writing seriously since 2019, with Something To Hate On [West London music and art collective] I was around artists like Oscar Scheller, Mullally, Jevon, Mabel and all these other musicians, they made it super comfortable while I was making mistakes, learning and getting better. The biggest thing is writing about stuff that is personal to you in front of people you don’t know. So I think the people around me helped to ease myself into that without it feeling awkward, I’ve never felt weird about it.
“Captions” is like a little snapshot of I’d say 20 years of relationships. But what I’ll do is take friendships as well. I probably will get better but right now love is my analogy for everything. Sometimes I’ll be writing about a completely platonic friendship I have, but it’s easier for me to approach it from a love stance. So the EP is a lot about my relationships like my girlfriends and all that stuff over the last 5 years but it’s also a bit of a commentary on friendships as well. This is where I’m at in my writing experience, I always use love as an analogy because it’s almost like my fallback. Some of those songs like the last song “SFP” is more to do with relationships in general cause I feel like our generation takes the relationship in a friendship for granted.
Speaking of the EP you say, “I tried to condense all the emotions I have felt in relationships, small and big, into a small project”. It must have been a challenge to compress years of emotion into 8 tracks!
It came out easily but the hardest thing for me was compiling the project, I didn’t want to just stick songs next to each other. I wanted to show all the aspects of a relationship — the honeymoon infatuation period that everyone has, then when you’re both saying things that you don’t really mean but in the moment they feel right, to the routine of it which is nice at the beginning because it’s super comfortable but then it develops into a stagnant nature. That’s why I called it “Captions” because there is so much more to say — like some of the one-liners I think are good enough for people to make their captions but also a caption is just 140 characters of you trying to explain something in so little words.
Each track is an authentic, intimate, relatable window into the highs, lows and different stages of relationships. This window is personified through your visuals for “Screen Time”, tell us more about the ideas behind the video.
To be honest, I ran out of budget and I really wanted to do a video. I wanted to make it relatable because the “Danny Ocean” video isn’t that relatable — I’m literally in Las Vegas in the middle of a pandemic in a Porsche… with money… But a lot of people didn’t know who Danny Ocean was, so the video was a little misunderstood. People thought I was a show-off when really I was method acting. So I stripped it back more for “MDNA”. Then I ran out of budget but I really wanted to do this video for “Screen Time”, I wanted something simple and relatable. Especially as we’re easing out of quarantine I feel like a lot of people I know have been speaking to people very intensely for a short amount of time because of isolation. And with the video, I wanted to be cheeky because I feel like with our generation, you’re speaking to people and you do like that one person but you know its super unrealistic because it’s fucking lockdown and if they’re not in your friendship group it’s gonna be super hard to see them. So you probably have another person you’re speaking to… So with the “Screen Time” video, I wanted to reflect that and just make it super honest and relatable to everyone in our peer group with those weird virtual relationships that people have found themselves in. I also lowkey had a girl in LA and I just wrote it after I got off FaceTime with her, she was in London and I was super pissed off when she went back to LA. I hate FaceTiming people… The beginning of that song was about her for sure.
This record is a sumptuous sonic fusion of R&B, Hip-Hop and Funk showcasing your polished falsettos. How did you cultivate this plethora of sound and how does it reflect your story?
In the beginning, it was definitely more simple because I was finding my feet. I’ve never strayed too far from the music I listen to myself and more importantly, I’ve always stayed close to the music I grew up listening to. I didn’t want to emulate what those artists were doing too much but I just wanted to pay my own homage and make my sound futuristic. I’ve always said I wanna make the type of music that Quincy Jones won’t turn his nose up to but I’m also making music for our generation, a sound that they’ll appreciate. I wanna make real shit.
You grew up immersed in your parents Motown, Blues and Soul record collection, tell us about a few old records that have inspired your music.
Alicia Keys’ “Songs In A Minor” is a really stand out album for me. I remember I was 4 when my dad gave me this album, Alicia Keys had her hair braided on the front then there was all this crazy piano! I was like ok… this shit’s lit. In my house, there was a lot of Jazz, a lot of B.B. King, Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. So I knew about riffing from Ella all the way up to Minnie Ripperton and that’s kinda where I think I got my ear from, especially with the falsettos and all that stuff. Then I got onto songwriters, when I was a kid I realised wow Ne-Yo is amazing, I wonder what he does. From early on I figured out that people like him, like Poo Bear, these guys were writing all these amazing songs for people. So as a kid, I kinda delved into what they were doing and listening to how they write. I wasn’t really trying to do it myself, I was just understanding it. I also really wanted to understand where music came from, which is why I’m always like “fuck Elvis Presley” on my Instagram stories… ‘Cause my dad was so eccentric and always said to me “Max everything is black!” and I would be like “but Rock ‘N Roll isn’t black?” and he’d say “you’re wrong”. He showed me where Rock ‘N Roll came from and Blues music and all that. Because I am aware of the history I feel like I could never make anything that was basic because my foundation has serious roots. I genuinely love music history, it is so important.
Who are you listening to at the moment? Have any new artists caught your ears?
There’s a guy called Blxst, he’s lit. But I only really listen to my friends right now, like Col3trane, Jevon, Mahalia, Kojey and Pa Salieu. My producer, Humble The Great makes really good music as well, I’m definitely missing someone… I just listen to all of my friends. Then all of the old shit, I haven’t updated my library in a long time. I should!
You’ve teamed with Fred Cox (Green Tea Peng, Etta Bond) and BNYX® (TyDolla$ign & Shy Glizzy) to produce the lead-singles “Danny Ocean” and “Burning Ears”. Tell us about your experience working with these guys.
Benny [BNYX] was funny ‘cause I was with him in LA around 2 years ago, which was really the beginning of me doing sessions. At the time he was doing sessions with everyone so I never really asked him, then one day he just made that guitar loop real quick and I ran into the studio like “yooo, whaaat is that!”. Then he sent it to me months later when Austin (whose studio I’m in now) came to London. “Burning Ears” is the quickest song I’ve written and recorded ever, as in, I reckon I wrote it in about 8 minutes and recorded it in around 15. That was all kinda virtual and online, I recorded it and sent it back and forth. Then Fred Cox is lit because he’s got a crazy studio called The Chimney.
What goes down in The Chimney?
Everything! Fred plays every instrument so being in a room with him is like being in a room with a full band. That’s my favourite — being in a room full of musicians. On “MDNA” (produced by Humble The Great) it’s all live instruments except for some of the hi-hats, “Painted Face” is all live too. For my debut album, I wanna have a big room with a guitarist there, a bass player there, a pianist over there ya know. I was with Jevon making his “Fell In Love With Brazil” album which is not even arguably the best body of music to come out of the UK in the last 5 years! Hands down! From his production to his musicality to the fact that he writes and sings AND mixes all his own records… he had this Brazillian band in Tileyard when he was making the project. I had a song with him that never got on the project but that was my first time really sinking my teeth into the music world. I was in there watching it all and getting super inspired. That’s when I realised that when it comes to my album I wanna start with the live instruments then send it to a beatmaker to put the drums on after, rather than the other way round.
Have you got any other dream collabs in mind when the time comes?
I have thought about it but I wanna do stuff with my friends first. On my album I wanna have Jevon, Col3trane, Mahalia, Raye, Miraa May — that’s the whole gang. Then if I could do a song with one person, like a big person… lowkey Lauryn Hill. Either Lauryn Hill or Alicia Keys, I’d be happy with either one. I don’t even care if it never got released, I just wanna have that experience of making music together in the same room.
Are there any plans in the pipeline for getting onstage?
Yeah. I don’t even care if it’s illegal. In my brain when I get home I’m gonna find a warehouse, make it lit and get some good DJs and just bring my little R&B corner in London to do a show. ‘Cause we all recognise each other in London, we’re all friends. Everyone in R&B just happens to be friends. Col3trane and I have been friends for the last 3 years, I booked Mahalia a gig 3 years ago and she’s been my friend ever since. Who else… Rasharn! He’s also one of my best friends. There’s a little R&B pocket that has kinda grown. I think as we all grow, get bigger and line ups start happening again I’ll probably be on the poster really small somewhere and Mahalia will be big, but we’ll all be there together. It will definitely happen.
Finally, what drink are you ordering at the pub when you get back to London?
This is such a weird reply… I’m not gonna go to a pub, I’m gonna go to the Electric Diner or Gold on Portobello Road and I’m lowkey gonna have a Bloody Mary. But on my way home I’m grabbing a Magnum. That’s my ting — boujee and yardie!