The Original Music Showcase has been going on for 12 years here in Calgary, hosted at The Blind Beggar Pub. Four years ago, they decided to diversify the program to include a “Singer / Song Writer” series.
Over six Sundays, more than 30 musicians compete in a 25-minute set playing their own music for a judging panel. It’s a grueling chore masterfully handled by the Beggar’s management and production team. The judging is a five person panel of judges, each representing a different aspect of the industry, from media and press relations to management, song writing and development, and other aspects of the business. The winning performer gets radio play as well.
This year was no exception. A regular cavalcade of talented individuals came across the stage and poured their heart and soul for the judges. Makes sense, as the coveted first place position includes a plethora of prizes for the up and coming musicians. These include media exposure, career counseling, hundreds of dollars worth of studio time, and merchandising services.
Max Mann was this year’s winner. A young man at 23 years old, we enjoyed a beer at a loud pub and talked about his music and ambitions. He’s been playing for 10 years, starting in junior high school. He’s only been singing for about 5 years, since his senior high school days. He is entirely self taught as a singer. Currently working on a repertoire of 12 original songs that are ready to play at anytime and a larger catalog of covers to play the gigs he gets around town. Part of his prize package is eight hours of professional studio time. This will be his first experience with professional engineers. He’s exploring different projects with friends in town but hasn’t formed his own band yet.
I start with the obvious; influences. He lists off Mother Mother, Radio Head, Smashing Pumpkins, Deftones, Mathew Good, and Eminem. “A lot people have said ‘You really remind me of Matt Good.’ A higher pitch, more corrupt yelling”, he says with enthusiasm. Like many starting out, he plays all the instruments of rock, including drums, which is another instrument that speaks to him. “I’ll often hear the drums fully formed in my head” when writing new music. Of course, the guitar is his primary tool.
Max has an infectious energy, I ask him where he thinks he’ll be, musically, in 5 years. “Probably still producing this album at this rate.” He says with a laugh. “I’d like to see myself playing with some good musicians in town and with some professional recordings. It’ll be nice to see what I can get done. I’m making some good connections working (at a local retailer). Putting some things together.” We discuss previous projects; “most of the bands haven’t stuck around for long and never really took. So hopefully I can find some individuals I can work with and really just go from there.”
“So you don’t really want to be Sam Roberts in 5 years?” “Oh, I’ll try everything in my best power to get there. But realistically I kind of take things a bit slow and if I’m honest with myself I’ll still be kicking around the Calgary scene a whole lot. But stardom is still something to work towards.”
I want to know where the passion comes from. I ask if his family has a history in music. “My grandfather was a musician in Cape Breton. My brothers all play guitar and sing and are really good. They sound great. All of us love music. Grandfather was the heart and soul of it. My dad showed me a lot of really great music. I remember being 6 years old and listening to the hamster band CD over and over again because I was a kid. And he was ‘OK, I’m taking that out and he put in Deep Purple’s Machine Head, said ‘now listen to this, and turned it up real loud. And it just blew my mind. It was so good. Just awesome rock music. That was the first time I was exposed to it. From there on, I was a rock guy, everything had to be harder.” It’s obvious that he loves it all, he says he’s even been experimenting with country lately. Max knows his stuff too, he spends several minutes educating me on the definition of Prog Rock, a genre he finds too demanding to really experiment or work with. He likes a simpler pop rock.
Where do his day to day inspirations come from? He gets inspiration by putting himself in other people’s shoes and watching dramatic films filled with human experiences. He likes to get out to the pubs and experience friend’s stories unfolding. “I find it interesting to watch people’s lives a lot. And part of it my own. Half the time it’s like I’m in an endless TV show, like ‘wow, what crazy shit is going to happen now?’ It’s always interesting.” He admits to being more of an observer than a story teller. He explores existentialism; “A lot of my lyrics are questions. Just questioning what’s going on and exploring the answers.”
The Calgary scene has embraced Max Mann as a singer songwriter. He gets accolades for his professionalism and plays regularly around town. He’s also working as a sounds engineer. His material can be found on his Facebook page, Max Mann Band. He’s an old soul, and we expect many more years of music from this talented young man.
Photos courtesy of J. Dirom Photography