One-time dc Talk man Kevin Max speaks about his career turn with AUDIO ADRENALINE
Trying to convey the enormity of last year's announcement that Kevin Max was to front a reformed Audio Adrenaline, less than a year after his one-time dc Talk bandmate Michael Tait had joined CCM best sellers the Newsboys, one is tempted to indulge in flights of fancy in a mainstream music equivalent. Imagine if you will Paul McCartney announcing that he was joining the Rolling Stones to be followed by a revelation that John Lennon was to hook up with a reformed Queen. Within the world of Christian music dc Talk were the Beatles of their age (1987-2001). Toby McKeehan (aka TobyMac) has of course gone on to become the best selling CCM artist of today. His two bandmates were considerably less successful, at least commercially, in their time away from dc Talk. The band Tait never really found a large following while Kevin Smith (aka Kevin Max) produced a series of solo projects which, ranging as they did from retro rock to gospel blues to electronica, brought critical praise but took him a long way from the stadia he once filled as part of dc Talk.
During their heyday Audio Adrenaline were major Christian music players and between 1986 and 2007 when they disbanded when lead singer Mark Stuart announced he had "ongoing vocal challenges" they clocked up 17 number one Christian music singles and two Grammy Awards. To say that it was a surprise when Kevin Max announced he was joining a reformed Audio Adrenaline is a big understatement. However, reports of the group's first concerts featuring Kevin Max (lead vocals), founding member Will McGinniss (bass guitar), former member of Superchick Dave Ghazarian (guitar), former member of Know Hope Collective Jason Walker (keys) and former member of Bleach and Relient K Jared Byers (drums) have been highly favourable. With the new Audio Adrenaline album 'Kings & Queens' set for release on 12th March through Fair Trade Services it seems possible that the Max-fronted Audio Adrenaline could find the same kind of live concert and album sale favour that is now being enjoyed by the Tait-fronted Newsboys. Broadcaster Mike Rimmer quizzed Kevin Max about his surprise career turn.
Mike: Audio Adrenaline headhunted you?
Kevin: It's an interesting move, but for the most part it's a natural one. We were all friends to begin with, I toured with these guys for years - actually sang on a couple of their albums - and we kept up. Now it's like we're all the same family. It was a natural progression of them looking for a singer: Mark lost his voice since 2007. They looked at a few young chaps, they weren't cutting the bill, so they had to go to the old pro.
Mike: You were both on the same label.
Kevin: Toby pushed their CD to ForeFront back in the early days, and ForeFront ended up signing them. At that time they were called something different - I think it was A180, or something like that - then they changed their name to Audio Adreneline. We took them out on the Jesus Freak tour as our opening act, which cemented some friendships - lot of great memories. It's interesting because stylistically I'm a bit different from what they were in the past, but right now we're not so different. At the end of the day, we're all a bunch of 40-ish dudes with kids, we love rock and roll, good music, and we're coming together to make a fantastic album with visions of helping out Hands And Feet orphanages.
Mike: You've joined Audio Adrenaline with purpose.
Kevin: Correct. The organisation they started - Mark and Will - called Hands And Feet, has been up and running for a few years. We went over to Haiti and shot the first video. It was amazing to actually see the kids, to meet the workers there face-to-face. I've been all over, but I'd never been to Port-au-Prince or Jacmel, so it was good for me to be there on the ground and see what they were doing; just further solidify the fact that we're doing something really interesting. Not only is this to raise awareness for Hands And Feet, but we want to build Hands And Feet into a larger place. Eventually, we're trying to raise money to score some land right next to the land they already acquired in Jacmel to double the size of the orphanage there. That's the short-term goal: we've got lots of other goals in mind when it comes to Haiti, but we really want to push this out even further than Haiti and work with orphanages all over the world. Kind of a big goal, but working at it step-by-step.
Mike: You were orphaned too.
Kevin: I was adopted. These orphanages, the one that Hands And Feet run there in Jacmel - Cyvadier is what the area is called - they are not allowed to be adopted. If a parent wants to adopt one of these Haitian children they have to go through quite a process: move them from that orphanage to an adoption centre. Being an adopted kid gives me a lot more of a desire to help, for sure. My adoption story was quite passive when it comes to some of these other kids that come out of horrific stories of survival; so my story is ridiculously normal in comparison. But I did go through these feelings, when I found out I was adopted, wondering why my mother and father would give me up.
Mike: Do you have a favourite Audio Andrenaline song you'll be performing with them?
Kevin: The track that I always used to love was "Some Kind Of Zombie", because it was another one of those perfect '90s tunes: kind of like what we did with "Jesus Freak", they did with "Some Kind Of Zombie".
Mike: We'll see a new Audio Adrenaline album next month.
Kevin: That's correct. In all reality, it could probably be released a little earlier, but as record company things go, they wanted to push the first single, which came out last fall. We did some shows at the beginning of the year.
Mike: Has anyone suggested you do a mega-tour of America with the Newsboys and TobyMac?
Kevin: If I hear that again my head will implode. It's a given that our paths will cross. Toby is a force right now in the whole Christian contemporary stratosphere. Tait and the Newsboys - I've already done some shows with them. I sang on the newest record of theirs. I'm sure you played the single."
Mike: I like it.
Kevin: Very generous of you. I sang on that record, and I actually sang on the new record coming out at some point. They got the best out of me for two or three days. I went on the road with them for a little bit: I wanted to see what was up. Mike asked me to come out and guest vocal on a few of the shows. I was pleasantly surprised at how great it all sounded, how happy Mike was in the situation. That had a lot to do with swaying me to do this with Audio Adrenaline. When they asked me to do that I'd already had the opportunity to be on the road with Michael. I was like, 'After seeing that, I'm in'. Hopefully the transition from being a dc Talk member to being in Audio Adrenaline will be as smooth as that. I certainly think that we're starting in a better scenario, because Audio Adrenaline stopped because of Mark's voice - there was no other reason. So this comes out of an authentic desire to continue the band for a good purpose, but also because they can't do it with him right now, vocally. We're excited to see where it can go.
Mike: Mark Stuart is still involved in the project, isn't he?
Kevin: Very much so. One of the things I said at the very beginning was, 'How does Mark feel about this?' Mark and I are friends, so I wanted to know right away how involved he was going to be. When I found out he was heavily involved, that put me quite at ease. He and I wrote over half the record together; he's always behind the scenes. He was at the rehearsal we had last night giving some critiques and ideas. I put a picture on Facebook of the rehearsal: you can see the back of Mark Stuart's head there. We actually live in the same neighbourhood now in Franklin, so we see each other quite a bit; our kids go to school together. So we had a conversation a couple days ago; I said, 'How are you feeling with all this?' He's like, 'I'm on cloud nine. I've got the best seat in the house, because I don't have to do these crazy videos: I can just talk into the song and be creative.' He doesn't have to do any of the dirty work, and I think he likes that. The only thing he feels like he's missing out on is the live show. He has told me that he misses being on stage, but beyond that I think he's in a great place.
Mike: Tell me about the first single.
Kevin: The first single is one of my least favourite songs on the record, as it usually goes. The record label is always into the most pop-tastic thing on the album. I wanted to come out with a bit of a bang - more of a rock song. Lyrically it is the theme song for Hands And Feet, and it really talks about the orphans. The name of the song is "Kings And Queens". When we do things for the least of these, when we help kids that are in need, we give them an opportunity to become kings and queens, to live a different life. God wraps them in his majesty and he places them in a home - whether he's watching out for them, or they get placed into another environment. It's a very emotional song. I went to a friend of mine named Juan Otero, because I knew Juan really appreciates the orphan story, and I said, 'Can you write a song about orphans? Just give me a theme song.' He came back with "Kings And Queens". I did a little of my changes to it, my edits, but pretty much Juan delivered what is the single we should be hearing on the radio. Hopefully people will dig it - I think it's a great song - but there's lots of rock and roll to come on this album.
Mike: I'm looking forward to our paths crossing.
Kevin: I'm getting back into touring shape. It's been quite a thing for me, being in my mid-40s, going back on the road after I've been off the road quite some time. I dropped like 45lbs; I don't know how many stone that is, but quite a bit. I'm getting ready to run a marathon pretty soon. The live shows are very spirited; you'll see me stage-diving like I used to in the '90s: a different guy than you saw in the last few years. I got up and sang "Big House" and "Get Down" and "Ocean Floor", and they all sounded real natural; I fact, it didn't sound creepy or weird or goofy - they actually sounded kinda cool. Hopefully I'll be able to bring that to some of these goofier songs. I'm a little more of a serious performer than I am a goofy performer. "Big House", the obligation to sing that tune will be there, but I don't think it's going to be the song that we have to beat to death: it's already been beat to death.
Mike: How do you think Joe Public is going to receive the new Audio Adrenaline album?
Kevin: The proof will be in the pudding. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised: it sounds really good. It's not what people are going to expect. It's going to bring rock and roll back into the Christian radio scene, which is great, because I think everybody sounds like Coldplay-lite. It's sickening. We talk about it all the time: 'What can we do to not sound like that? If we're going to sound like somebody, let's sound like U2, not Coldplay.' We really pushed thinking about this sonically. We wrestled with 50-plus songs; we've got it down to 10, and if these 10 aren't great we might as well give it up. I'll go back to writing my weird science fiction novels.
Mike: I thought it was funny because you'd been snidey about Tait joining Newsboys.
Kevin: I absolutely was. I didn't know what to think of it until I actually got there; then when I started seeing it on stage I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is completely different than how I thought it'd be'. My mind was changed when I went on the road with them. I was Mr Starkey and I didn't like it. I still don't like them covering "Jesus Freak". I'd push for Audio Adrenaline not having to do any dc Talk songs, and I think all the guys are agreed on that. That's where I draw the line. They start asking me to do dc Talk, I'll say no - unless you pay me an extra grand!The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.