Songwriter and musician Maxwell Hughes, most well-known for his time with The Lumineers, is coming to Western as a part of the Underground Coffeehouse’s Wednesday Night Concert Series. His membership with The Lumineers isn’t the only accomplishment he’s had. In fact, his resume includes being a Grammy-nominated songwriter, placing third at the International Fingerstyle Competition and receiving “Best Instrumentalist” at the Fort Collins Musicians Association three times. The list goes on and includes being a support for Imagine Dragons, The Head and the Heart, Langhorn Slim and Paperbird. Hughes will take the Underground at 7 p.m. this Wednesday. The AS Review had the opportunity to get to know what this decorated singer-songwriter is all about.
Have you ever been to the Pacific Northwest before?
Yeah, I used to live in Portland. That was a really short stent when I was wild and crazy, just moving around to different places. As far as touring goes, I try to make it up that way as much as I can.
How about Bellingham?
Just on a pass through, never played. It’s really beautiful.
Tell me a little bit about your music. Where does your inspiration come from?
I play acoustic and instrumental guitar, and where my inspiration comes from is just other guitarists that played the same style of non-traditional guitar playing. I kind of take influences from a lot of different things. Like sometimes I feel like I can hear some hip-hop element, sometimes electronica, there’s video game music. Maybe indirectly I get my inspiration from RATATAT.
You’re a former member of The Lumineers. What was your time like with them? When did you start playing? Why did you leave?
I was with them from 2010 to 2011, and during that time we toured. We did a West Coast tour and for the East Coast we had a residency in New York for about six weeks. We were all just getting ready to take the next step as far as management and that kind of thing. It was a lot of fun. There are times where I miss playing in a band, and there’s times when I definitely don’t. We’re all really good friends, and nothing like that has changed. I was going to school at the time, so I wanted to focus on that and branch out and do my own music. I didn’t have a lot of creative control in the band. I’ve just been doing my own thing ever since.
What do you think about their success?
I’m stoked for them. I’m super proud of them. I don’t think it could have happened to a nicer group of dudes and lady.
What’s your process for songwriting? What about with The Lumineers?
Usually it starts with music first, and then sort of develops melody lines through coming up with an instrumental composition, so kind of like breaking it down from that state into more simpler forms of chords and a melody line you can sing. I helped write two of the songs on the album, “Charlie Boy” and “Morning Sun.” That’s something I’d like to do with them again, I don’t know if it would happen. I’d definitely like to collaborate with as many people as I can. I’ve got a producer friend who owns a recording studio, and we’ve been working on a couple of different tracks that will be released pretty under the radar under his name. A lot of it is in the concept form, I haven’t had a lot of time to sit and work with anyone.
When did you start touring? What’s next on this tour?
The tour will be three and a half weeks, [with] a lot more touring throughout the year. [I’ll do] some East Coast dates, while I’m competing in various fingerpicking competitions across the country and Canada.
What does that entail?
They’re really weird. Like doing anything in a competition, it’s always just kind of weird to me. It’s definitely not the reason I got into playing music. They’re pretty dry as far as there’s not a lot of humor, there’s not a lot of talking. As far as meeting peers that are in your field, it’s a really great way to network. They judge you on your musicianship, your technicality, if they like your stuff. I got grounded for an entire summer and my dad played guitar. So I just picked it up. I was 16, so 12 years ago.
What’s next for your career?
I don’t really know, to be honest. Looking into different agents and management and that kind of thing. Definitely I’d like to be touring as much as I possibly can. I’ve also got a compilations of guitar samples that I’m putting out for various producers and hip-hop and electronic artists to take live guitar samples from. And a friend of mine just contacted me the other day about writing video game music for him, so we’ll see. I don’t really know. I’d really like to. I really do think a lot of video game music has influenced my music over the years, just by having played so many video games as a kid. I think it would be a lot of fun. I’m a big nerd, actually.
What can people expect from your show at UGCH?
Less of a beard. I’ve got a pretty huge beard going on that I’m going to shave off. Maybe I’ll shave it after Bellingham. As far as the show is concerned, I don’t really know. A lot of humor and kickass guitar playing. A lot of it is just off the cuff. I definitely have starting points and anchors throughout the set. Depending on the response from the room and the overall flow of the night, some things will definitely change.
Is this your first solo tour?
No, but it’s my first time in Bellingham, though. I guess just since The Lumineers. After The Lumineers, I was going to school at the time, I realized I didn’t want to go to school anymore. So I maxed out my student loans and traveled the world for six months. I spent three months in South East Asia: Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Immediately after that, I spent three months in Central America. I didn’t book a tour, but everywhere that I went, I had a guitar and just ended up playing for various people around the world. It was a lot of fun.
What else do you want Western students to know about you?
I put out a new album out last August. It’s not terribly new, but not terribly old either. I’ve got a new music video out that was just released on April 5. April 5 was the 20-year mark of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. We did a big video release part in Fort Collins and ended up raising almost $1,800 for the Alliance for Suicide Prevention.
Tell me about your new album. What went into the creation process?
It was a pain in the… whatever. It was a lot of fun, but I feel like I had a huge learning curve when it came to this last album just because the two previous albums were done in short amounts of time. This one we took the time and effort to make it exactly how I wanted to be and how I wanted it to sound. The first one I did totaled 20 hours maybe. The second one was on a tighter budget and recorded the whole thing and put it out in five hours. But this one took two months.
Hughes’ music can be found on Bandcamp, iTunes or at his website at www.maxwellhughesmusic.com.