Max Jury talks Avenues, working with London Grammar, and ‘finding his true self’

US singer and songwriter Max Jury has spoken to Headliner about his new self-produced third album Avenues, his collaboration with London Grammar’s Dan Rothman, and ‘finding his true self as an artist’.

Released on March 31, Avenues marks something of a creative milestone for Jury. As an artist who has always thrived on collaboration, particularly in the production stakes, this latest collection represents the purest distillation of his artistic vision yet. Which is not to say he’s eschewed collaborators entirely – contributions from the likes of London Grammar’s Dan Rothman, as well as old friends and previous collaborators Stacy Harden and Grammy winner Jimmy Hogarth, flow throughout. However, this time around, Jury largely handled production and engineering duties alone, allowing him to take greater control over the final iteration and presentation of the songs.

“When I first started, and I think it’s like this for most young artists, I didn’t have the skillset for producing or engineering music, or the vocabulary for what I wanted to do,” Jury tells Headliner as we join him over Zoom from his North Carolina studio. “I would always know what I wanted things to sound like, but there was a disconnect in getting there, so it’s quite easy to be in the pocket of whichever producer you’re working with. That can be great, but sometimes it can be challenging to arrive at exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. During the pandemic I was afforded the time to learn this side of how to do it, because I wanted to make sure I’m getting my sonic message across. And I definitely got a firmer understanding of production, engineering, and how to make those things come to life.

“I’m not saying this in a negative way, but you can get pulled in certain directions and then it’s tough to take a breather and think about what you really want to do. Now I’m just making music the way I want it to sound and I’m happy with that. The album is pretty much self-produced; Dan and my friend Stacy helped me out a lot, but a lot of my records aren’t self-produced. They were more collaborative production environments. And I have been blessed to work with some great producers and learn a lot from them. I did a few songs with Inflo (Adele, Little Simz, Michael Kiwanuka, Tom Odell) on my first album and he’s as good as it gets. So, trying to learn from that has been helpful, as they bring a magic to the music too, but this time I felt like I should keep it as my baby and see what happens.”

Work on Avenues started almost immediately after the release of his last record Modern World. In keeping with the troubadour spirit that has informed so much of his work, Jury found himself hopping across the US, and indeed the Atlantic, to begin writing sessions with a handful of new and familiar collaborators. By way of North Carolina, LA, and London, skeletons of the songs that would form Avenues were gradually fleshed out.

I had to make sure I was getting my sonic message across. Max Jury

“My friend Stacy and I have a studio in North Carolina where I live, and a lot of the early writing took place the summer of 2019,” he explains. “Then I did some work that Fall in London with Jimmy Hogarth, and then some writing in Los Angeles with a songwriter named Wendy Wang, where we wrote a song called Love Too Fast. Those sessions were the genesis of the album. Then the pandemic happened, which obviously disrupted the flow of that. It was probably a year or so of writing and after that I went back to North Carolina and really started digging into the record, and then I finished it in London.”

Having previously worked with Hogarth and Harden, Jury unexpectedly found his pool of collaborators extend across the pond after receiving a message out of the blue from London Grammar’s Rothman.

“He just slid in the DMs, if you will,” Jury smiles when explaining how the pair became acquainted. “He said he was a fan of my work, and I’m a fan of London Grammar, so we decided to write some songs together. We worked in London and ended up reshaping about half the record. We did some work at Livingston Studios and a tiny bit at The Church. We had some of our friends hop on to play, but it was mostly born out of a mutual respect for each other’s vibes.”

With such an array of songwriting partners, Jury has become adept at adapting to the varying approaches adopted by different collaborators.

“It changes depending on who I’m working with,” says Jury, elaborating on how he instigates sessions. “I’ll try to bring a melody or some chord changes, but it all depends. With some people it really helps to have a strong foundation to go into the session with, and with others it’s better to just vibe out and see what happens. With Dan, he would come in with a percussive idea or a groove, I’d sit at the piano and we’d just workshop melodies until it felt like something was moving in a cool direction.

“When I write by myself, lyrics are written at the initial part of the process, but generally when I write with others lyrics come later. It’s all about getting the feeling of the song. For the production we did on the album, we just took stock of what we had, stripped everything back, and thought about how we could give the songs more life; be more direct with the production and trim the fat, which was super helpful for me.”

Equally influential in shaping Jury’s work is a sense of location, his extensive travelling and propensity to work with writers and producers across the globe manifesting itself in the very fabric of his work.

“My surroundings feed into the music so much,” he says. “When I’m here in the country in North Carolina, everything tends to end up feeling kind of rustic and stripped back because that’s just how it works when we’re here. In LA it ends up feeling a bit more polished, and the same in London. The location really impacts the music. It’s funny, I just played these shows in London and obviously the record has been done for a while and hearing the way they guys I was playing with interpreted the music was interesting because it was a bit more rough and ready and rock’n’roll, which is interesting as it made me wonder what it would have been like had we recorded the album like that.”

Reflecting on the current state of the music industry, Jury paints a picture of an ever-evolving landscape. One which requires a nimble approach and a willingness to embrace change accordingly.

“Since I first released music in 2014 things have changed a lot,” he considers. “My opinions are torn. I like complaining about things a lot but equally, if you don’t want to get with the programme and change then you don’t have to do it. I have those two things on my shoulders. Money is tricky. There is so much music out, which is a great thing, and platforms like Spotify and the advancement of home recording equipment has made it easier to get music out there, which is good. But there is more competition, and that keeps you on your toes. The content thing is tricky - I didn’t sign up to be a content producer, I signed up to make records, but now I have to think about what content I’m going to produce… but like I said, roll over, Beethoven, if you don’t want to do it.”