Max Holmquist otherwise known as South of Lincoln isn’t just one of the best new artists, he is the best new artist. I don’t know if I can say anything about the man or his albums without gushing or sounding like a crazed fan, but that’s exactly what I’ve become. There isn’t a day that goes by when his album Homes or his EP The Monsters/Bathroom Sessions hasn’t been played. If I haven’t heard at least one South of Lincoln song, my day is shot. He just has a way of making really honest music that comes from an honest, sincere place. When listening to him, you know you’re listening to a talented songwriter who is obsessed and in love with making simple yet perfect music. So, you could only imagine my excitement when Holmquist/South of Lincoln agreed to answer a few of my questions which I have posted below.
CFM: When and how did you first become interested in music?
SoL: I distinctly remember singing along to early 90s alt music in the car with my mom. She listened to pretty cool music. I’d be in the back seat singing along with Michael Stipe to R.E.M. songs and whatever else was playing on college radio stations. I was always singing as a little kid. I’ve just always been into music. When I was in high school I started going to lots of local shows and it was an extremely appealing environment: the people, the bands, the venues, the whole thing. I got a guitar for Christmas when I was 16 and started learning chords and writing songs around that time. It wasn’t until four years ago though that I started getting really into folk music and writing the type of stuff I write now.
CFM: Are there any differences and similarities between you, Maxwell Holmquist, the man, and South of Lincoln, your stage name?
SoL: I’ve never really thought about it before. I suppose if there are any real differences between the two personas, they both show when I play shows. My songs are pretty heavy and serious through and through and that’s how I am when I’m playing the songs. My off-stage personality however is much more light and that tends to come through between songs. I like to engage the crowd and make them laugh between songs so people aren’t weeping into their drinks the whole time.
Also, a good majority of the songs I sing are fictional stories and so I often have to slip into whatever character plays the part in that song, i.e. “Thirteen” is sort of written from the perspective of a strict, old-fashioned, “the world is against me”, farmer of a father. That character is not me nor is it my father, so in some sense I step into different shoes when I’m performing the songs.
CFM: Nebraska is one of music’s best kept secrets, can you describe the Nebraska music scene and the type of music coming out of the area? Has it influenced your taste in music? What kind of music are you drawn to? Who are you listening to now?
SoL: Nebraska has a great community of musicians, artists, journalists, photographers, graphic designers, etc. all working together to foster a better creative community. I think it’s a great environment for people looking to create something. HearNebraska.org has really supplemented what was already here in a great way. We all sort of push each other and drive each other in a non-competitive way. It seems that most artists really want touring bands who come through to know how great of an environment we have here. We all try to show those bands a lot of love and hospitality when they come through.
The music itself is across the board: all different types of indie bands, some good hip-hop, folk, country, blues, pop-punk, metal, rock & roll, DJs etc. You name it and there’s something like it here. I personally am drawn to alt-country/alt-folk. There are quite a few extremely talented bands/songwriters like that here. To name a few: Manny Coon, Smith’s Cloud, Kyle Harvey, Brad Hoshaw, Daniel Dorner, a band called Betsy Wells. Some other amazing Nebraska bands that I think everybody should get into that aren’t necessarily in that alt-folk/country genre: Conduits, Machete Archive, Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship, Little Brazil, Down with the Ship, It’s True.
As far as what I’m listening to now other than local bands: A guy from NYC named Sam Amidon, Gregory Alan Isakov, and Seattle’s Damien Jurado (always listening to Jurado).
CFM: Describe Homes. What inspired the album? Is there one song that holds more personal meaning and/or one you’re more proud of than the others? Why?
SoL: For me there’s so much behind this album that it’s hard to pinpoint one single inspiration. I’m obsessed with the idea of home and where it is and what it means to feel at home. There are a lot of songs on that album about that feeling or that obsession, the idea of being at home, being homeless, needing a home, not knowing where your home is, feeling displaced, etc.
“Man Pts 1 and 2” both have a lot of personal meaning for me. One opens the album and the other closes it out. “Man Pt. 1” is just a song that I felt turned out really well, both the version on the album and the version I play live. I’ve always enjoyed playing that song. “Man Pt. 2” is one of the few extremely personal songs I’ve written. I wrote it for my dad and always enjoy playing it for him when he comes to shows or when I find myself at my parents’ house with my guitar. I feel like when I wrote that song I was really starting to fall into the niche I’d been trying to find musically.
CFM: You released both Homes and The Monsters/Bathroom Sessions EP this year, what was your creative process before and during each recording? How did it differ or stay the same?
SoL: Homes was recorded over a year prior to its release and I was dragging my feet releasing it for the longest time, so while they were both released within six months of each other, I was in completely different places when I was writing the two albums. I don’t feel like I’d quite found the sound I was looking for when I wrote Homes, whereas when I wrote The Monsters/Bathroom Sessions I really knew what I was going for with the music as well as the recording process itself. The recent release is much more lo-fi, single-take, which is something I’ve become a huge advocate of for my music. When I recorded Homes I was in a place where I was kind of falling apart and it just took a lot longer to get takes that I was happy with. I did a number of different takes and layered lots of extra instruments, vocals and post-production stuff on there. By the time I recorded the most recent album I’d put myself back together. I had more confidence in my writing and playing ability and had discovered that I really enjoyed the simplicity of a single take without any sort of background instrumentation or layered vocals. I have no clue where I’ll be in another year and how I’ll feel about what I’m doing musically and what sort of recording techniques and instrumentations/arrangements I’ll be wanting, but I’m definitely happy with the most recent album.
CFM: How often do you write songs? What motivates you to write, record and perform?
SoL: I’m constantly writing. There are typically two or three songs in the works at any given time. I start to feel sick when I realize I haven’t picked up my guitar and tried working on a new song or perfecting an old song. I have to always be playing and practicing and writing and performing. I hate the lull period between shows and events. It’s almost like anxiety that I get from not working on the music. That anxiety is what drives me.
I try to not ever force a song. Sometimes I’ll be working on a certain song that I had an idea or a premise for lyrically and I’m trying to put it into words and find the right accompaniment on guitar and I just can’t get it. I usually just shelf the song for a while. Often times, I’ll come back in a month and the song will write itself in a completely different way than I’d hoped. “Riverside” on The Monsters/Bathroom Sessions is about a friend of mine who passed away when I was about twelve. I had wanted to write a song for the last two and a half years and it never came out right. One day, I picked up my guitar and started playing and the song was just sort of there all of the sudden. I’ve forced songs before and they never end up being something I’m content with. It’s eerie how some of the songs come together. It’s like a gift being handed to me. I try not to ask for more, be content with the ones given to me and hope deep down that they’ll keep coming.
CFM: What’s next for you?
SoL: I’m working on material for another album. I’m going to take some time recording this one so that I don’t release it so close to my last two releases.
I recently relocated from Lincoln, NE to Omaha, NE which is only a hope away from Lincoln. I’ve loved Lincoln since I was a teenager living on the edge of town and I love that it’s so close to Omaha. I’ve wanted for a long time to get up here and start building a base for myself and inserting myself into the music that’s going on here. With the two cities being so close it’s like having two full music scenes to draw from. It’s pretty convenient.
I want to get back out on the road again in the next six months or so if possible and continue getting my music into appreciative hands. That’s really all I care about: that people get to hear the music I’ve written and hope that they enjoy and can relate to it.