Locking in solo project: Max Lockwood showcases creativity, vulnerability on pop-hued album

Special to the Record-Eagle/Loren JohnsonGrand Rapids musician Max Lockwood returned from a tour of the United Kingdom with Traverse City singer-songwriter May Erlewine in time to release his new self-titled album Feb. 1.

GRAND RAPIDS — A lot has transpired in the five years since Max Lockwood assembled some pals to record his first solo album, “Outrider,” which served as an unusual senior honors thesis for a University of Michigan degree in creative writing and literature.

Not only has the in-demand Grand Rapids bassist, guitarist and singer played and released grungey, psychedelic folk-rock with his high school buddies in the band Big Dudee Roo, but he’s toured extensively and recorded with Traverse City singer-songwriter May Erlewine.

Indeed, Earthwork Music collective’s Erlewine just returned from touring the United Kingdom with Lockwood in her band, getting back just in time for Lockwood to officially release his self-titled sophomore album.

Lockwood said the album features a “more pop-sensible sound with lush, composed arrangements.”

Erlewine called it “a beautiful work of art."

"He shares such tenderness in his deep connection with words and these songs offer a window into his heart,” she said.

To celebrate the striking collection of songs, Lockwood and his band have been touring Michigan this month, with shows in Grand Rapids, Lansing, Benton Harbor, Kalamazoo and Fennville.

Several of those shows, he noted, have featured “my dear friend and songwriting hero May Erlewine" doing a solo opening set and joining the band on vocals.

“May’s work has been a huge inspiration for me since I first saw her perform 10 years ago,” he said, “and getting the chance to support her music as her bassist for the last few years has been a consistently joyful and rewarding experience.”

For Lockwood, the new solo album is another step forward for the much-respected Michigan musician.

“I think it may surprise some people and, in a sense, I hope it does,” Lockwood said. “I’ve been crafting this sound for a long time with the intention of creating something different and new.

“As a musician, writer and generally a person who has chosen to focus my life on these (other) avenues of creativity, it’s fun and sometimes necessary to maintain a diversity of outlets. The ebb and flow has me focusing more energy on this solo project for the time being.”

The concerts with his all-star band — Justin Dore and Daine Hammerle from Big Dudee Roo, violinist Brandon Smith and bassist Eric O’Daly from Appleseed Collective and vocalist Sam Cooper — have allowed Lockwood to step into the spotlight with his own, somewhat different songs, many of them written three years ago and brought to Grand Haven’s Third Coast Recording for tracking.

Although Lockwood “built the songs from the ground up mainly on my own, doing all the bass and keys and most of the guitars,” the Earthwork Music album also features “amazing and sensitive” drummer Julian Allen and some of Lockwood's favorite musicians and singers, including Lindsay Lou, Dore, Cooper, Smith and O’Daly.

“As for the songs themselves, I think their content reflects a potent time of personal transformation that I found myself in," Lockwood said. "As a writer, I became more comfortable with the power of vulnerability, so that the personal and sometimes emotionally raw content doesn’t scare me so much anymore.”

Lockwood certainly views the solo effort “as a very different creative outlet” from his work with Big Dudee Roo. He calls it music grounded in a folk-rock, singer-songwriter realm, but with other pop and alternative elements.

“The album is very song- and lyric-focused. It’s been fun to let my love of poetry to take the forefront a little more with this record,” he said. “These songs are more vulnerable, exploring emotional depths that are nuanced and subtle and tend to evade more direct description.”