Baylor grad hits high note in LA
Max Helmerich graduated from Baylor in December of 2011 and immediately high-tailed it to the big city of Los Angeles to play in a band called Thick as Thieves, opening for popular acts such as Matt & Kim and Imagine Dragons. During his time in Waco, Helmerich was the creative force behind Uproar Records’ own Zoo Studio, a band that experienced great success with students and Wacoans alike.
As the two-year anniversary of his graduation approaches, Helmerich shared on what he has been doing in L.A., his current musical endeavors and his hopes for the future.
Q: Can you briefly describe what happened in your life after graduating from Baylor and how you got to the place you’re at now?
A: I graduated in 2011 and started touring with a band called Thick as Thieves almost immediately. It was a whirlwind of introductions. I had to figure out all the processes of writing, trying to create a sound, and learning to travel and live with people I barely knew. The band had originated two years before I met them and had broken up with their lead singer. Then they met my sister who was going to school in L.A. and asked her to join. They had heard about and met me and they asked us to do a tandem singer kind of thing. It was all very fast and committed.
Q: What projects are you involved in currently?
A: I am currently in three projects, though Thick as Thieves controls most of my time and attention. I also play bass in a band that my sister, Sunday, is in with a violinist named Jessy Green, who is an amazing lady with an incredibly blessed career. She’s played with Foo Fighters, Wilco, Ben Harper, P!nk and some other big names. They mostly play parties in LA. It’s a lovely sound that I’ve always described as the more folk, pop, female version of Bon Iver. They’re called Fauntella Crow. Also, I am getting ready to release a project of my own songs. I’ve never enjoyed performing by myself, and I honestly feel the support and creativity of other musicians and friends help me tie the knot in my creation, so I am using a band we are calling Bird Dog to tell the stories of the songs.
Q: What did being involved with Uproar Records teach you about the music business?
A: Uproar taught me that the music industry is all about content. You have no job, no sound and no brand without good, solid content. In order to succeed, I think a person needs to create content that’s unique to them and just do it again and again. You also need to brand it, and push it really hard with tasteful promotion.
Q: Was it a difficult process trying to break into the notorious L.A. music scene?
A: Getting into the L.A. music scene was very easy for me, personally, because I had the amazing opportunity to be a part of Thick as Thieves, who was already semi-established when we took it over. We’ve worked really hard trying to be unique and create a new sound that is our own, but the fact that the band had already had some success of its own was very helpful. Like I said, it was all very fast and was certainly a huge blessing for us.
Q: Has playing music professionally always been a goal of yours?
A: Starting my sophomore year of high school and all the way through college, I always fantasized of playing music for a living. It’s always been a part of me. It was an awesome experience playing in my band Zoo Studio while I was at Baylor and it’s just gotten better from there. I still can’t believe I get to do this as a job.
Q: What’s a typical day like for you working and playing music in L.A.?
A: I’m really lucky to have the life I have out in L.A. Regarding the band, our days are really random, and you never really know what exactly is going to happen. We are making a new record right now, so, usually a typical day is just spent writing or rehearsing with the band. Then we kind of break for a little bit and do our own things and we come back together and the nights are long and spent mostly in the studio. It’s so awesome. Like I said, I feel very lucky for this to be my life.
Q: Where are you from? Do you ever miss home? Do you ever miss being in Waco?
A: I am from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and, yes, I miss it every day. I love my family and I constantly have to fight the feeling of guilt because I don’t get to spend as much time with them as I would want. That’s definitely the hardest part of every day. I miss Waco as well. Mostly I miss the people I met and lived with while at Baylor. Company is what makes a place for me. So, given all the friends I made there and the time we spent hanging out, Waco was and is really special to me.
Q: What was/is the hardest part of being a professional musician? Has music changed for you now that it is a job as opposed to just a hobby?
A: Definitely forcing yourself to be creative and to create at all times is a tough part of it. Creation is such a wonderful thing, and so it’s weird turning it into a job, because, yes, for most people it’s only ever a hobby. But it really is so wonderful. Music has changed for me a little bit since doing all of this, but not in a bad way at all. It’s like a relationship: the frustrations of it only bring you closer to knowing and understanding it.
Q: Do you work with any other Baylor alumni in L.A.?
A: Yes. There is a pretty substantial network of Baylor alums out here. One of my best friends, Clint Ratliff, is a Baylor alum and also plays in Thick as Thieves with me. He’s the lead guitarist. One of my other best friends from Baylor, Colton Dearing, is also out here and he plays percussion in my newest project, Bird Dog.