The Dallas rock band Max Cady released its first album seven years ago. Tonight Alive combined hair-band riffs and punk-rock vocals, and its visceral power somehow made up for a lack of sonic innovation. Less was more.
Since then, newer recordings haven’t moved far beyond the established formula. Max Cady (named after the sinister Cape Fear character) also hasn’t managed to make much headway in popularity outside Dallas. But what really frustrates 37-year-old frontman Justin Moore is that his band has gone through about seven different lineups in as many years.
“I think there’ve been two times in Max Cady’s life where there’s been real momentum,” Moore told me over sandwiches at Jimmy’s a few weeks ago. “People showing up, talking about it. Performances, seamless and rocking. But it’s always a lineup change that kills it.”
The reasons none of the band’s rosters has stuck are too varied and predictable to detail here. Certainly nothing as entertaining as the events of This Is Spinal Tap. What’s compelling is the guy’s rugged determination to keep it up.
“If I could simply survive, make a living on music, that’d be good,” Moore said. “I’ve probably spent enough to pay off a house on band stuff. I’m the writer, the promoter, the driver and the manager.
“But every time I play in a room with other people – f—-n’ stupid as it sounds – I feel like that’s the reason I’m alive.”
Ah, there it is, the reason countless rockers keep on plugging in scenes around the world, to the detriment of their finances and health. At the same time, a certain skepticism tends to creep into the psyche as the worry lines become more visible.
“There are a lot of references in the music now about getting older and feeling this ticking clock, like, ‘I’ve gotta make something happen now!’ I don’t think that’s ever going to go away … well, unless something actually happens.
“I’m not counting on it, but I’m still trying.”
Moore’s latest attempt at making something happen consists of two full-length records released on the same day, last month.
The Max Cady album Wicked Ways (listen here) continues the riff-and-response, anti-melodic tradition, but benefits from increased vocal distortion as well as the studio skills of co-producer Paul Williams (Polyphonic Spree, Sorta, Burden Bros). It’s an apt, simple soundtrack for road rage: volume up, foot on the pedal, dead eyes forward. Moore’s on guitars and vocals; he’s joined by guitarist Craig Reeves, bassist Steve Murphy and drummer Tom Bridwell.
Bridwell (who runs Tomcast Studios and plays with Sorta and Chris Holt, among others) is also a key player on Moore’s second release, a solo record called Four Letter Blues (listen here). Here, Moore shows some unexpected vocal range and plays around with the musical influences that don’t necessarily fit on a Max Cady project. Anyone who listens to the Edge 24/7 could find something to enjoy, whether it’s the Toadies-worthy light blues of “Bound to Lose,” the subconscious Nirvana ode “20 Years” or the slow-burning porn-worship anthem “Lela Star.”
“I don’t think I had a specific genre I wanted it to fit into. … My place has an extra bedroom, where I keep all my gear and s—ty recording equipment. I’ll just go in and start playing electric guitar until I come up with a riff; then I develop from there. I’ll usually just hum the melody for a while. Although, my stuff’s really not that melodic. [Laughs.]”
And what, exactly, helped mold Moore’s musical tastes when he was younger?
“The first music that captured me was early ’80s punk. Minor Threat, Black Flag – I like the rawness of that kind of s–t. At the same time, I liked hair bands. … I guess it all just melted into what I do.”
So, the two records are available now, but Moore’s unsure about where he’ll go with them. The studio players on the Max Cady album aren’t all in the band’s permanent live lineup. Hell, Max Cady might never have security in that way. So its singer’s currently trying to figure out ways to perform some of his new material alone.
“It’s pretty frightening,” he said. “Not sure if my voice lends itself to the solo acoustic thing, but I’ll try it.
“Playing music is the only thing that brings any sort of change physically and emotionally in me.”
Well, here’s to change.