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Life & Work with Max Lazarus

Today we’d like to introduce you to Max Lazarus.

Hi Max, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I really started making music with my family, they were all musicians and so it just became something I grew up with, something I knew I would always have with me. My mom and my dad both play the guitar and the piano, and I have two older brothers who play drums and guitar and bass, so by the time I was born we already had a band set up for us. There were always tons of instruments laying around the house, keyboards from our neighbors and family friends, mini guitars our parents bought us for our pre-school graduation, and then a drum set when my brother started playing drums. Our house was so noisy, having three kids and all those instruments, we grew up with a lot of cats and dogs too, so the doctors actually thought I was deaf for a while when I was a baby because I never reacted to loud noises. They would slam the door as hard as they could and I would just sit there relaxing. I guess I got really comfortable with sound, and as I got a little older, I became more fascinated by sound, and wanted to listen and make it as much as I could. When I got to fourth grade, the school let us pick an instrument to play for band class, and I chose the flute. I remember seeing someone playing it at a talent show and just thinking that thing looks crazy! It was so different from the instruments I had been messing around with in the house, and the mom of one of my best friends, Donna Milanovich, who is an incredible flautist, offered to teach me. We had so much fun, and she really encouraged me to take it serious, got me to audition for orchestras downtown and competitions, and even though I didn’t love the formality or intensity of those settings, I was exposed to a ton of amazing music and I learned how to play with people, how to practice, and how to listen to myself.

I picked up the saxophone soon after because my school wouldn’t let me play flute in the jazz band. I kind of just wanted to do everything my older brothers did, and again, I was introduced to a lot of incredible music but didn’t love the structure of learning music in school. It wasn’t really until my older brothers started pushing me to jam with them in the basement and to do gigs with them that I realized how meaningful making music really was. It took it out of the structure of a class, or an audition, something I would be graded on, and brought it back to a family thing, something personal. They taught me how to express myself, and how to say something important with the music we were making. Being surrounded by older, talented musicians always inspired me to grow as an artist, but more importantly, they loved and supported me as a part of the family, which just made everything way more fun. I started composing my own music, and when I got to college, I tried to learn as many more instruments as I could. I practiced the piano, guitar, trumpet, clarinet, and started learning about production and engineering from my friends on Ableton. Twelve years after our first gigs and I’m still playing with both of my brothers, and producing and collaborating with as many friends as I can. Family Junket is our new group that includes both of my brothers and our extended family. We’ve been focusing on finding and fostering community, healing spaces, and parties! Our first single as a full band comes out July 24th!

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I’m definitely grateful for the support I’ve received from my family, especially my parents, they never judged any of us even through all the silly gigs we’ve done. I don’t know where I would be without that love and support. There have definitely been struggles, it can be hard to just make art by itself, and it’s even more difficult creating art while having to support yourself financially and everything that comes with that. Learning how to make money with your art just gets really complicated. Sometimes gigs are funny. There’s not really any rules to this, and you have to decide for yourself what jobs are worth it to you which can be difficult when you’re also encouraged to say yes to everything. Working with people can be difficult sometimes because everyone is approaching it from their own way of doing things. Some people have practiced getting really stressed out about things, some people communicate in hurtful ways, and you have to learn quickly how to communicate your boundaries, while also supporting yourself and the artists around you. But that’s with any work environment, and I’m also a strong critic of the “being a musician is crazy or impossible” narrative. I’m so grateful to be able to express myself for a living, and it’s been so much fun growing with a community of artists who are passionate and compassionate. I feel really supported here and am excited to keep building with each other.

Another thing I’ve struggled a lot with is managing time. I feel so excited to do so many different things, composing and gigging and producing and practicing, I also like reading and writing and playing games and eating and other basic human things too, there’s just not enough time in the day to do every single thing every single day, so sometimes it’s hard to feel good about yourself when we don’t do it all. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to accomplish big things, and to do them quickly, and doing everything we want to do while still having time to relax and just be a person is a lot. I’ve been learning going easy on yourself and sleep, and feeling good about what you’re doing is a practice in itself. I spent a lot of time practicing my instruments and so learning to practice these other things has been super important and rewarding.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I perform and tour, produce, mix and master, and teach classes and private lessons. I love trying to have my foot a little bit in every door musically, so I can collaborate and support the artists around me who inspire me so much. There’s so much about music making that excites me, I love playing live with bands, I love producing songs for artists, I love getting sent someone else’s song and then composing three-part horn harmonies over it, recording saxophone, flute, and trumpet, and then being able to help mix vocals. I collaborate often with movement artists, have scored films and podcasts, and help facilitate sound meditations. I feel so honored to be a part of so many different artists’ processes. Music is so much fun and I try to learn as much as I can wherever I am invited to do so.

If you had to, what characteristic of yours would you give the most credit to?
I’m really proud of the work I am able to do for people, but I think just being kind and genuinely excited about making the craziest music possible has gotten me more gigs and opportunities than anything else. I love laughing with people on stage and getting dinner after gigs. I’ve been invited to recording sessions or gigs after just hanging out with people, who hadn’t even heard me play yet. And that makes me feel more relaxed because it’s no longer my job to be the greatest most technically proficient musician, but rather to be honest and present and have fun. And those things go together too I think, being a good artist is being a good person. It’s more genuine and meaningful. It’s important to be able to feel comfortable with the people you are playing with so that we can build a positive community together and express ourselves to the fullest. When we’re all making music and having fun together, I feel most successful.

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Image Credits
Grace Kerpan Ricardo E Adame Pulsar Li Eric Sabshon Mom

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