(above & main banner photo by Danni Hohensee)
South of Lincoln was ‘discovered’ via an innocent recommendation in the forums at AltCountryTab.ca and it wasn’t even directed at me. Yet, it ended up being meant for me…I know it. South of Lincoln (or Maxwell Holmquist) is, you guessed it, a singer-songwriter who plays slow and acoustic music for the most part. Yet, he does it so incredibly well by creating moods and moments that you truly fall inside of. Small slices of life via acoustic vignette. Some of these moments are of places you don’t wish on anyone, but in turn many of these cathartic stories set to music are needed by everyone. It may sound overplayed about a guy with a guitar singing of love and loss – but god damn if you can’t appreciate it when it is done this good.
South of Lincoln is coming out of his shell just now and I only hope to be able to help facilitate more fans of this style of music and this artist in particular. Do yourself a favour, read an interview below and listen along with some music samples. Best. New. Artist.
~~~Interview with Maxwell Holmquist~~~
With your recording moniker ‘South of Lincoln’ and involvement with Hear Nebraska – how is the area connected to you and your music?
I’ve always been sort of obsessed with place. The name of my first album is “Homes” and I actually spent time deciding between “Home” and “Homes”. I’m interested in the concept of home and where that place is and what it means.
Everything about where I grew up has influenced my writing. I think my nostalgic obsession with the folksy, early-1900’s aesthetic comes from growing up in a tiny, dying Midwestern town (Douglas, Nebraska: Population 250). Time has sort of stopped there and the buildings are snapshots of different periods of the last 100 years. Everything just moves slower there and it’s become a peaceful refuge for me.
I have a tattoo of the outline of Nebraska on the inside of my upper arm. I love this place. It’s full of inspiration in the way of beautiful scenery, rich culture and history and honest, heart-wrenching stories.
Hear Nebraska is working to show everyone that fact: that Nebraska is full of rich culture and that art is being created by multitudes of people across the state in various forms. It’s provided a community and an environment that is ideal for creating.
Describe your recording style – your songs sounds more one-take and ‘off the floor’?
It hasn’t always been that way, but in the last year I’ve thought a lot about the value of a recording. Should a recording be a representation of what a musician is doing constantly on stages across the country, or should performances be built to represent something that was built in the studio, layer upon layer? The conclusion I came to, for myself at least and for the type of stripped down music I’m playing, was that the value of what I’m doing is in the performance itself. If I can move someone to come to some sort of emotional peak with a performance and the atmosphere of that evening and everything that’s going on at that place and time, both within the listener’s mind and externally, then I’ve accomplished what I hoped to accomplish. I want my recordings to capture that atmosphere and the surroundings. Half of the tracks on my most recent album were recorded to tape in the bathroom of a recording studio, the other half were recorded in the middle of a forest in a park outside of town. I’ll always remember that experience. You can hear the birds in the background of the recording and the setting almost becomes a part of the song.
LoveDrunk Studio, the group that shoots the one-take live videos that are hosted on Hear Nebraska, got me really thinking about the single-take philosophy. I think this combination of audio, video and live performance is something that will be seen more and more.
Are your songs taken from your/others experiences, situations or combination of both?
My earlier songs were all sappy love/heartbreak songs drawn from personal experiences. I needed to get those out of my system. In the last year, I’ve made a shift to writing songs that tell fictional stories or stories that draw loosely from the experiences of people I know or stories I’ve been told by people. I much prefer telling these types of stories.
Is being an ‘artist/musician’ what you thought it would be?
It’s a strange experience, especially when people you don’t know start recognizing you and opening up to you, telling you that they connected with something you wrote. It’s a really strange feeling when somebody asks you to sign something. I feel like saying, “I would love to sign this when more than 40 people know who I am.” It’s easy to see how musicians at higher levels gain reputations as assholes. I don’t want people to think that I think I’m above signing something. It’s the exact opposite. It feels so odd having strangers talk to you and know who you are and people wanting you to sign something, it doesn’t feel like it should be happening. I don’t feel like I deserve that kind of flattery. Then I realize that it’s not about me and if somebody wants that then I should just do it and thank them for their support.
What (& why) was your favourite experience in being a musician (a recording, a live show, writing the perfect song, etc)
There’s a venue here in Lincoln called Duffy’s Tavern that has given me a lot of love. I play there quite a bit. It can be hard as a solo musician to gain the undivided attention of a large crowd. A few months ago I played a show and as I plugged in my guitar I watched the crowd move from the bar to the stage and the conversations and noises all died to nothing as I played the first chord. It was one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve ever had: knowing that I had the attention of that many people, knowing that all of those people were that invested in what I had to say. After the show a few of the bartenders came up to me and said they hadn’t heard the bar that quiet in a long time. The experience gave me goosebumps. I felt like I’d had a great gift dropped in my lap.
Is there any subject matter that you consider off limits in your music?
Nothing in-particular comes to mind. I try to write stories that come to my mind or are dropped in my lap so I think my natural filter would leave out anything that I may think is off-limits for me. I try to avoid being political in my music. There are only a few musicians who I think do it well. David Bazan is one of those. It’s all semi-veiled in his music and it’s done with tact and skill. I don’t know that I can do that so I typically avoid politics and religion in my music unless I can do it without being too obvious.
In the current atmosphere of the music industry – where does the ‘singer-songwriter’ find themselves?
With record labels going where they are and the business model shifting towards DIY I think ‘singer-songwriters’ are in a good place. Recording costs are low and it’s relatively easy and cheap to put out a fairly high-quality album, especially when it’s just one person with a guitar and a voice. It’s easier to front the money yourself and the benefits of this are that more money goes back into the pocket of the musician when albums are sold. If a solo-musician can manage it, it’s the best way to do it. It takes a lot of work off state, outside of writing and performing music, but I think there hasn’t been a better time to be performing as a solo musician.
I also think the singer-songwriter/solo musician situation lends itself well to folk music. With the folk/alt. folk movement that has been building over the past decade or so it’s the perfect climate for someone to perform as a singer-songwriter.
It definitely takes a lot of work and can seem a bit lonely, but it’s a lot easier to manage one person and make decisions when you’re making those decisions for yourself.
Was this style of music always your choice or did you grow into it? In any embarrassing bands you want to discuss (marching, metal, etc)?
In high school I sang in what I would call a butt-rock band. I wasn’t always into fantastic music and definitely have some albums that are probably hiding in a box somewhere at my parents’ house. I listened to a lot of my brother’s albums growing up: R.E.M.’s “Monster”, Soundgarden’s “Superunknown”, Sublime, etc. When I was about 16 I got the Garden State soundtrack and got really into Iron & Wine. That was the beginning of my love for alt. folk. Over the next few years I was introduced to David Bazan, Damien Jurado, Will Johnson, Two Gallants, Neko Case, Andrew Bird, Mason Jennings and the sort. They became the soundtrack to every long drive through the country to the house where I grew up. Folk music became synonymous with the nostalgia that I feel for all of the great experiences I had growing up in a small, not-quite-ghost-town.
I’ve been performing in bars since I was 16 so it’s hard to imagine anything else. I have a degree in English and really enjoy writing. If I had to set down the guitar I would be content writing copy in pretty much any capacity, but I also can’t imagine having to stop playing music. I suppose my real passion is my family and my friends, but they’re already my passion side-by-side with my music.
This is really all I want to do. I don’t want to get rich. I just want to pay my college loans and feed myself. I want people to hear my music and enjoy it. I want the experience of traveling far from home and being able to sing to a crowd of strangers who appreciate what I’m doing. I want to connect with all of these people.
What are the recommend local bands that we should also be listening to?
As far as folk/folkish music goes: Manny Coon, Smith’s Cloud, It’s True/Adam Hawkins, Betsy Wells, Daniel Dorner, Orion Walsh, Kill County, The Amalgamators, The Mezcal Brothers, Bonehart Flannigan, The Betties and probably a bunch more I’m missing.
For non-folk, other amazing bands: Conduits, Masses, Dim Light, Nick Westra, The Machete Archive, and again, probably a bunch more that I’m missing.
Lincoln and Omaha have both provided and continue to provide so many amazing musicians.