Q&A: Kevin Max of DC Talk covers Bob Dylan, U2 on Serve Somebody

Kevin Max, DC Talk, Serve Somebody

As a four-time Grammy winner and one of the most recognizable vocalists from the iconic CCM trio DC Talk, Kevin Max’s 16-year solo career has been full of surprises. With myriad art interests like original music, covers albums, collaborations with other artists, poetry and fiction, Max is clearly happiest when he can follow his muse wherever it leads. With the release of his latest project, an album featuring covers of classics from the likes of Bob Dylan, U2, and Mr. Mister, we asked Max about the album’s origins and what’s coming next.

RIFF: Serve Somebody is your 13th solo project since 2001. How do feel your sound has changed in the last 16 years? How has it stayed the same? 

Kevin Max: It’s changed in the fact that it is more confident, but then again, I started out pretty confident – I was in a band that reached the pinnacle in our industry. The one thing that is a constant in my music is that I always love change. I am not the kind of artist that sticks to his brand and cranks out the same thing album after album. Most of my listeners will agree that I tend to confound and surprise. I have severe ADHD, so I cannot be limited to one style or genre. I am always hungry to write.

The title track of the new album, “Serve Somebody, is included in two iterations – one that’s more of a bluesy/funk take, the other more rock and roll. What is it about that song that resonates with you?

We started out with the rock and roll track, and the label wanted something with more of a groove. My producer John Painter went in the funk direction with the “special roll mix,” but it still feels like it’s doing service to the original.

The song has stood out to me throughout the years – Dylan has a way of writing something that continues to haunt you. You always go back and hear something you missed. “Serve Somebody” is almost like a nursery rhyme – but a dark one, packed with wisdom.

What is it about refashioning and reinterpreting established songs that you’re drawn to?

At the behest of the label and my old manager Dan Pitts, we thought of a collection of songs that married rock and roll and spirituality. I have always been interested in a good cover; this is my third covers project. With The Blood, I went after blues and gospel; with Starry Eyes Surprise, it was a grab bag of New Wave 80s and crooner classics – again, it’s just showing how schizophrenic my tastes are, I guess.

When you’re recording and performing a song, how does recording an established song differ from recording an original track? How true to the original do you like to be, versus putting your own stamp on it?

Original music is always preferred, in my opinion, but I like to give a break between original albums with a side project. I have done everything from covers projects to poetry. It’s never a question of how far I want to stray from an original when I am recording a cover – I just go for my most honest take on the song.

In the years since your work with DC Talk, you’ve released original albums and cover albums (including a Christmas album), you worked with Audio Adrenaline, and you’ve written poetry as well as spiritually themed fiction. What threads connect each project? What new projects and media do you see yourself exploring in the future?  

The thread that connects it all is me, I guess – that and the fact that I am constantly inspired by life and the mystery of God. The future is all about exploration – I am never happy with the status quo. I love to push myself as an artist, and I am always inspired by something – I don’t feel I will ever have a shortage of ideas.

You’ve got a new, super radio-friendly single, “Plans,” dropping the same day as Serve Somebody. Tell us more about it.

I wrote it with two other pop writers, Seth Mosely and Mia Fieldes. I will be honest and tell you I am much more at home in the alternative rock genre, but once in while a song comes along that is extremely radio savvy, and you have to go with it. This song is more than that though; it’s a reflection of where I am at in my life right now. It takes faith to believe that God actually has something in store for you beyond what you can see – this song is about daring to believe that.

After your years in the music business, what advice would you give to fledgling artists? What advice do you wish you could have given yourself when you were just starting out? 

Keep writing – don’t let anyone drag you down or naysay your creativity. It is a monstrous industry out there with loads of competition, but there is only one you in the universe. Make it count.

Where are the best places for listeners to connect with you and your music over social media?

All the usual suspects, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, iTunes, Amazon, Soundcloud, kevinmax.com, blah-diddy-blah-blah-blah. I can’t wait to see someone create something with more interactivity. Obviously, performing live will always be a constant, but I think in the future, we will create new ways to explore and create music together. Until then, I just put it out there and hope people listen.