Noodles For Dinner — How Did You Choose this Life with Max Mitchell
Music has always been an everyday part of my existence. I was one of the kids who was forced into piano lessons at age nine, tired quickly, and treated it like any other obligatory extracurricular activity. Once I learned as a teenager that I could play my instrument in the style of the bands I heard on the radio, that became my gateway drug into impassioned music performance.
By Max Mitchell
Audio by Nate Kan
Music has always been an everyday part of my existence. I was one of the kids who was forced into piano lessons at age nine, tired quickly, and treated it like any other obligatory extracurricular activity. Once I learned as a teenager that I could play my instrument in the style of the bands I heard on the radio, that became my gateway drug into impassioned music performance. My first band set up in our drummer’s basement and played the same Green Day covers over and over (and over) again. The drums and guitars were always slightly out of time with each other, and I was screaming the lyrics into a microphone we didn’t have. It never crossed my mind that my adult life would become a complete circus fifteen years later; all I knew was that every time my right hand hit the guitar strings during the thousandth chorus of “Brain Stew”, I literally couldn’t stop smiling.
I’m not a writer. I’m an overly analytical musician trying to convince the creative world that I can keep up. To be honest, I can’t decide if the opportunity to speak about my road and studio experiences makes me feel more honored or exposed. Regardless, I’ll try to keep my fragile ego in check and recount anything discussed in this column as authentically as possible.
Playing in bands became my normal while growing up. The more projects I was dividing my time between, the more fulfillment I felt. Once I got into college, I realized I could make some extra cash playing piano in a house of worship, or playing really terrible original music in bars with a bunch of old guys. After a few years of getting too deep into juggling school and my original music projects, I decided that I needed to choose between school and music, and turn my back on the other forever. I figured I could always go back and finish my business degree, so I chose to focus on music. That was seven years ago, and I’ve been in the beautiful nonsense of full-time music ever since.
After cutting my teeth in Atlanta for four years, I decided to get away from the environment I was in and move to Los Angeles. All I really wanted to do was pop tours, but thanks to some bizarre events, I ended up falling into music production. I had no idea what I was doing; I barely knew how to plug in a microphone, but many long nights and YouTube tutorials later, I was paying my modest bills making records for songwriters. After a few years of pulling 16-hour days, I was called to play keyboards with a support act on a major pop tour. I was so ready for a new experience, some perspective, and the ability to actually save money. I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and took the opportunity.
I’m writing this from a Texas-bound plane headed to a music festival called South by Southwest. I’ve been on the road roughly 60% percent of the last two years. I’ve been all over the world to places I otherwise never would have been able to visit. There are great things that make my job one big life-changing experience, but you might also hear people who do what I do talk about how exhausting it is; this is not an exaggeration. Time for some real talk — oftentimes, I get off of a plane, get in a car to head to the venue, spend 12 hours working at said venue, find a 20-minute window to squeeze in a meal, check into the hotel around 1 am after load out, and hope for five hours of sleep before meeting in the lobby at 6 am to head to the next city. I’ve been on tours where this is the daily itinerary for an entire month, with an occasional off-day to break up the madness. If there is any glamour related to this job, it’s the 30-minute to two-hour window every night where our team performs to a crowd of 30 to 30,000 people, who I can only hope are enjoying themselves. The glamour ends there. In 2014, I performed at Staples Center, went home on the city train because it was cheaper than taking an Uber, plunged my apartment’s ancient toilet, and ate some microwaved noodles for dinner. Okay, the microwaved noodles thing is a lie; I probably met some friends at some hip burger joint and drank craft cocktails all night because that’s where all of my disposable money goes.
I haven’t been working in music near long enough to have the attitude of a jaded old man. I get paid enough to live a halfway decent life, I love what I do, and I wouldn’t change a damn thing about my career thus far. I want anyone who virtually follows me around to see the beautiful skylines I get to see and all of the weird food I get to eat, but the “rock star” image is still a fairytale lifestyle that died when Napster became a thing and all music industry salaries got cut in half. Don’t think for a second that toilet plunges itself.