The last time I wrote about local singer-songwriter Max Garcia Conover, I referred to him as Maine’s answer to Bob Dylan. I’m standing by that assertion, and my case is solidly backed up by the release of Garcia Conover’s new album, “Stagger,” which he’ll celebrate with a show Friday at One Longfellow Square.
The album was assembled from 11 songs Garcia Conover sent to his Patreon supporters over the past several months. Patreon is a crowd-funding platform on which subscribers fund artists, musicians and other creators. At the moment, I’m a Patreon supporter of two musicians and receive exclusive content, often well before it’s available to the public.
What’s nice about Patreon is that subscribers get to choose the amount of their support. Even a dollar a song, for example, is an OK amount because it all adds up. Garcia Conover has been using Patreon for three years and has just under 70 subscribers.
As for physical copies of “Stagger,” he told me that he’s pressing a few hundred CDs that will only be available at his shows. They’ll be homemade, with words stamped on the front. The only other place to purchase “Stagger” is via his Patreon page at patreon.com/maxgarciaconover.
The first single from “Stagger” is “Rich Man,” and it features multi-instrumentalist and singer Spencer Albee on backing vocals, synth and glockenspiel. It’s also an excellent starting point to talk about Garcia Conover’s lyrics. Here’s the second verse of the song: “I don’t come from money but I’ve been around it some/My friend went to a college that was like a country club/Where a hockey player left her lying naked in a hall/If you’re stealing from a rich man you’re not stealing at all.”
Brutally honest yet poetic, and sung with Garcia Conover’s durable yet warm voice that lets just enough emotion seep through. You’re able to understand what he’s singing, and this is key with an artist like Garcia Conover because you really don’t want to miss a single word. The next verse doesn’t mince words with its message: “You know they know you’re hungry/But they keep getting fatter/They know who’s getting shot/And they’re saying all lives matter/It’s fee fi fo fum and (expletive) your border wall/If you’re stealing from a rich man you’re not stealing at all.”
Garcia Conover paints another bleak scene in “Streetlights.” “She dyed her hair in a CVS sink/Cocaine blonde with streaks of bubblegum pink/She caught her father lying with a stranger in bed/Eyes wide open covered in sweat.” And yet, this is a gorgeous song, with keys and guitar, moments of spoken word and percussion like a straw broom across a porch.
Lastly, I’ll mention “Holy Rider pt. 4.” It’s an upbeat acoustic toe-tapper with words that spill out of Garcia Conover like a bag of jacks being poured onto the floor. “I remember stolen beer and candy bars, riding in the back of her cousin’s car/She put on your new CD and every word felt true to me.”
As much as I’m fixated on Garcia Conover’s lyrics, it’s worth noting that “Stagger” also has two instrumentals on it: “Stagger pt. 1” and “Stagger pt. 2,” and they are spellbinding.
I asked Garcia Conover about his songwriting and recording, and he said it’s a constant process. “I write every day, and I always try to have a few songs in progress.” Once he’s nailed down a rough chord progression and melody, the search for lyrics begins. Then it’s onto recording.
“These days I’ve been really interested in production and recording,” he said, “so I’ve been spending more time than ever on those parts of the process. When I finish a song, I send it to Pete Morse, a wizard/engineer who owns a studio called Red Vault audio, and he magically makes everything sound better.”
As for inspiration, Garcia Conover said that when some of his songwriter friends hear a song they love, they immediately want to learn how to play it. For him, the reaction is quite different. “I’ve never once had that impulse,” he said. “Instead, when I hear a song I love, I get a sort of desperate, hungry feeling that I want to go wherever the writer went in order to create that song. I want to go to that place and spend as much time there as possible. That’s what writing songs has always been to me – trying to get to that place. Sometimes I think I get there, and it feels like a wild frontier or a moonscape, and then of course sometimes it feels like a delusion.”
Garcia Conover told me he’s really excited about the One Longfellow show. He just got back from a month of shows in Spain, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland and said it’s been quite a while since he’s had his own headlining show in Maine.
He also offered a preview of what we can expect. “My shows are always centered around sharing stories,” he said, “and I perform as a sort of one-man band with guitar and percussion.”
The rest of the summer he’ll be in his home studio writing songs. He also will be part of the Ghostland show at Thompson’s Point in Portland in early September. Then it’s back to Europe to release an album he made with Son Canciones label mate Haley Heynderickx.
Garcia Conover has a few other CDs available on his website, maxgarciaconover.com. That’s also a good place to keep an eye on his schedule and learn about his prolific weekly song series.
8 p.m. Friday. One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland, $12 in advance, $15 day of show. onelongfellowsquare.com