When an artist didn't show up at his studio, Max's mind wandered into a world of David Bowie. Always having been a fan he thought it would be a cool idea to record one of his songs just as something creative to do and not to waste the studio time. Little did he know what it would turn into, yes two double albums worth of Bowie changed. The two records are a total joy and they highlight some of his more lost, under apricated work and put them under a new spotlight. So let's follow Max's journey into the Bowie world and read all about what happened along the way. One and all welcome,
Max Lorentz CHANGESBOWIE.
Hi Max, thanks so much for joining us here today. Now you are a man of many talents (which everyone can search for those themselves) but today I want to go into your Bowie world. Can you tell us where your were and at what age did Mr. Bowie first come into your life and was it instant love?
Max Lorentz ; Well, I'm lucky enough to have a bigger brother who always provided me with the good stuff. Back in the day he had two Bowie albums that I think he sort of liked but he probably felt it was more up his baby brother's alley so he gave them to me. I was around eight years old. The albums were "The Man Who Sold The World" and "Hunky Dory" and yeah, I was hooked. Very soon "Ziggy" was released and my poor Swedish self learned those tunes and lyrics (even though I didn't understand half of 'em) by heart.
A very nice start indeed. Which were the stand out tracks to your young ears from "The Man Who" and "Hunky" albums?
M . L ; Oh, blimey. That's a hard one. I've always been a sucker for melancholy stuff so.... I remember loving "After All" and "Saviour Machine" but it's all magnetic, isn't it? "Quicksand" is my all time number one in the Bowie catalogue. It. Is. The. Best!!! Also, of course, the "Bewley Brothers". But these records are both five star, aren't they?
Of course they are real gems and what one loves one day can change the next. I think that's the joy of his work, all the little nuances there are in there and you explore all those on your two albums, but more of those later. O.k. take us to the day you got "Ziggy Stardust" and tell us what were your initial thoughts in your eight year's young brain
M . L ; Can't fucking remember, can I (laughs). Well, all those albums... I just got immersed. The brilliant thing about "Ziggy" is that's it's the perfect journey. Perhaps "It Ain't Easy" isn't the equal masterpiece but it fits right in with the flow and the (musical) narrative. From "Five Years" on to "Suicide" there's a lovely trip (as in traveling, nothing else, mate). This feeling for the perfect narrative began on "Hunky" and followed through all the way up to "Scary"; where every song fits perfectly with the next.
Haha traveling only trip hahaha. Yes "Ziggy" for me is the perfect record in many ways. A song for each mood and much, much more besides and yes totally he hit his stride with the narrative position of all those albums, just stella work. Now before we get into your two "Bowie" albums, take us on a journey of how you got into playing and performing and in turn what lead you to even think about doing the Bowie albums?
M . L ; As I said before I've got a big brother who's eight years my senior and he's a musician as well. He inspired me to first listen to music and then to start playing. My career began in 1977 with the local punk band Silver Erection. Later on I joined the more well known punk band Bitch Boys who already had a recording history. I made my first record with them in 1981. And from then on it was music, music, MUSIC! During the years I've played a Bowie song every now and then but just a plain covers. "Jean Genie", "Changes" and "Ziggy" spring to mind. I've never ever gave a thought to recording a Bowie song because it's virtually impossible to do them any justice at all. Unthinkable. No Max! (saying that there is actually a studio recording of me performing "Changes" back in 1987). Then perhaps ten, eleven years ago I had a booking in my studio but the artist got sick and cancelled so I had a weeks' free time on my hands. I started playing around with some oriental loops that I'd found and somehow I started singing the vocal line to the Bowie song "Yassassin" over it. I decided to record it and low and behold, it was pretty exciting. A Turkish reggae song over Indian tabla backing. I made some further overdubs and realised this was pretty fun. I soon started on the next one which I think was "All The Madmen".
Yes to take on someone's work of such stature must have been daunting to start with but, it seems you took to it very easily. You said "Madmen" was next, did you just do whatever song came to mind or was it planned to be a record at this point? I guess not?
M . L ; After a while a plan started to grow. There were some rules set up; one track per Bowie album 67-80 (first album, 83-2016 second album). No hits. Because I have a deeper voice all the songs were taken down five steps. The songs DB did on piano I did on guitar and vice versa (where applicable). Using mainly acoustic instruments wasn't a rule, it was rather what I was into at the time. The songs aren't necessarily my all time favourites but songs I thought was possible to put my own marks on and to do justice to. "Yassassin" isn't yours nor my favourite from "Lodger" but it just happened to be the one I chose. Also; some of the tracks are more important, both for me and for Bowie, than others but that doesn't disqualify them. For every "Five Years" (important) there's an "Amazing" (not as important).
Yes much deeper voice than Bowie's, which I think adds a different feel to the songs of his you cover. Ok, let's talk about the first record "Kiss You In The Rain". First track up is "Station To Station" part one which falls into the important category I would say. Tell us how you approached it and was it clear from the get go what you wanted or was it more of a let's start and see where it goes from here?
M . L ; Oh I forgot another one of the "rules" for the first album was: in the recording room I placed two Telefunken tube mics from the early sixties right and left and didn't move them during the whole album. Instead I moved places in the room when overdubbing stuff which makes it sound like there's an orchestra in there (there isn't!). This can be especially be heard on tracks like "Scream Like A Baby" where there are lots of instruments. When recording I placed a big membrane Neumann tube mic between the others. This works the same way as DBs vocals on the track "Heroes". When I sing soft, only the mid mic picks me up but when I start to holler the other two mics pick up the whole room so it's sort of a natural reverb.
"STS" was destined to be split in two on my record as I think Part one, as you say, is very important. Part two is more happy go lucky. And when the idea came up to begin and end the album with the two versions I thought that was brilliant. Part one, as all the other tracks, started out with just guitar and vocals (or piano and vocals) and then I decided that the track needed more.
I particularly like "STS" part one. It's very emotional for me. And very soft. Part two lacked a solo at the end and I tried everything; guitar, sax etc.. Nothing worked. Then I came up with the splendid idea of instead of a standard solo I would sing other Bowie songs over the backing. This in return led to the most crazy idea I've had for ages. This is very technical so stop me if I'm going to far.
No, please continue
M . L ; I set up a loop of the ending of "STS" part two over which I then sang a snippet of, for example "Laughing Gnome". Then I dubbed that four times, so every line has five Max's singing. But I couldn't stop so I proceeded to record more and more snippets. More than I needed, haha. In the end I had recorded one hundred and eighty five different snippets (times five mate) of Bowie songs of which I chose perhaps ten of fifteen to put in the outro of "STS" Part two. Hmmmm, what shall I do with the rest? Well, I consequently took away the backing music and lined up all of the snippets in rhythm which ended up being the bonus CD titled simply "185 Bowie Songs". Have you heard it?
Yes the record sounds just so full and interesting, and now we know why, great studio information there. Ok, yes a great idea to bookend the record with both parts of "Station To Station" and yes it does just sound wonderful. The one hundred and eighty five songs bonus cd, yes I have heard it and it is just so very intense, almost like a Bowie infomercial of sorts, once again great idea, the juices were flowing for sure. Now let's talk about some more tracks on the first record "Kiss You In The Rain", "Be My Wife" sounds oh so different, it was a single but not a hit. Did this have a personal connection with you or was it just let's try this track?
M . L ; Re; "Be My Wife". No, no personal connection. Just a beautiful song. But quite a few people have come up to me and told me that they played my version at their wedding ceremony. That's something, huh?
Again a stripped down version played on my son's children's Spanish guitar. You see, part of the idea with these albums is to show people how beautiful Bowie's songs are. I love most of his material, especially everything from the seventies, but sometimes these songs are very "produced". I love the production of the "Low", "Heroes", "Lodger", "Scary Monsters" albums but I'd thought it would be interesting to see what happened if I peeled off all the layers of instruments and production. My vision was to find the absolute essence of the original track, take away all the extras and see what would be left. In the case of this just a very beautiful composition.
I'm a record producer as well and normally when making pop or rock records one tries to add excitement to the tracks by adding or subtracting instruments during the song. For example; when the second verse begins, let's put some strings on to make it lift a little. Or perhaps an extra guitar or some keyboards or whatever. On "Be My Wife" I came up with the great idea to lift the second verse by adding a street recording I did a long time ago in Vietnam. It's the sound of people hustling, car horns honking, rain raining and the normal everyday wheeling and dealing going on. And it works miracles (I think).The whole song lifts a bit and nothing else was needed. Also for me the track "Be My Wife" is so tightly connected with the song that comes after, "A New Career"…,so why not glide into that. Also I got to play the water filled beer bottle on that one (which we also use when we play it live). You know; you fill it up to get the right note and then blow from the side.,,,
Yes a killer version and what great insight there from you about what you wanted to do with the records. Also the title of the album was great thinking, taking a line from "Blackout", from "Heroes". I am sure a lot of people would have named the record "Heroes", which would be fine, but you thinking a little deeper again shows us your love of his music and all the ideas behind them, great move. Next one I want to mention is "Rock n Roll With Me", I love this song and I kind of think of it as a grown up brother of "All The Young Dudes". This version of the track is killer is the song a personal favourite of yours?
M . L ; I think we can all agree that "Rock N Roll With Me" isn't the most important song on "D. Dogs" ("Sweet Thing" is) but it's always had a special place in my heart. It's so neat, so beautiful. And the DB vocal take is...….fantastic!!!!! He sings it so well. It's a piano led song from the beginning so I did it on guitar. What I did was I recorded the basic guitar at double speed but also played it double tempo one octave up (on the guitar). The result, when slowed down to normal speed, is that the guitar is in the right tempo and the right key but it sounds sort of sedated, guitars on downers if you will. It gives the song a special vibe. Also very pleasant to sing, of course.
I hear ya "Sweet Thing" is pure genius, but likewise I have always loved "Rock n Roll With Me". Another track, "Quicksand" (we have touched on this before). I like the "Hunky" version but there was an amazing acoustic version he did in the late nineties that was jaw dropping, for me anyway. So thoughts on this track.
M . L ; "Quicksand". Oh my. That's the holy grail for me. That's his absolutely best song, I think. I cannot possibly do that track justice. But I tell ya, it's fantastic to sing. Well, as the original is played on acoustic guitar I'm piano and actually lots of my beloved Hammond organ. We're all so familiar with the little fills and licks of Miss Wakeman. Had to have all those in. I've got this funky electronic Casio saxophone from the late eighties (I think) and I used that for all of the fills. It's beautiful isn't it? I haven't heard your nineties version (that I recall) but the real smack on the nose for me was when I heard DB's demo. Oh man. That was enormously beautiful. So that was an inspiration also.
Yes a gem of a track, I think a lot of "Space Oddity", "Man Who" and "Hunky" all bear a melancholy vibe to them, and as such he sounds so vulnerable and that right there is were Bowie's gold is. As much as I adore the glam era, those earlier albums just blow all that out of the water, if your in the right mood that is. Ok "Yassissin" we have touched on before, I think it is a killer track and many people wouldn't even know it was a Bowie track, I really dig the strange vibe here. So that's the first record done, I think we can let people find out all the other tracks on there for themselves. So let's talk about hot you got it released and in what formats. Did you insist on a vinyl issue being as you are a Bowie vinyl collector?
M . L ; You nailed it; the melancholy. But I think we can find that all through his work. All the way up to "I Can't Give Everything Away". What hit me when I started working on the second album was how much more melancholy there was in both music and, especially, lyrics.
Thanks for the kind words re; "Yassassin". Yeah, it's cool with the loops and my sitar and that very "expressive" way of singing. I like it.
Rounding up album number one. I think it's kind of fun with all the Easter eggs, something I kept on album number two where the Easter eggs are more concentrated on "Hunk D". And I have to mention one of my fave's; "Can You Hear Me". I started out just putting on a guide synth that I could sing to and then a beat, in this case a real heart beat. The plan was to take these things away and put on other stuff such as guitars or piano or whatever. The meaning was certainly to record those well known backing vocals in one way or another. Then, when listening back to the original demo for some time I realised that this was good as it was. So what you hear on the end result is that quirky synth and that heart beat and that's it. For us who know the original by heart we can sort of hear all the left our backing vocals in our head can't we? I do love that one.
I had no plans for "Kiss You"...I just put it up on what was the only real place of uploading back in the day MySpace (laughs). Somehow a guy named Ake Svensk managed to hear it, contacted me to ask where he could buy it and having heard my reply that it wasn't released he proposed to release it himself. He's a very wealthy man with an unhealthy taste for nice vinyl. So we made the CD in 2011 and the double lp in 2013. He's become my record company guy and my, sort of, mecenate. I could never afford to make those beautiful, costly, tasty coloured vinyl double lp's myself.
MySpace wowie hahahah. Ok that's the first record done and now before we get into the tracks on the second record "Shinning Star", was your thought of doing a follow up project always there in your mind, or did you return to it via another project?
M . L ; I think it came pretty quick. Couldn't stop there now could I? Perhaps I even started to record some basic for "Shinning"...even before "Kiss You"....was released. The end result was so gratifying that I probably couldn't wait to start work on the next one. It's basically one project, I s'pose. I remember having my piano newly tuned and I had found a new way to mic it which sounded extraordinary so there and then I recorded the piano part for "Loving The Alien". Next one, I remember, was "Shopping For Girls" which was recorded on a guitar manufactured in 1898. I wonder where the fuck that's gone.....
Yes it does seem like one project to be honest. Ok let's get into the tracks. Now for me eighties Bowie is not a great place, but with the title track you have transformed a poorly and over produced song into a real gem and your voice really does soar on this track. Was it a favourite song or was it just an idea to make the song better?
M . L ; I know the general feeling towards DBs eighties output and I guess we can detect that "Tonight" wasn't made with the greatest interest from the artist himself. But there's still that amazing song "Loving The Alien" and as a producer and recording engineer I can see beyond the dated production of his eighties albums. And one mustn't forget that Bowie's singing on "Tonight" and "NLMD" is perhaps some of his best - ever. Yes, really! Shortly; I loved "Let's Dance" when it came out but I'm not equally excited anymore. I liked "Tonight" when it came out despite it's obvious flaws and I can actually really like it now (yes I'm very sick). "NLMD" is partially under rated, me thinks. There's always those boring discussions regarding the production, to which I say; just listen to the tunes.
Yes, I could hear what a jewel "Sinning Star" was from the beginning. It's really beautiful and I've always loved it. Yes, we could all live without the rap (there's no rap in my version). My intention has been, all through, to strip down DB's songs and display them as they really are. Presumptous, moi?
The title track is also sublime and I really like "The Glass Spider" (except for the spoken intro). "Time Will Crawl", "Beat Of Your Drum" are also good ones. I even like the one Bowie took away; "Too Dizzy". But yes, there are some atrocious tracks ("'87" & "Cry", anyone?) and some frankly boring songs ("Day in"...) which I can't be bothered with. Therefore I was really excited to read about the "new version" of "NLMD". Turns out it's totally and utterly worthless and already much more dated than the original. Pete Frampton come back!!!!
Haha yes, I didn't even bother with the remix, however if I live to maybe three hundred years old I may haha. Yes some stunning moments on those records and you mention "Loving The Alien", your version wipes the floor with what was released and again a stella vocal performance. Was it easy to change the vibe of the eighties stuff or was it even more of a challenge to make it sound better and try and alert people to the occasional genius of those songs?
M . L ; No, not hard at all. Strip 'em down to the core and see what's left. That's certainly true about the drum and bass and techno tunes. One fav' is "Deranged".
Yes I was going to mention "I'm Deranged", it's just epic and leaves nothing out, a cracking version. I like a lot of the techno stuff as it was released but this version is a great take on it. You did "Shopping For Girls" and "Amazing" by Tin Machine (who I loved and still do), did any other Tin Machine songs spring to mind or did these two just shout out to you? I would love to hear what you would do with "I Can't Read"....
M . L ; The first TM song that came up was, two minds think alike, "I Can't Read", but I couldn't really find a good way of doing it since Bowie had made a toned down version already himself. The only other song that I felt I could do something with was "Amazing". I actually copied the whole background of one of my older songs, "Close Behind" off my album 12 Songs, re-tuned it and made some additional over dubs and, voila; amazing. Talk about rehashing.. haha. It's hard to find something that grabs me, composition-wise on TM two but obviously I got the feeling for "Shopping"...I like the riff.
I hear ya, maybe a future one to do, thinking outside of the box for "I Can't Read". Now "Reality" not a great record for me, but the title track you do here is very interesting. It definitely has an early Roxy Music vibe to it. Also I would to hear what you would do with "Bring Me The Disco King" from the same record, tell us about taking on "Reality"
M . L ; Firstly; the "rule" or vision for "Shinning Star" was to try to have my son Kevin, a renowned cellist who lives in Amsterdam, as well as the Swedish jazz singer Anna Sise on every track of the album. They're not on all of them but almost. "Reality" is not a bad album it's sort of...boring. I totally love George Harrison's solo albums (more than what is healthy) and "Try Some".. is an all time favourite so imagine my happiness when I read about Bowie covering it. Turns out it's just a total rip-off/cover. What's the bloody use? "Black Tie"...is Bowie's absolutely worst album, in my opinion, and "Reality" a close second. Because it's so half done. The same guy who wrote epic tunes like "Life On Mars", here only comes up with some half hearted songs that consist of verse/chorus/verse/chorus/end. It's so.. nothing. I think. "Disco King" is supposed to be stripped down INTIMATE Bowie that we LOVE and long for, but it never goes anywhere. As much as I love Mike Garson, and I do as you can tell on my versions of "All The Madman" and "I'm Deranged", even he can't lift this boring old take of what is ultimately a good song. Would love to hear the demos he did of it for earlier records.. sorry for off-railing. I found "Reality" to be the only song that I could do anything with. I recorded piano and vocals and sent it to my friend Bebe Risenfors, a multi instrumentalist, who's played on quite a few Tom Waits records. He sent back what you hear on the record. An amazing arrangement of all kinds of horns, tubas and saxophones. I like it a lot. I also like your comparison to early Roxy. I was actually a BIGGER Roxy fan at the beginning than a Bowie fan. The first two Roxy albums; oh my. Tin Machine's version of "If There's Something" -ouch.
Yes Bryan Ferry didn't rate the version either hahaha. Yes I hear ya, those albums and "Hours", to a degree are un finished and could have had some gems on them but they are as you say, boring, unlike "The Next Day" and "Blackstar", which are both truly great records. Last song I want to touch on, on the album is "Lucy Can't Dance", "Black Tie" was not a great record and was badly produced and contained a bit too much of what was hip at the time and rap, really? The version of "Lucy" is so far removed from what Bowie recorded, your version does have a touch of genius to it. Did you give that song the same treatment as all the other songs? I can only imagine your joy as you strip the over produced nonsense away and then to find what a great song it actually is.
M . L ; "Black Tie".. was a hard one. There are some songs that are ok but nothing that gets my heart going. "Lucy".. is a good pop song, perhaps not an important one, but I needed an up-tempo endling like I had on the first album. First I stripped it bear, recorded the rhythm guitar and the vocals and then I proceeded to overdub all that I could!!! hahaha. Again Anna Sise has a prominent role as well as Mikael Fall, a member of my live band who actually won the prize for the best harmonica player in the world like five years ago. He's fantastic! And again Bebe Risenfors got to do this thing. And, as on so many other tracks on this album, it's a got plenty of references to "Hunky Dory" splattered all over it. Before you tell me to fuck off I just have to mention a fave from the latest album; "'Tis A Pity". It's just Hammond organ, an accordion and after half of it; a REAL CHURCH ORGAN! Every time I get to the part where the church organ comes in and....(censored).
Yes, "'Tis A Pity" is stark and very atmospheric, and a real church organ in there, nothing is too much for a Max Lorentz project! So that's the record done before we move on to what is next for you there must be room for another installment of these records. A few I would love to hear what you would do with would be, "Oxford Town", "Scary Monsters", "Time" (a very spacey Roxy vibe version), "Width Of A Circle" could be an epic and "Liza Jane" just for the hell of it and "Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed" would be interesting. However enough of me if you were to do another installment do you have any tracks that you would just HAVE to do?
M . L ; I guess I've done what I set out to do. One each, like. Would be weird to make another one. My exec asked the question of doing an album of my live show which includes some tracks from my albums as well as loads of hits but... I dunno. If yer interested here's a few of what we do live; "Space O", "Let's Dance", "Under P", "Panic", "Warszawa", "Mars", "S&V", "Wild Is", "Changes", "Young Am", "Fame", "Starman", "Heroes", "Where Are we", I "Can't give Everything Away" and of course a punky chaotic version of "Boys Keep Swinging". I could easily do versions of all the tracks you suggest but I couldn't find a real reason (except pleasing you, which is not half bad). P.s "I'm a phallus in pigtails and there's blood on my nose and the tissue is rotting where the rats chewed my bones" always sort of gets me up on my feet with a fist waving in the air.
Well let's see what the future brings, you never know and those lyrics do get you dancing, but this could sum you up.. "I don't know where I am going from here but I can promise you it won't be boring". Ok thanks again Max, so where can people get the physical product from at this time and what is in your immediate future?
Plans now; working on a collaboration with my idol Graham Lewis, singer and bass player from the fantastic original English punk band WIRE. I'm also gigging here and there, no planned tour with my Bowie band as we've just recently been on a short tour of Spain. Check me out on you tube for live footage. All the best, Max
Cheers Max good luck in the future and who knows we may one day sit down to talk about volume three! Be well.
Interview conducted November 2019.
Photographs courtesy of S - Rock (Tava Rahmberg , Joel Wareus). Treatments by suitsandtheplatformboots.