Tough Questions for Maxwell

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WRITTEN BY
John Sellers

While he may have parted ways with his signature 'fro since going into self-imposed exile eight years ago, Maxwell certainly hasn't lost the silky-smooth voice that earned him the title "the Marvin Gaye of the '90s."

The neo-soul stud also never stopped working completely, as evidenced by BLACKsummers'night (Columbia) -- his first record since 2001's platinum-selling Now -- and two other albums he'll release over the next three years. "I'm putting the music out in increments," laughs Maxwell, 36, "because I don't want to overpower people's minds and ears with too much."

So where has he been? Maxwell called us from his noisy Manhattan home to explain.

How tired are you of journalists asking why there hasn't been arecord in eight years?
On some level, I'm grateful that people are posing the question -- there's still interest. The darker side of that would be no conversation at all -- kind of like, "Who are you?" So I take it in stride. I can't complain about my life. I've beenreally, really lucky.

So...why hasn't there been analbum in eight years?
It's funny. That question always makes me go, "Yeah. Why?" At first, I was just working on the album and thought it would come out sooner. And at the same time, I was getting older. A part of me was like, man, do I even like doing this anymore? That whole thing of "I'm in my 30s, and I sing and write songs while people are fighting wars in Iraq." You know? So everything had tohave more meaning, and it couldn't just be about making money. So I took a minute.

I was hoping you'd say something crazier, like that you became a ninja.
Well, I did that, too. No, I think mainly there was a lot of reading. And I really got into piano -- intensely. I dated, and I dated without any weird fame around me, which was really nice. I had normal girlfriend vibes. No one was really chasing me because, well, people just didn't even really recognize me at a certain point. I cut my hair.

The publicity materials point out that the record was recorded live. What, no Auto-Tune?
We scrapped that record. That's where the eight years went -- it took me that long to re-sing everything that was sung in Auto-Tune! Originally it soundedlike BLACKsummers'night meets RoboCop.

Sweet. If this album is indeed the first installment in a trilogy, why do none of the lyrics reference hobbits?
You know, I just felt that the hobbit thing is, like Auto-Tune, a little played out. Plus, I didn't want to offend people. I want my audience to feel completely welcome, no matter how tall they are.

You have a lot of swoony female fans. Ever have a run-in with anangry boyfriend or husband?
I haven't had any altercations with any men seeking to find out if I would show up to Jerry Springer to take apaternity test. I don't have any of those problems. I will say to all the fellas out there that, seriously, I am a setup. I'm just like rose petals. I'm like incense. I'm a background thing for you when you do your thing with your lady. I'm a friend, only assisting you in your lurve machinations. So have no fear of me, people.

Does this record come with a box of condoms?
It should. I mean, we're trying to get a sponsorship with Trojan, but it could be a little racy. [Laughs] We should move away from this before I get banned somewhere.

Why did you expunge the naughty lyrics from your funky cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer"?
Because of Wal- Mart. I'm joking. I just didn't think it was going to work for me to use the actual word. I felt like "love" would be a good substitute for what he was really trying to express. I thought the way he expressed it was great, though.

"I want to fuck you like an animal" is a pretty good line.
Yeah. That's, like, really romantic when you think about it. Well, maybe not so much.

You should probably do a Rockwell cover one of these days.
I probably should, because that would destroy the assumption that we are one and the same. At the beginning of my career, I had to explain to people that, no, ["Somebody's Watching Me"] is not my song. That song came out in '84, when I was 11.

Hilarious. Wait -- what's that noise?
I don't know. I think it's my...It's my smoke alarm. I don't know why it's doing this.

Well, this has been a smokin' interview!
Yeah, it's going off because the conversation between you and me is spewing smoke out of my phone! SoI have to open the window now and air this motherfucka out.

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