Music in 2020 Interview Series: Z100’s Maxwell Talks New Music Discovery, Interviewing Music’s Biggest Stars, Music Trends, And More!
This year, we started off BIG with our special feature The NEXT 100, highlighting 100 new music acts for 2020. To go along with this theme we’re seeking insight from different angles of the music industry to get a closer look at what’s ahead. This led us to Maxwell, Z100’s weeknight on-air DJ in New York City. What drew us to Maxwell? Not only is he insightful and big into new music discovery but he hustles hard and lives with purpose. I’m a big fan of his genuine approach to interviewing and his always entertaining social media content. As you continue reading you’ll find that some of your favorite artists are big fans of his too.
We’re lucky to have the opportunity to talk with him to take a deeper dive into his life and get his thoughts on the music industry from his angle of the business. Take a look at part 1 of our video interview above and part two below with full excerpts!
Editor’s note: This interview was conducted pre-quarantine. Please stay safe everyone!
We have to start by asking about your trip to Europe during the Christmas holiday break. What were some highlights from the trip and what inspired you to go?
“Europe was a holiday trip that I decided to take with some friends… I’ve made it a little bit of a tradition to celebrate the Christmas break in London… It’s just turned out to be a thing running three year strong now so I really try to go abroad when I have lengthy vacation. I also went to Portugal which was amazing. I did that for the very first time… I’d say a good 90 percent of the time when I think about a vacation spot or I think about a country that I want to go and visit I try to team it up with a concert, a tour, a festival. I’ve been to so many places just specifically to see the Chainsmokers, going to Croatia to see Cheat Codes and my buddies from Lost Kings and Galantis… Going to places like Dublin, Ireland to see Ed Sheeran or Shawn Mendes… I’ve been to the UK a couple of times to hang out with Niall Horan… Whenever I think about some of my other trips to Europe it’s primarily because I go to see friends, their shows, and plus it’s a lot easier to go and see shows abroad than it is here in New York City. It’s just crazy in New York City, tickets are super tough to come by.”
Talk about the impact music has had on you throughout life? Did you always want to become a radio DJ or was it something you discovered later on?
“As a kid my parents were constantly playing music in the house. There really was never a time where the switch just kind of turned on and I all of a sudden became this extroverted child. I feel like I was always performing and dancing. I was always doing something around the house that involved music. The earliest memories of me and music go back to my parents cleaning and there was something like Michael Jackson on in the background or Prince. I was big Motown kid growing up, that’s just the stuff that my parents use to play in the house.
As far as wanting to become a radio DJ that really didn’t happen until I was in college. I played college football and to be quite honest everybody was bigger than me and I didn’t feel like getting hurt a lot on the football field any longer so I studied Communications in school and there was a friend of mine who was on the football team with me, who also took loads of classes with me, and he was on the local radio station for the college and also for the station I was on in the city and I just kind of bugged him a bit, so I guess maybe that’s when I thought this could be something kind of cool. When I realized I couldn’t play in the NFL and figured ‘all right it’s time for me to think of something else to do’ I kind of bugged him for a job to at least put me in touch with his program director and it kind of went from there.
Started in San Luis Obispo, California. Once I started to get kind of good at it, it did become a passion because I was able to do interviews with artists. I was able to talk on the radio, and I was able to DJ in clubs, and to watch people react to things that I was doing was really kind of special…”
Landing a job as a radio DJ at a legendary station like Z100 I’m sure doesn’t come easily. What were some of the challenges you encountered along the way?
“Once I started in radio it was a goal of mine to do what I was doing in small town San Luis Obispo, California on a massive scale. Just most importantly to me was having the resources like the DJ’s that I listen to on stations like Z100 or KISS FM in L.A… So the biggest challenge was figuring how to bring this big city sound to some of the smaller cities that I worked in. I was in San Luis Obispo, California, I lived in New Orleans which was an amazing opportunity, Lafayette, Louisiana which was still a smaller kind of a city but always listening and learning from some of the other DJs that I loved growing up.
One of my icons and mentors is my buddy Romeo who was nights on Z100 for years, grew up listening to Big Boy who does mornings in Los Angeles and I always thought to myself like ‘wow if they’re giving their massive city fans this level of entertainment why don’t the fans of mine in Lafayette, Louisiana deserve the same’?… So the biggest hurdle was trying to present that type of an entertainment when I didn’t have the same resources whether it be computer programming, whether it had all the tools and the toys that they we’re able to play with, the tickets to the big concerts to give away. So I always made everything that I did sound like it was the most important thing ever… It could’ve been some movie passes to go and see a random movie that you can go and buy for $12.50 but if I was giving it away for free I wanted to make that person who won these tickets feel like they won the best ticket on earth, to make them feel as special as they could when I was talking to them.
Getting here to Z100 was a goal, a dream, and the fact that I get to pop through these doors every day and press the on/off switch on the mic here every couple of minutes is clearly one of the most special things ever”
In your time at Z100 you’ve done your share of work in the community and had a great moment with a Make-A-Wish recipient. What are some feel good moments at the station that really stick with you?
“By far one of the most special things that I’ve ever done in radio was with Alex Bamford. He was a young man who was battling cancer, glad to say that he is in remission, the cancer is gone, he’s now a college freshman at University of Michigan playing lacrosse. He was a musician, creating beats as a DJ where we found some of the music that he had on Soundcloud and he was coming into the studio just for a tour. I grabbed a hold of him, threw him in the studio, and we had a full-on interview. I made him feel like a rock star, well he is a freakin’ rock star, the kid beat cancer but he didn’t know that we were able to work with the folks at Gov ball to get him his own set to DJ and not only that, we asked him to provide us with a set that we were gonna play on Z100 during our what we call ‘five o’clock whistle’ that airs every Friday night where there are literally millions of people listening. So when it comes to doing things in the community I mean I’ve done the ‘stuff-a-bus,’ I’ve done the ‘let’s wrap gifts for kids’ and those kind of things that are all special in their own right but the fact of the matter was that I got the chance to go and have Alex live out his dream with the help of our family and friends at Make-A-Wish. That was one of the most, it IS the most special thing that I’ve ever done in radio… The dude’s got some dope stuff, so special.”
A big part of your job is obviously establishing a connection with people and you have a great way of doing so as seen in your many interviews. Is there an artist you interviewed that completely blew you away by what they had to say?
“Doing the artist interviews is easily my favorite part of the job because it does give me the opportunity to connect on a level that’s a lot more special than most people… It’s a talent of mine to be able to pull these amazing stories and to be able to get these unique truths from some of the biggest names in music… Most recently I’ve started what I call my ‘notes book.’ I have this bound leather notebook that I bought when I was on a trip in Italy and I actually brought it back and thought to myself ‘it’d be really cool to hear these stories from some of my favorite artists who have now become my friends. What are those songs or those lyrics that they either created or that they have instantly connected to?… what’s the story behind that for them and then they write in my ‘notes book’ their favorite lyrics.’ At this moment I’ve got lyrics in there from Halsey… Fletcher… Lewis Capaldi, I mean some really special people. Selena Gomez even… To hear their stories and why they love music and what makes them feel, is like the coolest thing to me… It’s a special moment that I love to have when I have these one-on-one conversation with some of these artists, it’s just allowing them to be themselves and to not feel like they’re in promo mode and trying to promote a record or a song at that moment. If we can sit down and have a conversation, that’s the dopest thing.
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The interview that probably stands out the most to me though… if I was going to say one that will forever be on my mind would probably be the opportunity that I got to sit down and talk to Lady Gaga and we had a 25 minute conversation just about everything, about her relationship with Tony Bennett, her relationship with her family, the very deep-rooted meaning behind the album title of her last album… It was amazing because she was quite exhausted about talking about all this stuff because she had been doing so for the longest…but she opened up on a level that was so special. They were filming in the other studio here her “5 FOOT 2” documentary and just to have her come to me and say like ‘thank you for just allowing me to have a conversation and not feel like I’m answering another ‘when is your album gonna come out, what can we expect kind of a conversation’ for Lady Gaga say that was like the dopest thing ever”
Getting into the music itself, the 80’s, 90’s, and even 00’s had a certain musical identity.With the decade now closed how would you describe music from 2010’s. What were some standout moments for you?
“It was a decade of experimentation. A decade of acceptance. There were a lot of different genres especially in the Pop world. A lot of different genres that made its way into the Pop world. You saw some Country songs really creep into the Top 40, Dance records, people like Skrillex and Diplo working with Justin Bieber. You had ballads like Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper for a movie. We were introduced to artists like Adele. Nobody has a voice on Earth like her. It was really cool to see people really truly be themselves and accepted and we’re starting to get a lot better at that now as we’re in 2020.
It’s just not going to matter what a particular sound is. Back in the 70’s you had a disco sound and that’s what was famous then. You had grunge in the 90’s and that’s what was popular, it was people following a pattern. Now music has gotten to a place where these artists are just experimenting and doing what they feel in their heart… If Lil Nas X, a black dude, is gonna make a Country song and put Billy Rae Cyrus on it, it can be the biggest song in music history just because for whatever reason it connected, it’s just good, it doesn’t matter. That’s what I think is really awesome about music in the 2010’s. There’s a lot of people really focusing on being themselves and their best selves and it was being accepted.”
As a new decade begins what are some all-around predictions in music for the 2020’s, from the music, to the artists, to technology, and culture?
“To piggyback on that last answer, my prediction is people are really gonna just do what they’re gonna do… People are seeking out music that just makes them feel away, smile, laugh, cry, to fill in emotions… The more that these mainstream artists are genuine and true to themselves, their fans are going to find them and the music is going to skyrocket.
As far as like the sound you never know… It’s gonna be insane to see how producers manipulate sounds and take different samples and flip them… Who knows what Lady Gaga is gonna drop? Justin Bieber, he made a song that’s just like straight R&B vibes but that’s just where his heart is right now… You got people like Kanye who are making gospel albums, so really it’s just gonna depend on what these artists are feeling and how true they’re gonna be to themselves, and I think that honesty to themselves and being who they are through their music, is what the fans are gonna gravitate towards.”
For 2020 specifically, what new artists do you think will have a breakout year? Any artist from The NEXT 100 list stand out to you?
“There’s so many new artists… Some of the SoundCloud artists and these people that are creating music that is truly going viral. When you start thinking about the fact that here at Z100 I’m playing music from blackbear and Trevor Daniel, that’s going to be crazy to see the longevity of their career throughout 2020.
I still don’t think we fully got and understand the power of K-Pop like BTS or NCT 127. These groups that have the rest of the world wrapped around their pinky finger. We got to see a little bit of that at Coachella.
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On the The NEXT 100… I’m looking forward to some of these artists hitting the festival circuit… I’ve heard of Esty from L.A. she’s pretty dope… Pretty Boy Hef, I’m trying to listen to more of his stuff. I have a friend that lives in Atlanta, I shot her a texts and she told me a little bit about his stuff.
Who’s gonna be that breakthrough artists? I don’t know if we’re gonna see another Lil Nas X ever again. I don’t know if we heard of who that artist of 2020 is going to be yet. I don’t know but we’ll see!”
We love playlists and your playlist #MaxwellApproved, found on the iHeart Radio app, is definitely fresh with new music. What are some requirements a song must have to find a home on the playlist? Give us a breakdown of some songs on the playlist that you can’t get enough of at the moment.
“About my #MaxwellApproved playlist… I love it because one of my roles at Z100 for a long time up until recently, I was the assistant music director. I was in heavy A&R music meetings. I’ve been the music director and assistant program director for several radio stations that I worked at, so I really love new music discovery. Being able to say ‘yo this is about to be poppin’, trust me on this’ sometimes being right, sometimes being wrong, but it’s just how I’m emotionally connected to records. But there’s also been those ‘hey you gotta listen to me..pay attention, some of these tracks you’re gonna want to mess with’… So that’s kind of what went into my mind when I put together my #MaxwellApproved playlist… It was like giving my little stamp of approval. It was a way for me to put my personal taste together.
What does it take to get on the playlist? I’m always listening… I’ve got relationships with the record labels where I’m getting the chance to listen to music maybe a couple of weeks before we actually press play at the radio station. It’s just part of the process, so I get a little advanced listening to some of the stuff. Also being friends with some of the artists, they’ll send me stuff way sooner than their label gets it at some points in time… I remember telling my boss like ‘yo we need to play ‘Someone You Loved’ by Lewis Capaldi’ like five weeks before that song was even added to the Z100 playlist and then have that be a number one hit… Doja Cat I love her stuff… Stormzy, we don’t even really mess with Stormzy here in ‘the states’ but his album is so so sick.. So it’s really me kind of trying to put my little projection on how the charts are gonna play out.”
Being so involved in music and meeting so many artists this may be the ultimate overwhelming question, but what current artists’ music do you find yourself really connecting with? Is there a certain line in a song that really hits you?
“There are so many songs I’m connected to, so many artists that I love for so many different reasons. I’m gonna give you two that really stick out right now. Halsey’s new album ‘Manic’… I know she’s a pop star and all that but what’s special about her is that she really does write from the heart and she says it like it is, and the fact that she dedicated her album to somebody who’s one of my best friends ever, she’s forever gonna be one of my favorite people on earth. There’s just so much history with her…
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The artist right now, which is really crazy that you’re asking me this question at this point in time, is probably be Jon Bellion. For those who know his connection to music, I mean he might not be the biggest name in music but that’s not really his M.O. … He’s really not trying to be super famous. He’s had so much success on records by himself, records with Zedd… He is that dude when it comes to people who really know music, they really know Jon Bellion. I’ve had conversations with artists that he’s written for that have said it’s been just as much of a pleasure to work with him as he’s personally told me that it was to work with them… At one point in time he had like five songs on the Top 40 that were playing. Like five total songs that he helped co-write or produce.
His song ‘Stupid Deep’… the lyric that opens the song ‘What if who I hoped to be was always me’… these lyrics right here (shows tattoo on forearm) mean the absolute most… I’m just a small dude from California who believed in himself and probably there were times where I didn’t fully think that I had what it took to be at Z100 but I kind of thought ‘I don’t need to change who I am to try to fit a mold. I don’t need to sound like another DJ to try to be a particular person. What if who I hope to be was always me? What if the success I’m getting now was always something that was inside me’ and it’s proving so… These lyrics, that song right now, easily the ones that I connect to the most, so shout out to you Jon Bellion.”
From your gig at Z100 to Nickelodeon and your online features like “I Know I’m Not the Only One” you definitely keep yourself active. What can we expect from you in 2020?
“I try to do a lot, I try to be busy and be as multi-dimensional as possible. It’s not okay for me to be a good radio DJ, I have to be a great radio DJ. I have to be an awesome content creator. I need to do things on multiple platforms so working with Nickelodeon is the dopest. Being able to be one of their live event hosts and being able to be on TV shows from Nickelodeon, to be a jock on Nick Radio station, that was dope… I’m fulfilling childhood dreams for a lot of people, it’s the coolest thing ever.
Hopefully I get to ink this deal again where I got to be the stage host for the Toyota Music Den at Firefly Festival, Lollapalooza, and Life Is Beautiful so I’m hoping that I get to do that again… I’m trying to work on writing a children’s book. Not a lot of people know that, so that’s kind of been in the process for the past couple of months… I’m just trying to leave my mark. I’m trying to again, do as much as I possibly can so that way I can go home and fall asleep at night exhausted because I know that I gave it my all… I just want whoever is opening up the book, who’s googling me, who’s listening to me on the radio, who’s getting slimed because of me, to have the best time possible… Why should it be somebody else, why not me? That’s kind of what it comes down.”
Maxwell’s ‘Firsts and Favorites’
First concert: “I went to a Menudo concert, like the first Menudo concert. I was on my Dad’s shoulders at a Kmart parking lot as a kid… I must have been 4, 5 years old.”
Favorite TV show: “If I want to zone out, Rick and Morty all day. If I really want to zone in, I love to watch Locked Up Abroad. How did I forget Love Island UK! I hope I don’t get arrested for this.. but I found a way to bootleg Love Island from the UK because I love that show so much!”
First job: “Chuck E Cheese. That was the only other job I had in life. Chuck E Cheese, went to college and played football — we were not allowed to have a job, and then radio.”
Favorite album: “That’s tough. It would have to be a greatest hits album. If I could listen on repeat it would Bob Marley, his masters.”
First car: “It was a Toyota 4Runner. Red, the kind where you can take the top off during the summers. Me and the homies would take the top off. I was stuntin’, I was fly”
Favorite NYC hangout spot: “I don’t hang out in New York City a lot because it’s hella expensive, but the radio station, Z100. Even when I’m not working I love a good bit of my coworkers, we’re a family. You can catch me in the studio sitting on our beanbag chair hanging with my girl Shelley Rome, there’s times where me and my brother Brady are just BSing after the show… Me and Mo’ Bounce are hanging out as we switch shifts.”