The first thing you notice about Kirsten Maxwell is her voice. Kirsten’s clear, crisp vocals evoke a great deal of warmth and have a way of making the listener believe she’s vulnerable and strong at the same time. She sings in an expressive manner much like Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. It’s nearly impossible not to make that comparison in fact. Kirsten’s thoughtful songs combined with her vocal prowess and guitar chops are sure to make her name become familiar to music fans all over.
To learn more about Kirsten Maxwell, visit her website.
I’d love to know more about you and how music became part of your life. What are your first memories of listening to or experiencing music?
My earliest exposure to music was Opera. In fact, I experienced it first hand from the womb! My mother was a professional opera singer and she met my father at the Amato Opera in NYC. He had grown up performing there along with his brother. My father was a conductor and director as well. I learned all the staging for the role of the little boy in Madame Butterfly at age four, but during the dress rehearsal I got nervous (and also concerned about someone else playing my “mommy”) so I made my first official stage appearance at age five as a forest nymph in Falstaff. In the following years I was a street urchin in La Boheme, a gingerbread child in Hansel and Gretel, an altar boy in Tosca, and the first spirit in The Magic Flute (There are a lot of parts for young boys so there was quite a bit of gender bending going on, but I was a huge tomboy at the time so I loved it.) I learned how to sing in Italian and French, how to hold pitch and sing in harmony with other parts, and how to be on stage. I didn’t realize how valuable all this was until later. At the time it was just my life. I am so grateful for that world and how vital it was to my musical development.
Tell us about your first experiences on stage as a singer/songwriter.
As a singer/songwriter, I had been playing at open mics and talent shows in High School, but my first paid gig was during my freshman year in college. It was at the campus coffeehouse and sponsored by the student entertainment club. I got $50 for an hour-long set, but I only had 45 minutes of material and my string broke during the last song. Despite all that, I couldn’t wait to do it again.
Can we assume you have attended more than your share of open mics. What kept you going back? Did you get positive responses from the venue owners and the audiences?
Open mics are the best thing for a developing singer/songwriter. It’s like getting an education in performance for free. I learned so much that way, and I would not be where I am now if I hadn’t attended open mics. They’re also a great way to develop community, and that kind of support was really important for me. I’m really close with some of the other musicians I met at open mics and now we’re playing shows and working on projects together.
What about your songwriting? When did you first start writing your own songs?
I started learning guitar at age fourteen and shortly after that I wrote my first songs. It was an exciting process. When you start tapping into a creative outlet for the first time it is simultaneously rewarding and challenging, especially when you know that it is what you are meant to do. After I finished my first song, it was like a dam had broken. I was hungry for more chords. My mind was racing with ideas. It hasn’t stopped since.
Once you had enough original songs in your repertoire, what was your next step? How did you go about planning and producing your debut album?
I was fresh out of college and certain about pursing music. It became more and more apparent that I needed a good quality recording. With the help of my parents, we found a studio on Long Island and got started. I picked the best of the songs I had written up to that point. My mom helped me write out chord charts for the players to follow. They were all really talented guys. I remember when we sat down to do the first track I was supposed to be singing to help guide the song, but I had never heard my songs with full instrumentation on them before and I couldn’t stop smiling. Looking back, there are a lot of things I would have approached differently, but I think that feeling is inevitable in a process like this. All you can do is the best you know how at the time. I learned a lot and that is the most important thing.
If you had to name your biggest musical influences, who would you cite?
There are so many. Joni Mitchell for sure. Joan Baez and Judy Collins. Ella Fitzgerald is in regular rotation. For a few months last year I couldn’t stop listening to Celine Dion. Right now I’m on a Cat Stevens kick.
Tell us about your forthcoming recording. How does it differ from your first CD?
My second release is a six song EP (extended play). I recorded it in Manhattan with two other women, both talented singer/songwriters. We played almost all the instruments between the three of us, combined with synths and other effects. I would call it a folk-pop-rock blend. I think it is representational of where I am at now. I’m really excited about these songs. It’s getting mixed and mastered this month so I’m hoping to release it before the summer.
What’s the best thing that has happened to you since you joined the acoustic singer-songwriter underworld of musicians and fans?
There are so many “best” things! Most recently, the best thing was jamming with David Amram at the Folk Alliance International Conference in February. I’ve been reading his book “Vibrations,” which is an honest look into his early life and musical journey. It’s been an inspiring read. He had, and has, such a pure lust for life. Spending time with him in person was really special.