Meet Neo-Cowboy Maxwell Musick

Hailing from Tulsa, Maxwell Musick is equal parts cowboyish self-reliance and openly queer sensuality. 

Though he may project Bushwick cosmopolitanism with his lanky, workwear-clad frame, Maxwell Musick hails from the American heartland, having tumbled into New York in his late teens by way of Tulsa, Oklahoma. But the “panhandle” state, long emblematic of rugged self-reliance, clearly informs the 22-year-old’s art: In his new song and video, “Midnight Cowboy,” Musick channels his gritty place of origin, rocking cowboy boots and short-shorts in a dispossessed sprawl. 

Directed by Olivia Peters, the video is part American noir, part autobiography, referencing both the roadside hustler archetype and Musick’s vagabondish adolescence: After bouncing around New York apartments, some no larger than a self-storage unit, the singer called quits on his relationship and moved to Berlin, where he embraced a “free-love” mentality, even briefly dabbling in sex work.

Now back in New York, Musick is bringing heartfelt twang to the queer-pop landscape, drawing on his gritty travelogue, as well as artists like SZA and Björk, for inspiration. Here, the up-and-coming crooner takes us through his past and looks forward to the future.     

Maxwell Musick (photo: Tanner Abel and Nicholas Needham)

VMAN We understand you’re still apartment hopping! Where have you lived so far in NYC and where are you now? 

Maxwell Musick Well, I started off in the NYU dorms on 5th Ave., which were not nearly as glam as they sound, I promise. Imagine three boys in a small, south-facing room on the 15th floor, with no AC! Then that summer, I was in Alphabet City with a boyfriend and two other friends. After that my boyfriend at the time and I moved into a 180-sq-ft. apartment in the East Village, which I loved. But when I went abroad to Berlin, he decided to move out and packed up my things.

[When I got back from Berlin] I found a place, off of Craigslist, in Clinton Hill. It didn’t have any windows… I was basically never there. Then I lived in Bushwick for almost a full year [before contemplating moving] to L.A. for a period. When I realized I didn’t have enough money [to leave New York], I found a sublet in Bed Stuy. It was beautiful at first, but turned out to have rats, roaches and fleas in the bathroom! That was a definite low point for me.

Now, I’m in Fort Greene in a studio, with a shared bath; I have a wild deal. I absolutely love it, though it’s at the top of my price range. But still!

VMAN Where did you learn to write music? Was there a “first step,” practically or creatively speaking, in becoming a songwriter? 

MM I’ve been writing [music] as long as I can remember. When I was five, my godmother got married and I wrote a song with her daughter and performed it at the wedding. Growing up I was always singing. We had a band program at my school that I joined.

I’ve always been writing, but it’s taken me a lot of time to come to terms with structure and form. I found them so constricting, and still do sometimes… I’ve found myself becoming more editorial [with] my writing as the years go by.

VMAN You’ve mentioned processing “self-destructive tendencies” through songwriting. Can you give any examples of this? 

MM When you write as often as I do, it’s hard not to realize the recurring issues in your own life. I[‘ll] be perform[ing], and all of a sudden realize, Damn, I really struggle with boys, sexual empowerment, self-love, etc. So often, I’m not aware of what I’m really feeling until I write through all of it. Once it’s all written down, the situation or memory or feeling starts to materialize in a way that you can objectify and start to separate yourself from. 

Maxwell Musick (photo: Tanner Abel and Nicholas Needham)

VMAN Who are your musical inspirations?

MM My biggest influence would have to be SZA. Her writing and vocal performance on CTRL is something I go back to at least once a week. I grew up listening to earlier Björk, Mazzy Star, and Belle and Sebastian. Rihanna’s Anti is another album I go back to frequently, as well as Chet Baker’s “Sings” and early Ariana Grande. To warm up [to work out], I often sing along to Teyana Taylor… because damn those runs!

VMAN Where do you see yourself in 2020? In New York, or elsewhere?

MM I feel like life has already thrown me a fair amount of curve-balls, and I’m only 22. So to pretend like I have any idea where I’ll be feels foolish. I’d love to spend some time in LA, Paris, and Rome, though. I’m working on an EP right now and a few other projects as well that I’m super excited about. I’d love to be able to tour a bit too! 

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