“I heard in an interview that Sir Mix-a-Lot refuses to perform this one live anymore. I guess he’s tired of it,” he tells his Second Life audience. Then he launches into “Baby Got Back”, the 1992 double-platinum Grammy-winner from the smash album Mack Daddy. During the cleverly-arranged and well-performed song, Maximillion Kleene’s “tipping cow” Tipsy is working overtime, falling over quite comically every time the artist receives a tip.
Max’s SL entertainment career continues to chug steadily along, in constant upward motion since its beginning in 2006. He’s one of SL’s most enduring (and endearing!) singer/songwriters; he plays the top rooms and regularly packs them in.
I asked him about his screen name and he enlightened me: “Well, I picked it quickly, to create an account, I just thought of some cool names, then I thought of the evil robot from the Disney Movie, ‘The Black Hole‘ – Maximillion. So I chose it. Then Kleene was the only last name that I could pronounce from the choices I had.”
He streams into SL from Niagara Falls, Canada where he spent some early years studying piano and music theory while prepping for the notoriously-difficult exams at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Ontario. Then at about age fifteen – struggling with the program there – he took up guitar. We spent a few minutes chatting about his interesting playing style:
Traci Nubalo: I’d like to discuss your guitar technique a bit. You have a very cool ability to use strumming, fingerpicking, and a combo of the two. How did that develop?
Maximillion Kleene: I use a flatpick to strum and get kind of a percussive style. I learned it from simply trying to emulate the “groove” or “feel” of the song. I’m not totally sure if it’s something that I learned from lessons, or just from listening to the songs and trying to play it on the guitar.
TN: So you add in the fingerpicked notes as you flatpick?
MK: Yes. I don’t really strum all the strings on every beat. I use kind of different patterns of picking strings and strumming.
TN: Sounds like sort of a modified Chet Atkins style. On one song – Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” – I noticed you seem to keep a basic left hand position and create new chords and colors by adding or subtracting a single note here and there. It’s very powerful. And it lets you do that chunky rhythm thing, too.
MK: Yes, great tune. That song has a fun country kind of style; alternating bass notes, etc.
TN: Are you up for a little “Tech Talk”?
TN: What guitar(s) do you favor?
MK: I play a Taylor 414ce Limited Edition with upgraded premium woods. It has the built-in Taylor Expression System electronics.
TN: Great guitar. Do you run it directly to the board?
MK: I run it directly into the Allen & Heath ZED 12FX mixer via XLR cable and I also mic the sound hole. I mix one sound slightly to the left and the other slightly to the right.
TN: Vocal mic?
MK: I use a Shure Beta58a. And I should mention: in SL, my guitar was built by Myriam Beck. She made it custom. I took some pictures of my RL guitar, sent them to her and she used them to make my SL guitar. She did an awesome job.
Back at the gig, the mighty Max was giving a masters class in how to grab an audience and hold it for an hour. After an excellent (and sad) reading of “Fiddler’s Green” by The Tragically Hip, he raises the bar yet again by launching into Extreme’s “Hole Hearted” in which he displays extraordinary finger dexterity – left and right hands. With this audience thoroughly on his side, Kleene hits paydirt again with “Breakeven (Fall Into Pieces)” from The Script’s debut offering which he delivers in a crystal-clear and emotion-filled voice.
Then, in an inspired choice, he delights the crowd with a spot-on version of CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”. This one sent the room into overdrive and had the dancers breathless, while poor Tipsy suffered vertigo from all the ups and downs. Earlier I had told Max that I was impressed with his song list, both in quantity and quality. He often shakes things up a little by going into the vault and coming out with an unusual but awesome cover tune, the one you would least expect but that fits perfectly that night. I asked him about his process for selecting songs and about his great singing voice.
Traci Nubalo: You have such a wide selection of styles you work within. Does that make it easier to choose material?
Maximillion Kleene: I learn songs that I like, sometimes on the suggestion of regular listeners; I trust their opinions. Styles that I lean towards are fun, light, pop tunes, simply because it’s fun to play and to listen to also.
TN: Your audience seems to appreciate that, too.
MK: Yeah, I have some country tunes, old country, darker alternative, love songs, ballads; Usually it just comes down to liking a song.
TN: I know you play A LOT of SL gigs, but I rarely have heard any vocal issues. How do you keep the pipes in shape?
MK: I try to get enough sleep, eat well, drink enough water.
TN: Do you do a vocal warm up?
MK: I warm up, yes; simple exercises.
TN: Yes, it shows. Warming the voice up before a gig totally helps reduce the wear and tear factor.
One of the more recent avenues to fame as a SL musician is dual-streaming. It’s when Max is able to play a real time duet with another artist. It’s a tough process because for technical reasons the first musician in the loop cannot hear the other. Max enjoys “dualling” and has been seen around town jamming with top artists like: Stella Silvansky, Voodoo Shilton, Beth Odets, Marky Helstein, Gabryel Nyoki, Raspbury Rearwin, Lisa Brune, Edward Lowell, Damian Carbenell, Taunter Goodnight, FunkyFreddy Republic, Tamra Sands, AMForte Clarity, Mankind Tracer, XanderNichting, and Annan Dreamscape.
I asked Kleene to give a shout out to his huge fan group. He said, “There are almost 2,000 members now. I want to thank you all for enjoying live music in SL. One thing I’m still searching for is my own music to come out of me. It hasn’t really happened yet, but I know it’s in me. You guys have already written the songs; I just have to get it out.”
Max Kleene can be reached on his website:
Traci Nubalo : email email@example.com
Traci Nubalo ~ The Word: http://tracinubalo-theword.blogspot.com