When Maxwell last released an album there was no war in Afghanistan, Mario Lemieux was still in the NHL and the soul singer still had a massive afro. That was eight years ago. “Only in hindsight can you see that it’s a lot of time off,” says the now short-haired vocalist.
He may have recently realized that the gap between his 2001 release Now and his latest, BLACKsummers’night, was actually a large one, but that could be because in between “living” and “taking time off to experience life” he was making the music that would become his new disc, plus the two records he plans to release in 2010 and 2011.
While he was still writing, though, he says he was doing it on his own terms, without any real plans to get back into the industry.
“I was making music, but just for myself with no real reward or result needed,” he says on the phone from Toronto where he was warming up for his first ever arena tour. “I wasn’t worrying about will this get on radio, I was just making songs for the joy of making songs.”
With no pressure to release his music, it’s no wonder that BLACKsummers’night sees Maxwell at his most relaxed. It’s also the best album of his career. The disc is loaded with delicate soul numbers, soft R&B, horns, electonica and even some Radiohead-like noises.
“We had a windshield wiper loop,” says a proud Maxwell, adding that Thom York and co. inspired some of the sounds on the disc. “I love Radiohead. They’re the illest rock band in the world. They don’t go for hits or radio play — they’re real artists.”
Unlike the English rock group, though, Maxwell’s got his sights set on releasing a trilogy of albums with this one being the first part. The musician explains that this disc is about losing love, the second about finding love and third about making love.
Naturally, his idea came from some of the things he experienced during his time off. “It’s inspired by a particular relationship,” he reveals. “She didn’t know who I was. I could never imagine that in the peak of my hiatus a relationship would develop where she is completely devoted to me as a person.”
Not only did he find a strong partnership, but he found himself. “You lose your mind or get overblown on yourself,” he says, recalling his early years as an artist. “I got to be away from everything and to erect relationships that were based on me as a person, not on what I do.”
Now that his personal life is on track, he can focus on his music, which is something he intends to do for the foreseeable future. And since he’s in a better head space, he won’t let the success of his new album — it topped the Billboard 200 when it was released — go to his head.
“I couldn’t believe that happened,” he says. “But that makes me feel good as a person. It makes what I’ve done mean something, a lot more than the constant hustle.”
• Maxwell plays the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Friday