When Edward Scissorhands chip-chopped the neighbourhood’s bedraggled greenery into leafy masterpieces, he cemented himself as the most unexpected of topiarists. Attaching themselves to the same branch is 24 year old singer-songwriter (and part time plant partisan) Max Pope. Having started out in the industry at the tender age of 17, he bowed out of the spotlight at what some would consider their peak to have a year out working as a gardener to unearth the love he once had for music again.
A Crystal Palace native, Max spent a large chunk of his childhood moving houses and cities, an aspect that he struggled with during his younger years. “I picked up a guitar when I was ten years old and when I was a kid, my dad used to play guitar and harmonica in the house a lot, not very seriously, but he just used to play the same bunch of songs on repeat. I wanted to be a bit like him so he bought me a guitar and taught me in the beginning and then I fell in love with it.”
“I was having a difficult time at school and I realised I could write about how shit school was, and it really helped me to express things.”
The solace he found in a six string led him to attend the renowned BRIT School, whose alumni flaunts the likes of Adele, Loyle Carner and Kate Tempest. Of the time, he cites: “I moved to London for the first time in my life and it was great suddenly being surrounded by all these creative people. I had such a strong instinct and I knew what I wanted to do and was already writing songs, but I was developing my own thing and still managed to hold onto my identity”.
Following on from his stint at BRIT, he found himself teetering on the edge of a diving board into a pool of greedy, penny-pinching labels who were desperate to mould him into Ed Sheeran 2.0. “As a kid, the vast team of people around me were very money orientated and were pushing me in very poppy directions. My own style was dismissed and stamped on and it got to the point where I couldn’t write a song without worrying if it was gonna be a hit. I just wasn’t focussing on music for the sake of music anymore.”
“I took a step back from it, and it was a pretty bizarre time to do so when I was Spotify’s Spotlight Artist and had all of this stuff going on, but it just wasn’t making me happy.”
- - -
- - -
He shied away from the showbiz and enrolled himself in horticulture college, a change of heart that came as a bountiful surprise. “By taking some time to do something simple that requires hard work, and see the result at the end of the day, it’s very meditative and therapeutic. I quietly began writing songs again on my own and was learning to love the process of being creative again, and I realised what music means to me and it’s such a huge, powerful thing.”
“My dad runs a theatre company and I helped him out in mental health hospitals by doing music there, so I now have a very strong and clear understanding of it and writing songs that I love. Being a bit kinder to myself really!”
The fruit of his newly-green fingers comes in the form of ‘Up’, his EP that was recorded in the middle of a farm in Essex. Speaking of how he’s “grateful to be on the side of the industry that isn’t all manipulative, corporate machines and finally on one that is just dedicated to music lovers”, the record is a beautiful tapestry of the events that have shaped him as a person, whilst also touching upon those he comes across throughout.
“Lyrically, I think these songs are largely about people I meet and stories that I find, some of which I imagine, but they’re all quite conversational I hope. It’s not entirely introverted but it’s still an emotional product and is my way of healing”.
Max weaves a world of genres into his music effortlessly, tip-toeing upon dreamlike melodies in ‘Man on the Wire’ whilst ‘You’ll Never Die’ beams with a soulful glow. “There's a flavour of jazz, and at the time I was spending quite a lot of time in LA, so there's quite a bleached feel; I listen to it back and see blue skies and palm trees. And the whole time we were making it, the producer and my mate Alex were sending me the stuff from London so that was my setting and it definitely had an influence. I always listen to a lot of soul so I think this EP goes into a more soulful direction.“
“It's the first time when I've felt like the music I'm making tallies up with the music that I'm listening to which is interesting! I was listening to Nick Hakim who has these really sparse arrangements and his vocals just fill out the song and again, I've been really enjoying my voice and not hiding behind a guitar as much.”
Another heartwarming touch is his must-see video for ‘Foot of the Hill’, a collaboration with his mother. “She’s always drawn but wouldn’t call herself an illustrator. It was beautiful to give her drawings a centre of attention for a change because they’ve always been there since I was a kid and that’s her favourite song; she always had that house in her mind so it was good for her to get it out”.
After easing himself back into performing, releasing an EP and completing a bunch of UK shows, what could be next for Max?
“I’m already finishing off another EP but I want to do a lot more gardening. I need to get some gardening business cards made! I’m thinking... Pope’s Plants?”
Well, you know who to call if you fancy a patio with a complimentary serenade.
- - -
- - -
'UP' is out now.
Words: Becca Fergus
Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.