Those familiar with Isla Vista surf-rock band Sun Daes were privy to a new side of frontman Max Goldenstein last Wednesday at Goleta’s Mercury Lounge. The singer’s solo act took on a new folky quirkiness and the calm confidence that comes with performing work of one’s own — all punctuated, of course, by the occasional flip of his signature curly locks.
Playing with his band and his hair with comparable fervor has readied singer-songwriter Goldenstein to take the post-grad plunge into California’s show business capital, Los Angeles. He hopes to see his debut album, Weekend at the Witch Doctor’s, gain more traction in order to work his way up from status as, in his words, “a meatbag that noise comes out of.”
Such disarming — and amusing — turns of phrase are common both to Goldenstein’s speech and his lyrics. His track “Call It A Crime” proclaims, “That baby talk, it needs to stop/You’ve grown a lot/Your PDA makes my insides rot/Just some food for thought.”
Goldenstein describes the lyrical style of his solo album as “scatterbrained” but matter-of-fact, the words set to a psychedelic musical backdrop that diverges from the poppier aesthetic of Sun Daes. He describes the combination of lighter melodies and more cynical lyrics as akin to laughing and crying at life all at once.
“I just got sick of those bullshit indie lyrics,” Goldenstein said. “I mean I love The Shins, but you listen to them and you’re like, ‘What the fuck is he talking about?’”
The creative process for his solo album unfolded more naturally than it had in past projects, he said, perhaps because this time around he drew heavily on his personal I.V. experience for inspiration. Goldenstein sees the first half of Weekend as largely a commentary on the many trivialities woven into the college experience, whether they be parties, personal vices or drunken conversations. Unintentionally, he transitions from this mockingly critical tone to an air of acceptance and closure in the album’s latter half.
Goldenstein has particularly grown to enjoy the showmanship aspect of his music, finding himself more prone to, “kind of lose [his] shit a little bit, and just … feel the music.” As he’s gone more public with his work as a soloist, some have likened him to singer-songwriter Father John Misty (real name Joshua Tillman). While Goldenstein acknowledges a similar sense of “realness” in his lyrics, the ideas and experiences he draws on to compose are entirely his own.
“It was weird to release it under my name, because I’ve never done that,” he said. “But this was the first time I felt like this was me. It was like, this is what I have to offer.” In the past, Goldenstein has released solo work under various pseudonyms, including Bingo Bingo Tuesday, Aqua Lounge and Max and the Marionettes.
During his years at the University of California, Santa Barbara, however, Goldenstein may well have sported more hairstyles than pseudonyms. Natural brown curls blanket the nape of his neck in something of a post-teenage rebellion — his parents didn’t approve of efforts to grow his hair out in high school. Past styles have included partial shaving and hues of blue and blonde.
“It’s like a security blanket in a way,” Goldenstein said. “When girls are like, ‘I want to shave my head,’ I’m like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I wish I had the longest hair ever.”
Though performance has long been part of his life, Goldenstein’s plans to pursue music full-time were not set in stone until recently. He had his doubts about the LA lifestyle, but came around after some research and conversations with fellow musicians like Mac Montgomery of FMLYBND — a synth-rock group that, like the Sun Daes, got its start in I.V.
“I did think about going to Seattle for a little while and trying to get an actual job with my degree and still try to do music kind of,” Goldenstein said. “And then [a friend] said, ‘Max, you know, LA is the place for entertainment.’ I said, ‘I hate LA,’ but then it festered a bit.”
By day — so to speak — Goldenstein is a fourth-year aquatic biology major and holds an unpaid position with UCSB’s Oakley Laboratory, studying the evolutionary traits of fungi. He maintains that even as a senior, biology appeals most to him of any field of study offered by the university.
“Who knows?” he said. “Maybe I’m meant to be an asshole on a stage, or maybe I’m meant to be a marine biologist.”