Image & Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“My first break might have been just having people in my life
that got me interested in playing music in some way.”
— Max Clarke
Max Clarke, known by his stage name Cut Worms, is a singer, songwriter, and musician hailing from Ohio who is currently based in Brooklyn, NY. He has opened for the likes of The Lemon Twigs and he recently released his debut EP, Alien Sunset, to critical acclaim. He is at work on a full length album, due out in 2018.
Alien Sunset is the debut EP from Max Clarke, otherwise known as Cut Worms. A collection of emotionally-charged and home-recorded demos organized chronologically during his time living in Chicago and New York, Alien Sunset spurs gentle nostalgia amidst its low-fi sound.
Cut Worms is the project of Ohio-born, Brooklyn-based singer, songwriter, and musician Max Clarke, who recently released his debut EP, Alien Sunset. His two-sided collection of home-recorded demos chronicles the emotional terrain of his transition from Chicago to New York City, ranging from mournful intensity to 60s effervescence. Currently at work on a full-length album, Clarke discusses the origin of his moniker, the process behind his home-recorded EP and how he seeks to connect with others through his music.
My name is Max Clarke, also known as Cut Worms.
Where are you from?
Originally Cleveland, Ohio. I’m now based in Brooklyn, New York.
When did you start making music?
I’ve been making music, or trying to, since I was probably 12.
Who did you listen to growing up?
Whatever was on the radio. In Cleveland there was a lot of classic rock and oldies, so a lot of that.
How did you get started?
My mom got me a guitar from a garage sale for only $5. It had hardly any strings on it but I fixed it up and taught myself how to play. A couple of my uncles played music, and they helped me. Then I just started trying to write songs and eventually started trying to play open mics and do whatever I could do.
When do you feel you got your first break?
There have been a lot of first ones that kind of start off small and then they get bigger and bigger but it takes a long time, so I don’t know. My first break might have been just having people in my life that got me interested in playing music in some way.
“The line is ‘the cut worm forgives the plough.’ I just like that. The destruction of one thing becoming two new things. I tried to come up with a name for a long time. That was the only one that I could say out loud without feeling dumb, so it stuck.”
— Max Clarke
How did you decide that this is what you were going to do?
It’s really the only thing that I am that passionate or that I care about enough to where doing it all the time doesn’t feel like work. It’s still work, but to a certain extent it’s kind of what I have always wanted to do.
What life events do you feel have had a big impact on you and your music?
Going to school in Chicago and meeting a lot of people and musicians there and spending time in the music scene and seeing how it all works was a big thing for me. Also moving to New York was a big thing that impacted me musically.
William Blake was an English poet, painter, and printmaker of the 1700s. Largely unrecognized during his lifetime, and often considered crazy by his contemporaries, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a series of texts written in imitation of biblical prophecy by the English poet and printmaker William Blake. It is probably the most influential of Blake’s works, depicting a dynamic relationship between a stable “Heaven” and an energized “Hell,” and expressing Blake’s own intensely personal Romantic and revolutionary beliefs.
What is the story behind the name Cut Worms?
I took that from a proverb by William Blake from his Proverbs of Hell which is in a book called The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The line is “the cut worm forgives the plough.” I just like that. The destruction of one thing becoming two new things. I tried to come up with a name for a long time. That was the only one that I could say out loud without feeling dumb, so it stuck.
Tell me a bit about your debut, Alien Sunset, that just came out.
Those songs were recorded at home in my apartment in Chicago and then in New York on my 8 track recorder. All layered and instrumented by myself, sort of as a process of learning how to record and write for the full length which is going to come out soon. There are going to be a few of the same songs on there, but for the EP I wanted to give the demos some life and let them exist somewhere instead of just deleting them off of Bandcamp.
Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
I don’t know. It would be cool if someone like if Phil Spector wasn’t in prison. Maybe him.
“My first break might have been just having people in my life that got me interested in playing music in some way.”
— Max Clarke
What are some issues that you want to address through your music?
I don’t really think about it in those terms when I’m writing but I guess I just hope to make something that people connect with and can feel camaraderie with. I’m not very good with words. I’m not very good at talking. I’m not necessarily trying to address social issues in my songs, but I think anybody who writes songs now or anytime, anything that is going on affects it and comes through whether you want it to or not, whether you plan to or not. There is probably some of that in there.
What are your interests and passions outside of music?
I like visual art. My girlfriend is a visual artist. I do illustrations and stuff. That is what I went to school for. That and reading books, and watching good shows on TV.
The Rim of Morning
The Rim of Morning is a collection of two novels, To Walk the Night and The Edge of Running Water, written by William Sloane in the 1930’s. Dubbed “cosmic horror stories,” the books are part mystery, part horror, and part science fiction.
What are your favorite books, film and music right now?
Books: I’m reading kind of a lot of sci-fi stuff. I read one called The Rim of Morning by this guy who wrote sort of cosmic horror tales. They’re really good. Then TV: my girlfriend and I have been watching a lot of Mad Men. I haven’t seen that many movies lately but for music, I’m always trying to dig deeper into more obscure stuff from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I also like big band kind of stuff and earlier Jazz.
I’m going to keep playing and keep trying to write more. I’ve had these songs for a while and I’ve got more that I’m working on. I’m just trying to finish them so I can keep moving forward.