Can't Keep It Down

What pressure? On the eve of Timo Maas's 27-gig, 6-week North American tour to promote Loud (Kinetic), his debut album as an artist, the jovial Hanover, Germany, native is holed up in a San Francisco hotel watching dark clouds and rain spray the Bay area. But the dank atmosphere doesn't dampen his spirits. Though he's been pegged by fans and critics alike as the future force of electronic dance music, Maas laughs off the expectations and warns that he has no master plan. His music will remain as unpredictable as he is.

"I never much cared for DJ albums 'cause by the time it's released the songs are always three to four months old," he says of the standard mix compilations synonymous with DJs' full-length output. "What I like about Loud is that all the material is original and it gave me the chance to do whatever it is I wanted to do. I felt extremely more confident doing this album than my previous compilations."

To say Maas has been biding his time for this moment in the spotlight would be to miss the point. Sure he appreciates the accolades and is obviously pleased with the success of his releases, but after watching the DJ in action and learning about his production methods, one begins to understand the need at the core of his creation.

"When Martin [Buttrich, Loud's associate producer] and I sit in the studio, we just follow our balls," he says with his trademark humor. "We're really not thinking all that much. If it works, great; if it doesn't, then we scrap it and do something else. We smoke, we drink, we hang around and laugh a lot, and at the end of the day we get some really nice beats out of it."

On the strength of his two previous releases, the above-average compilations Music for the Maases and Connected, the buzz about Maas was deafening. Crowds worldwide tuned in to his catch-fire style that features goose-bump beats pumping an altered life out of songs; meanwhile his peers properly noted his deck skills and eclectic selections from a 30,000-plus record collection. He was anointed the proverbial next big thing but was expected to do no more than stay the mix-compilation course.

With Loud Maas spun the tables on everyone, delivering an album so inclusive and accessible that marketing pros are still struggling to categorize it. It's dance music but with song structure; it's futuristic techno sliced with pop trip-hop; it's spoken-word, somber and sometimes brooding, but with the soul of rock and roll preventing it from going under. It's Maas being himself, and it's the reason he's been taken from the DJ pile and moved to higher ground.

"Do I feel I'll be held to a different standard now? Yes," he says. "When you do something so unlike what is expected you can't help but be judged differently."

In the weeks to come Maas will endure the media microscope as he is scrutinized about production angles, pried to expand on percussion sequences, and grilled about moods generated by live-set selections. He begs insightful questions because of the paradox he presents: a no-limits, rip-roaring, devilishly grinning DJ who rocks the decks and creates original music that often delves into shadier, more cerebral states of mind.

"You know me from interviews and what you've heard when I spin, but you don't know who I really am," says Maas. "This is what I mean by surprising people. People have a picture of me and how I am so I like to give them something they don't expect to kind of balance it out. It's not a bad evenness though."

Cuts like "Help Me" and "Bad Days" insinuate pop-the-Prozac wax but come across with such fluid bass lines and sensual drum rolls the ride into the id doesn't feel so bad. And when he feeds electric guitars through progressive disco funk on "O.C.B." and "To Get Down," the result is a wickedly warped glide with basic beat perfection. Maas knows the dance genre and chooses to mess with it. He can and he will.

"My goal with the album was to accept the tools we as DJs have and to see how we can identify our music a little better," Maas explains. "My songs include vocals, but not," he laughs, "the high-pitched female voice screaming about love. Nobody needs that. I know the basics so now I'm moving on to creating atmospheres."

Which is why Maas intends to do as few mix compilations as his label will allow. He's contracted to deliver Music for the Maases Volume 2 but is already looking past that to when he can spread out his sound bytes on another album and mix and match accordingly.

"Volume 2 will definitely not be a usual DJ mix," Maas assures. "I should have it done early next year and then follow that up with another original album. I'm very proud of Loud, definitely happy with the end result."

His fans will be too. Unlike cagey artists who alienate listeners when trying new material, Maas has not forgotten what brought him to this stage. Loud is every bit the rolling club album crowds have come to expect, but he deserves the hype he gets when he sidesteps from the ordinary.

"What I absolutely love about the album is that some of the tracks were actually produced over a year ago but they still sound fresh," Maas concludes. "To me, production is the easy part. The only pressure I feel now is getting through this tour."

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Kevin McLaughlin