Maxwell on Why the New Album Took So Long: "I Can Be Overly Critical of My Music"

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Like most of us, Maxwell is something of a TV addict and an admitted fan of shows like Game of Thrones and House of Cards. And also, like most of us, his newest favorite is HBO’s latest hit, Westworld.

Westworld, Westworld, Westworld,” he gushes. “I am loving this show, and Jeffery Wright is amazing.” But don't write him off as a couch potato just yet. The 43-year-old R&B crooner isn't just sitting around binge-watching Netflix and the like. In fact, Maxwell is in the midst of one of his grandest tours, coheadlining shows across the country with the unparalleled Mary J. Blige.

The aptly named King and Queen of Hearts World Tour is set to stop at Miami’s American Airlines Arena tomorrow, November 29. The tour comes on the heels of Maxwell’s latest release, blackSUMMERS'night, his first record in seven years and the sequel to the similarly titled BLACKsummers'night. Released in July, Maxwell’s fifth LP is garnering critical acclaim and is a comeback of sorts for the neosoul pioneer.

In 2012, he had to cancel an entire series of shows where he’d planned to perform his first four records chronologically and consecutively, two per night. Instead, thanks to swelling and vocal hemorrhaging, he had to undergo surgery to repair a ruptured vocal cord.

As frightening and career-threatening as the situation sounds, Maxwell looks back on it now with a clinical analysis. “[I] just listened to healthcare professionals and focused on recovery and getting back to what I love to do.”

We spoke to Maxwell just before he hit Detroit, a city where one fan in particular recently went viral.

Lucas Holliday is a cashier who was caught on camera nailing Maxwell’s 1996 hit single, “Ascension.” After seeing the performance online like millions of others, Maxwell invited Holliday to join him on stage.

“We will practice beforehand and do a quick sound check. I'm really looking forward to bringing Lucas onstage. I'm hoping it's an incredible moment for him. It's going to bring me joy to see him shine. It's gonna be fun.” It was, by the way. The Dollar General cashier and internet sensation came through and thrilled the Motor City crowd. 
But Maxwell fans and talented cashiers have had to be patient throughout the years for new material. The key factor in the large gap between the singer's albums wasn’t his recovery from the surgery but the strict guidelines of perfection he’s set for himself.

“We recorded a bunch of songs right after [the surgery], performed with Alicia Keys, and performed overseas and in the U.S. — all the while working on the album. I never look at how much time music is taking. I can be overly critical of my music, which can make the process longer.”

Part of that recording process took place in Miami, a location Maxwell says is “an amazing place to be and make music." He's a fan of the beach and the year-round sun. “I love the people and creative feel here.”

Being of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent, Maxwell also feels a certain kinship with the diverse communities of Miami. More importantly, he’s an ambassador for the nonprofit charity Artists for Peace and Justice, an organization “committed to long-term, sustainable development in direct partnership with the Haitian people.” The group's focus is primarily on education, but with Hurricane Matthew having hit the island nation so hard, its mission has expanded considerably.

“It's been very fulfilling,” Maxwell says of his involvement with Artists for Peace and Justice. “I worked with so many other artists who have done so much for this cause. My mom is from Haiti, so I have always felt close to the country and part of the people. I started in 2010 with so many people including Sean Penn, who has been such a great spokesperson and advocate for the Haitian people.”

Maxwell values quality over quantity in many aspects of his life, and he’s candid about one of the things that drives him: fear.

“I'm often afraid of disappointing people," he says. "It’s a challenge and an honor to live up to expectations. That's why it takes a while to release some of my music.”

Maxwell and Mary J. Blige. 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, November 29, at American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; aaarena.com; Tickets cost $35.50 to $175.50 via ticketmaster.com.

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