Max Sharam, remembered for her 1994 hit single ‘Coma’, recently returned to Australia to tour nationally with Cyndi Lauper. We caught up with the New York-based singer ahead of a date at Lizotte’s Newcastle, where she’ll perform works from her forthcoming album.
Did you have a musical childhood?
We had one very beat-up, cheap old record player at our house and my mother had a host of country and western albums – mostly Slim Dusty. The only records that I could relate to from her collection were ‘I Fall To Pieces’ by Patsy Cline and an LP by a Melbourne husband-and-wife duo, Anne and Johnny Hawker. By the time I was six I had managed to convince everyone that I was a ‘natural talent’, so my mother bought me an electronic organ. I had filled a book with my original pop compositions by age eight.
Who are your main inspirations?
Always in the background of my early development was the music of girl singers like Lesley Gore (‘Judy’s Turn To Cry’, ‘It’s My Party’), Teddy Bears (‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’) and The Angels (‘My Boyfriend’s Back’). I mean, I’m talking [about when] I was four years old or something. But this era of music had a huge impact on my sonic IQ and songwriting sensibility. I was always into the sad ballad. Then of course the coming of age was learning to read Bowie lyrics – which I became obsessed with at about ten after hearing my big brother’s Aladdin Sane record. I’m very visually orientated and the ‘arty’ and ‘camp’ always appealed to me. If any one singer influenced me it was Freddie Mercury. His voice was to die for.
How did you get into performing?
I had my first band at age 15. I played the keyboards and sang backup. I soon went solo though, as I started getting asked to sing at funerals. My sad little high-pitched voice worked a treat on the hymns and things, so my mother and I would load my old Yamaha organ into the horse float and drive around the region where I would play weddings and funerals.
What are you working on at the moment?
I had a period in the ’90s when I was obsessed with the original music of legendary producer Daniel Lanois. I had heard his LP For The Beauty Of Wynona while on laughing gas at my dentist. It brought me to tears. So dark and so beautiful. Fate had it that I ran into his long-term recording assistant last year, Malcolm Burn, who won a Grammy for producing Emmylou Harris’ Red Dirt Girl, so we teamed up to produce my new CD which I will be releasing in 2014. My indie/self-produced EP The Gods Envy is a small part of the bigger concept, in that the message I am delivering is one to empower young women. Songs inspired by the tabloids; stories of adolescent girls. I am expressing the tensions between rebellion and criminality and the conflict between conformity and emotional authenticity.