By Jason Sendaula
Photo by Jessica Kourkounis
Maxx Stoyanoff-Williams was a member of both The Goats and Incognegro and has long been a fixture on the Philadelphia music scene. After several years overseas honing his technical musical skills, he returned to Philadelphia in 2007 with a different attitude and approach to how he wanted to make music and formed what quickly has become one of the most influential bands on the Philadelphia music scene, Black Landord.
Black Landlord's first full length album Addicted to Distraction was released in 2009. That same year they were named Best of Philly Local Band of the Year by Philadelphia Magazine. The nine-piece ensembles a brand of "big-band, hip-hop soul music" and has gained a growing and sustaining local audience.
The differences between the styles of music between Black Landlord and Maxx's previous groups is not something he came up with overnight. He spent several years several years in Germany working with French electro producers Oland Hund and Leonard de Leonard.
"I had been working with those guys for almost a year, going back and forth to Paris and they said that I should just come over and finish it," says Stoyanoff-Williams. "Over time we started discussing different ways to do it, should it be my solo record, a record with them, and I wanted to turn it into something organic because it's all retro and they were on board with that. We wanted to have live players when we played out but sometimes use a DJ. We wanted to be able to integrate live music in with their electronic thing. When I came back, I'd built up my own little library because I started producing myself and making tracks. So I came back with a bunch of those as well as a full record with them. I put together sixteen songs on a disc and called pretty much everyone who is in the band and asked a few other people and gave them the CD and asked if they were interested in doing it."
Through the course of his travels, Maxx was exposed to a series of approaches to making music that helped him develop his own way of doing things. "In Germany, it started off with them writing all of the beats and me just writing the rhymes. Leo and Olaf got me some programs and really encouraged me. So throughout the course of the three years, I started putting tracks together and started writing on my own. And when I got back I took the role of arranger in the band so now it's pretty much my production and the Bass player [Bruce Russel Rekon] and the horn guys [Ken Brune & Mike Tramontana]. We primarily write all of the music."
Maxx's work has made Black Landlord more than just a combination of his experiences with The Goats and Incognegro. "It will always have a little bit of the other bands but this is totally different. When The Goats played, dudes moshed. When Black Landlord plays, girls dance. It's a different entity. I like to talk about it in my own way. It's a lot more personal, Black Landlord, especially our second album. It's a lot about me growing up and being an adult, it's just more introspective. There is still a message but Black Landlord's message is more, 'This is how I handled it and maybe you can learn something through that.' It's about being human beings and that's more of a message than anything else."
They are now working on a new EP due out in the spring 2011 with another EP set to drop in summer 2011. The album is produced by Ian Cross, an old friend from Philly who has played with The Goats and produced for Janet Jackson and Usher. "We've been working on this album about two years. When we finished our first record, we were just focused on playing and we weren't writing as much. That's why we are concentrating on getting at least two EPs a year for the next few years. We'll still be playing but we are going to try and concentrate on having more shows outside of the city over the next few months. You have to play someplace about once every six months to get any real turn out for your shows. We'll probably play again in another four."
In light of last month's governor's race in New York, we couldn't resist asking Maxx his opinion on the loss of The Rent's Too High party's candidate. "No landlord would ever say the rent is too high," he answers. "That's bullshit."