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Life in Music

Explorer, Professor, Ambitous Yet Serene Previous | Next

Stanford-educated rocket scientist, boxcar-hopping hobo, urban bohemian and desert survivalist – indie folk rocker Max Carmichael has headlined at New York’s Knitting Factory and appeared in a feature article in the Village Voice. With a range of styles placing him in such varied and storied company as Paul Simon, Calexico, Moby, and The Clash, Carmichael’s work is continually surprising, yet surprisingly familiar.

Raised in the foothills of the Appalachians, Max’s earliest memories range from Sunday hymn sings at his great-grandad’s homeplace on Archer’s Fork, to the recordings of Miriam Makeba and Miles Davis on a sound system he helped his dad build from scratch. In school, his creativity blossomed as he organized and performed in bands, exhibited and sold paintings and sculpture, and had his poems, stories, and art featured in student publications.

At California Institute of the Arts, jamming in dark basements with the upcoming stars of the international art scene, casting off the final fetters of his traditional upbringing. Then a job offer called him north to San Francisco, where the underground post-punk scene was in full flower. “All around me, people were breaking boundaries, treating music as an art form, using synthesizers, samples, and even power tools as instruments.”

At the same time, he met and began collaborating with a group of African musicians, including Nigerian pop star Orlando Julius Ekemode and Algerian DJ Cheb i Sabbah, and fell in love with traditions even deeper than the one he’d grown up in. His 80s band, Terra Incognita, wove together these conflicting influences, performing alongside emerging indie acts Camper Van Beethoven and Flaming Lips, recording on the experimental label Ralph Records, praised in a feature article in the Village Voice, headlining at New York’s legendary Knitting Factory.

In the 90s, he led the popular Oakland group Wickiup in a memorable blend of old-time country gospel, Native American, and West African styles.

Speaking of where he’s at now, “My primary focus is making my music as accessible as possible. Rather than create difficult sounds for an obscure audience, I’d like to explore and expand the boundaries of popular music.” To start, he released two short solo albums in November 2010. With different yet complementary styles, Promised Land and Take Me Up are experimental yet listenable, rhythmically complex, and clearly influenced by African, Scottish, Caribbean, Russian, and Latin cultures.

In 2012, he released Long Way Home, digging deeper into his rural roots, and in 2013, Lalaila, a mysterious and exotic musical journey reflecting his more cosmopolitan influences and inspirations. Though already stunning when considered on their own, these albums are just the beginning of a series of releases combining new material with his treasure trove of previously unreleased compositions.


Electric & acoustic guitars, drums & percussion, bass guitar, banjo, saxophone, mandolin, keyboards


2008-present: Silver City, NM Solo

1993-1995: Oakland, CA: Leader of Wickiup

1981-1990: San Francisco, CA: As Max Klein, leader of Terra Incognita

Musical Heroes

Family: Uncle Wib Williamson, Grandma Stella Carmichael, Mamaw & Papaw Ludington, Mother Joan Green, Father Vern Ludington, Brother Jim Ludington

Friends: Mark Norris, Jon Spayde, Katie Rauh, Norman Salant, Benjamin Bossi, Michael Corbett, Reggie Benn

Legends: Ralph & Carter Stanley, King Sunny Ade, DJ Cheb i Sabbah, Alhadji Haruna Ishola, Joy Division, The Cure

All contents Copyright © 2010-2019 Max Carmichael