Zach Maxwell Aims to Add a Religious Experience to UMS

Zach Maxwell Aims to Add a Religious Experience to UMS

July 21, 2019 Off By Billy Thieme

New to the UMS, Maxwell tells us his path to Denver has been miraculous

If you’re looking for a highlight for your Saturday night Underground Music Showcase (UMS) experience, we’ve got you covered. Smack in the center of the “Cosmic Ball” co-presented by 3 kings Tavern and Synesthesia, local producer and dancehall phenom Zach Maxwell has landed the sweet spot, and we’re pretty sure it’s going to be a religious experience.

We got a chance to talk with Maxwell recently and had the pleasure of discussing his love of our town and the music scene, his deep devotion to Phish and Trey Anastasio, as well as his trip from NYC to our musical paradise.

Zach Maxwell is an emphatic Denver native, from NYC.

Maxwell, born and raised in the hustle of New York City, now emphatically calls Denver his home, and is anything but shy about his love of Denver, and of Denver’s scene in particular.

“This city is amazing,” he told us. While he and his wife were living in NYC–she an aspiring actor, he a musician cutting his dance chops with a rock cover band–they were invited to stay with friends in Denver, and they never really looked back east. “We had no intention of moving, at all,” Maxwell explained. “We were like ‘This is so sick here – the quality of life, and the taste of life. And the music scene is way more intimate, unique, and interesting than it was in NYC. We literally moved about 7 weeks later.”

“The music scene in NY was just awful, man–no exaggeration,” he continued. “It was like ‘We’re gonna give you a 25-minute set at like 10:35 pm on a Tuesday, and it’s gonna be at The Delancey–which is a TOTAL shithole.‘ The game there is a totally different conversation. It’s not about your talent nearly as much as it’s about your hustle.”

“Of course, you have to hustle wherever you are, right? But the hustle in NY is different, though,” he explained. “Are you staying out until 4 am schmoozing with bands that are playing at Rockwood Music Hall? Or are you learning your craft? Just to be in the scene there was a full-time job.”

“I was learning to produce music, and learning my craft, and I had a job,” he said. “I didn’t have time to do all of that stuff – or have any interest in doing it – but I didn’t have any choice.”

Denver, on the other hand, has a music scene that’s more than collaborative, in Maxwell’s experience. Denver’s music scene is a community, one full of love and fun and helping each other to reach your dreams.

“When we moved here I started going to a bunch of Open Mics and meeting a bunch of musicians. Almost immediately, I was feeling like ‘This is SO much better. This is where I wanna be.’”

But is it really that different in Denver? Sure, we’re part of the West, and its requisite low-key vibe, but do you really feel the love in the Denver scene as a musician, especially after the lights & action of the big city? Zach certainly does.

“When we moved here I started going to a bunch of Open Mics and meeting a bunch of musicians. Almost immediately, I was feeling like ‘This is SO much better. This is where I wanna be.’”

Zach Maxwell

“I do feel it – I really, really do – and I feel it in a way that’s really surprising to me, coming from NYC,” he explained. “The first Open Mic I went to – actually the first time I ever performed in Denver – was at The Meadowlark on a Tuesday night. And this kid came up to me and he was like ‘Hey! You’re amazing! I wanna play drums for you!’ and I was like ‘OK!’ – and that’s Daniel Carrillo (Beat Master D now – he plays with Jay Triiiple, and a lot of other Denver bands. And it was just so easy to meet him and others.”

“So many people share the same mentality of, ‘If one of us succeeds, we all succeed. We really want to help each other.’ I don’t get the sense of competition–like ‘You’re going to take MY spot,’ which is what I really believe music is about – especially today,” he continued.

“It’s all about collaboration today – and especially in R&B, Hip Hop, Soul, and Urban Music. Gone, really, are the days of writing and producing your own music and getting it on the radio.”

“It’s not a good or a bad thing, it’s just the nature of how music has evolved now.”

This year is Maxwell’s first UMS appearance, and he’s more than excited to be there – and to be in what may be one of the sickest timeslots in the whole weekend.

“I’m so psyched – and they hooked me up with like a BOMB time slot – 11PM on a Saturday night at 3Kings Tavern,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better time slot, and I’m so appreciative. I’m incredibly excited to be in front of people who have never heard of me before, and to be able to make a bunch of new fans.”

As a special addition to his intro to the UMS, Maxwell will also be releasing his newest single “Girl Like You,” which he’s arranged especially for his set at 3 Kings. With playful lyrics and a sweet summer vibe, “Girl Like You” is a take on a budding ménage à trois. Swirling Afrobeat, Dancehall, and Carribean-inspired rhythms, funky bass, and Maxwell’s choir-inspired vocals make this a sticky and sexy tune that screams summer jam. 

“I wanted to make it a summer jam for sure,” Maxwell explained. “I’ve rearranged it to play it live, so it’s just Dancehall the whole time. People can just dance and get sweaty through the whole thing. That’s what I love about live shows, y’know, that they become like a live dance marathon, where people can just let loose.”

On a deeper level, one of the more interesting things about Maxwell is his devotion to the band Phish, and to Trey Anastasio’s guitar and musical genius in particular. Listening to the electro-pop soul he’s becoming famous for, the jam-band hero’s influence isn’t necessarily or immediately evident.

“It’s an acquired taste, like peaty scotch, or mescal – both of which I happen to love, but not everyone does,” he said. “For me, Trey is everything as a guitar player. He represents the apotheosis of what a guitarist can do, particularly in a non-jazz setting. In college, it was all Phish & the Dead, and all old-school black gospel acapella music.”

In fact, was Trey’s influence, piled on a fascination with Dave Matthews, and a religious experience onstage that solidified Maxwell’s musical future.

“Two things happened,” he explained. “I played in a cover band in college & had an experience that literally changed my life, and then a few weeks later I saw Phish, and I had another religious experience. Those two things convinced me that I had to dedicate my life to music, There’s no way around it.”

He explained the live experience in a way that makes it seem almost legendary.

“The experience – the whole night – was ecstatic, really. But it was the last song–ironically a Phish song we were covering–that did it. I was still relatively new to the guitar, and this house party was packed! Everyone was waisted and loving what we were playing. It was 2003, so we were covering Zeppelin and stuff – we were a rock band, y’know?”

“So we were playing our last song, and our arrangement was basically done, ” explained Maxwell, “and the keyboard player – who was older and better than me – looked at me and said ‘Zach! you gotta do something – this crowd isn’t ready for the song to end!’ I had never practiced a solo to that song – I’m not even sure I really knew what key it was in – I just kinda knew my part of it really well.”

“But then I felt myself just leave my body, and my fingers just started playing, like the music took over my body and started playing through me. I looked out at the audience and knew that every note I was playing was perfect, and the whole room was jumping up and down, looking at me.”

“It was insane! It was totally a religious experience – like ‘I’m not even playing right now, something is playing for me, and the whole crowd is with me, feeling this magic, transcendent moment!’ And I was totally sober – I don’t even think I’d had a sip of alcohol, let alone any drugs, that night. After that, I was sold.”

If the signs we’re reading are right – and we know UMS pretty well – you’ll likely be in store for another religious experience at Zach’s hands at the 3 Kings this Saturday night. This one promises to be one you don’t want to miss.

Starting at 6 PM and ending roughly between 2 AM and rapture, the Cosmic Ball features a lineup full of dancehall ecstasy and more, featuring Fredrowknows, Funk Hunk, SSIIGGHH, No Touch, Kainalu, Maxwell, Thomie, and Retrofette. This lineup is so thick with beats, you may not need to leave 3 Kings all night (though we’re definitely not saying you shouldn’t explore the rest of the quarter-mile of South Broadway for more food, fun, beer, cocktails, and music, at least for a little while).


  • Billy Thieme

    Aging punk rocker with a deep of all things musical and artistic, enough to remain constantly young and perpetually mystified. Billy has journalistic dreams, but of a decidedly pastoral, Scottish nature.