Max Will Toast Your Brain: Caitlan Mitchell interviews Max Toast


The problem with trying to write about Max Toast is that when you start interviewing him you are drinking a bottle of vodka and a bottle of wine and you’re passing joints and cigarettes and things start to get hazy really fast. Max’s mind moves at approximately 287 miles per minute, and you better listen faster if you want to keep up. Add the booze and buds into the equation and next thing you know you’ve recorded over two hours of chaotic conversation on topics ranging from gentrification to the problem of pop music to the lies of censorship to the Library of Alexandria. He starts talking about government propaganda, and then the computer shuts down. Clearly “they” were listening and didn’t like what Max had to say. But Max doesn’t care if they or you like it or not. He’s going to say it anyway. Max brings a level of honesty and “bluntness like micro-sadism”, a crafty potion with which to shake Boulderites out of their vegan footwear. As a poet, musician, and person, Max serves the people around him with a healthy dose of reality, and sometimes it hurts, but we like it, because we’re kinky like that.

When Jonny Montgomery asked me if I wanted to write an interview or article for Boulder Poetry Tribe I immediately thought of Max Toast. Recently I gave a reading at The Laughing Goat, and afterward Max told me it was annoying. Everyone else was busy hugging me and rubbing my newly shaved head and telling me how fucking wonderful it was but Max told me it was all horribly annoying. At first I wanted to punch him in the face and yell, “fuck you” or something really eloquent like that, but I stopped myself. I stopped myself and swallowed Max’s insult like too-bitter cum, and even thanked him for it like a bitch. And then the next morning I found myself feeling trashy but also satisfied in a primal kind of way. But I kept thinking about that bitter swallow. Max Toast is a taste that doesn’t go away when you brush your teeth because it is burned into the lining of your goddamn esophagus.

I wanted to write about Max because he’s real. He speaks the truth even if it means it might offend your sensitive virgin ears. Later that week I had a party at my house and Max was there. He apologized to me for saying my performance was annoying and went on to explain why he said it. I accepted his apology, of course, not really feeling that it was even completely necessary anymore, and we proceeded to get really drunk and then I don’t remember anything other than him disappearing at some point in the night only to mysteriously and inexplicably turn up on the cobble streets of Montmartre peddling penny songs to gypsies and prostitutes on a red crank organ. No, but really all monkey shams and fantastical fictional details aside, I knew that I had to interview Max Toast, because he’s the shit, and he is incredibly necessary in Boulder, a town that is sometimes too nice when what people really need is some good ol’ fashioned wrathful compassion. Max will call you out on your bullshit even as he spouts his own unique brand of bullshit, and then he’ll call himself on his own bullshit just because he knows you’re too fucking nice to do it yourself.

So, without any further pomp and heady introductions, here follows some of the more delicious bits of my interview with Max Toast…

So, Toast, tell us about Intangiblendity:

Intangiblendity is a word I came up with because my father introduced me to the word intangible. He said god is intangible, an intangible entity. Intangiblendity came out of that and became a blending with the real and not real.

How does intangiblendity manifest in your writing?

All forms of using your words [are] Intangiblendity. Handwriting is more magnificent in that it’s a mixture of painting and writing… The way we make art is rapidly changing… it can be frustrating to many artists how rapidly the medium is changing.

Is it frustrating to you?

No… because of how the internet is taking form and changing the way we communicate—that is also Intangiblendity… If you want to have an event, you go to [my] website. This is Max Toast’s world, now pick out of it what you want to happen… either that, or you’re making things happen… you’re writing, making music, whatever, then you’re on the site, and if someone wants to have you there [at their event], then… anyway, it’s, hosted by Dustin and the New Basics Fund, who sponsors artists and are making new moves on how the art industry is shaped. Basics Fund is saying, well, artists need to eat… also, artists need health insurance; then he realized that insurance was kind of a waste of money, because artists tend to ignore that shit, so he bought the domain name [for me] and is doing different things for different artists, which is becoming an interesting scenario.

Tell us about New Basics Wednesday:

New Basics Wednesday is a combination of efforts. It was a spin off of the Basics Fund… New Basics Wednesday happened out of trying to have weeklies at various venues for years. There was Techno Tuesdays at the Underdog, which fell apart horribly… I picked the passion up for having weekly open mics from the Burnt Toast, where every week we got together and drank heavily and smoked and played our minds out on the microphone… entirely successful until they got shut down. Then we moved to the Speak Easy. People went there to drink and talk to their friends, not to have people yell at them over the microphone. Then I tried to have a reading of my own at the Starlight Diner at the 29th Street Mall, which was intended and taken as ironic, because that place [The 29th Street Mall] sucks. The 29th Street Mall I’ve hated ever since it opened. I went to the opening ceremony though because Thomas Dolby was playing there… Thomas Dolby, “She Blinded Me with Science.” Great musician gets on the mic and says, “Last time I was in Boulder, this was all green fields. Aaaah, progress,” and then proceeds to play all the top hits he was brought out there to play. Boulder is dying slowly and it really was a clear picture: like what you hear with Walmart. Walmart comes into town, and all the mom and pop stores shut down.

What makes New Basics Wednesdays different?

New Basics Wednesday is: I want poetry to exist, but people aren’t really coming for poetry any more, so we’re trying to integrate… The words, “open mic:” it’s supposed to be open, you can have the mic for however long they allow. It’s supposed to be open, yet how do you regulate? Should we censor, should we not? If someone is just gonna spout the n-word for ten minutes—like Dank Phart, he did that once—how do you cut them off? How do you say, “This mic is no longer open”? But people need to be able to get their time in, especially if they have something awesome to say. So how do you? It’s like, there’s an open mic, but there’s a pre-screening process [at New Basics Wednesday]. I honestly don’t want Dank to ever do that act again, but I think that was part of his act: like, “how do you stop this one?”

What is missing from the Boulder Poetry Scene?

Nothing’s really missing, because in order to have a poetry scene or music scene, people have to be outspoken, and have a place where they feel like they can do that. So if something’s missing, it’s a place where people feel like they can be comfortable… like what I was saying about the digital landscape. People feel outspoken on the internet, except the introverts will still be introverts. Really, if anyone wants there to be a poetry scene, they need to step up and do that and make something happen, but if this is honestly the direction Boulder is going, and kicking out any culture and bohemia, then that’s what Boulder wants… and I think what my twelve to fifteen years around Boulder have shown me, is the curse of Chief Niwot… which reminds me of the tarot card the fool, who is pointing at the sky and walking off the cliff.

You mentioned needing a place where people can feel like they can be outspoken. Why do you feel like people aren’t outspoken in Boulder?

Censorship is becoming so widespread that you take it from the movie and put it in your life and you want to pretend everyone is clean and civil and politically correct. Political correctness is fucking fascism. The concept of being politically correct means we have to obey by our rulers standards and not say those certain nine words or whatever that you’re not supposed to say on television.

Do you think people censor themselves more than censorship is imposed upon them?

No, not at all. I think censorship is so imposed that we do it unconsciously.

Do you have any poetic or musical inspirations?

I think that poetry is really just more of a skeleton and you can die as a skeleton or you can die as what builds on top of that. Poetry is you bringing thoughts to reality. Just streaming thoughts, writing them down, is actualizing: bringing to reality what you’re thinking… So for instance, Jim Morrison, American poet: wrote and wrote and then someone said, “Man, those sound like lyrics, you should sing.” So he started The Doors. People didn’t go out and buy Morrison’s chap book zine of poetry if he ever tried that, but once his poetry was brought to music, it was a best seller. People write about things they want to do sometimes, and if you don’t go out and do those things, then all you did was write about it… So, my main inspirations poetically have been underground rappers. Eyedea, who died in 2001 from overdose at 27—actually might have been 29—either way, he’s in that category of, they let so much go that they (well, the drugs play a major role, but that was it) that’s all they had to offer for society: they had to die. I don’t believe that. I believe if he had stayed on, he’d be a major shaper of where poetry and music is going. Michael Larson, rest in peace. Anyway, having a culture is very hard. Culture is being pushed away and pushed away, because culture represents the living mind, and not the organized mind.

What do you mean when you say the word “culture”?

Culture is a scientific term entirely, especially saying cultures in a petri dish: it grows, it changes, and it’s not your base. It’s saying that this is what has come from slight interactions in a base, and if that actually grows, it’s almost mildly unpredictable. Yogurt is a funny image of a very standardized culture. It is unique, but the FDA regulates it to a point to where this is yogurt.

How does technology both empower and hinder artists?

The digital landscape of actually making music—I really prefer visceral [music]. I am playing an instrument. I am singing. I am banging on a drum. Visceral music is so much more empowering in a small scale, but we’ve started to “outgrow” the visceral stage and the large crowds mostly come out for someone who has designed the set on their computer, spending hours not practicing music but… it’s more like programming written. Digital art is pretty much invading on the live bands: the Grateful Dead, the whole people who play music for a large audience… no one’s really paying attention to the music at a jam show anymore… they’re finding drugs, they’re seeing friends, they’re on lot, they’re selling shit. The only music that is really catching the huge audience is what someone designed with software.

Is electronic music poetry?

No, it’s not poetry. It is definitely a form of poetry, if they are doing it with artistic intention, like arranging tracks… [for] the sunrise sets, where they literally can form the music they’re going to play, based on the location of the sun… the first thing Marcus [Palmer] asked me to do, was to write a poem about a flower, but I couldn’t do it. I wrote a poem in the shape of a flower. I couldn’t write about the flower, but that sunrise set… there’s been maybe three in my lifetime that were really incredible—I mean… music is poetry, it really is.

Is all music poetry?

When I think of poetry, I’m thinking about the action that your fingers are taking to compose something into the physical world, and if you are using your fingers specifically on the trumpet, the action your fingers take is trained, very special, same with a guitar, or with the piano. The piano I actually think is a very ultimate form of poetry; it’s the farthest you can go with your fingers before you go into, well, just strictly music. But musical notation, I consider poetry. I think that’s sort of the end all of that specifically, because writing music and writing poetry: they’re just different languages.

What about musicians who don’t operate with notation, like certain blues artists who taught themselves to play?

There’s a language, but is there a written language? There were blues musicians that were either enslaved at some point, or being paid next to nothing, playing music… amazing black musicians came around who played from memory… someone just told them this language and they remembered it.

So what about the original oral traditions of poetry?

I mean, rap is what got me writing: Sugar Hill Gang all the way up to Dr. Dre… It is amazing where the music scene is going. Popular music is the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard. You can’t even recognize where these people are coming from.

Is it still art or poetry?

No. No, everything that is pop music is all ghostwritten and someone is getting paid because they have looked into what sounds and words buzz people… It is all scientifically created I am pretty sure.

In your artwork, do you pull inspiration from people around you?

I guess I gotta go back to Marcus, who introduced me to the found poem. I mean, I did it before he called it that, but I was listening to what everyone was saying in the room and picking out the things that were funny and writing it down—but that’s like micro- found poem, that’s local, right around me. But of course, fucking you gotta quote someone if you wanna make a point because, it’s like, I can’t really make a point without referencing something that proves it, right? I have perpetual writer’s block, and find inspiration so irregularly, so during that time, I am cataloging other people’s inspirational things and lives around me. I catalog the artists in my life almost scientifically on the internet. I learned when I was hanging out with this very successful man [that] the secret to success is helping others to be successful. If you can help other people succeed then you will pretty much be successful… Networking is the weirdest fucking game, because everyone is so different. I’m finding out that people want everyone to be the same… everyone’s different though, and that’s exciting.

Is networking an art?

No. But networking is Intangiblendity… Improvisation is key… for music I think, because you need to practice enough to be good at improvising, and that goes into everything in life. You gotta know the rules to break them, and I don’t know the rules. I really don’t. There are so many rules, I don’t know which once apply to me, and which apply to you.

You mentioned that you catalog online the artists around you. What’s the importance of cataloging or archiving people’s artwork?

The Library of Alexandria burned down. Over the past few thousand years, a lot of amazing libraries have burned down. We will never know what was burned in the Holocaust… More important that cataloging is recognizing that the people you know are creative. If you know people who are creative, you need to help them foster it.

– Caitlan Mitchell

Come to 303 Vodka (2500 47th st, in the old Pearl Street warehouses) every Wednesday night at 7:30 for New Basics Wednesday hosted by Max Toast.