One of the hottest singers of the mid-90’s neo-soul revival, in 2001 Maxwell did something unheard of for a pop star – he dropped out. After three hit albums, the Haitian- Puerto Rican New Yorker disappeared from public view, musically and emotionally burnt out by the frenzy of the media and pop spotlight. Last summer, the 37-year-old singer startled everyone by returning with BLACKsummer’s night, a gorgeous, wrenching album of heartbreak and romance for grown-ups that catapulted him back to center stage, earning critical raves, two Grammys, and arenas again packed with panty-hurling women. We talked to Maxwell, who plays the AmericanAirlines Arena on Monday, June 14, about fame, romantic inspiration, and why it’s better the second time.
What made you drop out?
It was so unplanned. One day I woke up and I was like how is this living? This is me being afraid or addicted to fame, which is very common, fame is very alluring to go from being not known to known, people being nice to you. I had to get to a realer place.
And how is it being back?
I feel more validation coming back and much more of a sense of security in what I do. It’s really nice to see your work really amounts to something, and it’s not about you being able to hang onto the spotlight. The spotlight is inside of you, and that’s an incredible validation – to know the music is truly about that, and not about a hairstyle or it’s your time or whatever.
Were you ever scared you wouldn’t be able to come back?
Oh yeah, I do that even now. I never take it for granted. Anything can change. Everyone is 15 minutes away from another person coming in and being the interest of the moment. I’m just embracing the moment I have now, because I know it’s not always gonna be like this. I’m embracing the new music, and I couldn’t be happier because creatively I’m satisfied. I don’t know what will happen with sales or radio but when I know I did something from my heart I know life is good.
Is it strange to suddenly be famous and the center of attention again?
I can’t believe it. I’m like wow. You go from obscurity to all of a sudden even younger people know you, and you’re selling at a time when people don’t sell records. I can’t believe all these people are down, not just the ones who were down before, but new people who were probably five or ten years old when my first album came out. I guess when you’re true to you and where you’re at – I’m a 37-year-old man and to be able to own that and work it is great.
Do you feel like you can stay grounded?
Yes I can. I really fell in love with three very amazing women, and the third one really set off a lot of what you hear on the album. I fell in love in a marriage kind of way, this is the kind of thing I dreamed about, and to have it happen was pretty incredible. We broke up, but we remain friends. And because of that traditional love I didn’t understand before, because people loved you because of something you’ve done or what you’re wearing. I’ve learned I can be appreciated for what I am and not for what I do.