Impossible Sum is a bit of a left turn for Maxwell Stern. The lead singer of pop-punk band Signals Midwest dropped the new solo album in September as a tight and spare Americana record. It follows his journey as a Cleveland Heights transplant who moved to Philadelphia 3 1/2 years ago. We asked Stern to take us behind-the-tape on three standouts from his new record.
The album opener’s forlorn, restless hook, “I’m always almost home,” over an acoustic strum is immediate evidence of Stern’s divergence from pop-punk. But the song traveled about as far as Stern, who tinkered with it for six years. The quirky, Weezer-esque distorted synthesizer sounds like an homage to his melodic past. “That song is very much about being caught between two different worlds,” says Stern.
“Never Ending Equals Sign”
When he’s not playing music, Stern is the art director for a health care branding firm in Philadelphia. As a visual artist, imagery often plays a major role in his songwriting. This spare mid-tempo tune about leaving sees the narrator “passing out little slivers” of himself to friends as he hands out pieces of a cake frosted with a photo of his face. “Doing design, I look for a lot of symbolism and visual metaphors,” he says.
“Pull The Stars Down”
While listening to late singer-songwriter Jason Molina’s band Magnolia Electric Co., Stern became enamored by Mike Brenner’s pedal steel guitar. Realizing Brenner lived just down the street in Philadelphia, he collaborated with him on tracks such as this one. “Having him play all over the record gave me this new sound that had never been on a recording of mine before,” says Stern.
Listen to the full album on Spotify below and buy it on Bandcamp.