The words were written, but Tim Maxwell couldn’t sing them. It was late in 2020 and he was in his favourite place in the world, the studio space at his home in Melbourne’s outer north-west, but the vocal he was meant to record felt like a step too far. “You’ve seen what it’s like to be in a rut, so far behind cause you’ve given up,” was the opening line of ‘On the Edge’, a track slated for the second album by his band, LOSER, who make alternative guitar rock charged with cathartic energy.
But after enduring many years of anxiety – and with the pandemic as an accelerant – Maxwell had reached his breaking point.
“I’m a bit of an anxious being and the kind of person to bottle it up and hide it. I’ve since spoken to my mum about it a bunch and she’s done the same thing,” the 28-year-old musician tells NME. “It got to the point where I was so afraid of not knowing what was wrong with me that the anxiety left half of my body number most days, or this pain would shoot through my chest. It was anxiety eating me alive.”
If Maxwell couldn’t sing, he could still talk. With him was the band’s bassist Craig Selak, one of the people Maxwell is closest to in the world. When he started to break down and cry in the studio, unexpected sounds for a space that had given him such joy, Maxwell finally had to confess. Anxiety is destroying me, he told Selak.
“I’ve been playing and touring in bands for 12 years now… I’ve tried to do all these jobs and make ends meet, but I’d rather suffer trying to do what I love”
“I was very scared at the time,” Maxwell says. “There were times where my anxiety would lead to cognitive dissonance: I could be waiting for a train, and I’d think to jump in front of it. I’d be driving in my car, and I’d want to throw my phone out the window. My brain would tell me to do this stuff and I had to fight against it.”
Maxwell likes to hang out with people older than he is because it’s a way of learning more, and on that day the 35-year-old Selak proved his friend’s point. The bassist comforted Maxwell and listened to what he had to say, then explained that he’d previously struggled with anxiety himself and was using medication to treat the condition. It was a path Maxwell could not only see, but also follow.
“Craig helped me through all that,” Maxwell says. “I always thought treatment would change my personality, but Craig was on the same medication and I could see that it was normal. It was meant to be but I didn’t know it, so I let pain and anxiety take over my body for way too long. I can’t thank Craig enough for starting me on my journey.”
Less than a year later, Maxwell has rediscovered his emotional buoyancy and LOSER have finished their second album. Released last Friday – with the chugging riff-rock of ‘On The Edge’ prominent on the tracklist – ‘All The Rage’ is the sound of a band dropping their shackles. Coming in thick, glorious waves, the guitars evoke without inhibition the crunching dynamics of 1990s indie-rock mainstays such as Smashing Pumpkins and Weezer, while the lyrics set aside the guarded metaphors of 2020 debut album ‘Mindless Joy’ for clear-eyed conclusions (“My patience is my enemy,” Maxwell sings on ‘All I Need’).
“It has to mean something to me to write a song. I can’t just try to get an emotion out, it has to come naturally,” Maxwell says. “I’m excited when I know something’s good, but I’ll just want to get home and work on it. I’ll be like, ‘I wish I had a guitar right now!’ I’ve been chilling at somebody’s house, then I’ll be like, ‘I need a guitar right now because I have a song!’ I’ll just disappear into a room for an hour and then it’s, ‘Cool, I’ve got something’. It doesn’t matter what is happening, capturing that song is all that matters.”
It’s a belief system that works for Violent Soho guitarist James Tidswell, who began releasing LOSER’s music on his Domestic La La label soon after Maxwell – who’d played in Apart From This and Grim Rhythm – formed the band on impulse in 2017 with Selak and former Smith Street Band drummer Chris Cowburn. Back then, Maxwell didn’t know that the project would find triple j airplay and an Australian Music Prize nomination for ‘Mindless Joy’, just that making music was his purpose.
“Music has been with me my entire life. I’ve been playing and touring in bands for 12 years now and that won’t stop. I’ve tried to do all these jobs and make ends meet, but I’d rather suffer trying to do what I love,” Maxwell says. “I’m a pretty stubborn person and I knew that this was what I wanted to do and that I’d do whatever it takes to make it work.”
“I let pain and anxiety take over my body for way too long”
That included moving back in with his parents after years in share homes across Melbourne with friends and bandmates. At the start of COVID’s spread Maxwell and his girlfriend came back to live with his parents, at a house in Sunbury where he’d spent his teenager years. His mum and dad had always supported the musical ambitions of Maxwell and his older brother Will, who’d joined LOSER prior to ‘Mindless Joy’, and now they offered up a shed that could be converted into a home studio.
After 10 days of building work by a close friend from Tasmania, Restless Noise Studios was in operation, complete with a bar to one side where Maxwell would smoke way too cigarettes while listening to mixes (he’s since kicked the nicotine habit). The ceiling isn’t high enough to get the perfect drum sound Maxwell can hear in his head, but the studio now hosts various local bands as LOSER’s frontman spreads his wings as a producer and engineer.
‘All The Rage’ took shape at Restless Noise, from the bittersweet surge of ‘Don’t Leave Me’ to the psychedelic-spiked guitars of ‘Time Won’t Wait’, where Maxwell’s production harks back to ‘Morning Glory’-era Oasis.
The Gallagher brothers set the benchmark for sibling rivalry in popular music, but the passing of time has brought the Tim and Will Maxwell closer together. Growing up as budding guitarists they’d fight over who got to jam using the family’s good amplifier and who got the lousier one, while as bandmates early on they’d go at it over who got to play the guitar solo. These days, they squabble less. “Me and Will always used to live together and fight, but now that we live apart the time we’re together is precious and we want to hang out with each other,” Maxwell says.
It’s one of the reasons, along with Maxwell getting to grips with his once-debilitating anxiety, why ‘All The Rage’ ultimately isn’t defined by fury. For all its Foo Fighters snarl, it’s a record where catharsis creates acceptance, and understanding bestows stability. It’s a record about lifting yourself up.
“A lot of it is to do with me emotionally growing up and finding myself,” Maxwell says. “I was subconsciously writing lyrics that make far more sense after what I’ve gone through. The songs were just waiting for me to catch up.”
LOSER’s ‘All The Rage’ is out now on Domestic La La