Max Garcia Conover is a Portland-based singer-songwriter with a brand-new EP, “Birches Lo.” All proceeds from sales go to Chewonki, a Maine nonprofit that offers programs to foster an appreciation for the natural world and working in community with others. The CD-release show is next week, and GO got the low-down on “Birches Lo” and the musical life of its creator.

You live in Portland, but where are you originally from?

I grew up in a small town on the western tip of New York. Lots of my songs are set in those childhood landscapes. I came up to Maine for college, left for a bit, and came back to Portland a year or so ago. I’ve been blown away by the community here, music and otherwise, and I’ll be staying for a while.

I see you’ve lived in Puerto Rico, Spain and Taiwan. How did those environments inform you as a musician and as a songwriter?

Place is a major factor in my songwriting, and moving around has helped me realize that and make use of it. Setting the scene is almost always where I find footing lyrically. Besides that, each place has been important in one way or another. I only lived in Puerto Rico for three months, but that’s where I started playing music in front of people.

What kind of music did you listen to growing up, and does any of it influence the kind of music you’re playing?

Definitely. My dad is an audiophile, and he constantly had good music; Ry Cooder, Paul Simon and James Taylor were prominent playing in our house. As a teenager, I was pretty into hip-hop and rap, and not a fan of my dad’s music.

At this point, it’s evident that my tastes have changed, but I think there are still remnants of rap music in my songs. There are definitely overlaps between good rap and good folk lyrically, and I think musically as well. Lately, I’ve realized that that’s probably part of the reason I’ve gravitated more toward finger-picking than strumming.

When did you first pick up a guitar, and how did your style develop into what it is now?

I got my first guitar in high school, but I didn’t really figure out how to play it until I was almost done with college. I think a big reason for that is that strumming chords was never interesting to me. The rhythm and variation that come with finger-picking allowed me to start writing songs I wanted to sing.

What was the best part for you of making “Birches Lo,” and what does that title mean?

Writing songs is my favorite thing to do, and always the most rewarding part of this whole endeavor. “Lo” is a fantastic word. It means something like “an exclamation used to call attention to something amazing.”

The main characters throughout “Birches Lo” are the landscapes. Most of the songs are at least partially about the desire to and importance of connecting to the natural world. For a big chunk of my life, the birches were just there, just pale trees. Then I’m on my way back to the States from living in subtropical Taiwan and I’m on a train through Russia and there was a huge lake lined with stark white birch trees, so “Birches Lo.”

Staff Writer Aimsel Ponti can be contacted at 791-6455 or at:

[email protected]

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