“My music is not at all involved in political or philosophical matters,” says the golden-voiced French-Irish singer-songwriter, guitarist and visual artist Guy Maxwell. “Instead, it serves a romantic purpose,” he continues. “I’ve never sought very far within the intellectual fields. It’s simply about moods, sentimental moods, sensual moods.” Speaking to me from his home in Geneva, Switzerland, Guy is explaining the mindset that hung around Outside My Window, an album he recorded for the Dutch record label Bubble forty-one years ago.
For Guy, Outside My Window - a suite of nine songs that glides effortlessly between celestial, star-dusted folk, rosy-eyed jazz fusion, groovy lounge, subtle bossa nova and silky slick yacht rock - is an album underpinned by his love of simplicity, harmony, and variation. “Speaking modestly, the goal was not to fall into too obvious harmonic resolutions,” he says. From the yearning yet cautionary Latin sway of his smooth sophisti-pop number ‘Watch Out Sally’ to the elegant, free-flowing jazz-folk of ‘You Never Sang This Song’, and the unbuttoned shirt opulence of ‘Summer Song’, Guy dodges trope and cliche while prizing simplicity, harmony and change.
“Speaking modestly, the goal was not to fall into too obvious harmonic resolutions.“
Near the end of September, Sebastian Grätz, aka Basso’s Hamburg, Germany-based Growing Bin Records, unveiled an official reissue of Outside My Window, but with a couple of twists. Firstly, the record would be repackaged with beautifully Balearic new cover art, created by Guy himself. Secondly, the tracklist would shrink from nine songs to six, in the process turning an uneven cult album into a flawless record. However, to fully understand the context Outside My Window arrived in, we need to rewind the hands of time to the middle of the 20th Century.
Born in Bordeaux, Guy spent his childhood in Rome, the capital city of Italy. “My father was working there for an international organisation, so I grew up speaking French, English and Italian,” he recalls. From Rome, he headed to Spain as a young man. There, he learned Spanish before relocating to Paris to pursue music.
Guy honed his craft as a singer-songwriter and guitarist during the 1970s. Every week, he would dig through the record stores, entranced by the era's sounds. “When I had money in my pocket to buy a new record, it was like having gold in my pocket,” he reflects. “And when I bought the record, it was like having gold in my hand and gold in my ear. You had to be sharp with your selections and purchases, and they would define your taste very much.”
“At that time, when I was composing my stuff, I was buying the last Stevie Wonder record, the last James Taylor record, and the last João Gilberto bossa nova thing, and in each one, I would discover totally new visions of things.“
Guy’s musical bedrock was the early works of The Beatles. “They have a very simple and straightforward way of saying things and a perfect choice of sounds,” he says. “They’re always so smooth and right.” However, as he discovered the introspective folk-rock of James Taylor and the glorious progressive soul music of Stevie Wonder, Guy found his tastes stretching out into infinity.
“At that time, when I was composing my stuff, I was buying the last Stevie Wonder record, the last James Taylor record, and the last João Gilberto bossa nova thing, and in each one, I would discover totally new visions of things,” he explains, as he begins to describe the era as fresh and hopeful, before backtracking to reframe in thoughts slightly. “Things were fresh, and there were a lot of idealistic thoughts going through my head.”
Near the end of the decade, he settled in Geneva and reconnected with an old school friend, the guitarist and composer Serge Maillard. Serge was living in Berlin and was playing guitar and singing with the open-eared Chilean funk-rock group Santiago. “I went to Berlin to see him, and we ended up recording some demos with his friends,” he explains. “They were absolutely brilliant people, and they still are.”
Off the back of those demos, Guy travelled to the Netherlands to record with Serge, Santiago and some of their friends at Frans Peters Studio. When Guy entered the booth, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. “I was trying to make a synthesis of my different influences,” he says. “By making music, I was saying, this is a mixture that I found and composed in my head. I was hoping that it would be something original. That was the job.” The result was the original nine-song version of Outside My Window.
Although Guy was doing well on the live circuit in Switzerland, but the timing and promotion weren’t quite right, and Outside My Window sunk into obscurity. Afterwards, he took a break from songwriting, opting to focus on live performances, teaching guitar and radio work. “Through it all, I’ve been a lucky musician because all of my life, I’ve always had a lot of work,” he muses. “I never had to struggle with financial problems. I teach a lot, and I’ve always had a lot of performances. I was very lucky on that side, but I forgot a bit about writing.”
Decades on, playing music, drawing and painting (under the pseudonym William Leemax) continue to nourish him. “I would say it has kept me in good mental health,” he reflects. “These days, my children live their own lives, and I live mine. It’s a solitary life, but I have a lot of things to do and achieve, so it’s very nice.”
Two years ago, Guy started doing some research into open tuning, the system of guitar tuning that was popular with early folk and blues players, late-sixties rock acts and remains en vogue with slide guitarists. Open tuning reignited his interest in songwriting, and over the last year, he’s been uploading videos of himself using the system to play in a vivid, impressionistic style on Youtube.
As Outside My Window begins its second life, he’s working on new material with an old inspiration. “I like to play a lot of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music,” he says. “It’s a very important source of inspiration for me. “I think he probably wrote every single pattern that we are exploring now, but three hundred and fifty years ago, you know?”
Outside My Window is out now in digital and LP formats through Growing Bin Records (order here)