By GWEN OREL
In “Friends and Neighbors” we spotlight interesting Montclairites doing interesting things. Some of them you might have heard of, others you might not. Answers have been edited for space. Got someone you think we should write about? Drop a line to email@example.com.
Max Munoz, a senior at Montclair High School, spent part of last summer touring Pittsburgh, Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago’s Lollapalooza Festival with the School of Rock AllStars, a touring ensemble made up of 175 teen musicians, chosen by audition from out of 130,000 SoR students. A pianist and singer, he performs with his band Mind Hazard, and has performed solo shows at the Montclair Social Club. His met his bandmates at School of Rock Montclair, where he has been studying since 2015. Munoz also performs with Montclair High School’s School of Visual and Performing Arts, and can be seen in this weekend’s showcase, “The Party’s Just Starting.” He recently submitted his song “New You” to Atlantic Records. He was chosen to audition, and is waiting to hear whether he will be awarded a contract.
When did you join School of Rock?
I’ve been at School of Rock for almost five years now. In the summer of 2014 I was very sick, I was in the hospital for a couple of months. I had lymphoma. I’m better, five years in remission. It made me realize, “Wow, what do I want to do?” At the time I was living with my mother in a suburb of New York City, and there wasn’t much music there. I had tried classical music lessons, but it didn’t click with me. When I would visit here I would go to School of Rock. I began in January of 2015. I was still living in New York, but came up here every other weekend. [He moved to Montclair in 2017.]
What drove you to piano to begin with?
Honestly, I didn’t do much as a child. Didn’t play a sport. Wasn’t very active. I didn’t have many hobbies, kind of just sat in front of the TV. My parents wanted me to do stuff so they got me a piano teacher. There was a really old keyboard in the house. They got me a piano teacher named Anthony and every time I got a note wrong he would ring a bell. Eventually I got rid of that teacher. Lessons don’t stick. Piano kind of fell off. I wasn’t practicing for a teacher. My musical tastes changed drastically in fourth grade: I got into James Brown. I was listening to it in gym class and I thought, “This is my life now.” I found out about all these great piano players like Fats Domino and Little Richard. I knew some stuff from Anthony, and learned some chords on my own. I pieced my way together.
How has School of Rock impacted you as a musician?
School of Rock really opened up a whole new world for me. It’s not as much about the music. Really, it was some of the first times I’ve been on the stage. It really teaches you how to command a stage, how to perform and not look stupid, well not very stupid. It gives you a friend base or group of people you can go onstage with and just say “Hey. It’s all good.” I have a pretty good musical ear. I have perfect pitch, and I can replicate it on the piano. Playing with a band, that sensation alone is a core part of what makes SoR great. It’s great to play by yourself, but when you’re with other people, it’s like, wow.
What do you love about music?
I love music because it is a distraction. Life in high school is hard. I’ve written many songs about that. I think of music as just a home. When things aren’t going so well, I’m busy, doing all these things for college, rehearsing for the showcase, sometimes it gets to me but hey! I’ve got music! It’s OK. It’s been that kind of stress reliever. I find writing to be therapeutic. Whatever you’re feeling, you don’t want to bottle that up, because that’s not healthy. After I write it, I feel a lot better about it. A notepad is like having your own therapist. It’s a safe haven.
How do you feel when you’re playing?
It depends on the song. Some songs I’ve played so many times that you aren’t even really thinking about the song. You’re kind of moving with the feel of the song. You’ve played it so many times your fingers know where to go. I’ve had many songs I’ve written that I don’t like. Sometimes that changes. I’ve never written a song without the piano. If I’m not digging a song I’ll work on that. Performing is such a great time for me. I love the energy from the crowd. For me it’s a very special thing, because not a lot of people in my school necessarily know or like my style of music. It’s really great to be in a place where people like what you do.
How would you describe your style of music?
I’ve been asked that a lot of times and still I don’t really know. There’s some jazz to it, some soul in the vocals. Sometimes I’ve even gone kind of classical with it. There’s definitely an R&B element, maybe a little pop-ish. Really it’s a blend.
Is music what you want to do with your life?
Absolutely. As a pianist and singer, like a Billy Joel kind of player. [He began to play “A New You,” the song accepted for an audition at Atlantic Records] I wrote it in… I don’t know why I said that, I don’t know when I wrote it.
MEET THE NEIGHBOR
Hometown: Montclair, NJ.
Hobby, other than piano: acting.
Beach, forest or mountains: beach.
Favorite vacation spot: Puerto Rico.
What do you want for your birthday, which is when? June 6, money.
Superpower: walking on water.
Favorite drink: grape soda.
Favorite dessert: brownies.
Last TV show watched: “I Think You Should Leave” (Netflix.)
Book I’m reading: “All the King’s Men,” for English.
Favorite song at the moment: Dr. John… “Tipitina.”
Song that makes me groan: “Baby Shark.”
I want to meet (alive or dead): Fats Domino.
Nobody knows that I: can do a cartwheel.
Who will play me in the biopic: John Stamos (young.)
Weirdest thing to ever happen onstage: mic cord fell out of the socket.
Job fairy wish (you can only wish for something related to your job): Money… it would be nice to play Madison Square Garden, but with money you can retire.