Nursing student balances school and recording and releasing independent music

Illustration By Robert Jordan

Max Whittaker, senior nursing major at California Baptist University, balances nursing school and work with writing, recording and performing as an independent artist with his friend Jake Dahn, a graduate of Azusa Pacific University, under the band name Almostalways.

Whittaker’s older brother taught him the basics of how to play guitar when he was young, but he said he has mostly learned through intuition. In high school, Whittaker started playing for church and found his passion for electric guitar.

Whittaker and Dahn met through Dahn’s older brother, who was close friends with Whittaker. Whittaker said he saw that Dahn was recording music and asked if he could record an idea he had with him.

“It was weird at first because we didn’t know each other,” Whittaker said. “But he is the mellowest dude ever, and we learned really quickly that we speak the same musical language.”

Whittaker also said that his partnership with Dahn help make his music more complete.

“This all started because I was somebody who made incomplete ideas and so was he. It became a fusion and we both knew what each of our pieces needed. If we hadn’t found each other I don’t think either of us would have ended up releasing music,” Whittaker said.

Whittaker said he is mostly in charge of song lyrics and him and Dahn come together to finish and master them. They met in high school in 2014 and have been recording music off and on ever since.

Dahn explained the band’s process and what Almostalways has become.

“I am really driven by how sounds work together and make you feel, and Max is able to take a track and write really unique, beautiful lyrics and parts that blend perfectly with the melodic structure. Almostalways has evolved into a host for our favorite sounds, melodies and themes, and I could not be more grateful to be a part of it with Max,” Dahn said.

Whittaker explained how the two artists learned from each other.

“Our influence on each other really changed our perspectives of music,” Whittaker said. “I took a lot from him that changed how I wrote. Then we said for better or for worse we’ll just make stuff and release it, and that is when we made the first EP released in the summer of 2019.”

Even though they had been recording together for five years, 2019 was the year Almostalways really started to release music. They first released a six-song EP, “All the Things That You’ll Never Know” and since have made exponentially more music.

“The amount we have made in one year is 10 times more than we have made in the five years before releasing the EP,” Whittaker said. “I realized that even though it isn’t perfect, it still can be special if you are being honest with what you’re doing.”

Since that first EP, they have released a 15-song album, a seven-song instrumental album and two singles that stand by themselves titled, “out to your end” and “hounds,” as well as four additional singles leading up to their new 15-track album, which they released April 21.

Almostalways has also played multiple house shows put on by friends, including working with the CBU student-led productions compan, Sola Productions, and they have also played shows at Condron Coffee Shop in Riverside.

Whittaker said he likes being an independent artist because he has full power over the things that he makes. Whittaker added that he enjoys involving friends but ultimately it is mostly him and Dahn and their unique sound.

“Our music is hard to promote because it doesn’t have an aesthetic; it’s not complicated but it may not be easy to latch onto,” Whittaker said. “We don’t feel like we have to sound like anything specific, which is fun but it may not sell as well. It’s not necessarily ‘catchy’ or ‘easy to listen to’ music. It’s contemplative and doubtful music that I can write from my perspective.”

Whittaker said he can balance life more effectively as an independent artist.

“You get to be more of a human with independent music because it’s not for anyone and it doesn’t have to be any sort of way or at a certain time. There’s no pressure on me and because of that I think I make what I do more honestly,” Whittaker said.

Whittaker added that writing music in the midst of life and how crazy it can be is a part of expression and feeling that needs to be released. Whittaker shared that he struggles with expressing himself and that music is a sort of therapy for him.

Porter Wesson, senior architecture major and close friend and roommate of Whittaker’s who has also performed with him at shows, explained how he feels about Whittaker’s music.

“The joy for me personally watching Max as a musician is the fact that he has what most musicians fatally lack, which is immense patience,” Wesson said. “His finished products are always an audible expression of what really is a craft compared to so much of modern music. … He makes it because he enjoys it.”

Almostalways’ concept album “Convulses,” released April 21. Whittaker said it is a spiritual reflection of how humans are constantly changing through life and may never be “well” but can get close, and it explores the process that comes with that. Whittaker’s inspiration, he said, is that he has never felt perfectly well but he feels much healthier when he is communicating and leaning on people.

Whittaker is also working on another five or six song EP “Come Apart in Your Light” that he will release within the next few months, which talks about loneliness and feeling distant. Almostalways’ music is available on all platforms and more music will be released within the upcoming year.

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