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  • Tom Maxwell is back with a new album and a new a book about life in '90s hit band Squirrel Nut Zippers.

    Tom Maxwell is back with a new album and a new a book about life in ’90s hit band Squirrel Nut Zippers.

    Tom Maxwell, the voice and songwriter behind ’90s group the “Squirrel Nut Zippers, is back with a new album and a book about how the band revived swing music.

    Maxwell, who went solo in 1999, titled the memoir, “Hell: My Life in the Squirrel Nut Zippers.”

    It shares a release date with his new self-titled full-length album, Tom Maxwell & The Minor Drag.

    The Minor Drag features members of Lost In The Trees and The Old Ceremony. They mesh drums, tuba, vibraphone, piano and guitar in a display of remarkable flexibility and nuanced sound.

    The band says it is capable of the hottest stomp and most tender ballad.

    This is the first new work from Maxwell in more than 10 years, although his music has been featured in dozens of television shows, movies and on Broadway. His first single, “Roll With It,” features an appearance by Ani DiFranco.

    I first experienced The Squirrel Nut Zippers in 1997 when they performed “Hell” on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” My parents and I both loved the performance, but no one was entirely sure what we had just watched.

    Was it modern swing music? A sarcastic take on classic swing? Whatever it was, it was high energy and catchy.

    I immediately checked out the Zippers’ album Hot and attended their performance on PBS’ “Sessions At West 54th” with Chris Douridas.

    To get some insights on the band, the book and the new album, TheImproper sat down with Maxwell for a Q&A.

    TheImproper: What made you put all of your experiences with the Squirrel Nut Zippers to paper more than 15 years after they happened?

    Tom Maxwell's new book delves into the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

    Tom Maxwell’s new book delves into the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

    Tom Maxwell: For a couple reasons: First, enough time had passed for me to have some perspective on it all. I had had some “real problems” with my son’s illness – he was successfully treated for leukemia – that allowed me to see the Zippers as momentous, but not monolithic. Once I resolved the internal debate about what right I had to turn my old friends into narrative characters, or of my ability to even try, I got on with it.

    IM: The tone of your book reminded me of Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty’s recent memoir. Yet, it also had the “music business 101” sort of themes that Semisonic drummer Jacob Slichter had in his book. Did any particular music memoirs inspire yours?

    Maxwell: None, I’m sorry to say. I wouldn’t have read anything too similar anyway, just to not lose my own voice.

    IM: Your book surprisingly does not end with the break-up of the band, your departure from it, or anything particularly catastrophic. Does that mean the possibility of a second music-related memoir?

    Maxwell: I sincerely doubt it!

    IM: You’ve referred to yourself in interviews as being “semi-retired,” yet here’s a new solo album from you besides the memoir. Does this mean you’re now out of retirement and itching to create more?

    Maxwell: It does indeed. I’ve been writing quite a bit of words and music, and performing often. It’s the water I most like to swim in.

    IM: How would you describe the new Minor Drag album to folks who haven’t heard it yet?

    Tom Maxwell: From Nuts to Drag in Video

    Maxwell: I think the album picks up where the Zippers left off and carries on, to the extent that one writer and one singing voice are able to do so. There are a couple songs that are fairly conscious recapitulations of the Zippers sound – because I still love it so – and then we move on to other things.

    Much of the fundamental stuff is unaltered; I’m inspired by older styles of American vernacular music. I don’t bother much with simple love songs or sentimentality. Much of the album is cut live… all Zippers hallmarks to my mind.

    IM: Having accomplished many of the high water-marks from an industry viewpoint, like multi-platinum sales and the use of the band’s songs in dozens of movies and TV shows, is there any sort of goal that you’re still working toward? Anything you’re still itching to accomplish?

    Maxwell: In terms of the quantifiables – the stuff you’ve mentioned – I’ve kind of lived the dream. My goal is to keep getting better and finding more people who are interested in hearing or reading the results.

    IM: Finally, Tom, any last words for the kids?

    Maxwell: Do what you love, don’t do what’s hateful to you, and have a ball. Be as open and loving and participatory as you can. Do not listen to negativity, especially if it’s coming from within.