It’s the age old question: if you’re stranded on an island and can only bring three movies, three books, three albums, what do you bring? Well, Maxwell Cabana’s ready to bring the island to you. With dreamy guitar tones and slow, soulful jams with a psychedelic twist, the Cabana Boys have found a way to bring the perfect sunny beach day anywhere — and they’ll do it with a smile.
Maxwell Cabana is made up of brothers Jamie (drums) and Sean Higgins (bass and guitar), Murray McCulloch (guitar and vocals), and Noah Puggarana (keys), with an occasional appearance by Henry Whittier-Ferguson (horns and rap vocals). “The Cabana Boys”, as they call themselves in jest, are as passionate as they are fun-loving. They take on songwriting in unique ways, writing collaboratively and jamming frequently, often improvisationally. Their smooth new album, Tone Baby, drops the day of their release show on May 25 at The Fixin’ To. Eleven got the inside scoop on what makes Maxwell Cabana tick.
ELEVEN: Let’s start with the basics — where are ya’ll from?
Jamie and Sean Higgins: We’re from Naperville, Illinois outside of Chicago.
11: And you two are brothers!
SH: Yes, from the same house. Same Ma, same Pa.
Noah Puggarana: I am from Portland, Oregon. Northeast.
Murray McCulloch: And I’m from Seattle.
11: When did you two move to Portland; how did you all meet?
SH: So I moved here… I think 2013? And then I moved back for a couple months and came back out with Jamie. I think it was 2014.
JH: They needed a drummer. Or not “they.” Sean was just like, “There’s no drummers in Portland.” Which isn’t true.
SH: Well, just among my friends, there were a lot of people who played guitar — actually, like everybody just played guitar, that was pretty much it! There wasn’t anything else. And then I met Murray.
MM: We met that year, basically. We met in the summer. Then, you moved to Portland. We met on San Juan.
11: Oh, we should hear that story! Why were you both in San Juan?
MM: I was living on San Juan just working on boats for a summer, and I got linked into all these Portland folks cause my my best friend then, and now, she lived in Portland. So I was like, “Yo, Fourth of July,” and she came up, brought a bunch of people, including Sean. And then I moved in with her in Portland the following year.
JH: And that’s when I met Murray.
SH: But even that night, that was the first time I met you and we were partying and stuff. W, we jammed that night — super fucked up — and I broke every one of Murray’s guitars. Literally, broke every single one trying to tune it fucked up. And he still wanted to play with me!
JH: Sean’ll do that, but he’s a lovable guy.
NP: I think I met Murray through Portland State. You were going there for a couple terms, and we were both in the honors college.
JH: We were also neighbors, which we didn’t know about.
NP: One time, I see him stalking outside of my house and I think he’s following me but no:, he invites me in and we just have a big old jam. And they’re like, “You’re in the band!”
JH: Noah picks up everything just like that!
11: So it’s the four of you, and sometimes Henry [Whittier-Ferguson]?
SH: We’ve been playing with Henry since the very beginning. He’s not on this album, but he plays with us all the time. He’s on the first album.
JH: The first album, he plays horns. And live shows he’ll rap with us too.
11: Do you collab with any other artists locally, or jam with other bands?
SH: Noah does!
JH: We’re kinda hermits, but Noah gets around.
NP: I have a side project right now called Brother Lucy, soon to be producing our first single, and the guy who’s producing it is named Alex Ochoa. His band is Muero, they’re really grungy. I play keys, organ, and synth.
11: Do any of you play other instruments outside Maxwell Cabana?
JH: I play keyboard when I’m not playing with these guys. When I’m bored, I just make music by myself. They’re just keyboard drum beats, which is just fun for me.
MM: And Sean’s a shredding guitar player.
JH: Sean plays lead on half the tracks, and Murray plays lead [on the other half].
SH: For this album, me and Murray switched a lot. On our first album it was more like, “OK, Sean’s playing lead on this; Murray’s on this.” On this one, we did a lot of stuff where we both just did takes and we mixed them in together.
MM: We have so many different styles song to song.
JH: Sean’s a little more — it sounds more Hendrix-y, more sloppy, loose, jazzy, bluesy kinda scales. And Murray has more rock ‘n roll leads and chunky riffs.
SH: While we were recording, we did some stuff where one of us would play guitar, and the other one would be messing with the pedals at the same time. Murray will play, and I’ll be messing with his dials and vice versa.
JH: The process through the whole album was extremely loose. The whole house was empty for 3 days; all our roommates left. So we just set up a recording studio in the house and brewed some mushroom tea and just hung out for three days. It was very loose. People were coming up with ideas like, “If it sounds cool, it sounds cool!” A lot of it was messing with pedals. Our producer, Joey Cox, was just chillin’.
11: Tell me more about Joey Cox.
JH: He set up the whole studio in our house.
SH: And basically just hung out with us.
JH: It’s 13 tracks. We recorded all 13 — drums, guitar, bass, and keyboard — the first day, and then the next days just painted on top of them and just, “You play a lead, and I’ll do this.” It was creative and fun.
SH: Murray did the vocals in the bathroom.
11: People always say your voice sounds the best in the bathroom! Is there a story behind the name “Tone Baby”? I’m curious, particularly because of the album art, which features a baby — well, many babies.
JH: We actually got a friend, Nick “Nancy” Nedeau. He did all the artwork for all the singles and the main art. He does a lot of merch for us. He has the coolest style. I’m so excited.
11: Did the album art or the name come first?
JH: Because of all the pedals and the stuff that we were doing, we were obsessed with getting the tone perfect. Then we just started being like, “Oh, we’re having a tone baby with five daddies.”
SH: I think it started as someone just saying, “Tone, baby” and that became, “No, we’re having a Tone Baby.”
JH: And we just stuck with it.
MM: It just felt right.
JH: The physical copies of all the art that he made, they’re like 10×10 and we have them hung up in our house.
SH: He does a lot of comic strip-style little cartoons. He has literally a file cabinet at his house of hundreds and hundreds of little cartoons.
11: Maxwell Cabana — to me, it either sounds like some touristy little shack on an island, or it sounds like some big dude who wears neon and is just like, “Hey, I’m Maxwell Cabana! The party guy!” Who/what is Maxwell Cabana?
JH: Murray picked the band name. So we were originally in a band called Sack Lunch with Henry. It was Henry, Sean, and I, and Murray was playing guitar because our original guitar player moved to Pennsylvania. So we started doing a couple shows called Sack Lunch with Murray, and then Murray was like, “Hey, I have this project in mind called Maxwell Cabana that I’ve always wanted to do, and you and Jamie are perfect. I love your vibe. I just wanna have this kind of R&B, psych- rock band.”
MM: I didn’t really have any friends growing up that played music, so I had only ever really thought of like… “Okay, I play guitar and I sing, so I’ll just make music as — [Maxwell Cabana]” There’s not really a cool origin story behind it., I was just smoking weed with one of my best friends in high school at this fried chicken restaurant and was just like, “Maxwell Cabana!”
JH: We go by the Cabana Boys!