JEFFERSONVILLE — Mark Maxwell is quizzing me about my boyfriend, a guitar player.
“What’s he do for a real job?”
He’s a systems engineer, I reply — wondering how I got myself into this position. I’m supposed to be interviewing Mark, not the other way around.
“Tell him to quit that crap,” Mark says. “Tell him to become a musician. Tell him to forget it all.”
There’s a twinkle in Mark’s eye, but he might not be joking.
Mark, 51, is the lead singer of the astronomically popular local cover band, the Louisville Crashers, and “master visionary/servant” at Maxwell’s House of Music in Jeffersonville, a music store and school that he created.
Mark’s the kind of guy who encourages others to pursue their passion— or to at least question why they’re not.
“That’s the one thing I really kind of told my kids,” Mark said. “I hope that you understand why you do your job. The ‘why’ in life is maybe one of the most important things that anyone should ever look at.”
Mark’s “why” is a love of music.
“It’s just all that’s in my blood,” he said. “To sing a song, to play a song, to write a song, to teach a song, and the tools that go along with it. That’s all I know, and it’s just my passion.”
To get where Mark is, however — making $5,000 to $20,000 per show and successfully operating a local music store in the internet age — it helps to possess certain qualities.
“He’s just always had a strong personality,” said Mark’s mother, Beverly Maxwell. “And I think it’s worked in his favor throughout the years. He’s been very determined to do what he thinks is the right thing to do.”
“He is a doer,” said Mark’s bandmate, Howard Gittli. “He makes a decision and he makes it happen.”
Among those decisions: Turning a rundown movie theater into his own store.
Mark started working for Mom’s Music, his parent’s Louisville-based music store, immediately after graduating from high school.
He was a natural salesman, said Beverly. Gittli used the same descriptor.
“He just has this magic about him that’s very likeable,” Gittli said.
After several years of working under Beverly and his dad, Marvin Maxwell, Mark discovered an empty retail space along East 10th Street in Jeffersonville.
It was the former home of Jeff Plaza 4 Theaters and — soon — the new spot for Mark’s venture: an Indiana location of Mom’s Music.
Mark stocked up on instruments to fill his store, but also on teachers. He wanted to create a strong music education division at the Jeffersonville location.
Everything was gliding along smoothly until 2007 when the housing bubble burst, dragging down the economy — and many music stores — with it.
“Inventory went way down,” Mark said. “It was a very, very rough time for us.”
A few years into the recession, Marvin told Maxwell that the Jeffersonville store needed to close.
“I said, ‘I can’t do this,’” Mark recalled. “’This is where I live, and I really believe in this store.’”
Mark took complete ownership of the shop in 2011, around the same time that the Louisville Crashers were starting to make vibrations in the local entertainment world.
THE ROCK STAR
In 2008, Mark made another decision. A big one. He wanted to create the most popular band ever. In the area, anyway.
His partners were his brother, Max, Gittli, Gittli’s brother, Geoff, Shane Isenberg and Jesse Vest.
“We wanted to draw more people than any band ever has,” Mark said. “We wanted to be the wedding band. The wedding band in town. And we wanted to play the bigger corporate events.”
The Louisville Crashers eventually became that band, but its members had some trouble getting started. They were simply too expensive for the market.
But Mark had devised a formula for creating a party band irresistible to event planners. It was developed through three realizations.
One: “You can’t draw a ton of people if you don’t have the songs they want,” Mark said. The Louisville Crashers know hundreds.
Two: “You can’t draw a bunch of people if you’re not a good show, meaning that you don’t have a lot of energy.” The Louisville Crashers can keep a crowd dancing for hours.
And finally: “You can’t be the biggest wedding band if you don’t make the wedding all about the bride and groom.” The Louisville Crashers cater to whoever hires them.
It took three-and-a-half years, but the Crashers finally started to take off.
“I think once somebody saw us, they saw the value of the band and what we were going to bring to the market,” Mark said.
What the Crashers bring is fun, according to Beverly.
“I feel like I’m not prejudiced at all, but they’re just the most fun to go see,” she said.
Now, the Crasher’s schedule is busy to say the least. In May, the band played four shows in one week: a three-hour wedding gig in Louisville along with three more sets at a Papa John’s event in Colorado. In total: Twelve hours of long notes, guitar shredding and drum pounding.
It’s been “a heck of a fun ride,” playing in the Crashers, Mark said, as well as a blessing. And when he’s not playing or writing music, he’s often at the shop.
It took about four years after Mark took over for Maxwell’s House of Music for the business to fully recover from the recession.
“Most people would have thrown in the towel, but we at Maxwell’s don’t know anything else but music,” Mark said. “We just don’t.”
In the last two years, Maxwell’s has changed significantly. Mark renamed the business in 2015 and celebrated a $100,000 expansion and doubling of inventory.
Now, the store is like a Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for music, with Mark being the cooky mastermind behind it all.
It starts outside. In 2016, a pocket park, named Harmony Green, was dedicated in Maxwell’s yard.
The park features painted pianos, fairy lights and a small stage — all set against the backdrop of an elaborate mural.
Inside Maxwell’s, parts of the showroom are set up to resemble places where people play music: a basement, a home office and even a bathroom. Scavenged chandeliers hang from the ceiling and brightly colored furniture huddle in the middle of the floor.
Also present are Maxwell’s lesson rooms and stage. The store’s education division is still as strong as ever. Mark said it didn’t falter even when the rest of the store was struggling.
As a whole, the shop is meant to be a destination — not just a place to buy instruments.
“We’re not Walmart,” Mark said. “We’re something much more special than that.”
He does it all with the help of his employees.
“I’m all about being on a team,” Mark said. “That’s probably why I’ve never done a solo thing in my life. Like a solo musician thing. I just like being on a team. I am definitely stronger with great people around me.”
Recently, Vest, the Louisville Crashers bass player, asked Mark how long he thought the band would last.
As long as no one gets arrested or into any major trouble — 25 more years, Mark replied.
Again, he wasn’t not joking. Why would he stop? Mark’s doing what he enjoys — as a musician and as a business owner.
“I love both roles equally,” he said. “There’s nothing like watching people learn how to play music.”