Laid-back ambitions — Max Belz on the piano and his friend Tom Paulus on the guitar. As for venues? His own backyard. Literally.
Students know Belz as the admissions counselor at Providence Christian College, but in November 2010, he and his friend from Covenant College, Paulus, formed the band Here’s Your Problem–influenced by classic rock, jazz, and Americana, and defined by the self-invented term “Hollywood blues.”
Belz said that the motivating force that started the band was primarily friendship. Paulus was already an accomplished musician and Belz had been composing a few songs on his own. On Thanksgiving Day in 2010 in Staunton, Virginia, the two connected musically, resulting in a long-term commitment to collaborative songwriting and performing.
When asked to explain the reasoning behind the name of his band, Belz said, “[We] like to think of ourselves as diagnosing what was wrong for others…but of course we have the same problems as everyone else.” The name also implies a double meaning, as if the band is the “problem.”
One of the main themes in their music is western expansion. Neither Belz nor Paulus are native Californians, so they exhibit a unique interest in this western pilgrimage and the historical issues it presents. Specifically, their songs refer to Mormon settlement in the West, as well as 1920s Hollywood, an infamous cause of emigration from the eastern states.
When writing lyrics, Belz endeavors to communicate personal struggles in a general and sometimes comical manner. Belz and Paulus feel the pressure to not simply indulge their own feelings or worldview, but to communicate meaning that will resonate with their audience. Their music is intended to help people unwind, but also to articulate truth.
Here’s Your Problem creates a bridge between the experiences of the songwriters and listeners by providing elements of the Christian perspective, which is the only system of thought that comprehensively describes the state of the world and people’s emotions. Belz asserts, “I think we accurately try to describe the human experience.” Their goal is to convey something that is true, whether it be through images or descriptions of characters.
So far, Belz and Paulus have written ten songs together and recorded two tracks. What about big record labels or celebrity status? “It would be cool to take this somewhere,” Belz admits. However, success in the music industry would require a radical change in lifestyle, something neither Belz nor Paulus is willing to pursue.
For the short-term, Here’s Your Problem is tentatively planning to compose a film score for a movie made by Belz’s cousin. In the past they have had a concert at Belz’s house, the place he considers to be their best venue. The duo has also played street concerts in downtown Pasadena in the back of a flat-bed truck. On October 20 they will be playing some new numbers in the China Lounge on the WCIU campus at 8pm. In the future, they hope to play more house shows.
According to Belz, the music of Here’s Your Problem “should encourage people to try their hand at songwriting.” He wants to help people realize their own creative abilities. The point of the band is not to become successful in the music industry, but to foster inventiveness and prove that anyone can write something meaningful.
Many don’t believe that they possess enough cleverness to write a song, but Belz would argue that almost anyone can. “You have more in your mind and your heart than you think you do and sometimes the only way to unlock that is by writing a song,” he says. His advice: “Try to create something even if you don’t think it’s going to change the world.”
So if you’re in the Pasadena area on Saturday night at 8pm, stop by the China Lounge at William Carey International University and unwind to some Here’s Your Problem.
Check out their song: Baby Steps (to Manifest Destiny)