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The Sound

Wellman’s road to success


Max Wellman performs at Hoyt Sherman Place on Saturday, March 23.

Max Wellman performs at Hoyt Sherman Place on Saturday, March 23.

When Roman generals returned home from military victories, they were welcomed back to Rome with great parades. But in the midst of the triumph, the conquering heroes were accompanied in their chariots by slaves, who would whisper in the generals’ ears the caveat that all glory is fleeting.

Max Wellman’s upcoming show at Hoyt Sherman Place returns the Des Moines crooner to the venue that helped launch his career. But as Wellman looks back on the three years that have passed since his last Hoyt Sherman performance, he’s intimately aware that success doesn’t guarantee momentum.

“(That show) screwed me up for a while,” Wellman confessed. “I was 19, and everything to that point had gone very well. Everyone was like, ‘You’re going to be famous,’ and that completely screwed me up. I had no idea what to expect from the real world. And as wonderful as all that success was, it was also paralyzing. It’s setting the bar really high.

“For the next couple years, I just kept starting these grand plans and stopping. I really felt like I’d lost my momentum and direction. But over the last year, I feel very much like I’ve gotten rid of all of that. It was like, ‘Why am I doing this? Is it because people like it or because I love it?’ I’ve come out on the other side of that with, ‘Yes. This is what I want to do, and I love it.’ It really feels like this show is kind of resetting everything.”

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But it’s not like Wellman is starting completely from scratch. He’s developed a name for himself as a talented performer and hard worker and now has an established reputation as a strong draw in the city. Still very early in his career, he’s become a known commodity.

But for all his success, Wellman — still only 21 years old, mind you — works against the perception that he’s not living up to his potential. He hears daily from people who think he’s supposed to be the next Harry Connick Jr. or Michael Bublé, when what he’s busy being is the first Max Wellman.

“It’s very natural for people to compare me to a Bublé or Sinatra or Connick,” he said. “People will treat it sometimes like (I’m) a cover band. (But) this (new album) is my thing. I really feel like I can pour myself into it.”

Beyond Hoyt Sherman and the release of the new album, Wellman is keeping his eyes focused on the road ahead. In the fall, he’ll be attending a series of arts conferences, where theaters from around the nation go to book their upcoming seasons.

“I’m kind of placing a few big bets, hoping to break into that next tier of national work,” he said.

Like the Roman generals of antiquity, Wellman understands that success is neither guaranteed nor self-perpetuating. It requires a strong sense of purpose and a vigilant attitude. It’s something that must be fought for and is best won on your own terms.

“ ‘You should try out for American Idol.’ That happens at least once a week,” he said. “I’ve found, as a musician, that everyone is an expert on how (I) should go about being successful. I’m not trying to answer to anyone else. So if people want to get upset that I’m not doing the Bublé thing, it doesn’t upset me as much as it used to,” he concluded. “It doesn’t make me feel bad that I’m not taking people’s requests.” CV

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