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Hughes shows a plucking good time

1/10/2014

ELIZABETH GOLDEN

egolden@dailynews.net

Maxwell Hughes, former member of the Lumineers and a Grammy-nominated songwriter, showed off his solo acoustic guitar set Thursday in front of a packed audience at Gella's Diner and Lb. Brewing Co.

Hughes found himself in Hays on his Western U.S. Tour. He chose the location because it was on the way to Kansas City, Mo., from his hometown of Fort Collins, Colo.

Hughes picked up his first instrument at age 16.

"My dad taught me," Hughes said. "He had been playing his whole life, so we just started playing together."

After seeing a video of Australian finger-style guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, Hughes began "fingerpicking."

Fingerpicking is a guitar technique of plucking the strings directly with fingernails as opposed to plucking individual notes with a guitar pick.

Many years after familiarizing himself with various tricks and styles, Hughes began performing at open mic nights, where he met the Lumineers.

The original three members moved to Denver, approximately an hour south of his home, and began playing open mic nights.

"We all became friends," Hughes said. "I wanted to see if they liked the idea of me playing mandolin with them, and that's how we got started."

In 2010, he became the fourth member of the Lumineers, but his time with the band was short-lived.

"It was when we were getting ready to be signed by the management company they are currently under," he said. "They had to make the decision of being true to what they wanted in the past, which is a three-piece, and I was the fourth member, so they just kind of let me go."

In summer 2011, Hughes no longer was part of the band.

"It hurt," Hughes said. "But we're still friends. Over the years, it's been less and less of a bother."

While with the Lumineers, Hughes said he considered himself a "jack of all trades," playing bass, piano, cello and drums along with his standard guitar or mandolin.

"I pretended to play a lot of things," Hughes said. "It worked out quite well."

Although Hughes has no formal training, he draws inspiration through many other professional guitarists and from various musical styles, particularly hip-hop, electronica and video game music.

"I played video games a lot growing up," he said. "I feel like underneath everything there's some video game music coming out."

In his free time, Hughes enjoys playing games, from video games to board games to card games.

"I'm a terrible Coloradoan," he said. "I'm not very outdoorsy."

Wanting to succeed and make music a career drives his passion, he said, but he doesn't like the business aspect of music.

"I just really enjoy playing music for people and making people laugh," Hughes said. "There's just a lot of busy work involved. Usually it's about 90-percent work, 5-percent play and 5-percent standing around not knowing what to do."

His busy work includes booking gigs, negotiating deals and determining target markets through social media.

According to his Facebook logistics, the ages of 25 to 32 are his target market.

"I'd like to get that to be a bit younger," Hughes said.

"I'm trying to do that by booking hipper places."

He said he's noticed his crowds being older adults, but younger audience members also appreciate his style.

"Younger crowds like my music because it's an innovative and flashy way of playing guitar," Hughes said. "And older crowds like it because it's instrumental and nice."

After completing his tour, Hughes will continue working on a sample pack of his guitar pieces.

A sample pack is a collection of guitar pieces, usually eight to 10 seconds long.

"It's geared more toward producers and hip hop and electric artists," he said.

"They're to be put into a mixing program and use with other music."

Hughes said someday he would like to be with a band again, but he enjoys being solo.

"I'm really enjoying the experience of doing this solo," he said.

"So I might put the band idea on hold for a while."