Pop singer MAX has been making plenty of noise recently, and he might have even popped up on your Valentine's Day Snapchat filter with his smash hit "Lights Down Low" featuring fellow Ones To Watch artist gnash. Since then, MAX's signature eyewear has made another high-profile appearance, as the singer performed on Live With Kelly and Ryan's "After Oscar Show" on the same stage where The Shape of Water had just received the award for Best Picture of the year.
The performance was more than a fitting appearance for MAX, who began his career as an actor himself and appeared in several big-name shows such as Nickelodeon's How to Rock. Since then, however, his sincere songwriting has made him one of the most sought after names in the industry, with his placement on Whethan's "Savage" earning nearly 50 million Spotify streams to date.
MAX's vocal range sets him apart from the pack, proving just as impressive over upbeat pop beats as on slower ballads such as the aforementioned "Lights Down Low." His 2016 album, Hell's Kitchen Angel, showcased this versatility with a vast array of styles, drawing you in from the jump with the bouncing, irresistible title track that serves as the intro song.
Many songs on the album contain a much darker soundscape, such as the Lil Uzi Vert-assisted "Wrong." Angry, distorted synths create a shift in the mood, while MAX's fluttering falsettos infuse the track with the necessary energy to for a dance floor anthem. Later on "Mug Shot," he dives into the realm of funk, using blistering drums that make it impossible for the listener to remain in their seat.
Ones to Watch recently caught up with MAX to talk about his sprawling accomplishments thus far and learn a little about what inspires his various career moves. Check out our full interview below!
OTW: From starting at Nickelodeon to now diving headfirst into the music industry, what's been the craziest part of your journey?
A: I’d say the craziest part has truly been the journey through “Lights Down Low." It feels like every random lesson and moment lead up to this song. From writing it for my wife, proposing to her with it, finding my own identity fashion wise and musically, and really just finally feeling comfortable with myself and my insecurities because of my amazing wife.
OTW: What made you decide it was time to start making music?
A: I’ve always been writing. Everything always stemmed from music. Even the theater I did or TV shows and movies all pretty much had something to do with music, and me incorporating that into each performance. It took me awhile to take the leap and commit to just being an artist, because plenty of people did not believe in me or put me in a very specific box. Still, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been because I did, and because I was willing to lose it all to just create the music and message I always wanted to.
OTW: When you were initially trying to get your music out, was it hard convincing people that it was a genuine switch?
A: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like we are always put in boxes by the public eye or our peers. You’re an "actor guy” or a “YouTube star” or a “Nickelodeon kid” - "you shouldn’t be making music." I’ve been getting it my whole life in one way or another. It’s just about tuning out the nonsense and being true to your vision. Being comfortable with letting people label you with whatever they want as long as you exactly who you are.
What was your reaction to "Lights Down Low" going platinum?
A: It’s been a dream in many ways. This song means so much to me, and the message of love is love that we always want to spread. The fact that’s it’s platinum is awesome, but it’s really just a milestone of excitement to keep pushing for what I’m the most passionate about. A lesson I continue to be taught over and over again with this song and journey is to not give in to pressure for some kind of success, but to find the success with something that you really believe in!
OTW: You've jumped through a lot of different industries - does music feel more permanent and why?
A: Yeah absolutely. It’s the most natural. It feels right. I’m at home when I stand on a stage and bear my soul honestly through these songs. Dabbling in other things is fine but nothing feels as right as performing my own music and connecting with people with that music.
OTW: How would you describe your sound?
A: Pop soul in the most basic way to describe it, but I like to say our shows and vibe are like an emotional party. It’s a lot of hype and energy and then moments of complete silence and stillness through certain songs. That’s kind of the two sides of myself and my music in a nutshell.
OTW: You seem to draw from a lot of different genres, where do you find inspiration?
A: I guess it’s mostly the most raw soul of music. Whether that be artists like Etta James, Stevie Wonder, Prince, James Brown or artists like Billie Joel, Rod Stewart, and Justin Timberlake. When it’s clear that the artist is bearing their soul regardless of genre, that’s what inspires me musically.
OTW: In your eyes, what's a successful career?
A: I’ve thought of this so much lately with the conventional success of “Lights Down Low” and wondering if I’d still be as happy if it were never heard in this capacity. It’s brought me to the conclusion that a successful career would be one where the person does what they are incredibly passionate about, shares it with the people they love, survive off of it, and also shares it and connects with people they have never known and that thing they passionately do connects them. The quantity of that connection is not the success, it’s the quality in my mind.
OTW: How did your Hoodie Allen collaboration come about? What did you learn from working with him on "Gibberish?"
A: We had been tour for a few months, and I knew that he was just the perfect style and voice for the song. I always love creating and collaborating with people I really do love and know well so it was a no brainer!
OTW: Is there other industry you haven't worked in yet that you could see your self going into in the future?
A: I’m not really sure. I think music is it for me. Maybe bits of ways to help other artists eventually succeed in their goals. I love figuring out all of the little pieces that get music out there, so that’s something I’d be into.
OTW: Do you have a vision for your next album yet?
A: I definitely have a very vivid visual vision of the album. Now the fun part is filling in the world with the stories and music.
OTW: Who are some of your Ones to Watch artists?
A: Khalid is a beautiful soul who I’m obsessed with musically. I think Sabrina Claudio has an incredibly special presence and sound. My homies Bryce Vine and Marlon Craft are killing the game in the hip hop space, and I think they’re both going to blow up. AJR are friends of mine who we’ve been in the trenches for years and finally people are hearing and experiencing their music on a beautifully grand level and I think it will only get bigger. So many artists and bands I’m so excited to root for.