MAX Shows Us What He’s Made of on ‘Hell’s Kitchen Angel’
From covering popular songs on YouTube to acting and writing music for the small screen, it's safe to say that MAX has touched so many parts of the entertainment industry. But he wasn't always meant to be behind the scenes or a supporting character: MAX has a voice all his own.
The New York City artist introduced the world to his point of view with his studio album, Hell's Kitchen Angel, and the hit love song, "Lights Down Low." Sitting down with him before he performed in his hometown at the Gramercy Theatre on on November 4, he opened up about the obstacles he conquered throughout his career, the love of his life and what he hopes to achieve next.
You've been in the business for a long time. How have you seen your music evolve over the years?
I had a very bizarre and wonderful journey where I had a lot of limbos. For instance, I got into the YouTube world, which was a wonderful time, but I think was a niche that I have been delighted not to be a part of anymore because I think it's very difficult to be in that cover world. I was in it because I was in a really crappy label deal that wouldn't let me release my own music. But the loophole was that I could release covers. I was writing for other artists and was allowed to work on that, but, for three years, I wasn't allowed to put anything [of my own] out. So it was my loophole to, at least, introduce my style.
And with the evolution of music during those times, I found what really mattered to me. A lot of my life was behind the scenes. Finally. when I had the opportunity to put stuff out, that's when I got to release Hell's Kitchen Angel and release the stuff that I'm the most proud of. It's really beautiful to have that phase with "Lights Down Low" and the different songs off the last record and the new stuff coming.
"Lights Down Low" has been getting so much praise from fans and critics. What inspired the song and how you feel about all the reactions to it?
I wrote it halfway through the last album, and I was spending a lot of time trying to make something that was big. And that's the most poisonous thing you can do. You don't want it to be some generic connection because that will never work. I finally hit a wall, and I just started dating my now wife, Emily. I just wanted to write something for her. I didn't think about [the other expectations] anymore and didn't worry about all the other things. And ironically it was beautiful. It's been the one that's connected the most. So I wrote this song for her, and then I proposed to her with the song. And then it was a really intense journey for us, and it's been beautiful to get that positive reaction from people. They're getting married to the song and using it as their wedding song. It's the greatest lesson of my life.
I've done things with my life that I not regretted, but that I'm not as proud of. And I cringe when someone says something about it. And that's something that's so important not to do. If somebody enjoys anything you do, that's an honor. And I try to remember that. But there are certain things that people bring up that makes me cringe. I wish that it didn't. ["Lights Down Low"] is something that we put so much love and effort and blood and sweat and tears into and all the things that you hear as a cliche, but this was so worth it...
Now it makes so much sense why your wedding video was on your channel, and it also looks like the video for the song ties into your love story because I think I saw her wedding dress?
YES! Exactly. You got the detail! Another big lesson for us was that the song was getting heard the most in The Netherlands, and people in the music world were saying, before I was open about my relationship at all, "You should get some famous DJ from The Netherlands to be the girl." And I was always a yes guy in so many ways. But finally I said, "If my wife isn't in this video, I'm not making this video at all." It needs to be so transparent... Nobody's going to care if some it's some DJ from The Netherlands just because it's doing well [there].
Because of that, we waited six months [to release it]. It took three months for all the powers that be to let us do that. Then once we made the video, it was six months from the beginning to actually putting it out. And the wedding video was something we realized that, if we're going to be open our relationship, then we should take the risk. And everyone was like, "This is going to ruin everything in your career. No one's going to listen to your music. You're in your 20s. You're a pop singer. There's no way you can compete if you're not single." It's a very unfortunate cliche, which was what I thought. So I realized if I lost everything because I'm open about what my life is then fine, I'd rather that. If we were going to be so raw and real about this song and our story in general, let's make it completely transparent and share this. So it was our vision to reveal we were married and we hoped that people would connect with that.
Since songwriting is at the core of what you do, what makes the perfect pop song? And whose song do you wish you wrote?
The perfect song is one of the hardest questions in the world because, for me, "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson is the perfect song. The story is so deep and apparent within that three-minute or four-minute song yet also, you can lose yourself without even thinking about the lyrics. It's the one that gets under your skin. The story is there...When the chorus comes on, you sing it but don't know what's behind it. Also, "Little Red Corvette" by Prince. Songs that are told in such a way. It's something that connects with everyone in that it's a real story, and those are two that I wish I wrote. Or even "Isn't She Lovely" by Stevie Wonder. They're so simple but so unique in every way. You can't try to write the perfect song. You can only be that committed to what that vision is as an artist.
I started writing "Meteor" with my college room mate @musicbytoulouse almost 7 years ago on the piano in the basement of our dorm. Last year we reconnected and finished the song. This song is for the long train rides, the late night drives home, the moments where you just want to transport yourself to another world. A safe space to dive in. Welcome to the intro for the next body of music. "Meteor" out everywhere now
It's interesting for me because right now I'm very happy with where "Lights Down Low" has gone...It's very fleeting, but that's okay with me. People ask me about what the next big song is, but I've made that mistake way too many times in life...I have been to more cities in the U.S. alone than I ever would have thought, and that's beautiful because it influences the writing.
I'm trying to be as transparent as I can be with this next album of writing. I just put out this song called "Meteor," which isn't a single by any means. But it's something I want to establish as the next vision of the next thing. And that's all I'm working on. If it's another "Lights Down Low," then awesome. If it's not, I just need to be proud of the work that it is.
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