A year and a half ago, MAX lost his voice.
The pop singer-songwriter was in the middle of writing his forthcoming album, Colour Vision, when he underwent a surgery that literally left him speechless: “I had this surgery on my vocal cords and couldn’t speak for four months,” MAX told American Songwriter in an exclusive interview featured below.
Ever the optimist, MAX emerged from this experience with a new outlook on his career: “I had this reset, this rebirth. A whole new team came into place, and so many things were shed–these negative things,” he explains. “It felt like I was reborn, and that’s the theme of the entire album–finding the colour in your life and shunning the negatives and really diving into what positive things you may have overlooked before.”
MAX–born Max Schneider–is currently getting some much-needed rest in Los Angeles following a string of Asian tour dates that concluded just before the widespread cancellation of concerts and other public gatherings due to COVID-19.
“We just got back from Asia probably two weeks before this all went down, so I feel like we really followed the trajectory over the last few months,” says MAX. “We were in Korea and Japan, and literally a week after we left those places they were starting to lock down. Everything was getting cancelled. So it got real [for us] before it started hitting the United States. The second we heard it hit the United States, my parents and my wife and me all quarantined ourselves.”
Now MAX is quietly gearing up for the release of Colour Vision, which arrives via Arista later this year. It’s his third album following 2016’s Hell’s Kitchen Angel and 2015’s NWL. Most recently he shared the powerful single “Where Am I At”–a heart-wrenching pop number that MAX wrote after losing someone close to him.
MAX spoke to American Songwriter about his new album, his collaboration with producers Imad Royal and Rogét Chahayed, and his biggest soul inspirations from legends such as Etta James and James Brown to contemporary acts such as Alabama Shakes and Childish Gambino. Read the full interview and check out “Where Am I At” below.
AS: Can you start by telling me a little bit about your latest single, “Where Am I At”? What’s it about? What do you hope listeners take away from it?
MAX: “Where Am I At” is a super special one. I wrote it about three years ago–it’s probably the oldest song on the album, and it [came about] when I lost someone in my life that defined a part of me. I think you lose certain people and when they’re gone you feel like a piece of you, a piece of your heart, a piece of your personality feels lost as well. This one hit me like a freight train, and that’s where this song came from. I hope it means something different for different people. It’s been really special to finally release it after having it in my back pocket for so long.
You have a new record coming out in May. What was your experience like writing and recording it?
My last album came out four years ago, which is so wild. The next one definitely won’t take that long–it will be a much shorter window. But it’s been two different phases. The first phase was songs [consisted of] songs like “Where Am I At.” The theme of the entire album began with the title Colour Vision about a year and a half ago when I had this surgery on my vocal cords and couldn’t speak for four months. I had this reset, this rebirth. A whole new team came into place, and so many things were shed–these negative things.
It felt like I was reborn, and that’s the theme of the entire album–finding the colour in your life and shunning the negatives and really diving into what positive things you may have overlooked before. So half [the tracks were written] before then, which were intense experiences that still made sense within [the album]. The songs that came after that were about finding your light again, which was the arc of the entire album.
So that’s what the title Colour Vision refers to?
Exactly. It’s seeing everything in a way you never did before. I feel like before that experience happened to me, that trauma, I was always doing things so that I would one day be happy. And I was always a very happy person but I was just experiencing everything like, “I’ll do this show so that I can sell twice the amount of tickets’ or ‘I’ll do this song or this feature or this radio thing so that I can get to a bigger place.’
[Now] I treat every show like maybe it’s my last show, ‘cause you never know. I went into every song and every mix and every video [for this album] really soaking up that present experience, and that’s changed everything for me in my life. That’s the theme of Colour Vision.
You’ve collaborated as a songwriter and performer with plenty of artists. Who are some of the folks you worked with on this album?
I’ve done a ton with my guys Imad Royal and Rogét Chahayed. They both have done incredible things before. Rogét has been the special key sauce on songs like [Travis Scott’s] “Sicko Mode” [featuring Drake] and [Miguel’s] “Sky Walker” [featuring Travis Scott] and [DRAM’s] “Broccoli” [featuring Lil Yachty]. Imad’s done some wonderful things for Panic at the Disco! and so many different artists.
I got in with them right before I had this experience and we just found a sound. I had worked with a lot of different producers before, but once I locked in with these guys it just felt like home. They became a part of [the album] with me and now every song feels like it’s ours rather than just mine, which–as a solo artist and an only child–I think it’s a part of the psyche to want everybody to feel like a part of your thing, so you’re not alone in it. A couple other wonderful artists and producers joined as well, but those two have been my main collaborators.
I stumbled on an old interview you did for On Air With Ryan Seacrest, in 2013, where you gave some shout-outs to Fall Out Boy and Justin Timberlake when asked what you were listening to. What are you listening to now?
It’s all over the map. I always love a good Alabama Shakes session. Miguel, of course. Justin Timberlake forever. That’s the sound. Really anything with beautiful soul–it’s Etta James, it’s Marvin Gaye, it’s James Brown. On the more recent kick I love Alabama Shakes, I love Childish Gambino, I love artists [who] really bare their souls on their tracks.
How have you been coping with everything surrounding coronavirus?
It’s been wild. We just got back from Asia probably two weeks before this all went down, so I feel like we really followed the trajectory over the last few months. We were in Korea and Japan, and literally a week after we left those places they were starting to lock down. Everything was getting cancelled. So it got real [for us] before it started hitting the United States. The second we heard it hit the United States, my parents and my wife and me all quarantined ourselves.
This definitely takes you out of your comfort zone if you’re a social person. But it’s brought out some really beautiful things too. I’m spending more time with family, I’m in LA so the weather’s nice here at least, I’m FaceTiming people I haven’t talked to in a while, and reconnecting with people which is the saving grace of all of this.
You have a big tour coming up this summer if everything goes as planned. Where are you most excited to perform?
I love bringing a new theme to every tour and getting to share the music in the way I hoped people would see it visually. Of course it’s special to do that in places like home, in New York, ‘cause I’m a Hell’s Kitchen boy and doing a hometown show is always amazing. But I’m really excited to go back to Korea, to go to Amsterdam, to hit some more places in the United States. Chicago’s always one of our favorites. And then there’s the sleeper cities like Salt Lake City and Denver, and those places always have crazy energy.
Those places turn up for you?
They’re the best. Johnson City, Tennessee–we’ve had so many shows there over the years for radio stations, and that’s one of the most lit places in America. People sleep on Johnson City. They probably have never even heard of it, and it’s amazing.
Colour Vision is out later this year via Arista.