Last year, Max Frost had a creative awakening. Since becoming a professional musician and scoring genre-mashing hits including “White Lies” and “Adderall,” the forward-thinking pop maestro felt he hadn’t shown his true colors. “I realized I needed to completely change what I was doing and what I was trying to create into something a little bolder, a little bit more honest and less controlled,” he says. “I needed to take the veil off and let myself be a little more naked and a little more direct.”
He’d spent nearly his entire life in Austin, Texas, so moving to Los Angeles in 2017 “was about having a fresh start -- reinventing myself as much as a person as an artist.” Once he touched down in LA, he immediately got to work creating what turned out to be some of the most inventive songs of his young career. “I finally had the balls to be vulnerable,” says Frost, who once in LA teamed up with Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick (Fitz and The Tantrums) and began constructing the songs that would comprise Gold Rush, his major-label full-length debut LP, executive produced by Fitz, with major help from Mick Schultz (Rihanna, Jeremih).
Reflecting on the personal and creative journey he’s undergone in the past year, Frost says he’s finally freed himself of self-imposed restrictions and become “one-hundred percent honest” with himself as both a human being and songwriter. “I stopped trying to control how cool my music came across and just be myself,” he says. “I had to let it be open and direct and in-your-face.”
Now the 26-year-old singer, multi-instrumentalist and dynamic live performer, who in a few short years has seen his star rise in a major way thanks to tours with everyone from Twenty One Pilots, Panic! At The Disco, Fitz and The Tantrums, and Gary Clark Jr., being featured on a recent DJ Snake single and having four consecutive songs go to Number One on HypeMachine, says he’s never been adamant about pushing the limits of what constitutes pop music.
“I definitely care way less now about trying to be niche,” says the quick-witted singer behind the infectious, groove-anchored new single “Good Morning.” “I’ve realized that I want to make stuff that a lot more people can relate to and can be affected by. If you’re just trying to make these weird songs and if you’re consciously trying to be eclectic,” he adds, “I think that’s as cheesy as consciously trying to be commercial.”
Frost admits there was a time he tried to talk himself out of making pop music. “I used to purposely avoid putting hooks in a song,” says the musician whose soul-infected sonic gems have soundtracked a global Beats by Dre campaign and been featured in television shows including “Power” and “Brave,” “But honestly I almost feel like you’re going against biology if you’re trying to make music that doesn’t have hooks. Because if you boil it down it’s like, what’s a hook?’ It’s something that hits your brain in this specific way.”
Creative freedom, and the ability to write and record music driven by feeling and instinct, has always been central to Frost’s musical mindset. Playing the drums and guitar by age eight, and typically the youngest members of the diverse bands he was in as a teenager — everything from bluegrass to blues and jazz to hip-hop — Frost says it was the emotional connection to the music that forever drove his passion. “It never really occurred to me that music was something I was into growing up,” he admits, “It was just something that was. So I try to stay committed to that original place of no ego. Of music just being this beautiful benevolent thing.”
By the time he was enrolled at the University of Texas-Austin, he was obsessively writing and recording R&B-and-hip-hop informed pop music in his dorm room. By then he’d decided a career in music, no matter how uncertain, was his path forward. “White Lies,” though, changed everything: nearly one year after first uploading the falsetto-strewn song to SoundCloud, prominent blogs began to share it and a palpable buzz began to develop around it. Within weeks the song hit Number One on HypeMachine’s “Most Popular Tracks on Blogs Now,” and led to Frost signing his deal with Atlantic Records.
“That song broke doors down,” Frost recalls, still seemingly amazed at how fast his life was altered by it. “I went from playing a South By Southwest showcase where nobody was there to signing this huge record deal.” But rather than revel in his newfound success, Frost doubled down on refining both his songwriting and live performance chops. He speaks passionately about continually tinkering with his already notoriously high-energy one-man live show, one that typically finds him bouncing around the stage, playing every single instrument himself, whipping his fans into a manic fervor. “I’ve tortured myself to invent it to where it is now,” he says of his live show.
Furthermore, in the studio Frost found a mentor in Fitz. “He’s had a tremendous influence in my creative process and sometimes saves me from myself,” Frost says of Fitz who he refers to as his “songwriting fitness coach.” The tireless effort is now reaping massive rewards: Frost’s debut album is comprised of some of the singer’s most inventive songs yet, and ones that veer from electro-soul (“Slow Jamz”) to funk (“Money Problems”) and anthemic arena sing-alongs (“Eleven Days”).
As he looks ahead and continually redefines his artistry via production work for breaking talent including Mike Waters, Wild Child, and UPSAHL, Frost says he finally feels he’s being completely himself as an artist but is hardly afraid to continue reinventing his craft. “Sometimes it feels like I’m juggling fire,” he adds with a laugh. “But I think that’s the only way to live.”