Starting out with nothing less than a bang, MAX begins his new album Colour Vision with the lead track that showcases pure energy, excitement, and emotion, marking his long-awaited return with a grand explosion.
Colour Vision is the singer-songwriter’s first record in four years, following his debut album Hell’s Kitchen Angel in 2016. MAX didn’t intend the album to take that long but after a winding road of touring, promoting, and an unexpected vocal surgery, that’s the way the cards were dealt.
“I think a reason why it took so long and probably why it won't take that long again [is] with the first album, I was just promoting 'Lights Down Low', like nobody's business. I was in every city in the world, just getting it out there. And when you're doing that - you're on planes, you're just not writing as much. So that's a part of why it took that long was that and then another part was just, you know, physical stuff. I couldn't speak for like four months because of the surgery and so that kind of stopped me in my tracks,” MAX tells Bandwagon.
Now, in a sea of bright yellow, the artist has returned with a new sense of purpose and energy, and a sonic landscape that can only be described as a spectrum of vivid colours.
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Enlisting a myriad of artists, the Colours Vision boasts a diverse range of sounds and genres, as well as stories from MAX’s life in the past four years. From starting a new family to hustling hard, the album encompasses an entire world of emotions and adventure.
After a four-month delay due to the pandemic, the album finally dropped on 18 September. Hooking listeners with carefully curated concepts and catchy pop melodies, the album has been streamed millions of times since its release. A particular fan favourite is ‘Blueberry Eyes’, a subtly sweet love song featuring BTS member SUGA, which recently saw a Steve Aoki remix.
Despite COVID-19 halting his chances of performing his newest album live, MAX is moving non-stop to make sure fans get the most out of the record. Bandwagon recently caught up with the artist via ZOOM to get insight into his “Colour Vision” and talk about working with BTS’ SUGA, his musical inspirations and going back to Asia.
Hi MAX! Since it’s been four years, walk me through how you went from Hell's Kitchen Angel to Colour Vision.
With Hell's Kitchen Angel, it was a collection of songs that I was really proud of. 'Light's Down Low' and ‘10 Victoria's Secret Models’ and songs I just love. With Colour Vision...I always looked up to so many fantastic artists who create a world: Tyler the Creator with IGOR, and Prince with Purple Rain, and I just I've always said to myself that I'd love to be that kind of artist. I want to go in and have people dive into a full body of work. That is the videos, that is the art that is just a moment. And, that's really what I set out to do with Colour Vision, I just wanted it to feel like it was something you emerge into, and you could have as much fun as you wanted, feel all the feelings you wanted and feel safe and accepted. That's the world I wanted to create with it so hopefully, people feel that way about it.
To recover from vocal surgery, you weren’t able to speak or sing for four months. How was that experience like for you?
It was both awful and really healing. At the moment, it was so scary just because I didn't know if I'd ever sing again or sound the same. You know, all of those thoughts and not only those thoughts, but you're trapped in your head enough to not be able to speak them. I can’t go to therapy or anything. I literally couldn't speak, I was just stuck alone in my head.
After a while though, I got comfortable with the guy alone in my head, [who] I think I always avoided. So, I think I got to know that voice...that subconscious and say, “You know what, we're one person, let's just accept that”. For that, it was healing. I faced a lot of feelings that I wasn't strong enough to face before. It definitely made me stronger, much braver, and a lot more grateful for every moment.
The album transcends a bunch of different genres and sounds. How would you define the sound of Colour Vision?
It's just pure energy in so many ways. Of course, it’s Pop, but besides this specific genre of Pop, I always say Soul. And I mean that just from like, a raw place. I hope that everybody listens to every song and whether it be intimate and romantic or just very out there and explosive like the intro ‘Colour Vision’. I think that pure soul genre is there, in that feeling of raw energy.
Was there a particular track that you were excited for people to hear?
Oh, yeah! I mean, obviously, 'Blueberry Eyes' is so ecstatic. Having that in my back pocket, knowing that SUGA was a part of it, I was so excited to share it with the world. But, besides that one, ‘Colour Vision,' the intro. I just was so excited to jump on a stage, even if it's for a virtual show, and open the show with that song. In an ideal world, they start in the beginning, they play that song that that just felt like...oh I'd love to film the reaction of every person. The energy just amps up the room.
What are some of your sources of inspiration?
It really just comes from raw experience, that is both traumatic or joyous.
The song ‘Where Am I At’ was a really hard one. I lost, basically, my hero in my life. When [my great grandmother] passed away, she was 103. So, she killed the game but when she passed away, I saw her like two days before she did and I was just realising that someone that's really been a huge part of the structure of my personality not being with us anymore. Whoever that is for you, your parents, your aunts, your uncles, whoever it is, you know, that relationship just redefines you, and you realise that they live in you. But, now they're not here anymore to call. So, it really comes from those people, the people that have affected me the most.
On the other side, there are more songs like ‘Working For The Weekend’. A lot of the songs always come back to the fans, you know. We're the soundtrack of their lives and I want them to know that you're grinding, we're grinding, keep fighting for your dreams, don't stop. So, the fans are also such a huge inspiration.
Colour Vision features a lot of artists, from Hayley Kiyoko to Chromeo to BTS' SUGA, all of them coming from a different musical background. Did you face any challenges combining your sound with your collaborators'?
What's interesting is that people have [asked] me before what's my sound. I guess I've never really defined it and the fun part is that it really opens this whole thing up. My stories and my voice are consistent but the genres and the sound have really been sort of out there and diverse. It allows many collaborations.
But for an interesting reason, I don't know why but so many people in the Korean space and in K-pop have gravitated towards my music. That's been amazing! I guess it just spoke to that sound, whatever it may be, it did speak to them.
'Blueberry Eyes', which features BTS' SUGA, has become such a popular track, even recently gaining 40 million streams. How did the idea of working SUGA come about?
It started with Jungkook giving love to one of my songs a few years ago and me seeing that and tweeting out like, “Hey, thanks for giving love to my song”. Then becoming [part of] ARMY and doing the deep dive. Over the years, Jungkook sent love to a few more songs then SUGA put 'Love Me Less' on a playlist and I said ‘thank you’ on the internet. That ‘Internet’ moment back and forth, I think it showed that there was mutual respect.
Then [I went] to Korea for the first time and got some help from my great team and basically said, “Hey, guys, we've made this natural connection. Can anybody talk to Big Hit and get us together in one room”. So luckily, our teams did make that happen, which was wonderful.
It's been amazing to just become friends and get to create this music together. But, it really did always come from a natural place. It was just we both liked each other's music and luckily connected.
HOW IT STARTED : HOW IT’S GOING pic.twitter.com/yON90HXTny— MAX (@MAXMusic) October 20, 2020
You worked on 'Burn It' as well on SUGA's AGUST D mixtape, D-2, which was a lot heavier compared to 'Blueberry Eyes'. How was it working on those two sonically opposite tracks concurrently?
II think that's partly why I've never really defined a sound because I love being able to [do different stuff].
When SUGA sent me ‘Burn It’, he said, "All right, the track is done but here's the chorus, it's in a Korean melody right now. Can you write English lyrics about this story, with this melody?” And I'm like, “I love it. That's great, done”. I've never done that before, I love that challenge. It was just so much fun to dive in with my buddy Amir, who I do a lot of darker stuff with, and see how we can make it feel authentic to my voice and my story while also just fitting into the world that AGUST D was creating. So, it was a challenge, even though it [was] so interesting.
It was only like...I don't know four lines. The hardest part was saying exactly what the whole song's about in English in such a short amount of time. There's not a lot of real estate, as we like to say as songwriters, to create that full place but it ended up working out and he loved it. We did a bunch of different keys and I'm so glad that he put it in. I love the whole project. He just killed it so it was an honour to be a part of it.
Working with SUGA, did you guys face any language and geographical challenges?
We had such a great translator who works with him and she was phenomenal. I've been to a lot of different countries where I usually have a translator but I'd never experienced something like this, where I'd literally say something like I'm saying to you and she would repeat it in real-time to him, even as I'm saying it sometimes. She would know what I was going for and she’d say it to him, he'd say something to her and she'd say back to English. So, it was almost like our conversation was this three-way conversation but it was just [me and SUGA].
So, in person it was easy, even over the phone, communicating via different apps was easy. The only time it's funny is our actual talks, when we just talk. It's very short because his English is limited and my Korean is limited so we just keep it cute. Maybe we send pictures of basketball when the NBA Playoffs were on, we just kept it short. But musically, having that bridge was such a lifesaver, I don't know if we have been so seamless without that.
1ST LAKERS GAME WITH MY BROTHER SUGA. MAMBA FOREVER pic.twitter.com/GKztrVJRgW— MAX (@MAXMusic) February 1, 2020
Before COVID-19 hit, you were doing a tour in Asia, moving from city to city. And, then within a span of a couple of days, you had to fly back and stay at home, even until now. How did you deal with that transition?
Oh, man, it wasn't...well, I'm having a baby but yeah, it was definitely difficult. It made me reevaluate a lot of things. Just goes to show, you plan things years in advance in music like tours, like right now I have dates in the Philippines and Korea for like a year and a half from now but who knows where the world will be. We just have to be open to it.
Yeah, it definitely hit me hard. But then I really had a lot of time to focus on things I didn't get to before. I really got to spend months just digging in and making sure [the album and music videos] were exactly what I wanted and make sure that everything was cohesive. Which honestly, when you're like on a flight from the when you're on a flight from Korea to Singapore, and you're just trying to sleep. You're not thinking about that stuff, you're just like trying to rest to sound good the next show. So I got to say, I'm grateful that I've had the time to just say, "How can I make everything an even better experience for the fans?"
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Putting out an album during such an unsteady time is not easy. What was going through your mind when Colour Vision was released?
Well, it was supposed to drop in May but I said, “Hell no, we gotta, you know, push that [back]”. But, when it finally dropped in September, it was a really beautiful relief in a lot of ways. A lot of people said like, “Why didn't you wait till after all this is over” but you know what, who knows when anything will ever be over?
I think that we need music to keep us uplifted and keep us feeling. We need movies, we need all of these pieces of art to just make us feel something and that's my job to put that out there. Hopefully, people feel good about it or feel anything about it. It's definitely maybe not an ideal time because I wish I could play these shows live in the Philippines right now but it's also important that people have something to look forward to and something to experience now. So I'm kind of glad it happened now because I get to do so many other things, more versions of the songs just to [keep] creative in that way. I have the time to do that. It's a blessing disguise, as many would say.
Going off of that, 2020 has been a crazy, difficult and stressful year for a lot of people. What role do you think you as a musician and music, in general, play for the world right now?
I say this so much but I think that musicians get to be a small part of the soundtracks of people’s lives. I always go back to that; you're putting out music in the world and managers and labels are [all about] streams and all this stuff but what are those streams? That's you going to the gym or you reading or watching a movie, but you just really want to listen to music. Okay, that's a bad example, watching a movie but you know what I mean. There are just so many things that are a part of every person's life and you need that music to get you through that - to get you motivated, to not feel exhausted or to accept the loss of someone in your life and need a good cry, or you're falling in love. You want to just listen to some songs and know how you feel.
A musician's job is to add those layers to the soundtrack of your life. You can go to [a] song if you feel like feeling something, like "it's so good to fall in love, I'm going to listen to 'Blueberry Eyes' right now". So, I think that's our service to the world and we always have to remind ourselves, that's what we're here for.
Finally, do you have a message to your fans in Asia?
I love Asia so much like it's my favourite place to perform and talk about music. There's such an appreciation for music in the Philippines, in Korea, in Japan and the fans are unlike anywhere else in the world. So, the first place, when it’s safe, I'm coming back to play shows in is Asia. I appreciate all of my fans in Asia, so thank you.
Listen to MAX's Colour Vision here: