'I almost define myself by my work in progress.'
Evan Dale // May 15, 2019
In the confusing and indefinable world of what bedroom pop ever was and has become, New Zealand’s Maxwell Young has taken one of the more interesting roads and been one of the more unique artists to arise from it all. One of those all-in-one creatives where the word prolific doesn’t even begin to do him justice, dozens of tracks and a handful of projects define today what is in exceptionally nonlinear path to his current auditory aesthetic. There are certainly parallels to be drawn from his early work as an experimental electronic producer, but when listening to his new instrumentally-driven, vocally-powerful EP, Only Romantics, his journey seems to be every bit as personal as it has been creative.
RNGLDR: We want to start with a quick congratulations on the release of your last project, Daydreamer, a proper album that really feels like it captures the journey to where you’ve gotten to today while being an exhibition of the sound that has truly started to define you in a new way. Can you take us on a quick recount of what it is that got you to Daydreamer’s release? And can you do the same for your new EP, Only Romantics?
Maxwell Young: Daydreamer was a project made out of me being so inspired by Kevin Abstract's American Boyfriend album in how he told a bildungsroman narrative with a variety of cohesive production and songwriting influences. The world I felt created around that album was deeply inspiring to focus on a project mindset rather than purely making songs. Daydreamer was also me making my first songs that follow traditional pop structure and encapsulating my teenage experience. I look back at it fondly as a diary of sorts.
Only Romantics is less of a diary and more of a specific vignette inspired by the arch of a first relationship in terms of figuring out how to share all of yourself with someone, depression, the concept of muses, projecting feelings, monogamy etc. I find it quite personal and poetic at risk of being obtuse and inaccessible. I was finding my voice more and more production wise so some of the structure and pacing may be odd and it's not the catchiest project but captures a time in my life and creative development which I'm happy to release. Would work well with a movie.
RNGLDR: As an artist on the heels of such a big and defining project, what is it like? Do you get to bask in the glow of a finished product or is it right back to the drawing board?
Maxwell Young: I feel very lucky to be in contact with some very successful artists at such an undeveloped and young age to see the glow is never really that fulfilling to bask in. I heard Matty Healy talk about in an interview today that the way he doesn't really know how to exist without working on a project and I emphasise with that deeply. I almost define myself by my work in progress. When Daydreamer released my dear friend and the artist that did the polaroid cover art Ch'lita mentioned how I'd brought up every conversation she'd had with me I'd brought up that I was making an album. So yes there's nothing to bask in, I'm already well into the process of the next thing.
RNGLDR: For an artist like you who crafts every element of his own music with the tools you have in your bedroom and collaborations with others online, what is that drawing boardlike? What is the creative process of a modern DIY musician?
Maxwell Young: Personally the main part of my process is lack of process. I value research a lot and treat the time I spend watching interviews, listening to podcasts, reading books about music and other art forms as productive as the time I spend working on a song or doing the admin tasks that come with being an independent musician. During the making of D'angelo's Voo Doo the group working on the project spent 5 years searching for a spark of inspiration everyday at Electric Lady studios before picking up any instruments. While I believe my work ethic is quite good and a defining part of my character, I'm trying to get more comfortable with letting songs happen when they do rather than forcing magic to appear.
RNGLDR: Artists with relatable backgrounds – internet musicians who work sans a studio and release their music internally – are certainly becoming one of, if not the driving force in the world of music. Whether it be SoundCloud rappers, Bandcamp groups, chatroom collaboratives like BROCKHAMPTON, or the bedroom pop / mellow indie / DIY creators, what, in your opinion, does it not only say about the state of music, but also its future?
Maxwell Young: There's more music being released than ever before which is something to think about. The most recognised complaints about streaming payments are from huge artists such as Taylor Swift. For artists at that calibre the return for investment is surely lost in a big way. However for anyone not on the charts, it's far easier than ever before to get payment for independent music. The Bedroom Pop playlist on Spotify is nearing 400 thousand followers. I'm curious to see where it all goes because I think what you're describing is a very new phenomenon that will be taken notice of more and more as more anti genre music gets released independently and more careers birthed like this take off.
RNGLDR: For those reading who are perhaps hearing about you and your music for the first time, it’s important to note the variance in your sound. There was a clear, hip-hop-influenced electronic direction in your early work while there are some modern tracks that feel borderline folky in their acoustic and indie foundations. With such a broad creative reach, who are some influences that grant an insight into the wide range of your sonic texture?
Maxwell Young: That's a good summation of my sound. Sometimes I forget how odd it is because I don't force that amalgamation of sound it happens rather naturally. Brockhampton's Iridescence album was one of the biggest musical inspirations for this project. It felt broken, experimental, extremely heartfelt and endearingly obtuse. I'd describe OR similarly. 'Kindred Spirits' feels like 'San Marcos' to me. My pal Instupendo inspires me a lot in how lush, unique and hard hitting his productions are executed. The personable folk feeling of Sam Ray's work in Teen Suicide/American Pleasure Club/Ricky Eat Acid inspires how I view storytelling in music a lot. Yung Lean/Bladee sonics inspire me a lot. I'd say 'Popstar's Girlfriend' is perhaps my interpretation of Leans 'bender++girlfriend'.
RNGLDR: It should also be noted for those new to Maxwell Young, that it’s not as if you stepped away from what once influenced your early work. You have a special sound – a unique aggregate of your vast influences blends together to sound not quite like anyone in particular that we’ve ever heard. In a world of deteriorating genrefication and acceptance of indefinable stylings, what would you call your own?
Maxwell Young: My friend Guy from the Paraminds blog has been saying Sonder Pop recently which I quite like as it sums up the confusion of this post bedroom pop era and the online aspect to it. I also like Harry Teardrop's Dreamo genre title which encapsulates the haziness and the heart to the images and soundtracks that my peers and I are creating for ourselves. I'm more and more confused at what my sound is everyday and barely know what I'm good at. Trying to make R&B music right now but it's very much informed by Burial and autotune as well as more traditional songwriting. Lost! With! Genre!
RNGLDR: While we’re still on the subject of your early work, we find it necessary to ask: what was it like to have someone as influential as Casey Neistat utilize your music in his vlogs? How did that effect your early work and really, your career to this point?
Maxwell Young: Gave me my audience and gave me drive to keep up a steady work ethic. I don't know if it affected other than that but work ethic is one of the qualities I hold dearest. Also started music being a financially sustainable thing for me at a young age which I don't know where I'd be without. Spotify pay my rent right now. Scary & thrilling.
RNGLDR: As far as the process of getting your music featured on a platform like that, did you send him music? Did he discover it on his own? What kind of contact did you two have?
Maxwell Young: I was playing my friend Nick some of my beats in Maths class (which I quit as soon as possible) and he suggested that I send him some of them. I'd been a fan of Casey's videos since I was 11 and when Nick suggested this he had recently started his vlog series. I sent him the beat I was most fond of at the time that night and at about 2AM that night he emailed back that he loved it and when I woke up the first of about 20 videos featuring my music was uploaded already at above a million views. It was thrilling to see my name as part of the work of someone I admired and for the music I made alone to be heard by so many people all at once.
RNGLDR: Obviously, the internet opens up amazing doors like that, but geographical borders are oftentimes still difficult, if not seemingly impossible to overcome. As an artist from New Zealand – one of the most creative, but one of the most isolated music markets on the planet – what is the scene like?
Maxwell Young: I've still never left the country so it's all I know, definitely not the best person to answer this. I've always felt like at the end of the day music comes down to being in a room with people, whether that's working on songs in a studio or talking in a meeting. I am very desperate to work IRL with some of the incredible artists I've befriended online so if anything that's what I'm missing the most here. And sometimes I feel like if I lived in a bigger city I'd have more opportunities but I'm not one to complain about that sort of thing and feel very lucky to live in the internet age.
RNGLDR: Who are some other local artists that we should be aware of?
Maxwell Young: Lontalius is one of my favourite artists ever and an ever bewildering songwriter. His music has affected me more than almost anyone. Stupid Rich Kid is a dear friend and someone I've been working with quite frequently since I started this project. I think he's a really interesting artist to keep an eye on due to how much he puts himself into his music, the passion is electric and inspiring. BENE and Church & AP are the most exciting artists in the country right now. Also Yuki who produced a lot of Jaden Smith's new album is an incredible artist I'm so inspired by, we've been working a lot on our next projects. Also Tom Verberne has some of the catchiest and most beautiful melodies in the songs he's working on releasing soon. Leaping Tiger's album is going to be so fun too.
RNGLDR: And who are some of your favorite New Zealand artists of all time?
Maxwell Young: My favourite New Zealand artist is Lontalius but as I've already mentioned him I'll also say Bic Runga as Something Good is the most flawless song of all time.
RNGLDR: Something that stands out to us, to a lot of your fans, and probably to you is the Right Here moment. What was it like releasing a song so far outside of what was at the time your established sort of norm, not knowing how people would react, and having it in turn earn such massive and global recognition?
Maxwell Young: Very strange. Defining moment I guess. I still find it odd that a demo I made in half an hour, the first singing song I uploaded is the one thing I've made that's gone truly viral.
RNGLDR: Did that track spark something new inside of you that really made you want to pursue singing and songwriting, or had you always been a vocalist who until that point kept his songwriting endeavours to himself?
Maxwell Young: It definitely encouraged me that people would be interested in hearing my voice and gave me the confidence to veer away from sample beats that I'd been searching for at the time. I've written songs since I was 8 and had recorded them on voice memos since then but Right Here was around the time I could afford my first USB microphone from selling the Casey Neistat beats. The lack of microphone to record into Ableton was the only thing holding me back from doing that sooner I believe. The song Earth (Rough) on my Shades EP was recorded right into my family iMac computer as that was my only recording option at the time.
RNGLDR: We admire the fact that you’ve taken so many musical risks in your career and that with each one, you add it to, rather than replace something in your existing sonic makeup. It’s to the point that if you listen to your entire SoundCloud canon in chronological order, you can hear the construct of your sound being built towards its current aggregate apex, Daydreamer. And if you listen in the opposite direction, you can hear your modern sound deconstructed piece by piece to its foundation. Do you use that as a tool to study your own progress, reconnect with past directions, and unearth inspiration?
Maxwell Young: Sometimes I do find it quite inspiring to get back to why I do it when I get too absorbed in a specific sound I'm going for or industry goals etc. Recently been inspired by how Daydreamer has that diary quality to it that I want to stick with going forward and the textures in my song 'Wherever I Go'. One of the songs I'm working on now I started when I was 13 so constantly looking for whatever sparks a feeling is always more important to me than the best production or the newest chords or anything.
RNGLDR: We think a lot of artists can learn from that sort of organic growth rather than pushing towards a specific sound or abandoning their past pursuits. If you had any advice for an artist like yourself with broad influences and subsequently an indefinably wide sound, what do you have to say about creative growth?
Maxwell Young: Don't get caught up in trends. Listen to music that you wouldn't normally. Listen to the music that made you want to make music. Don't dwell.
RNGLDR: And how does that connect with your growth as a person?
Maxwell Young: Gives you quiet confidence. Knowing yourself.
RNGLDR: We run a series called Collab Elation where we explore hypothetical collaborations that we want to see in the music industry. So, if you could choose any two artists to work with one another, who would you choose and why?
Maxwell Young: Playboi Carti and Herbie Hancock. Herbie Hancock was a pioneer of vocal manipulation and used vocal synths in an incredibly musical way with flawless but bold layering and strucutre, listen to 'Come Running to Me'. Playboi Carti is a one of the defining voices of our generation with a tone and cadence unparralled by his peers. The baby voice he's been using in the songs of his that have been leaking recently such as on 'Kid Cudi' would be so interesting over Herbie Hancock instrumentation.
RNGLDR: And as for yourself, if you could collaborate with any artists, dead or alive, who would you want to work with and why?
Maxwell Young: I'm limiting this to living artists because there's just so many. I'd dearly love to collaborate with Dev Hynes one day as feel like there's the perfect balance of understanding his personality and character while having different intentions creatively. Want to work with A$AP Rocky as I feel like with his last record he's on the verge of a classic. Would love to work on producing, songwriting, anything with Matty Healy and George Daniels of The 1975 of course as they're incredibly important in music right now and their music soundtracks my life everyday. So honoured & humbled to be in contact with Matty right now. Slauson Malone is one of the most interesting producers right now as he's incredibly musical but with this gorgeous . The Standing on the Corner project he worked on 'Red Burns' changed how I see music in such a drastic way few albums have.
RNGLDR: We also run a narrative series called Dream Venue aiming to take the reader on a journey culminating in the ultimate live event. So, if you could attend you Dream Venue, how would your day unfold, who would you see perform, and in what setting?
Maxwell Young: I've never left the country so probably some small underground venue in Paris of Radiohead performing a set including Motion Picture Soundtrack and Nude. Kind of a boring answer but that would be a very special day to me. Oh and a day spent taking photos with my girlfriend somewhere further out from the city and going to the cinema before the show.
RNGLDR: And how about in the opposite direction: What would be your Dream Venue as the artist performing?
Maxwell Young: Madison Square Garden or the O2 are the most iconic modern venues I can think of but that'd be far down the line when I have songs that would work being played to such a big audience. I'd love to do a show at Spark Arena here in Auckland when I have enough of the audience I think it'd be so interesting performing in a stadium-esque environment.
RNGLDR: This might be an especially difficult question having just released a full-length album, but what’s on the horizon for Maxwell Young?
Maxwell Young: The best music I've ever made in my opinion. Improving a lot at writing and removing myself from trends. Been finding it very difficult to have anything but low expectations for how my music will be received but I'm focusing on searching for inspiration as much as possible and creating my best music off of that. I'm not doing anything other than working on my project and hanging out with my friends so should be a lot releasing more soon.
Check out Only Romantics and our review of it here: