"I Work Better as the Underdog": Why You Should Already Know Max Frost

by Stephanie Grey

First and foremost, Max Frost is an accomplished beatmaker. While melodies come easily, it’s with drums and synthesized beats that Frost first builds the infrastructure of a song. Through later combining everyday ephemera and chords, he relays an easy sense of intimacy. Something almost thematic in Frost’s work is his accessibility.

Signed to Atlantic records in 2013, the 22-year-old has released two EPs: Low High Low and Intoxication. While work continues to pour into what will be his debut LP, the singer remains eager to tour as much as possible.

While Frost enjoyed “the best thing you can put in your mouth” at a sushi den in L.A. working his way toward Denver on tour with Grizfolk, he came across over the phone as relaxed and earnest. When asked if the sincerity he achieves lyrically is intuitive, he confesses that it’s the hardest part: “I dunno, for me I feel like lyrics are my biggest struggle with writing songs. It’s the easiest thing to overthink, the easiest thing to ruin a song or make it feel insincere or forced…but at the same time it can also be the thing that’s perfectly ambiguous and meaningful enough to make something work.”

His 2013 single "White Lies" (video above) garnered national attention, peaking at number 29 on the Billboard Alternative songs chart, and placed him on Atlantic Records’ radar. While efforts continue toward completion of a debut album, Frost seems at ease with the ebb and flow of his notoriety in the charts to date “I’m back to the underground grind of reaching to fans, continuing to put out music. Truthfully, it’s a more comfortable place for me.… I work better as the underdog. I prefer to feel like an underground artist. I prefer the feeling of meeting fans who feel like they’ve found me and there’s something between us. That’s special.”

Channeling influences from vintage soul, R&B and blues, Frost’s sound is unmistakably retro. His beats, claps and vocals jointly create an identity that is elegant and unique. There’s some dirty South à la Jerry Lee Lewis in there, too.

Frost is also unafraid to get dark. The song “Die Young” is an unusual black comedy inspired by the untimely death of an artist. The words Every night you’re terrified of what you won’t become/ so you wanna die young highlight the superficial glory associated with an early death, alluding to the notorious "27 club." “That day…Phillip Seymour Hoffman had passed away, and I was just thinking about how weird it is when someone dies before they get old,” he says. “I guess the two perspectives I hold on it, one being the immediate, the glory of the young death, but also, the even bigger picture to me, it’s not worth the tragedy of a life cut short.” 

As a multi-instrumentalist and producer, Frost plays 90 percent of the instruments and has worked to create his own vocal identity, which can sound soulful at times or like an effortless crooner at others. On where he feels he is in his career, Frost says, “My career has grown in a bizarre way. It’s had different stages of growth rate. In the beginning I was making everything on my own in Austin, and making my own videos, spamming my friends and spamming bloggers. Then I had ‘White Lies,’ which broke online, and that’s why I signed with Atlantic. But I wouldn’t say that song broke me at a national level. I’ve been working toward creating material and broadening myself. I’m trying to tour as much as possible. Trying to stay available and stay productive.”

To get a deeper sense of Max Frost is not too difficult, as he directs and acts in his music videos. “Every video except for ‘White Lies’ I made with a friend, Jordan Haro,” Frost says.

Feeling that the L.A. approach to filmmaking was wasteful of resources, he and Haro addressed the issue by solving creative and budgetary problems themselves.

On the process of making his most recent video, for “Withdrawal," Frost says, “The amount of work and how insane that process was — with the amount of money we had…we took a crew of eight or nine people out to New Mexico, and it was pretty unforgiving terrain. Just flying by the seat of our pants. Then you have this moment, and from your perspective of what they’re shooting, everything’s going wrong, and you think, ‘This is a fucking disaster!’ But then it turns out and you’re satisfied. I love making the videos.” 

Max Frost plays this Saturday, January 30, at Lost Lake Lounge, where he’ll be opening for Grizfolk.