Interview: Nashville-based Artist Max Frost is Creating a Genre Melting Pot of Music

Written by Micaela Miller

Sitting in his studio (the same one he recorded all of his upcoming EP in which is decorated in various shades of brown; bachelor-chic), Max Frost wants to talk to you about music. From how the industry has changed, the blurred line between pop and indie, and the radio’s influence on alternative music, there seems to be no topic  that Frost hasn’t contemplated. The passion radiating from him and his eagerness to dive into his journey of trying to fit into alternative and indie music is contagious.

Despite coining the term, “nihilism pop,” to describe his music, Frost isn’t limiting himself to a genre, nor does he think alternative music has an absolute limit to it anyway. 

“I would say my music is groovy, like groovy cynical pop, or something like that. I've kind of got some soul influences, but I guess I'm always trying to make grittier, retro-feeling music that isn't trying to be old. It's always hard to describe your music, right?  I've now just come into saying I make alternative pop because then you're able to not answer the question by answering the question or something. People say okay to that like they know what that means. I don't even know what that means. What even is alternative pop? But I think in truth, I've always made left-of-center pop music.  I only call it pop music, because the songs have choruses and make some sense most of the time.”

But the music industry has changed since Frost first picked up a guitar and started performing when he was eight years old, and with it so has he. Describing Austin, Texas as his “breeding ground,” he was in and out of what he calls “kid bands” and was always the youngest of the groups. He didn’t start singing until he was a teenager around the age of 16, when he started making tracks with local hip-hop groups. 

“Once I started making tracks with those guys doing hooks and making beats and stuff like that, that's what transitioned me into a different world than just kind of the blues-rock thing that I had been doing as a live player, and it was kind of the catalyst for all the music I made.”

He credits the start of his “real career” to when he was 19, wandering the streets of Austin and being one of those guys who would try and hand you a CD as you walked past. 

“I thought that I was going to get discovered, and that didn't happen. And then I got my computer with all the music I had on it, and my hard drive was stolen from a green room. And so I thought that was kind of like the end. I felt like okay, this will be like the sign I need to just go back to school because I dropped out of UT.”

But much to Frost’s surprise, an indie blog called “Pigeons and Planes,” posted about a song he had on his Soundcloud, White Lies. And with that, other hip-hop blogs picked it up, and thus started the song’s virality. But despite that song’s major success, Frost didn’t want to try and recreate that song over and over in hopes of achieving those same numbers. He felt it would be transparent to both fans and people in the industry. Frost was successful; by that June, he had signed with Atlantic Records. From there, he went on to open for bands such as 21 Pilots, Bastille, and Panic! At the Disco. 

“I kind of just look at my career as if I've sort of had nine lives. And every time that the business has changed, in or against my favor, I've had to reinvent myself and reinvent what I spend my time focusing on. The pandemic and TikTok were a pretty clear header for me. It was like, oh, I now can't be touring, period. And I also need to find a way to activate this platform [TikTok] in my favor. I think I'm still kind of figuring out more about what will be the bigger picture for me on the internet as far as social media goes because they keep changing it as fast as we can adapt to it."

Social media has proven itself to be a powerful influence on the constantly shifting media landscape, allowing artists to create the music they want without having to box themselves into a specific genre. As Frost puts it, “there isn’t a specific kind of song that gets to the radio now.”

“I feel like I can just directly make music to the audience now there’s less of a matrix between me and them. I don't have to get it approved through this other conglomerate, whether it be a label or anything. That's the fascinating place that we're in…When I was on Atlantic Records, it was very much like there is music that is going to get on the radio, and there's music that's not going to get on the radio. There were rare alternative things like Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” that would sometimes pop over the fence, but most of the time, you knew what you were up to. Also, there was a very clear delineation between what was alternative and what was pop. Whereas that's gone. I think Billie Eilish was the official ending of the difference between alternative and pop. There are things that are very, very pop that aren't at all alternative that have lots of success. However, I would say much less of it now.” 

On Frost’s upcoming EP,  SHELBY AVE., PT. 1, which is set to release February 16th, he describes it as the closest music he’s made to the music he put out at the beginning of his career. And while he credits that to the full autonomy he’s had over the production of it, he also cites the fact that no one can say his music isn’t enough of something or too much of something. He wrote and recorded the EP in a home on Shelby Ave in Nashville, hence the inspiration for the name.

“Nobody knows what's going to happen, and I feel like that's led me to a more creatively free place to just make what I want to make. Which is this genre-melting pot pop style. All the songs on the EP come from intense emotional points of my life. This is music that I'm making that is like, yeah, I can't figure out life at all. So here you go. My inner skeptic is more active now when writing songs than it's ever been, but I also feel like a couple of the songs are just the most emotionally true. You know when you watch a movie, and you see it says based on a true story? You think well, how much of the word “based” is being played with here? Like, did any of this really happen? Whereas like with this EP I feel like there's almost - yeah there's nothing in the EP that's not a lyrically true fact about my life…it’s a home video.”

Frost describes the songs in the EP as unintentional as if they “slipped out by accident.” His inspirations were the experiences he’s  had in different phases of his life, with a particularly huge moment for him being the passing of his grandfather in 2021, who he references in the song “Ghosts.” The song also happens to be Frost’s favorite off the EP; it stands out to him as the most emotionally impactful. But even in saying that, Frost is quick to backtrack citing a common problem artists face; never knowing how listeners will interpret their music. 

“You'll never know what it feels like to listen to your music. Because you'll always be projecting whatever you think it is, also because you've heard it so many times. There is always a kind of strange blindness of it; you're too close to it and you have no idea. So you have to find people around you that you trust. Your intuition has to still be there but yeah, I don't know. I just have to go off whether people seem affected by it. Because the opposite of loving a song is not hating a song. It's just being completely indifferent to a song. And it's really easy to make music that people are indifferent to most of the time. I make music that people are probably just indifferent to. So that's why you have to dig through to find the thing that for whatever reason, is good enough to hate or love. You know?”

Frost is playing in Nashville, TN on October 20th at The East Room. More information can be found here. You can listen to his latest single, “Creep Back,” on all streaming services. 

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