Max Frost talks pop songcraft and over-hyped barbecue
Max Frost relocated to Los Angeles a few years ago, but Austin “remains my hometown in my heart forever,” the 26-year-old pop breakout said in early June.
Frost will be in town for the second installment of Austin City Limits Radio’s popular Blues on the Green series on June 12. It’s not the first time he’s played the event, but it’s his first headlining spot.
“(Playing Austin) is always special because I have family there and because I have a lot of love and support there, but this time feels different. It feels a little more like a homecoming. It feels like a huge opportunity to play for fans who have maybe heard a couple songs and heard my name but have never seen the show,” he said.
Before he hits the big stage at Zilker Park, we chatted with Frost about his new album, “Gold Rush,” his recent tour opening for Twenty One Pilots and his left-field pick for the best barbecue in Austin.
American-Statesman: The album came out in October, but you’ve been working on it for a while, right?
Max Frost: The way that this album finally manifested itself was a couple things. One, I think it was deciding that I had to leave Austin, to reset my canvas for what I had to do. I had been making music with kind of a loose intention of making an album. I guess I was kind of creatively jammed a little bit, and I knew I needed to change something. I knew I needed to find a new direction. So that was a big step.
And then, I’d kind of been looking for a creative mentor for a long time, and Michael Fitzpatrick from Fitz and the Tantrums, the lead singer of that band, kind of came into my life. First, as sort of a writing partner but then he ended up being A&R and executive producer of the record. It was just a whole different thing to finally have someone as a creative mentor ... helping me put the puzzle pieces together.
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You open the album with the song “New Confessional,” which has a very strong gospel feel to it. What was behind that?
That song just kind of felt like it was kind of the purest narrative of what the album was about and where I was at in my life when I wrote that record. I guess I was just kind of at a place in my life where my hands were in the air and I was asking the universe to hand me something back. The gospel influence kind of just crept into the album in a lot of places. ... I’m kind of wondering now if I’m going to be more intentional about that on the next project, leaning into it further, or if that was just for those couple songs, because obviously “Good Morning,” the first single on the album, is super gospel.
What were some other styles that you were able to blend into the album?
I think this is a much more hip-hop-leaning project than anything that I’ve done before, which is not to say that I’m rapping or anything like that, but I just kind of felt like with the production and with a lot of my approach to writing the record, that just felt like an avenue that felt more honest to me. I guess, when I’m thinking of something as being a bit more hip-hop-leaning of a record, it just forces it to be a little more vulnerable and it forces it to be a little more intimate with what I’m writing about, especially when it still ends up leaning more melodic.
How did you deal with any apprehension you felt about the vulnerability?
Songwriting and making records is a craft, and when you get really focused in the craft, as everyone does sometimes, you forget that the message is maybe more important and telling the truth is maybe more important. In those moments, when you finally kind of let the craft sit in the back seat and trust that you have that ... and you just try to talk and you just try to say what you have to say, I feel like that’s when I get the best stuff. But I feel like you’re lucky if you can get that to happen a few times a year. ... It’s sort of a psychological cleansing when you’re able to really put yourself down on a record like that. … It’s not really a very comfortable process either. It doesn’t feel like you’re writing something cool. That’s kind of my rule for it: If you like what you’re writing as you’re writing it, it probably sucks, but if you hate it and you’re uncomfortable with it, it might change your life.
You had to put the tour for this album on hold to go on tour with Twenty One Pilots. What was that experience like?
That was like going up into a spaceship and taking a trip around America or something and then landing again. It was kind of insane. Especially when you’re mentally prepared for one thing. I knew what to expect with my tour. We were only a couple weeks away from starting that tour, and then we got that call and it was like, “Whoa.”
I don’t even have a metaphor for it because what happened is the metaphor. Going from thinking you’re going to play some clubs, to you’re playing arenas and Madison Square Garden every night. It was totally insane. The fans were amazing. (Twenty One Pilots) were amazing. I picked up so much from watching their show 30 times, and just, as a performer, I feel like that was maybe the most important tour I ever went on. It just kind of finally solidified for me what I’m about as a performer and what I feel like works for me.
What are a few things you want to make sure you do when you’re in Austin?
I always have to get barbecue. I have to get tacos. Basically it’s a big tour of eating stuff.
What’s your go-to for barbecue?
This is going to sound middle of the road, and I went on a whole rant on a local station the last time I was in town about this, but I think Rudy’s BBQ is as good as any of the super hyped up barbecue. I like Franklin’s and I think all that stuff’s cool, but I’m like, “Dude, you think this is so good because you’re waiting in a line.” It’s like Schlitterbahn meets barbecue. You’re waiting in a line for, like, four hours and the barbecue is good, I’m not trying to diss it, I just think Rudy’s is just as good as any of the other places people get recommended, but I think people kind of brush it aside because it feels a little bit like a chain. But it’s a local chain. Owned by people in Austin. They’re just good at what they do, so they have multiple of them.
Anything other Austin things you’re trying to do?
I’m definitely going to hit Barton Springs. I’m going to play some Blazer Tag. I’m going to find some indoor activities. … I’m super excited. It’s always good to be home, and I think it’s going to be one of the more special shows I’ve ever done in Austin and maybe ever in my career, so I’m really, really excited about it, and I can’t wait.
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IF YOU GO: Blues on the Green
When: Music starts at 8 p.m. June 12, early arrival is recommended.
Where: Zilker Park, 2100 Barton Springs Road.
Cost: Free to attend.
Information: Limited parking is available for $15. Parking opens at 6 p.m. and event organizers recommend you purchase a pass online in advance, because it usually sells out. Food and non-alcoholic beverage vendors are on site for the event and leashed dogs are welcome. More at www.acl-radio.com.