"Magnificent", "exciting", and "a relief" are the words Max Schneider uses to describe his feelings around the imminent release of his second full album, Colour Vision.
The 28-year-old refers to the new project as a "rebirth", and if you know anything about his story, it's clear why: Around two years ago, MAX had surgery on his vocal cords that left him unable to speak — or sing — for four months. "It felt like I was reborn," he said of his recovery earlier this year. "And that’s the theme of the entire album — finding the colour in your life and shunning the negatives and really diving into what positive things you may have overlooked before."
Of course, the positives exist in abundance. At the end of 2016, a few months after releasing his first album, MAX got married; in July this year, he announced his wife, Emily, was pregnant with their first child. It's a love story told in technicolour in the music video for his new single "Blueberry Eyes", MAX's second collaboration with rapper Min Yoongi, best known as Suga, one-seventh of South Korean pop phenomenon BTS. The duo first met in January when MAX was on tour in Seoul and solidified their friendship over Korean BBQ and a Lakers game when BTS were in the US promoting their album Map of the Soul: 7 in February. Their first collaboration, "Burn It", was released three months later, a standout track on D-2, Suga's second mixtape released under the pseudonym Agust D. Originally, Colour Vision was supposed to be released on the same day. "If that had happened, it would have been a whole other can of worms," MAX jokes when I ask him about it. "I’m kind of grateful that we pushed it a bit."
Now it's four months since Colour Vision's original release date, and only a few days before it's finally released into the world, and MAX is more than ready. "I’m soaking up every second of this," he told me when we spoke over Zoom. "But I think the relief and the excitement of it just finally being in the world… I think it’s going to give a new spark of life."
Let's start at the beginning — I'm really interested in your first track, “Colour Vision”, both in terms of the title and the tone. It sets the scene for the whole album, and I’m curious whether the song or the title came first, and how important it was for you to have that be the introduction to the album.
MAX: Funny enough, the title came first, and I knew I had to write a song. I wanted to make that intro experience. I wanted it to be the first song of the show, and make sure that you felt you were being immersed in the world we wanted to create. Usually, you go into a writing session, and you don’t know what you’re going to write. You’re like, “What’s happened to you? What’s going on?” and you just dive in. But having the parameters of knowing what exactly we wanted to fill that box with was pretty amazing.
Basically, the rest of the album was done. So writing the intro was kind of amazing, because how do you want this to be introduced? I really wanted that lyric to showcase the reawakening and the rebirth, and finding that control in your life again. You have the control of your own destiny, even if people make you feel like you don’t, and that’s what I wanted that song to make you feel like. Your dreams can become a reality. You just have to dive outside of them and create that colour vision.
I always like to listen to an album from first song to last song. How important is that to you, and how do you decide which track goes where? Can it be listened to on shuffle, or do you want people to listen to it in order?
MAX: If people do listen to it on shuffle, that’s totally cool. Every song stands on its own. But I did make it a very poignant point to have each story kind of roll into the next. It was important to have “Colour Vision” roll into “Working for the Weekend”, because the whole record is about that you have to love what you’re doing, or else you’re going to want to jump off a cliff. When you’re not doing what you love to do, every second feels like an hour, and I had that before I really committed to doing music, things I was just doing for the money, or because I felt like everybody wanted me to do it.
I really wanted it to sonically feel right, but then storyline-wise also to have an arc — to start with a lot of energy, but then go to a lower place of getting in your feels, and then coming back to more of a visceral and loving place, ending with “There’s a God” and this climax of emotion at the end. So, yeah, in short — every song, I was very clear on wanting them to flow into each other. That was important to me.
You have a lot of collaborators on this album. It’s been a long time since your last project, so was that a conscious decision, or was it just a natural occurrence after meeting these people over the last four years?
MAX: The latter, for sure. I just get obsessed with people and I’m like, “We’ve got to make something together!” It always comes out of that mutual respect and excitement. I’m an only child, and I’m a solo artist, so you just want to involve other people in your world to feel connected with it. That’s probably why I collaborate so much. You find something in the person you’re collaborating with within yourself that you never would have found without really connecting and diving in with them. There’s a spark of magic in every collaboration, and you find you made a song that you never would have done if you were alone in your room.
What kind of lessons did you learn from your collaborators on this one?
MAX: Oh, so much. For example, with bbno$, his process writing-wise is so different from mine. I’m so meticulous and I spend so many hours on each line, whereas there’s such a freedom in his writing. Even for his verse, we spent four hours on a Saturday while I was on a road trip going back and forth about which lines to keep, and I think that freedom definitely teaches me, maybe I’ve got to sometimes be a little more experimental.
Of course, with Suga… Having language not be a hindrance, because you’re coming from the same emotive place. Going to Korea — that whole trip changed my life. It made me realise which songs people connect with, not necessarily because of the specific lyrics, but because of what’s behind it. That transcends language. That collaboration taught me so much, and that was so special.
You previously collaborated with Suga on “Burn It”. You said you were supposed to be releasing the albums on the same day, so were you working on that and “Blueberry Eyes” at the same time? They’re so different from each other — what was that like?
MAX: We were! It was cool. I think it worked out, because his stuff for “Burn It” was pretty much done, and it was mostly me going back and forth, nailing what he wanted. It actually started in a way lower key, so he had to re-cut his parts based on what key he wanted my voice to be in for that song.
It was kind of great that we were both working on each other’s projects at the same time, because there was such a camaraderie of, you know, “Thank you for doing this for me, and I’m so happy I’m doing this for you.” It was just such a delightful process. I’ve never really done especially multi-country collaborations, not being in person, but it was so seamless. We were very specific about what each of us wanted, which really helped us be creatively free but also be understanding of how to keep the message of a full project cohesive with each other’s collaborations.
So do you have the idea for the song first, and then discuss those ideas before writing lyrics? I’m very curious about the process of a Korean artist writing Korean lyrics for a majority-English song.
MAX: I just sent him the whole album. I basically said, “Here’s all the songs, you tell me what you want to be on, and I’ll make it work. I’m grateful to have you on any song.” And he liked “Blueberry Eyes”. I’d already written the song, so I think that probably helped the message, because it was very clear that there was a sweet, loving, dream world to it.
Actually, funny enough, I asked if he’d jump on “New Life”. I just thought that that would be the one, and he said, “You know, it’s not my style. I like the song a lot, but I just don’t know that I would fit on it.” So that’s when I sent him the whole album. I was just like, “You choose what song. You do your thing. I don’t care.”
I was actually surprised. I just didn’t think he would choose ["Blueberry Eyes"], but I can’t hear it without him now, especially because I’ve learned all the Korean with Emily for the video. It was cool, because the first thing you hear on “Blueberry Eyes” is the first thing he sent me. I didn’t give him any notes. I was just like, this is it. It was so cool to have another language and see the translation and be like, this is so romantic and beautiful and something different than I hear from him in most of his music. It was a new moment, and it was really special to have him do that on this song.
“Burn It”, similarly — sometimes I do features that are very dark, but that was way darker of a world than I usually do. So it was cool that we were both out of our comfort zones and our creative boxes.
Obviously, collaborating with a member of BTS comes hand in hand with a large and dedicated family. What has the response from ARMY been like since “Burn It” and now with “Blueberry Eyes”?
MAX: ARMY’s been amazing. I think at first — and I am ARMY, so I know [laughs] — there is this distrust in anybody who gives love to [BTS], because you don’t know what their reasons are. Oftentimes, people come out of the woodwork and they put a tweet out just because they think it’ll blow up because they mention them, and It’s less about the appreciation of them or the music or the diligence or the focus.
I mean, I always had so much love and respect for the group. I think people knew what’s up, and it was pretty clear that it had been a few years in the making, this collaboration. But once I met Suga, it went so deeper realm for me. They had just shot a music video for the last few days, but he wanted to see this basketball game. He was so kind, and so warm, but he was taking a nap in between plays because they work so hard. I think that element isn’t seen by so many people who just want it for clout. When you don’t really understand the human element, and you just see people as numbers or artists that aren’t human... It’s that human element that makes people want to protect them. And they should, because so many people are in it for the wrong reasons.
That’s what I was hit with at first — when I put the song out, I got some people who totally got that it was authentic and that I had so much love, and there were people who were a little sceptical. But for the most part, I really was blown away by how positive the whole fanbase welcomed me. It’s been amazing. They hate that I teased so much, but I do that with every song. [laughs] I’m so bad at keeping secrets, so I always feel like I have to share just a little bit.
You mentioned the "Blueberry Eyes" music video earlier, and you've been teasing it on Twitter and Instagram for a couple of weeks now. What can you tell me about it?
MAX: The video is basically like Disney meets Wes Anderson. It’s all in one quarantined house that you see in the “Love Me Less” video, and it’s “Blueberry Eyes”, so we’ve got all these blueberries. We used the blueberries afterward! Everyone thinks we were wasting food, but we made “Blueberry Eyes” shirts with the tie-dye from the blueberries. We had, like, thousands of blueberries and we were bathing in them, so we didn’t want to eat them, but we had to do something with them.
We learned the entire Korean [verse], and those were our vows in our quarantine wedding. Of course, we threw a little cat in there to make it feel like Yoongi was part of it, because unfortunately he couldn’t be in the video — we wanted every bit of his spirit to be there, even though he wasn’t there — but now I know a bit of Korean, which is awesome. I’m going to keep diving in. I literally texted him right after saying, “I just learned your whole verse in Korean, now I hope we can have more conversations in Korean, because it was so hard to learn.”
And it's just you texting lyrics that he wrote. [laughs]
Our conversations are so short and cute, it’s always like, “Go Max! Go 'Blueberry Eyes'!” and then I’m like, “Go 'Dynamite'! Go Yoongi!” It’s just right to the point.
As for the rest of the album — do you have a personal favourite song on the tracklist?
MAX: I’d say it’s between the intro, “Colour Vision”, and the last song, “There Is A God”. There’s a certain moment where you write a song as an artist, and you know that it’ll stick with you in a different way. With “There Is A God”, it was right before Emily got pregnant, and it was this moment of knowing that [our family] had to be my number one forever. As much as I love music, this person and our family and our love and our life, that’s what I’ll always be most grateful for, and what I’ll always have the most faith because of. When you have something so deep to lose, you have so much to believe in. So that song meant something on a grander scale than most songs usually do, and every time I listen to it, I get a little emotional.
And to wrap up — the world has been through a difficult few months. I’m wondering if the timing of this release was intentional, and what you want listeners to get from this album during hard times?
MAX: I always feel like my favourite albums or my favourite movies, they give me that little spark of magic that I’ve been waiting for. The worst times in your life, you watch that one movie, and you just feel a little more will to live and excitement, and you have a little more inspiration that there’s a real happiness out there, and you’ve felt it before, and this piece reminds you of that.
For me, people kept being like, “It’s the wrong time to release anything right now. Just keep pushing.” But I just hope people find that little spark. I hope it gives them something that is an escape, that also makes them realise maybe there are certain joys in their life that they can dive into even more. Being that vessel for anyone, in the same way that I feel about certain movies and albums, is an honour. So I hope that’s what this means to people. That’s why I want it now because, more than ever, we all need a little reality, and also we need to believe in our dreams. That’s what this album is about.