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Max Frost is Hot

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When Max Frost arrives at Whisler’s, a bar on Austin’s gritty east side, for our photo shoot, he’s straight from lunch with his dad. A bartender recognizes him and squeals. “I remember seeing you perform at Hyde Park Grill when you were like, 12,” she says. “I’m so glad you’re doing what you’re doing. Tell your mom hi!”

Not everyone can forge a career in his hometown, from the uncensored control of his laptop, with family and tacos nearby. Max Frost, the 21-year old musician, producer, and songwriter was born the same year as the Internet, but he grew up to a soundtrack of the Beatles, Sinatra, and Tony Bennett that his parents played on vinyl. He developed his own eclectic style in his teens, inspired by artists like Erykah Badu and D’Angelo, and playing with everyone from Bob Schneider to hip-hop producer MC Kydd.

Last year he released “White Lies,” a hard-driving, infectious song about the paranoia of betrayal. Last spring, after the song went viral, he found his career on the move. His debut EP Low High Low was released in October. For the next couple months, he’ll divide his time between Los Angeles and NYC, wrapping up his first yet-to-be-named LP that will be released in May and kick off a national tour. We sat down with the emerging talent and asked about striking the balance between realistic expectations and the brink of fame.

How did you get into music?

I was always in love with music, I had this weird connection to the older stuff that my parents would play. I finally started playing when I was eight. But when it came to choosing music as a career, there was a constant echo of “it’s a tough life, you’ve gotta be a smart kid and go to college.” I felt I had to be realistic. Then when I got to college I was like, this doesn’t interest me at all. Music was the only thing that felt valuable. Music is an obsession that has never exhausted me.

You’ve been described as a blues guitar player, hip-hop producer, and soul singer—how did your style emerge?

I spent time playing with Blues Mafia and Gary Clark Jr. We were a young band in 2005, and I thought our style was so retro that it was only fun for us and only cool in Austin. Then this huge shift happened with the whole online presence. Radiohead dropped their record for free. The Internet had crash-landed, but it had actually set a lot of stuff free and scrambled the egg.

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What’s your take on growing Austin?

One part of me misses the late nineties. The best things that people love about Austin had started to flourish, but they hadn’t become overgrown. The city was just starting to appear on all these lists as a great place to live…As a local artist my presence rises as the city grows, but it’s difficult to maintain the same culture.

Any gripes about the local music scene?

Austin can be too quick to put a ceiling on its own stuff, and the rate of recognition here is slow. When Gary Clark Jr. first started out, the blues hadn’t come back like they have now. He was just this local guy who does his guitar thing. But this guy could be a Hendrix. It took so much proof and national recognition before he was revered locally. Now that he’s won a Grammy, everyone loves him.

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Is SXSW the ultimate launch pad?

Playing SX is kind of like showing up at a football stadium and trying to tell the crowd something. Everyone is there to promote, no one there to listen. But once you’ve gotten a wave going, that’s when you seal it. If you’re trying to get a tire to the road, it’s such a costly thing energetically to even get into it.

You’ve spent a lot of time on stage with Bob Schneider, what have you learned from him?

Bob is so good at engaging an audience. I think his most valuable asset is holding their attention. I love that he stays in Austin and packs it out every time. His shows are still a blast because he’s just being himself, no bullshit. Bob is an example of the future of a successful musician. If you’re the real deal [the industry] won’t get lost on you.

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Look into the crystal ball and tell me your dream future.

I’m more passionate about writing and producing. I would have my career be more about making records than playing shows for a living. These days music is more like a collage. Success is going to have to come from the energy of the art itself, not the medium. Today, all that matters is great songs.

Credits

Photography by Leann Mueller

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