[Q&A] Max Leone Pours His Entire Heart into ‘Malleable’

Photo Credit: Lauren Fogelström (@laurenfogelstrom)

By Alissa Arunarsirakul // April 29, 2021

There’s something so pure about Max Leone’s alternative lo-fi ballads, and it’s about time you familiarize yourself with this Portland stunner. No stranger to experimentation when it comes to his growing discography, Leone is one of the most dynamic artists we’ve stumbled across yet. Now ready to bestow upon you what he’s been crafting for the past two years, Leone is pleased to present his otherworldly debut EP, Malleable.

On Malleable, Max Leone shared,

“This project has taken two years to put together and I’m so happy it’s finally out into the world. This EP encapsulates all of the things I’ve felt in the past couple years of my life. It’s about how ourselves and our realities can sometimes twist in ways that might not make sense, but we find ways to make sense of them.”

To celebrate the release of his new music, we recently chatted with Max Leone about  leaving college, TikTok, and of course, Malleable.

HH: What was running through your head when you decided to leave Berklee College of Music to pursue a full-time music career? What’s your advice to people who are considering a similar route?

ML: There were a lot of factors that lead me to drop out of Berklee, but I think the main reason was the realization that I didn’t feel creative or even very inspired by music anymore, which was scary to me. I felt like I was spending my time in this sort of limbo where I was being told how to do all of these things instead of just going out and doing them. I think it was really a gut decision and you should always trust your gut. I know many people that stayed in school and it was the right decision for them, so it really depends. 

HH: Your alternative lo-fi bangers have been well received by plenty of tastemakers and listeners, but what inspires this alluring soundscape of yours?

ML: I’m inspired most by how I can invoke an emotion though a sonic landscape. I think that lyrics are essential and something that I take a lot of time to craft, but creating a world for those lyrics to live in is what truly makes a song hit home. My production choices always have to do with how the song can reflect the lyrics and emphasize that emotion to the fullest extent.

HH: How does it feel to know your debut EP will soon be out in the world?!

ML: It feels incredible!! It’s been such a long time coming and I am so excited for these songs to live in the world. I’m really proud of this project and I can’t wait for what is yet to come.

HH: Whether you’re feeling a weight lifted off your shoulders in “untitled” or being brutally honest about love in “craziest thing i’ve ever done,” Malleable explores the countless emotions you’ve faced in the past year or so. Was it difficult to choose which tracks would end up on the EP? What was the selection process like?

ML: The selection process became pretty clear towards the beginning of this year. Over time, I was able to process which songs were the most impactful or meaningful, so I ran with the ones that stuck out most to me. There are always going to be some songs you love that don’t make the cut for whatever reason, but those songs still exist and maybe their time comes at a later date!

HH: “Escape” is suspenseful, intriguing, and stunning all at once. Can you walk us through your creative process for this stellar cut?

ML: “Escape” is a song that, in its most basic form, came together very quickly over the course of one night. I was quarantining at my grandparents’ beach house on the Oregon coast for a week and I spent most of that time writing songs. One night, there was a storm, and the wind was blowing like crazy and it was raining super hard. They have this felt upright piano there that sounds amazing, and that night I just sat at the piano and wrote “Escape.” The song sounded great on piano, but I wanted it to be almost ‘desperate’ sounding. That’s when I went into Ableton and started adding all these haunting synth lines and stuff like that. I eventually sent it over to my frequent collaborator, Luke Niccoli, and he added the crazy outro which might be my favorite part of the song now. 

HH: How would you say TikTok has influenced your music career?

ML: TikTok has been incredible in giving me a platform to grow organically as an artist. I have been able to reach so many people that identify with my music on there that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do, especially during the pandemic. I think it’s a great way to get instant feedback from fans about new stuff I’m working on and a place where I can interact with my fans.

HH: If you could collaborate with anyone in the music industry, who would you pick?

ML: My dream collab has always been Frank Ocean! Pure genius.

HH: What are your hidden hits?

ML: “Pup” by Kenny Mason, “Bark Loud” by Noga Erez, and “Cold Blood” by Junior Varsity!

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