You’ve definitely seen Max Frost if you’ve scrolled on the Internet in the past two years. The inventive alternative songwriter became a smash hit on TikTok with his impressive mash-up videos that exhibit his undeniable command of the idea of genre. Nothing’s off-limits to Frost in his online presence or within his music — Flying Machines, released today, shows Frost playing every instrument on the EP that jumps around from psychedelia, alt-rock, hip-hop, and 2000s indie, and it’s sure to become an instant hit on your summer playlists if you’re unfamiliar. We chatted with Max Frost about Flying Machines, and it turned into a very fascinating discussion on his view of genre, and why he fell in love with tearing apart the organized idea of music:
To begin, I want to talk about your growth on TikTok – I feel like I talk to so many artists that are really embracing that medium, but you’ve really thrived with your mash-ups. What made you want to start that concept?
I really just wanted to come at my art from all aspects! It happened before the pandemic — it was brought to my attention that Musical.ly, an app I loved a lot, had resurfaced with a vengeance and taken the industry by storm. Basically, my colleagues told me that this already was something big and that I must be a part of it because it’s already taken over. From there, it was just a game of trying to figure out something that stuck. I got super addicted to TikTok and just gave EVERYTHING a try — I think the first big video of mine was me zapping bugs in my studio with a bug zapper — and one day I saw a mash-up video and thought I could do it better. The first few I tried didn’t really work, but by that point, it was deep enough into the pandemic that I found a rhythm that worked. Once I figured out it worked, I just doubled down and kept hitting it. It was a fun thing to do; it was the first time I’ve found something on social media that’s continuously given back to me. I had plenty of time on my hands, so I was just really trying to work — I learned how to edit in Premiere Pro, bought some lights, and I’ve had a blast with it.
Do you have a favorite mash-up that you’ve done?
“Pink Floyd does Billie Eilish” — that one was pretty good because the impression wandered through a deeper realm of what the band does. I really love doing the mash-ups that stretch a genre super far.
Your love for genreless concepts seems to bleed through to everything you do, and I think it’s based on your love of the idea of genre. What experiences made you want to stretch the limits of genre like you do in your art?
The digital age has caused this blending that I love; physically, in a record store, you’d go to a Rock section or a Hip Hop section where everything is separated. I grew up with Napster which gave me the ability to just explore like crazy for the first time. Outkast, Green Day, Depeche Mode, Zeppelin, you name it. And I never really had to organize it in any way. Genres are like accents to me; there’s an essential song DNA that you can boil any piece of art down to, and then it gets repurposed among cultures into different sounds and feels. From that point, it’s organized by marketing and commerce; as far as I’m concerned, we don’t need to organize music that way anymore. The more we do that, the more we see that music is just difficult to put in boxes — take Lil Nas X, for instance.
Yeah, like when the country charts got super pissy that he was on the charts, but there were clear elements of country music in his sound.
Exactly! Defining genre terms is just not useful at this point. I tell people when I first meet them that I’m an alternative artist, but what does that even mean? “Alternative” is meaningless. I have this theory that I need to expound upon in a TikTok that everything’s intensely cyclical. You look at rock and roll, for instance — it begins in the fifties, grows in the 60s, matures in the 70s, and then is impacted in the 80s by cocaine and disco. That’s influenced by maximalism with pyro and explosions and guitar solos. Hip-hop followed the same thing through the 90s, grows in the 2000s and then hits EDM and Molly into the 2010s and it similarly goes through this period of maximalism. Everything tracks upward towards the biggest sounds and ideas possible, and we’re just along for the ride.
Flying Machines is your first independent release as an artist — what’s the significance of that?
Being with Atlantic was awesome — I still know great people there, and it’s a significant chapter of my life that I really appreciate. They go for global and huge punches whenever they can take them. For all of the resources that they have to expend to take a big shot, they can get shaky at the trigger for smaller artists like myself. The difference in being an independent artist is that I feel like I can be more creative and immediate; I can release music in response to the audience rather than waiting for the label to communicate what needs to happen. On a major label, you’re effectively a state senator trying to get a bill passed. It’s nice to live in a world where my opinion and desires trump anything else, and that what I want to do trumps everything else. It’s scary to spend that money and bet on myself in that way, but it makes me feel like the underdog again and think about what I want to do rather than what I think I should do.
Let’s talk about “Ringo Starr” for a second — it’s giving serious MGMT vibes that I think make it my favorite on the EP. How’d that song come to be?
I was doing a Zoom session in the pandemic, and I had this beat that I started on a Prophet. I was thinking like it was the score to Drive — you know, Kavinsky and shit. I came up with this wacky lyric about the way Ringo Starr dresses; I haven’t seen a photo of Ringo in the past 20 years where he hasn’t walked out of Elton John’s closet. He’s just this wacky dude that always dresses so sharp. That line stuck, and I look back now and it’s just this fun warning to my younger self entering Hollywood and the bigger music industry. It became this subconscious memory of myself that I think turned out incredibly.
Buy/stream Flying Machines here.