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Culture Shock

Max Leone: In Conversation

This past month, WIUX had the opportunity to attend a virtual press conference with up-and-coming singer/songwriter/producer Max Leone in anticipation of his latest EP, Malleable.


Coming off the release of his first single “First Grade” in January 2020, Leone has been making a name for himself in music circles across the internet as a particularly exciting figure in the alternative pop scene. Heralded as “one of pop’s next young stars” by Pigeons and Planes, Max Leone is certainly an artist that you should be keeping an eye on in the years to come.

Raised in Portland, OR, and having served a brief stint at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, Leone now finds himself residing in Los Angeles. And while L.A. is known to have a propensity for bringing out the worst of a person’s ego, Leone has clearly found a way to maintain his modesty. Sitting upon a chair in front of his webcam monitor in his home studio, he maintained a very calm, perhaps even shy demeanor throughout the whole conference as he spoke openly about his inspirations, struggles, and hopes for the future.

2020 may well have been the most difficult year in recent memory for artists when it comes to searching for inspiration. Leone worked to circumvent this prolonged creative slump by stirring his creative intuitions on long drives through the hills of Calabasas. He also drew inspiration from the works of other musicians - particularly Phoebe Bridgers, Dominic Fike, Kid Cudi and Frank Ocean, while revealing a soft spot for prominent acts of the 2000s like Coldplay and Bon Iver. In lieu of touring, Leone has been keeping in touch with his fan base primarily through TikTok, which he uses to give his listeners the chance to take part in his creative process by allowing them to give feedback on what aspects of his songs they most associate with. And while he certainly believes in taking into consideration the opinions of his fans, Leone has his own personal philosophies as to how he presents himself. One of his most prominent traits is his avoidance of loops and samples. His approach to songwriting and production is to create a sound that is new to the listener, but wrapped in an aura of nostalgia and familiarity. Through this method, he believes that his music attains the most deep and genuine reaction possible from the listener.

Because of this dedication to creating new sounds, there have been a number of different genre labels attributed to Leone across the internet and in different media outlets. One of the most prominent ones is “Anti-pop”. When asked if this is a label that he relates to, he frankly stated that he does not know what it means. Although he did admit that he “likes the Spotify playlist” of the same name, he does not seem to care too much one way or another about what genres people want to throw him under. Ultimately, Leone sees musical genres as a very fluid and abstract thing. Music enthusiasts appear to be locked in a battle of how many different words they can throw in front of “pop” and thereby create an entirely new genre, but, ultimately, it is not sustainable to contain genres within hard-set boundaries.

This attitude is reflected in the very name of his newest EP - Malleable. Put together over the course of a year and a half, the EP explores the concept of changes. For Leone, 2020 has been a period of rapid maturation (just as it has been for most of us). People have been exploring how they want to change their lives, which, for many, is equally inspiring as it is frightening. The title track to the EP specifically delves into the feelings that arise from the loss of a relationship - and not explicitly a romantic one. For the listener, this song acts as an open letter to any person who has changed and moved on to another chapter of life. Introspective and melancholy “Malleable” serves as hard evidence of Leone’s professionalism and maturity as an artist, even at the outset of his career.

Leone finished the conference by treating those in attendance to an acoustic performance of two of Malleable's songs: “in case (there’s a change of heart)” and “untitled”. Both of these tracks brandish a distinct indie-folk influence; either of them sound just as likely to have been written by Phoebe Bridgers if not by Leone himself. Sung with a vulnerable, trembly voice, “in case (there’s a change of heart)” expresses feelings of being lost and insecure, with lyrics like “I don’t want to waste your time” “I apologize for taking it too far” “I can’t find the line I drew in the sand”. On “untitled” Leone further explores his fears of girls, tattoos, and growing old, leaving us with the line “my greatest fear is feeling nothing at all”


Malleable can be streamed on all major streaming platforms. Follow @itsmaxleone on Instagram to get updates on Max Leone’s touring schedule


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