Last month I had the pleasure of sitting down with up-and-coming Chicago rapper Max Wonders. Although I was familiar with Max’s work, the interview (which was set up by our good friends over at HITP) was my first official introduction to the young emcee. I walked into the Mass Apparel store and began to make my rounds, dapping up the crew as Max and I proceeded to the back room to conduct the interview. Little did I know how well I would get to know the real Max Wonders over the 19 minute session. Max was cool, collected and ready to break into song at the drop of a hat.
Chris: For those people out there that don’t know who you are, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Max Wonders: I’m Max Wonders. I’m from Chicago, Illinois. Um… making music and stuff and trying to just make cool tunes. Really just spread the world thin with quality. I don’t know, that’s one way to kind of describe it. I think that’s a bit of an ambitious statement, of course, but I do think what I’m trying to do is just make really good music for everybody to enjoy. That’s really what I’m trying to do here.
Chris: Hell yeah.
Max: And yeah man, I’m secretly Billy Ray Cyrus on the weekends.
Chris: Haha. Now what does that mean?
Max: I’m just Billy Ray Cyrus. Better holler at your boy. It’s really nothing.
Chris: Haha, alright. Tell me about your upbringing, are you from a musical family?
Max: My great grandmother is a grand master pianist. Played in orchestra halls and all of that good stuff. My great grandfather was a master violinist. I was always just around music. My great uncle is another master violinist, which was my great grandfather’s son. Just those people were musically inclined and I was just always paying attention to music. That’s what I was on. I’d always like just look at the records. I mean, I sat down on my great grandmother’s lap while she taught me how to play ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ on the piano. I remember that, but I didn’t play piano. I ended up playing violin in the first grade and I played again in my junior year of high school.
Chris: Now, is that what made you gravitate towards music?
Max: I guess it was just like figuring out that I had some type of inclination. Figuring out that I had some type of pivot with it and taking it from there. Like that I actually had an ear for it maybe. But really, you know what made me gravitate towards music was listening to my influences. So really it started out with lyrics. With Lil Wayne and stuff. The oldest Lil Wayne…
Chris: Like ‘Da Drought’ era?
Max: Yeah, ‘Carter 1‘. All that stuff. I was in it. And I remember my uncle, my moms brother, playing me some Wayne and I was like “damn this is so hot, I gotta get this.” Going all over the mixtapes. DatPiff, all that. That was a good time, but yea…
Chris: So, at what age did you taking it really seriously?
Max: Like 15. Around 15 was when I started to be like “alright let me just do this.” I mean, that’s when I was like just “starting-starting”. And then when I really got the grip on it was like 16.
Chris: Okay. So you’ve put out two projects so far (that I could find) ‘The Wonder Tape’ and ‘You Will Never Find’.
Max: Which is recent, yeah.
Chris: For sure. Now, what was the moment where you said somethings really working here? This is clicking.
Max: ’88 Changes’. And I can name it so strongly like that because I mean, on ‘The Wonder Tape’ I had this song called ‘Rich Kids’ and that was like a pivotal moment for me too. ‘Cuz really I remember ‘Rich Kids’ got good attention. But for real it was ’88 Changes’ when it was like “wow, this actually going somewhere.” Like “this is a rolling moment now, let me keep this ball rolling, and let me give people something that’s different.” Because I was seeing people saying this is something they’ve never heard type of thing. This is putting them in a different sonic space. Like he’s in his own lane. “Carving his own lane”, somebody said that about me and I was like “wow”. That really tripped me up because that’s stuff I would listen to and we made it so different that it’s not like anything else.
Chris: First of all, ’88 Changes’, great way to start the album. What was the inspiration behind that track.
Max: Well, ‘You Will Never Find’ isn’t an album, it’s an EP. I’m working on a full album and it’s gonna be free. But what was the inspiration for ’88 Changes’? It was just, my homie Tommy sent me a sample, and I mean it was just beautiful. It sounded like what 2088 is supposed to sound like. And I got 2088 tattooed on my arm last year. 2088 is the future. And for me I was like “wow, this is powerful.” It sounds so illustrious, like it really sounds like it’s giving you more than the average song that you hear here and there. You know? That’s what grabbed my attention instantly. But originally, ‘You Will Never Find’ was an entirely different project. I made it all in Vegas. That was the first version, ’88 Changes’ included. The only song that stayed to this version is ’88 Changes’. I have a whole other 6 songs.
Chris: Now, one thing I noticed on ‘You Will Never Find’ is that the beat selection is dope. Very, very unique sound. And I saw there are two main producers on that, AHMD and Sowle?
Max: Sowle is in 2088, AHMD is not. But that’s like a good friend of mine. We have some new records for the album as well.
Chris: Is that your production team?
Max: Tommy and Sowle are in 2088. So they’re like my production team. But AHMD is definitely one of the people that I let come into the personal circle because he definitely puts in work. So yeah, I like AHMD’s work. Tommy, Sowle and some other people that I’m not even gonna name yet… and I’m not saying that they’re like celebrity guests and all that, I’m just saying they’re really just great talented people that I want people to hear in full fledged capacity when they hear the albums.
Chris: And how did you guys link? Were they your boys?
Max: You talking about AHMD and Sowle? Sowle I met online…
Chris: Through music?
Max: Through music, because I remember seeing somebody talk about him and was like “yo you tight”. And we ended up talking and we got real, real close. Like on a personal level, man. Like, that’s my brother. We got so deep into it and the fact that we got to do the journey together like, the first big song was ’88 Changes’ and he produced that. So we got to go on the journey together and support. And Tommy I’ve known since early 2013. It might have been late 2012, but Tommy and I, we started together. It’s always love and those are the people that are going with me on tour. Like Tommy is gonna DJ for me.
Chris: That’s what’s up. Now, who do you draw your influences from musically?
Max: Outkast for sure. I always say that. Andre 3000 for sure. Elton John. ‘Bennie and The Jets’ is my favorite song of all time.
Chris: Okay, great song.
Max: Todd Rundgren, running back to The Delegation – ‘Oh Honey’. That’s another favorite song of mine, Delegation – ‘Oh Honey’ [breaks into song]. I love all that oldies stuff sometimes too. And really just inspiration overall comes from stuff out of the country. German shit and eclectic stuff. It might come from this and that, it might come from melt your face off chill wave music from back in 2011. It might come from alternative rock. I listen to a lot of alternative rock. Like, ’88 Changes’:
“And they don’t wanna see you rise/They just wanna watch you fall/So go ahead and close your eyes/Cause none of this is real at all”
See you listen to like a sing-songy hook, you listen like that. But I wrote it like I had a guitar.
Chris: I can see that now.
Max: You know? You gotta think about it like that and if you really take it into consideration, it’s much more than just a hip hop song or anything you can really categorize it in. I’m really drawing real influence in and I’m actually trying to bring in these things from different circles that people might not have heard just on their own. I’m trying to draw the influences in and put that in a care package to give people. Cuz really look at all the influences people are missing, right? I’m trying to be one of the people that is contributing to culture in a way that through my art, I get you tied in a lot of cultures and bring them to you in one gift-wrapped package. And I’m bringing you alternative rock, I’m bringing you hip hop, I’m bringing you real rap, I’m bringing you chill wave, I’m bringing you stuff from other countries, I’m bringing you instrumentation, choir music, I’m bringing you elevator music. All this stuff and I tie it into one place and I’m gift wrapping it for you. It’s really like I’m taking you through a journey, teaching in a sonic way, though. I’m doing my part by just giving you whatever I can find and then trying to bring you the best of it. And give it to you in one place instead of spreading it out in so many. You know I really feel like in life, one big dilemma I had at one point was, “well how much will I be able to learn while I’m still here in this world”? You never know when you’re gonna pass. And that’s one thing that was really plaguing me until I realized that sincerely it’s about the amount of time you have and what you do with it while you’re here. And how you take that center of your brain that says “I’m definitely not infinite – my death is definite”. And once you figure that out, it’s like “okay, what can I do in this amount of time?” So really for me it’s like, I know that we don’t learn enough. I know that we don’t see enough. I know that we can’t grasp enough. You know how many sounds, that I haven’t even heard?! You know what I’m saying? I’ve heard a lot of sounds, I mean a lot. And I mean, I’ve seen every type of thing you can think of in music, and I still know there’s way more I haven’t heard. I’m trying to draw all these influences and soak it up to bring it to one place, so I can really just be a contribution to culture and the world. If I’m gonna give you music, I’m gonna give you the best of it so we can kind of like raise the bar, and that’s all.
Chris: That was a great answer man. Now, if you could collaborate with any artist…
Max: Andre 3000. Elton John. Stevie Wonder.
Chris: With the quickness. Andre, Elton, Stevie.
Max: Oh and my other favorite artist Sebadoh, the band. Lou Barlow’s the man. But yeah, Andre 3000, Elton John and Stevie Wonder.
Chris: On the same track, or…
Max: Nah, I wouldn’t even do that because I’d be trying to be greedy. Trying to get songs from individuals. Not only that, but I know I can just do different things with different people. I know that on Elton’s song I can draw a certain type of creativity out. On Stevie’s song, I know I can pull a certain soul out. You know what I’m saying? On Elton’s I can bring you real songy-song, and I can really create a great expansive song. On Stevie’s I can create a good soul one that really churns out the best of the horns and even the deep thunderous bass that might come with the bass guitar. And on Andre’s I might be able to hear more of a saxophone touch on it with some illustrious drums. Just different things that I can just draw from different people. At that point it’s not about just “here’s so and so and they have a good name.” It’s really about how can I use them as an instrument for this larger project.
Chris: Cool, cool. So now you live in LA. Have you done any touring?
Max: I just moved to LA. Actually, no, I haven’t started touring because I’ve been waiting for my full project. And we’ve just kick-started the full project off.
Chris: Okay, well just from your travels, moving to LA and everything. Every city has a different feel in their hip hop scene. What do you think sets Chicago apart?
Max: Chicago is like the most organic one for me, in this new age, because it’s like I really saw it for real happening. And it’s different than like, I’m not gonna name any certain city because I don’t want to offend anybody because they being goofies, but like, Chicago for me is the most authentic one. I’ve seen people really do this for real and taking it to another level. And then even on a local level, our local scene is the biggest local scene! What other local scene is bigger? Atlanta’s local scene is real big as well, but look at the local scene. You knowing the names of the locals. Think about it. What other city do you know the names of all the locals? That aren’t on a major platform either. And for me to be included, it’s special because I came in at the right time, I graduated high school early and everything.
Chris: Absolutely. So, what do we have to look forward to from you in 2016?
Max: I’m working on a full project. A free album, because I feel like I really want this to be free. Somehow we’ll make it happen.
Chris: Setting up a tour?
Max: After the album it’s definitely possible. Because with this album, its been going to the best rolling start that I’ve ever had with any project I’ve ever done, ‘You Will Never Find’ included. And I told you that we did it in Vegas and ’88 Change’ is the only song that made it over. What I didn’t tell you is we made all those songs on ‘You Will Never Find’, we made that just in the summer time while I was in Chicago. Just from June to August.
Chris: Okay, so in like a 2-3 month span, you guys banged the whole thing out?
Max: Yes. I wrote it all and I recorded all of it from front to back when I went to LA.. Like I don’t know if you noticed it, but when you’re playing it, it’ll go “chhhh” and another song will come on. I wanted to give people the most in the smallest package. People don’t even realize that it’s happening when they’re listening to it, they’re just casually listening to it and they’ll be like “wait is the song over and there’s another song?” And I’m giving you more just by secret. I didn’t give you a full project, I just wanted to give you guys something to have. But really just pack more effort and punch into it. So even if you’re just sitting with that, you cant be like “wow I really left you hanging.” Naw, I really left you with a full project. I left you quality songs that actually took time [breaks into song]. I just feel positive, and when I was feeling happy that’s why the EP feels like it does. It’s really a prelude to this album. So if you like the EP, people are gonna like the album. I don’t know you might hate the album. If you hate the album that’s up to you. But really I’m just trying to give you the best product I can. And At the end of the day, it’s up to them whether they want to continue. But really I’m just trying to give you the best quality content I can man.
Chris: That is a great attitude to have, man. Now, last question, anything you’d like to say to the fans, the listeners, people that haven’t heard?
Max: Dude I’m just thankful everybody is listening. I’m about to make this album as great as I can make it. That’s why I’m trying to make it free and no matter what happens, any type of move I make in my career, I want to always make it about the people that are listening. Because at the end of the day they’re the ones that spread it and they’re the ones that sit and live with it. All I want to do is make people feel and if I can somehow make people feel I’ve done my job. If I’ve never made someone feel with my music I should stop making music because it’s all about whether I can make them feel some type of way. To make something that sticks with them is amazing. I’m blessed.