MAX on Proposing To His Wife With 'Lights Down Low': 'This Song Is For Love'

You may be familiar with MAX's voice, as the 25-year-old has been featured on several dance artists' tracks like Audien and Illenium. But now the singer-songwriter is making waves of his own with his sultry slow jam "Lights Down Low," which marks his Billboard Hot 100 debut (currently at No. 84 on the Nov. 18-dated chart).

As MAX continues to see his passionate love song -- which he wrote for his wife, Emily, and used to propose to her last year -- resonate with fans, he was also just tapped to be Pepsi's latest rising star as part of the brand's Sound Drop new artist campaign. In celebration of both exciting career happenings, MAX chatted with Billboard about what it's meant to see such a personal song become so much more than a song for his own lover. 

You proposed to your wife with this song. What do its lyrics mean to you?

Before the song, I always say, ‘This song is for love. Love is love no matter your sexual orientation, no matter who you are, no matter where you’re from, and will always stand for love.’ I think that when you feel the energy that comes back after saying something like that, whether people disagree with it -- I’ve been in rooms where I’ve been faced with silence after saying that, [like] a room in a converted church that we played in South Carolina. And then we play Atlanta Pride Fest, and there couldn’t be more screams and applause and love. But it’s just as important to have that message in both places. 

The fact that the song is something that people know and can become sort of a vehicle to put that message out there, that’s been one of the coolest things ever. It’s been so wonderful and powerful. It’s been scary at moments to put it out there but just so rewarding when someone comes [up to you] -- like at that place where I was faced with silence, that was the first time it’s ever been complete silence and some people started coming up to me after the show and they said, "Hey, I appreciated your speech. I’m gay, and I didn’t want to say anything because nobody else was making any noise. But just wanted to tell you personally that meant a lot." In our country, in our world, there’s so much [fear]. If we could break through a little of that fear, even with just this little vehicle of a song, then I think there’s so much we can in just doing that. Just breaking through it little bit by little bit, each person can do that.

How have you seen people connect to it?

The fact that people come -- same-sex couples, different sex couples -- these incredible couples come to shows and share their stories. I had a couple on the last tour who came to a show, these two amazing women who, one is in the Army and was being deployed the next day. So they got married the day of the show with the song and they came to the show. We sang the song to them on stage and we celebrated their marriage and they had their first dance. The song was part of that. The fact that it’s ingrained in these stories, that’s more rewarding than honestly any plaque or any chart position. Nothing has been more connective until this time, and I’m very honored that they feel comfortable because of the risk of us telling our story, them telling their stories. 

It’s not our song anymore. It’s everybody’s song. Everybody is able to add whatever they want to it, what it is to them, and in that way, it becomes so much less -- it’s not about us anymore. It’s not about even the artist or the writer or the singer, it’s about what it can stand for for people.

 

Proud of my lover for working beyond hard to make his dreams come true.

A post shared by Emily Schneider (@emilycharlottec) on


Why is it important to be so honest in your songwriting?

For a short while, I was making mistakes where I was trying to write songs that I just thought people wanted to hear rather than writing songs that were transparent to what I was going through — in the end, that’s the only thing I can write about that somebody will connect with. What I write is very different than what Migos writes [or] Stevie Wonder. You can’t be singing about something that isn’t real because people will see through it. 

What’s interesting is I thought -- a lot of people told me it would end everything for me, being open about it. I knew it was special to me, but ironically, I thought it would be either the thing that ended it all or maybe it could be a thing that started something new. And I’m happy that it started something new. Being open about my wife, the story, just people accepted it and connected with it. It was probably the biggest risk I’ve ever taken with anything musically, so the fact that it did become that was very surprising, honestly.

This song was a portal to finally let my personality come out. And now I paint my nails gold every day and I wear colorful clothing that I’m excited about, sequins and things that I was very insecure to wear before because I was afraid that people wouldn’t be into it. And now, it’s at a point where I don’t care if people are into it. The people that are into it, I can hang with more than ever. The people who aren’t, that’s OK because we believe in this so much.

How do you think putting gnash on the song impacted it?

I had this moment where I was like, ‘Well, I kind of hear [gnash’s] voice on "Lights Down Low." I never considered a rapper, it’s a ballad, but you know what? I’m just gonna talk to him.' I told him the story, everything behind it. And the verse you hear is the same verse he wrote the day I told him the story. No switches, the exact recording. It’s always been about sharing it honestly.

I think that it definitely both brought it to another level and added a new twist to the song. It of course became something really beautiful with his addition to the song but didn’t change the intent or the feeling of the song, which is the only thing I really cared about. I think that it definitely got to so many more people because he joined. I’m grateful for him becoming a part of it because he has such a unique voice, and we became best friends.

Who’s on your collaborative wish list?

I worked on some stuff with Pharrell [Williams], but we never ended up releasing it. I’d love to work with him more. I’m hoping this only leads to me being able to connect with more people -- not just throwing Lil Wayne on a track. I never want to utilize [success] for that. I just hope to be introduced to wonderful people through it. The [collaboration] wish list is definitely very long. I worked on some stuff with Pharrell, but we never ended up releasing it and I’d love to work with him more.

Dua Lipa -- my wife is British, and I just feel like they would be best friends. They seem very similar, so we’re so into her. That would be rad as well. Just all of our Instagram story stalking obsessions as a couple, those are mostly the people that I’d like to work with, which would be rad. We'll see!

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 11 issue of Billboard.

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