Max Frost’s debut album took a drastic turn — for the better — when Fitz & the Tantrums’ Michael Fitzpatrick got involved with it.
Fitzpatrick served as executive producer for Frost’s Gold Rush, which comes out Oct. 5 and is premiering exclusively below. He met Frost when the genre-blending Texas native opened for the Tantrums as a labelmate at Atlantic Records; He was initially approached as a songwriting collaborator, but some candor elevated Fitzpatrick’s role in the project.
“Max and I would talk every once in awhile and I said, ‘Send me the stuff you’ve been working on so I can wrap my head around it before we get into the (writing session),'” Fitzpatrick tells Billboard. “So I listened to it and I thought it was really good and solid, but I didn’t feel like it was really tapping into all the things that make Max unique. So when he showed up that day to write I said, ‘Listen, can I be brutally honest with you…’ And he said, ‘Please…'”
Frost calls that moment and Fitzpatrick’s involvement “the creative rebirth of this project” and feels like it’s exactly what Gold Rush needed. “Fitz was almost like my boxing coach to be there and say, ‘That’s good, but you need to be better,’ just beating things up and taking them as far as they could go,” Frost explains. “I’m ok with that. Creatively you have to be hard on yourself and have to be willing to look at something, even if you have an affinity for it, and realize, ‘This is not good enough.’
“And as much as it’s painful, it’s also rewarding to get to the goal.”
Frost adds that Fitzpatrick’s own hitmaking track record made the mentoring easier to accept — and that much more valuable. “The beauty of having somebody like Fitz is he was really able to speak the language with me,” Frost says. “It’s different than having someone who’s an A&R guy, who doesn’t understand the terms. He knows how he feels, but he doesn’t know how to tell you. With Fitz, he could recognize the patterns and weaknesses and not only point them out but have really specific suggestions for how to make them better.”
Gold Rush, which was mainly produced by Mick Schultz (Rihanna), is the next step in a growing career that’s already been eventful for Frost. A performer since he was 12, Frost had a viral hit with “White Lies” in 2012 that led to his deal with Atlantic the following year. He’s released two EPs and has also collaborated with St. Albion and DJ Snake, and Frost has a pending track with DJ Mustard that also features Elton John and led to a recording session where Frost received “all this amazing advice” from John.
The album, meanwhile, demonstrates considerable breadth, blending anthemic pop, R&B, funk and hip-hop flavors, as well as cut-up production techniques on tracks such as the single “Good Morning” and “New Confessional.” He even works some gospel flavors into the album-closing “Sometimes.” “I’ve always looked at myself as a bit of a chameleon, hopping between genres,” Frost says. “I look at myself as a little bit like Beck, or if Gorillaz were just one dude. I grew up in an age where music was so uncategorized and consuming music through Napster and not through buying CDs, so nothing was organized by genres. To me genres are just like a marketing category. It’s just about artistic freedom for me, and I think that’s really reflected on this album.”
As executive producer, Fitzpatrick saw Frost’s range as a benefit and “pushed him hard” to blend all those influences into a distinctive sound. “It’s one of the most fun times I’ve had in my entire life because I don’t have the same pressure I do with my own music, especially after “HandClap,” he says. “It’s not about where my next hit is coming from, so I can have that one layer removed and help guide things from that vantage point. Max is like my long-lost little brother. We’ve had an amazing journey over the last year and half honing in on what he is, and I can’t wait for people to hear it.”
Neither can Frost, who will be hitting the road as a support act on Twenty One Pilots’ Bandito Tour, which starts Oct. 16 in Nashville. “I’m so looking forward to planting a small flag in the ground for what I’m about, Frost says. “I feel like I’ve never fully established myself as artist, and this is a big step towards doing that. I feel like that last scene in The Shawshank Redemption, where Andy Dufresne stands there in the rain with is arms wide open, like, ‘Thank God!’ There’s going to be a lot of things that are gonna happen this year, and I can’t wait for it.”