How do you know when you’re no longer a kid? Reduced to joint pains and intensified hangovers, maturing can seem bleak and imminent. But as Aaliyah taught us, age is merely mathematics. Imagination is colorful and innate, and at some point we’ve all flexed it wildly. Chicago’s Max Wonders channels the truisms of late teens on his debut album, Hues To Blame.
I met Wonders just outside of Thai Town at Barnsdall Art Park, his choosing. He’s rocking an RSVP T-shirt and a Las Vegas curved brim, fitting, as he will relocate to Sin City on October 1st with Hues producers Sowle and Tahmi. One tattoo on his left arm reads: “Too Much Sauce.” Another reads “2088,” both a reference to his 2015 single, as well as a fixed definition for the future.
“2088 is for all of the forward-thinking, futuristic people put into one place. It’s all about switching environments and getting new feels. I like spreading out and seeing what happens, that experimental life,” he says, crouched on his skateboard in a shady patch of grass.
To celebrate his 19th birthday, and round off a significant chapter in his life, Wonders released Hues To Blame. This album has consumed the last two years of his life—the two years since he graduated high school early, where shortly after, he began making regular, extended visits to L.A. —Evan Gabriel
What was the moment you knew you had grown up?
Max Wonders: That moment for me was when I started seeing things from a different perspective, a couple years ago. Me maturing, I started looking at life combining different emotions. When I understood that I’m still maturing and that growth is an ongoing thing. When I realized the difference between a growth mindset and a stagnating mindset is when I grew up. In a growth mindset you don’t look at things as failures or wins, but rather how you can learn. You shouldn’t be thinking about the end point at all time. It’s about constantly growing. The moment you stop learning is the moment you die on the inside. I never want to feel like I know everything. And, coming to realize how little I actually know.
For you, what’s the difference between recording in Chicago vs. L.A.?
Max Wonders: It’s definitely a different feeling. Chicago will always have a homey feel. I don’t want to say relaxed feel, but seeing everyone I know, my family and friends. In L.A., I’m separated from that. But I have this zen, it’s hot, it’s always nice, sunny. It’s this detachment out here, so that’s that. Then when I’m home I have an attachment to everyone, and the weather’s different. It gives me a very nostalgic feel. The two products I make could vary a lot.
If there was a color to describe Hues, what would it be?
Max Wonders: It’s those four colors but those colors are not red, blue, yellow, and green. I spent about four weeks just with the colors, making sure the hex numbers were right. I wanted people to feel familiar with them, but I wanted there to also be something special, something off about it.
Was this on Photoshop?
Max Wonders: It’s on a number of things. I edited the cover. Zach Coffman shot it. There’s no text on the cover art. That’s actually the shirt. I want to release that shirt so badly.
There’s some Larry David-esque imagery on the album: “sitting on lawns, talking about a dog, a front lawn, car insurance that we don’t even pay.” If you had to identify with a character from Seinfeld who would it be?
Max Wonders: It’d probably be Seinfeld himself, just a really calm guy but has this eccentric side to him. He’s a funny guy, and he’s so humble. I want to be that humble. Just a very simple guy, he doesn’t want too much. And like you said, saying very cut and dry simple things while making them sound eccentric, that’s just a play on my mindset. Since [youth] is such a broad and relatable topic, why isn’t it fleshed out in other albums? Car insurance and sitting on lawns. Those things are so basic but I wanted them to sound cool because we all have to do them.
I don’t want to make it sound horrid. I have to make music for people who really understand normality. Normality is a way of being yourself, being humbled by life. If everybody has to do this then why not make it sound cool? I always used to think like, Jennifer Aniston movies, 2004-esque DVD movies, I thought those were the coolest because they made average life look so special. Every movie would have the stoop in New York and the girl walks up with the guy after the date. That was so cool to me.
Why do you think it stood out as cool to you?
Max Wonders: Because it looked so stable. I felt like I was humbling myself. It was humbling at a young age to be like, I don’t need a billion dollars. Like, this looks cool to me. This is not bad. I don’t see anything wrong with this because it looks like a happy situation for me. I think that’s something that is missing from today’s world just because the internet is so full out, everyone is seeing the top of the top all the time. That’s all they see. They don’t see the average thing anymore. No movies are showing the average thing, really because they have to catch everybody’s attention. But at the end of the day I wish they showed more of that. I think people should want to know about living a normal life. They don’t always need to show the more eccentric stuff. No one sees the average thing anymore.
Do you feel any pressure brought on by the internet?
Max Wonders: I started early so I can give myself some time to move and progress naturally. I wanted to give myself some time, and a plan. I’m only 19 and I just dropped my full-length project. I really wanted to take time. I don’t feel any pressure by the internet because it moves so fast. I know it moves that fast because I had a Twitter in 2009. I saw the progression. Myspace before that. I’ve seen music decline from it. As someone who has gone through that and seen it, it’s kind of cool because I understand not to allow myself to get swallowed up by that. The internet isn’t the say-all-be-all. If enough servers go down, the internet will shut down site by site. That doesn’t happen with life. So I don’t think we should make life so belittled by something so small as the internet.
Even the thought of when someone dies it’s a hashtag, so that’s reducing a life to a hashtag. I would never want to reduce all the people in my songs. Hues to Blame is without a doubt about youth. In color, you can describe things more. That’s why synesthesia is so important. With words, we made words, so we have concise words to put thoughts into. We have lots of thoughts—that’s why we say things like ‘um,’ ‘like,’ because words naturally don’t fit into what we’re thinking. We have a such a large thought process, it’s like someone saying ‘we needs these circle blocks to fit into square blocks.’ With the internet, it’s like taking this big thing we have called life and cramming it down…I feel like it’s more important to take my time and don’t feel pressured by what I see on the internet.
The internet is just like keeping up with the Joneses. When Michael jackson used to get off stage you weren’t watching what he was doing. He was living his life. Therefore, you were trying to live your life. Now, it’s like, I can watch what Michael Jackson [RIP] is doing all the time. It’s that obsession. David Bowie was so humbled [that’s another one of my idols] by an interviewer calling him a superstar, he would immediately regress like, ‘no, that’s where you’re wrong because I’m not,’he was just so humble. But nowadays, kids are more likely to be obsessed with David Bowie on the daily because they can see everything. If he hadn’t passed he would have probably said the same thing. So the internet makes people want to have this ‘peak over your shoulder mentality,’ when really it should just be about you and your ongoing life because that’s all you lie in bed with at night.