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.

Other than music, what is your normal day like?

Max Wonders: I like to take in as much as I can: good music, amenity design, getting my alone time, meditation, taking in architecture. Going to the park. I come up here by myself and just meditate. But I have to figure out what my normal life is now. Being 19 I had to figure it out, because my entire life, what I would have told you before was I’m working on this album called Hues To Blame. Now my normal life is going to change.

Who are the producers you worked with?

Max Wonders: Returning production from Tahmi, Sowle, Ahmad made an appearance, my big homie Thelonious Martin, Daniel Hex, Latrell James, Saluki from Russia. Soft Screens, that’s my guy. Latrell and Ted Boy did the record with Royce Da 5’9 and I. And on the other side is an interlude produced by Sowle.

On the outro of “Go Home” featuring Kembe X and Daniel Hex, there’s a line about colors fading into the fabric of time. Can you explain the theme of Hues? What does it mean to let your colors fade?

Max Wonders: I would always hear this saying, as you get older things are very black and white. I didn’t really understand what the could mean or what that does mean until I got older. I realized that to be black and white you need to come from color. To go to gray scale there has to be color originally. They’re saying when you’re older it’s very black and white. So when you’re younger, what is it? It’s colorful, and things are on a large spectrum. That’s where the colors come from, and that’s why it’s so important. So I really wanted to show people that youth is a gift. The album is the youth in all of us, because again, we’ve all been young, but we haven’t all been old, so that means we all have this youth in us. We all have these colors that I speak of, inside. They’re just waiting. Not letting your youth go away.

Elaine Benes or Daphne?

Max Wonders: Daffney. She’s just so cute, I don’t know she has this quality to her that’s very grown up. God, she’s so cool. She’ll chime in on anything but she’s still innocent.

Did you graduate high school at 18?

Max Wonders: Nah, I finished high school early, as a junior. And I had started coming out to LA.

So was that with the intention of doing music full-time?

Max Wonders: Yeah I had started visiting. My mom asked, do you want to do it? Do you want to go to L.A.? And I was like, ‘yeah’!

Were you talking to labels at that point?

Max Wonders: Not at that point, not in high school. But in 2015 yeah.

Was that a cool process? You touch on it in the album.

Max Wonders: There are two sides. I work on this really personally. If you look at the credits on the album, I wrote everything. It’s super personal. Besides production I do everything. So it’s nice my work is being appreciated. All these labels that still want to reach out and converse with me, I tip my hat to them like, ‘thanks,’ now you’re letting me know exactly what I have over here so I don’t give it to you, because you just cheated your cards and and let me know what I have over here. That’s the good side.

The bad side was realizing I don’t want to reduce my work to numbers, let alone reduce my life to something smaller. Already when I’m making songs, I have to take all these people’s lives, and my life, and I want to make the best music I can. If I sign a deal, I’m reducing a lot of that, reducing it to trajectories, numbers, and just trying to get it how they want it. It’s more of a dance. “88 Changes” was when it really picked up, a lot of independent labels, and then later on in the year, major labels started reaching out and stuff.

What’s the fastest car you’ve ever driven?

Max Wonders: It’s between this Mercedes AMG Coupe or like this street level Honda. But it was an automatic. I need to learn to drive stick because I’m such a car buff, but it’s so tedious. It takes the fun out of it. For me it takes away a lot of enjoyment from just the road. A lot of people say that’s an activity in itself and that makes it fun, which I understand for some people, but I like the enjoyment of myself, the car, the road. Very soon I want to be able to go test drive a Porsche GT3RS, or a GT4, the BMW 850 from ‘96, or ’94. The holy trinity of cars, it will be a long time, but the Mclaren G1, The LaFerrari, and the Porsche 918. Cars inspire my music a lot.

Favorite Billy Ray Cyrus song?

Max Wonders: I have to go with the classic, “Achy Breaky Heart.” First of all, I am Billy Ray Cyrus. I’m saying that to do the death. Billy please don’t sue me. I am you now bro, just pass the torch. It is what it is. I’m invested in that.

How did the collaboration with Royce Da 5’9 come about on “What You Wanted?”

Max Wonders: He expressed that he liked my music when I dropped “Grow Up,” he was tweeting it. I was like, ‘you’re a legend.’ Then around album time I had this song I wanted to get him on because I wanted to get this mixture of sounds. And he was the person I had in mind. It started as a smaller idea but I wanted it to come full circle.

That song is really interesting because it seems to be analyzing success from both standpoints; that of the young kid and the weathered veteran. Was that a pretty conscious effort from the beginning?

Max Wonders: Definitely.

What made you switch your name from Myles to Max?

Max Wonders: I got Max from this show Max Steel. I was at my cousin’s house one day. We were sitting watching T.V. Max Steel was on Cartoon Network, and I was like, ‘I need a nickname!’ We were like 5. But I liked Max. My grandmother, rest her soul, used to call me Max and I would call her by her nickname, Kim. Then ‘Wonders’ came from Stevie Wonder, one of my idols. I read Lil Wayne say, you should combine your name with someone you admire.

What was the biggest struggle you faced with making this album?

Max Wonders: Just with the people who were working with me, we went over the album sequencing 20 times. Keeping a good balance. Making sure the song choices were right for the album. I wanted to convey this experience. Just the definition of an artist should be someone who knows many worlds but can convey them all through one channel, one sequence. And somehow, I had to learn how to do that. I had to learn how to convey something as broad as youth through 15 tracks. I tried as much as I could.

I noticed you mixed and mastered the album. Was this the first time you’d engineered your project or had you done that before?

Max Wonders: Yeah, I had but I just never say anything. I only released the credits to inspire kids and show them that any attention that I’ve gotten has been because I genuinely worked on this from start to finish. And I want to show them that this attention is not manufactured. Rather, anyone can do it. To motivate them because if you really want something you have to go out and do it. As I grow I want people to see that I am intact with my stuff. Even Royce’s vocals, I mixed. I want to be intact with my stuff. I have all the files anyway.

I like to be fluent in a lot of different programs; Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. Not because I want to be a graphic designer, but if I ask someone how to do something I want to know how to do it a well. Anything. Final Cut I’m fluent in. I’ve edited and added things to my next video “Grow Up.” I don’t ever want to have someone do something behind a magic curtain that I don’t know how to do. Or for them to say, ‘Oh, you don’t understand what I’m doing.’ I never want that moment, Take advantage of learning. It’s just fun to learn software. Plus I grew up with computers.

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