Max Leone has continuously been granted the title of “anti-pop prodigy” by music enthusiasts. But the 20-year-old admits he doesn’t know what “anti-pop” really means. “I know of the anti-pop playlist on Spotify and I love that playlist so much, so I love to be put into that genre, whatever it means,” said Leone. Genres aside, on April 29, 2021, Leone released his much-anticipated EP, Malleable, a collection of singles and a few new tracks.

Leone continues to stay true to his sound, as seen in his most recent single, “untitled,” cementing himself as an up-and-coming innovator in music, and a promising young artist to watch. Leone has come far, the distance in between his childhood dreams and where he is now tremendous. And what Leone apart from the slew of artists around now is the raw emotion he puts into every one of his songs, as if he were sharing his secrets with the audience. 

There is one defining statement Leone made during his press conference. Although short, it is a statement that vividly captures all of his creative aspirations, desires, and the compass behind his music: “I’m only going to release things that feel honest to myself as an artist.”

Up until “First Grade”

Leone’s musical journey started off at age seven, when he picked up a guitar – his love of playing it soon allowed his curiosity to bloom, prompting his exploration of drums, violin and piano. Shortly after that, he began to attend music lessons, and those lessons fully awakened the interest he had in creating music, and were arguably the start of the inevitable domino effect that would lead to the creation of Malleable.

A native of Portland, Oregon, the city’s eccentric music scene was integral to Leone’s development as an artist, as the young musician grew up observing and absorbing from those around him. “It’s just a very eclectic city,” he said. “There’s a lot of different types of people there, and so I was exposed to a lot of different types of music, it’s just like the mishmash in Berlin.”

Apart from learning indirectly through crowds of strangers, Leone also credits the musical tastes of his parents, friends, and the internet in developing his personal style and opening “the floodgates of music exploration.” 

Ultimately, his moment of enlightenment came to him at a Jack Johnson concert. ”It was outdoors, and the coolest thing I’d ever seen,” he said. “It was super inspiring, and I feel like that was a moment where I realized the scope of where music can take you.” 

Leone eventually attended Berklee College, where he studied guitar. One year later, he set school aside, and jumped into the music industry by relocating to the City of Angels. Shortly after that, Leone signed with Darkroom Records and released his label debut, “First Grade.” 

Courtesy of Universal Music Group

“This EP was put together over the course of a year and a half, maybe even two years,” Leone said about Malleable. “I’ve changed a lot as a person, so I think the project reflects that those changes, and that’s why I wanted to call it Malleable – because I feel like, especially in the past year, everyone’s kind of realized a lot of things about themselves, and their lives, and how they want to change things.”

Leone continued on about the album’s themes and tone. “I think the music reflects those changes, and it definitely covers a wide spectrum of kind of genre and in the themes and stuff like that, but at its core, I think it does represent [changes]. Kind of like how I’ve changed as well.”

“The Beach” He Went To

Leone is a jack of many trades — writing his own music and producing his own tracks. “I love to go on drives around and outside of LA. There’s a couple of spots up in the hills in Calabasas, but I kind of just go and hang out. That’s super inspiring, and I feel like that’s probably the thing that gets me most excited about writing, it’s just listening to artists that I like and being inspired by them,” he said.

For Leone, songwriting can take as little as a day. “I think the easiest one to make was definitely “Cautious.” That was a one day session where it was just me alone, and the song just kind of happened in a couple hours and I was really, really happy with it, and it felt super honest and easy to write.” 

Other songs on his EP took longer. “The hardest one to write was probably “the craziest thing i’ve ever done,” not because the writing process was long. That was also written in a day, but then it sat on my computer for a year, and I had tried all these versions with the production, and many of them completely didn’t work.” Eventually, something did—Leone produced another one of his heartfelt songs, an interesting combination of a story and a message for a young person in love.

As it did to the rest of the world, the pandemic halted most of Leone’s plans. A concert was one of the many things on his list, and he does have plans for one in the future. “I just am so excited to see fans face to face. I feel like I’ve been trying my hardest to interact with people online, been doing a lot of live streams, but I don’t think there’s anything that can replicate, you know, seeing people at a show,” Leone said.

Lacking direct fan feedback, Leone opted for TikTok as a platform for interaction with fans. “TikTok has kind of been that bouncing board where I’ll post just things that I’m working on and sometimes they react and sometimes they don’t, so it’s cool for me to see what songs people really associate with, and what songs people don’t really associate with,” Leone said. With over 240 thousand followers on TikTok, Leone has received enormous amounts of feedback he is grateful for.

“Cautious” New Beginnings

With the release of Malleable, Leone begins a new chapter of his career. The song “untitled” was released as a single, giving listeners a taste of what’s to come. Other songs, such as “First Grade,” “5” and “Cautious” were released as they were made. Leone experienced some self-discovery through those singles. “A lot of these songs are about things that I wouldn’t really bring up in normal conversation with someone,” Leone said, “they’re talking about things that are very personal to me. Before the song comes out I’m just playing it for myself for people who have worked on it with me, and then all of a sudden it’s like, no, this is actually gonna be available for everyone in the world to see and to know about you, and that’s very scary,” Leone said.

But his fears don’t get in the way of his happiness. Once he gets past his intrusive thoughts, he becomes excited for fan’s reactions. Leone cites the song “Escape” as a track he is most looking forward to showing off.  “The song is something I’m super proud of, and I also think it’s something off the EP that is kind of unlike anything I’ve released so far,” he said. Leone also revealed that there will be a music video to accompany “Escape.”

“That might be my favorite shoot that I’ve done so far,” Leone said of the music video. “We had a really small crew: it was Clyde Monroe, who is my creative director and has done all my music videos, and my sister and my roommate, and we just drove into the desert outside of LA and found a bunch of random really cool spots to shoot the video, and it was super quick and super fun.” The simplicity of the shoot emulates Leone’s tasteful musical simplicity.

A highlight of the tracks on Malleable are the unique ambient sounds used throughout, a Max Leone signature. When asked about how he comes up with and creates those sounds, Leone immediately pointed to the title track, co-crediting Luke Nikolai, one of his album’s producers, for it. Together, they wanted the transition to feel like it was “rising up to the moment.” According to Leone, they tried synth rises and white noise but nothing felt right. But due to his habit of recording random sounds on his phone, Leone found a sound of a radiator he liked, and re-recorded it. “We just threw that voice memo into the session and it works perfectly. If you listen back to “Malleable,” you’ll be able to hear it,” Leone said.

A “Malleable” But “untitled” Future 

With the release of his new EP, Leone plans to start working on new music as soon as possible. “I really hope that there will be some touring that happens later in the year. So that’s the thing that I’m just holding on for,” Leone said. “It feels like it’s been forever since that was possible, and I love to do shows. I’m really excited to start fresh, with a clean slate.” 

Curious about Leone’s artistic vision for the future, EnVi asked what he thought his sound would be like in five years. “I think in five years, what I’m putting out will definitely be very different from what I’m putting out now. I have things that are inspiring me now that I wasn’t thinking about when I was writing this EP. Some things that I was inspired by then are as inspiring to me now,” Leone said. “So, I think things definitely change, and it’s hard to know what it’s gonna sound like in five years, but I’m excited for that stuff to happen.” 

When asked about who he would want to collaborate with, Frank Ocean was his answer. Though it’s uncertain whether the two will collaborate someday, what is certain is the fact it would be an instant hit. For now, fans will be able to bask in Malleable, and keep their eyes out for what this up-and-coming artist does next.

Listen to Malleable, out now on all major streaming platforms, and follow Max Leone on his Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok!

Thumbnail courtesy of Universal Music Group.

Need some more up-and-coming musicians to add to your rotation? Check out EnVi’s spotlight on rapper Justin Starling!