Max Schneider on what he'd give up for music, and getting Ariana Grande's seal of approval

By Melanie Leung

YouTube star Max Schneider loves singing, performing and making music above anything else. He reveals what he has been up to in fans’ basements recently

By Melanie Leung |

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Singer Max Schneider loves performing so much that when he broke a leg jumping off stage during a show in Montreal last autumn, he carried on touring for two and a half weeks, doing hour-long sets in a cast with crutches. It was, he calmly tells Young Post, a “special experience”.  

Broken limbs cannot faze the 24-year-old, an adrenaline junkie who loves things that get his blood pumping, whether that involves zip-lining or white water rafting. A year ago he went skydiving in Hawaii. The day he spoke to us over the phone, he’d taken a break from touring and spent the day riding roller coasters at a theme park. “I get nervous in strange situations,” he confesses. “I’m totally comfortable performing in front of 10,000 people in stadiums, but when I have a smaller, intimate crowd, where I can see everybody’s face, I get really nervous.”

Being nervous at small venues didn’t stop Schneider from launching the Basement Party Tour in April. In a call-out video on YouTube, he asked fans to submit their basement party plans to him, and he would pick the best to crash in with a DJ set and several songs off his new album Hell’s Kitchen Angel, not least of course the funky single Basement Party. So far, he’s picked nine places to show up at, with North Carolina lined the following day. “It’s become this special bonding opportunity I didn’t expect. It brings the single to life, I get to know the homeowners, and it’s just 20, 50 people, so I can really talk to them. It’s awesome. I’d love to have a basement party in every country,” he says, hinting that he could possibly make an exception and do a rooftop party in Hong Kong instead because of our city’s lack of basements.

His basement gigs are free of charge, but Schneider doesn’t mind because he gets to do what he loves best – performing live. He’s also a seasoned actor, having appeared in Nickelodeon series How To Rock, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy, though nothing can distract him from music – not even modelling with Madonna for a Dolce & Gabbana ad campaign. “I could give it all up for music. I could live in a truck my whole life and wouldn’t care as long as I can sing. Songwriting and performing live is my greatest passion. It’s my second home. It makes me feel alive in so many ways,” he says. He also doesn’t mind if people illegally download his music – as long as they are listening to it.

Hell’s Kitchen Angel is his third studio album, which finally dropped after four years in the pipeline. The name was inspired by the New York neighbourhood he grew up in, not, he clarifies, the Gordon Ramsay cooking show. “Hell’s Kitchen is very close to a lot of broadway shows, so I went to a lot of them when I was growing up. Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, all of those. I used to come home from the shows and I’d re-enact them on the living room table in my underwear,” Schneider recalls. “It’d be a one-man show, and I’d be doing all the lions and all the other animals.” Growing up, he listened to the likes of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Prince. “Regardless of the genre, I’m drawn when I feel there’s a soul and passion to the music. The songwriting of Billy Joel and the performance of James Brown are things that I aspire to,” he says. 

When he was 16, he got his first professional gig as a swing for the broadway show 13, the cast of which included now pop-superstar Ariana Grande. “Ariana’s a homie. She used to tell me I sounded like the male Natasha Bedingfield, she’d say that to me every day and it was really funny,” Schneider recalls. Grande would hold parties at her house during the Oscars or other awards shows, and it was there that Schneider met his best friends, one of whom ended up directing Schneider’s favourite song off his new album, the guitar ballad Lights Down Low.

Out of all the groovy dance tracks that dominate the record, Schneider says Lights Down Low is the song he would like to be remembered by. “It’s the honesty in the music,” he explains simply. “People connect the most with the songs that are the most transparent.”

In picking the 10 songs out of the hundred that he had done to make the album, he realised that the most powerful ones were those with a personal story behind. Home was about a pregnancy scare that he had, which made him question if he was ready to be a father. Lost My Way was written with the regret of not having seen an old teacher before he passed away because he was too focused on working. “It drove me as deep as possible to be honest and not hold anything back. And it’s cool to hear people connect with certain songs because of that,” he says.

Schneider says this is his first time in Hong Kong, and he can't wait to experience the city. “I’m definitely going to try the dim sum in Hong Kong!”