Feeling the love and butterflies: MAX talks about making music with Ali Gatie and BTS’ Suga during the pandemic

  • The US singer-songwriter – real name Maxwell Schneider – discusses his latest single ‘Butterflies’ and shares an unforgettable memory of his 2016 visit to Hong Kong
  • Every week, Talking Points gives you a worksheet to practise your reading comprehension with questions and exercises about the story we’ve written
Dannie Aildasani |

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MAX (left) collaborated with Ali Gatie on the song “Butterflies”, and its music video has garnered more than 4.5 million views on YouTube since its release in June. Photo: Warner Records International

MAX has only been to Hong Kong once, and it was an experience he will never forget – he got food poisoning.

In 2016, the US singer-songwriter – real name Maxwell Schneider – was expected to perform in the city, but the show was cancelled at the last minute. His band still came for a visit, and on their trip, the tour guide took the band members to a fish market and gave them an “array of amazing seafood”, the singer recalled.

#throwback to the last time we spoke to MAX

“There’s this specific fish that feeds off coral reefs,” said MAX, as he revealed that this fish gave him and his band ciguatoxin food poisoning. This not only can cause stomach problems, but also temporary neurological issues like a tingling feeling in the lips, hands and feet.

“My whole band and I had this strange ‘high’ effect from this fish we ate, and we were on the ferry going back and forth [between Tsim Sha Tsui and Central] … all going crazy,” he laughed. “That’s my memory of Hong Kong.”

Thankfully, he does not hold it against the city. In fact, he said he would love to come back and perform.

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“Through the pandemic, I realised … people think about what happiness and success are. To me, it’s people experiencing a show. I hope to come to Asia and Hong Kong next year. I’m going to appreciate it more than ever.”

Although the coronavirus upended his touring schedule, MAX has kept busy during the pandemic. He and his wife Emily welcomed a baby girl named Edie in December 2020. Over the summer, he partnered with R&B singer Ali Gatie on Butterflies – a song about the nervous feeling you get in your stomach every time you look at the person you love.

Since the music video’s release in June, it has racked up more than 4.5 million views on YouTube. Its positive reception was a relief for MAX, who called the song “incredibly personal”, as his wife stars in the video.

“This is me sharing my deepest personal moment,” he explained. “It’s scary to see how people will react, but I try to be positive and hope people will feel the same way.”

He also enjoyed working with Gatie on the project, saying they “clicked right away”.

MAX said him and Gatie “clicked right away.” Photo: Warner Records International

“We’re cut from the same cloth. He’s just so invested in his music and so open with his emotions,” he said. “We … believe in love and are really into family.”

MAX’s previous hits include Lights Down Low, and Love Me Less, which have racked up 62 million and 15 million views on YouTube, respectively.

Before collaborating with Gatie, MAX had released songs with Noah Cyrus, Quinn XCII (on Love Me Less), Hayley Kiyoko and, most famously, Suga of the Korean boy band BTS.

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“Suga is just great. He’s an incredible guy, and a wonderful person to hang out with and become friends with,” MAX said. “When he asked me to be part of his mixtape, I was blown away and of course I accepted.”

On “D-2”, Suga’s second mixtape under the name Agust D, MAX is featured on Burn It – a song which he also co-wrote. In return, the South Korean superstar contributed a rap verse for MAX’s song Blueberry Eyes.

“I love having his name on the song and him singing in Korean,” MAX said, adding that he learned the Korean verse so he could perform it live.

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Although they collaborated and recorded the vocals separately during lockdown, they did get a few chances to hang out in person, both in South Korea and Los Angeles.

“He loves basketball,” MAX said, explaining that “Suga” comes from the Korean term for “shooting guard”.

“I took him to a basketball game, while he took me to an amazing Korean barbecue place in LA.”

MAX said he appreciated how BTS’ fans, the Army, welcomed him with open arms, and that he had nothing but love for the K-pop star, whom he calls his brother.

“I want to see him again when it’s safe to do so,” he added.

Max always knew he wanted to be a musician even though he has also done some modelling and acting.

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“I was always like, ‘I’ll do this [modelling and acting] thing so people hear my music’,” he explained. “I had fun with those things, but nothing fulfils me like music. Nothing makes me happier than performing.”

His childhood in New York City has had a lasting impact on his life and music, from its Broadway shows to its diverse cultures and musical styles.

“I was a musical theatre kid. It’s why my shows are very theatrical and full of energy,” he said. “I did some busking and would even grab my ukulele and perform on the subway or in Central Park. I’m so happy I got to be fostered by such a beautiful city – New York is such a part of everything I do.”

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“I create music to find that energy in life that I’m missing when I’m in my darkest moments,” he said. “That’s why it’s amazing to do shows too – it allows you to connect and feel together.”

Ever positive, MAX wanted to give a message to fans who may be struggling during Covid-19.

“I hope that – whatever they’re going through – that [my music] helps just a little, and that we can find that joy and celebrate together when we’re in person.”

Click here to download a printable worksheet with questions and exercises about this story. Answers are on the second page of the document.

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