Interview: Ava Max Talks Margiela, Kamala, and…Possibly Performing Naked
Image by Charlotte Rutherford
She’s “Sweet but Psycho,” and with over a billion streams of her breakthrough song of the same name, it pays to be a little crazy. Of course, we’re talking about the genuine phenomenon that is Ava Max, who sat down with BlackBook to discuss her new album, Heaven and Hell, the origins of her sound, and her latest inspirations.
It’s early morning in her adopted home of Los Angeles, but she’s donning her pop star signature look, and a super chic asymmetrical blond bob, accessorized with some very cool shades. Her aforementioned album is packed with exhilarating pop anthems like current single “OMG What’s Happening?,” which, given this seemingly endless pandemic, are likely to get millions grooving away in their living rooms, rather than on nightclub dancefloors. It’s also split between the Heaven side and the Hell side, with one Purgatory track, “Torn,” stuck in the middle.
Regardless of venue, Max is spreading her message of love, equality and kindness through her remarkable songcraft. Her music is a celebration of freedom, and while she has been compared to pop divas like Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, her style is uniquely hers—a style which has also just been applied to what we think might be the first official holiday song of the (not yet) season, fittingly titled for these times, “Christmas Without You.”
Congratulations on hitting more than one billion stream of “Sweet but Psycho.” I saw that and thought, “That’s like a whole continent.”
It’s insane. It’s mind blowing.
How does it feel when you read things like that? Like when your record company comes back and says to you, “These are the stats.”
I’m like, are you sure that’s my account?
You come from a very musical background. Your mom was an opera singer, and your father played piano. How do you integrate some of that influence from your parents’ classical training into your sound as a pop artist?
My mom would sing opera around the house a lot and I would just sing with her. And then my dad would play piano and I would play with him. Both of my uncles were in bands: one uncle loved Shania Twain and the other loved Mariah Carey. And they would argue over who was the better singer. And I was caught in the middle, and said to myself, “You know what? I am going to listen to both of them.” So I grew up listening to what they listened to.
Your music has also been compared to Gaga and Ariana. Have they influenced you as well?
I definitely listened to them, but I’ve listened to many pop artists. I love pop music. But you know, people just love to compare women.
But at least, in this case, it’s a great comparison.
True. It’s so funny, I love being theatrical and then they want to compare me to whomever else. Maybe, you know…maybe I’ll just be naked the whole time. It’s like no makeup, no theatrics, no clothes.
You’re a very vocal LGBTQIA+ ally. And you’ve also gone through your own personal struggles around finding your authentic self. At what point in your life were you just like, “Fuck it. This is what I want to be.”?
I am a very bold person. If I want something, I’m going to get it. I think that’s how my music is, because I can’t get away from the person I am. I worked very hard on each song with my producer Cirkut. And he and I were very nitpicky with verses and choruses, we changed them over a hundred times. If we don’t like it, we’re going to try and make it better. So I think it’s all about doing it over until we hit the version we like; but it takes a few months, sometimes a year, to make a song a hit.
And with everything that you’ve gone through in your own experience, you could have given us an album of sad ballads; but your album is very empowering. What was the catalyst for you?
As much as I love ballads, that’s not something I want to do right now. I love dance music and I love motivational music. I want to create songs that will help me go running or help me go start a business or help me do something empowering. I think a lot of people need that, not more sadness.
In the lyrics to “Kings and Queens,” you sing “If all the kings had the queens on their thrones / We would pop champagne and raise a toast.” Do you think that women would be inherently better than men at getting us through the coronavirus crisis?
Yes, definitely. I one hundred percent believe that. And especially a woman like Kamala Harris, for sure. I really do believe that. And, you know, I think we need that, because women can multitask better than men. No offense to men—that’s just the way our brains are wired.
Do you think that Kamala has to walk a tightrope between being nice and being ‘relatable,’ as a woman candidate, compared to her counterpart Pence? Is there a double standard?
For sure. I think because, again, women are being judged, more women are being compared. And I think it’s because of the small number of women candidates. So it’s still a shock for people when there’s a strong woman [up there]; but then again, it shouldn’t be a shock. It all should be equal. And I think we [still] have a long way to go. I believe that when they are comparing Kamala to other people, they are trying to put her down; but she only rises stronger.
On a lighter note, let’s talk about your sense of style. Fashion gives us a little bit of an insight into who you are. What designers do you gravitate towards when you’re creating your looks?
It all depends on the style I’m going for. I love me some Maison Margiela, I’m just a fan. And I love Louis Vuitton. I love Chanel, of course. Who doesn’t love Chanel? I tend to gravitate towards a lot of suits and pants and jackets and…and puffy season is coming. So I’m excited about that.