In his early 20s, Max Schneider was balancing a musical career with acting gigs. For an artist “teetering between both worlds,” he landed a nice role a few years ago: Schneider played the songwriter Van Dyke Parks in “Love & Mercy,” the 2014 biopic of Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson.
But it’s that role that convinced him to leave acting – save for a glittery, Lenny Kravitz-like opportunity – and focus on music.
Today, the 25-year-old songwriter, who goes simply by MAX, is touring the country playing music from his recent album "Hell's Kitchen Angel." That includes “Lights Down Low,” his first Billboard Hot 100 single and the song he used to propose to his wife, Emily Cannon. He’s in the lineup for WKSE-FM’s Kissmas Bash 2017, which happens Dec. 9 at KeyBank Center.
In a phone interview from New Orleans, MAX discussed the impact of “Love & Mercy,” his color-popped, painted-nail style, and the “safe space” he hopes his music creates.
Here’s an edited version of the conversation:
Q: Did working on “Love & Mercy” impact you as a musician?
A: Oh man, in every way.
It was the first time I played an actual living person. I met Brian Wilson. I worked alongside Paul Dano, who is the most incredible actor of our generation. He’s just transformative, and also such a nice guy.
The research of the music and how it just poured out of Brian and Van Dyke – and then also seeing how Paul is on this next level of truth and bringing real stories to life, diving into them and loving it – I looked at him and realized, If I’m not going to go for it like this, I need to just quit this. I need to do music.
Q: Have you definitively given up acting, or are you stepping back for a while?
A: I’d love to do some cool, interesting, weird roles. I love how Lenny Kravitz just popped up in “The Hunger Games” one day. That’s the kind of a career I’d love to have: jump in for an interesting, weird role where I can wear glitter and all these crazy things in a movie like that. But otherwise my heart is music.
Q: What’s the thinking behind dropping your last name?
A: I had a “Schneider-echtomy.” I’ll tell my favorite story: I had a song in the “Veronica Mars” movie called “Mugshot.” It was my first time having a song in a movie. I was so excited.
At the (premiere) party I went up to the director, and I just wanted to thank him. He said, “Who are you?” I said, “I’m Max. I’m the ‘Mugshot’ guy.” He said, “You’re Max? … I thought Max was a doo-wop group of, like, six black guys. I didn’t think it would be a short little Jewish guy. This is crazy.” I was like, “Cool, I’m glad.”
He just listened. Would he have listened to it in the same way if I had gone by Max Schneider or something else? I’m not quite sure, but it’s something I like to remind myself: In the end, do I want people to really know me, or do I want them to listen to the music?
Q: How about your style?
A: The style stuff is massively influenced by my wife. She’s an incredible stylist. She brought everything out of me. Having her, there are way less fears. I feel like I don’t need to impress anybody but her. I only want to make her happy. I want to make everybody happy, but as long as she’s happy, I feel way more invincible.
In that, I can be way more open about painting my nails and wearing what I want to wear. If I get funny looks on the airplane, like I did today on the way from Atlanta to New Orleans, I don’t really care, which is tight.
Q: Where do you want to go next with your music?
A: Getting to write (“Lights Down Low”) for my wife, and propose to her with it, and how it’s developed into this message of love. Every time we play the song we make it clear that it stands for love, and we stand for love, whether someone is straight, gay, bisexual, transgender — it doesn’t matter.
Our shows, we want to always be a safe space for everyone. For this next phase of music, if it doesn’t have a message that stands for that – and a continuation of that – then what’s the point?
Kissmas Bash 2017, featuring Kesha, Why Don’t We, Sabrina Carpenter, Julia Michaels, Max, Astrid S, Prettymuch
6 p.m. Dec. 9 at KeyBank Center. Tickets $25 and up at tickets.com