Max Frost

Editor’s note: Some answers were edited for length and clarity.

Two years ago, at South By Southwest 2013, someone stole Austin singer-songwriter Max Frost’s backpack. The backpack contained Frost’s laptop and hard drive, which held every song he had ever made. All of his music was gone, and he was left questioning his decision to drop out of school to pursue his music career.

About three days after the theft, the blog Pigeons & Planes picked up “White Lies,” a song from Frost’s SoundCloud account. The blog post started a chain reaction that’s still going off today. Over the course of the last two years, Frost has signed with Atlantic Records, landed a spot on Rolling Stones’ list of “10 Artists You Need to Know” and been featured on a Beats commercial. With his first full-length album set to be released in early 2015, Frost is returning to SXSW to perform four official shows. The Daily Texan spoke with Frost about his music and experience at UT.

The Daily Texan: When was the first time you performed at SXSW?

Max Frost: Unofficially, I would play shows in a band called Blues Mafia when I was like 15 or 16. That’s probably the first time I was playing during the music festival. Then, as an official artist, it was two years ago that I first played as a solo act.

DT: How did you get into music?

MF: I’ve always been interested in it. I played drums and banged on things and made noises ever since I was a little kid. I started playing guitar when I was 8 and started playing other instruments when I was 13 or 14 and playing in bands. I just never stopped.

DT: How long did you attend UT? Were you playing in bands at the time?

MF: One whole year. That was the first year when I didn’t have a consistent live gig with another band going, so I spent a lot of time in my dorm room just making songs on a computer and recording them and writing stuff. That’s kind of where everything got started for my solo project. I was living in Towers — the frat battlefield.

DT: So you left school in 2012 after your first year at UT. Why did you choose to leave?

MF: I just kind of realized I didn’t want to do a half-ass job at school and music and that if I was ever going to take a chance on it, the time would be now. To me, [college] just felt like a further extension of high school in a way, and I felt trapped. I felt like I was going to let the better years of creativity and youth slip away.

DT: What did you do after you left?

MF: I went to [Los Angeles] and spent the summer there with a friend of mine who makes videos. I worked on a lot of music out there and was still super underground. I just stayed in my room and worked on records, but, you know, it’s a good kind of reality check to what the business is like and how big the world really is. Then I came back to Austin and signed back up for classes. I went back for one week I think. After sitting in class again, I was like, ‘Okay, I can’t do this.’ I pulled out, and I stayed in Austin. I kept working on more music.

DT: How would you describe your sound? 

MF: I would say that it’s alternative pop. It’s sort of like my eclectic interpretation of a blend of Western music that I’ve been exposed to my whole life, and I’d say it’s sort of hip-hop influenced without being rap in any way. I would say that it’s also oddly — because of the acoustic guitar and how much Bob Dylan and Ryan Adams I listen to — kind of folk influenced, but I wouldn’t say that’s the closest genre.

DT: What are some of your favorite memories of UT? What was your favorite late-night study spot?

MF: I was always in the Towers seating group for the football games, and I’ve always been a football fan, so I’d say my fondest memories from when I was going to UT was just going to the games. That was always when the entire school was uniting to party in the stadium, and that was always a blast. I studied at the [Perry-Castañeda Library] or the Starbucks that’s right there by Fricano’s because it was close to Towers.

Some of the best acts of past South By Southwest festivals weren’t the big names; they were the local bands who were just happy to perform. Check out some of the best musicians Austin has to offer at this year’s event.

Spoon

Once an underground sensation, Spoon became one of rock’s critically acclaimed and commercially successful acts. Its blend of punk and classic rock makes its performances enigmatic and memorable. You might know the band from its 2005 classic Gimme Fiction or its most recent release, They Want My Soul. Spoon performs Thursday at Auditorium Shores.

Max Frost

Musical prodigy turned one-man band Max Frost is a local singer-songwriter who has led Austin’s pop scene. At the age of 10, Frost learned to play guitar, and, by 20, he was writing music that incorporated funk, soul and R&B. He dropped out of UT to pursue his music career full time, and his gamble paid off. He performs at Stubb’s on Thursday.

Institute

Post-punk band Institute aims for a rough sound, hitting the bull’s eye on its EP, Salt. Formed just two years ago, the band gives its all in every performance. Institute performs Thursday at Hotel Vegas.

Quiet Company

Quiet Company has quietly come to dominate the Austin indie pop scene. Lead singer Taylor Muse may have lost his faith in God, but he still works miracles in his songwriting. The group’s emotional, melodic songs reel the listener in. The band performs at Red Eyed Fly on Thursday.

Jon Dee Graham

Named SXSW’s musician of the year in 2006, Jon Dee Graham is returning. Since 1986, he has worked with the best Austin musicians. Graham dropped out of law school at UT to join The Skunks, a local punk band. It opened for The Clash and The Ramones. Graham is most widely known for his time with the True Believers, an Americana rock band from Austin. He performs March 21 at the Continental Club.

Whiskey Shivers

With a banjo, fiddle, bass and guitar in hand, the members of Whiskey Shivers resemble a group from the early 1900s. Their bluegrass sound evokes a spirit of joy in listeners. They perform next Friday at the Palm Door on Sabine.

Jamestown Revival

Jamestown Revival appears as though it just came straight from a retreat in the mountains. That’s exactly what the group did to record Utah. Its indie rock sound with a southern twang was practically made for the festival. The band perform at The Gatsby on March 20.

Ume

Ume is a hard rock band known for its relentless touring and explosive performances. The band’s self-taught guitarist, Lauren Larson, rocks like no other; her skills are almost unrivaled. Ume perform at Red 7 on Thursday.

Ben Kweller

Ben Kweller’s legacy is in his performances at the Austin City Limits music festival — specifically the one in 2006 when he suffered a severe nosebleed. He used a tampon thrown on stage by a fan to stop the bleeding. After bleeding profusely on his own piano, he cut the set short. If you don’t want to go see him perform now, I don’t know what will convince you. He performs March 21, but the location has yet to be announced.

Jess Williamson

Jess Williamson managed to do something very few artists can — create an unhurried record that lasts only 30 minutes. The simple, sparse instrumentation and her emotional vocals make Native State a calming listen. She performs at Cheer Up Charlie’s Inside on Tuesday.

ACL: day 2

The second day of ACL was crowded. The festival’s mobile app kept on sending out messages, trying to prepare everyone for a cold front in the late afternoon that didn’t actually occur until right around 8 p.m. The weather was nice when the day began, as I walked around, catching pieces of Dan Croll and Max Frost play good ol’ fashioned rock 'n' roll in the early afternoon. After a moment checking out the craft beer tent, a very nice addition to this year’s fest, I headed to the Honda stage for Autre Ne Veut.

Autre Ne Veut’s live performances are always notable for the intensity of singer Arthur Ashin. He skulked around the stage and writhed on the floor, belting out a string of highlights from his latest album, Anxiety. While his act is much more suited for a dark club at night than a mid-afternoon slot at a festival, Autre Ne Veut entertained the small yet enthusiastic crowd gathered to see him.

From there, I was able to catch about half of HAIM’s set. The much-hyped L.A. band gave an equally intense performance that also rocked out a bit more than I had expected, based off their debut album. One of the sisters jumped off the stage toward the end and ran through the median in the crowd with infectious joy and energy. Once she reunited with the band on stage, they all began pounding on drums for a frenzied take on “Let Me Go.”

I spent some time walking around and grabbing lunch afterward, but caught a little bit of Delta Rae and Lissie in the meantime. Delta Rae sounded good, playing the kind of indie-folk you’d expect to see at ACL. Their lead singer explained how they almost had to cancel because one of their singers blew out her tonsils earlier this week, which led me to admire their flexibility while also cringing at the thought of how painful that must be. Lissie played upbeat folk-rock, closing her set with her cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness.”

Next, I watched about half of Silversun Pickups' set. The band has grown with each album they’ve released, and while I haven’t been a fan of the last two, I was impressed by how tight and controlled they sounded live. They made a note of how they had played Austin a lot lately, and the large crowd didn’t seem to mind.

We then decided to try and grab a good spot for Grimes, which was packed 20 minutes before she took the stage. The crowd was exceptionally young and seemed to be enjoying various substances. When Claire Boucher took the stage, she explained how her keyboard wasn’t working but vowed to make adjustments and play on. A few songs in, her backup dancers came out and the keyboard situation was fixed, so the music began to settle into a nice groove. She played “Oblivion” halfway through and the entire crowd danced along. Apart from that, the set was less energetic than I was expecting, and I feel like Grimes may be an act much better suited for a club show.

A band perfectly equipped to play in a festival setting was Passion Pit, who came next, playing to a crowd at least the size of Vampire Weekend the day before. The lead singer opened by explaining that he was sick but starting to get better, and based off the articles that ran last year in Pitchfork detailing his severe depression, I was a little worried about him. The band delivered a hugely energetic set that reminded me of Cut Copy’s from two years back. Passion Pit ran through hits from both of their popular albums, finishing with “Sleepyhead.” They sounded amazing live and were easily one of the best shows of the day.

Another artist who knows how to work a crowd is Kendrick Lamar, who had pretty much everyone at the festival under the age of 30 gathered to see him. I’m not sure why ACL decided to schedule The Shouting Matches against him, or why they didn’t put him on the main stage, as trying to walk around areas like the bar or the restrooms was nearly impossible. ACL really underestimates the draw of rap, but hopefully the huge draw that Kendrick had will teach them a lesson. Anyway, the show itself was great, as he played all the popular tunes from his incredible debut good kid, m.A.A.d. city, as well as a few older singles like “The Recipe” and “A.D.H.D.” People farther back in the crowd were dancing and singing along the words to songs like “Swimming Pools” and “Backseat Freestyle.” Kendrick did his part to get the crowd hyped up with his great stage presence and many call-and-response moments. At one point, he said that rather than this being a show or a festival or a concert, it was an experience. As I looked out on the thousands of people gathering around, it felt like one.

Finally, my night ended with The Cure. Robert Smith came out in the same makeup he’s always worn, and sounded just as good as he ever has. While the band members and the majority of the crowd has gotten a lot older in the decades since The Cure’s greatest albums were released, it was still special to see one of the best bands of the '80s play to a crowd of tens of thousands of enraptured fans who were definitely reliving their youth. The audience was super into it, and at one point I was back in the crowd singing along to “Friday I’m In Love” with about five other people just happy to see one of their favorite bands. I left a little early to get a head start on the traffic, but I got to see “Love Song” and “Just Like Heaven” performed by the band who wrote those hits, so it really couldn’t have gotten any better.