Have you ever wondered what your life would look like without someone you loved? A terrifying thought, for sure, but one that has been top of mind for musicians, Illenium and MAX. The pair were so shaken by the possibility of living in a world without their loved ones that they penned, “Worst Day,” their latest collaboration and track, out today. And as the track blurs the lines between both genres, Illenium and MAX prove they can transcend the boundaries of dance and pop to create a feel-good hit that all fans can enjoy.
“The song imagines what life could be like without someone you love or after just losing someone,” Illenium shares with us via zoom, a week before the track dropped. “It’s like saying, ‘It could have been the worst day of my life,’ or ‘It could have been life-changing.’ Those kinds of moments remind you why it’s so amazing to love and to be grateful.”
The Grammy-nominated dance artist shares that he prepared the demo for this track over a year ago, wanting to create “an emotional song that’s really easy to escape to.” After laying down the musical foundation, Illenium then called on the help of his longtime collaborator and good friend, MAX, who started writing the lyrics for the track. Previously the pair had collaborated on “Beautiful Creatures,” which is “one of my fans’ favorite songs,” shares Illenium, so this was a “no-brainer.” The songwriting process was straightforward and seamless, shares MAX, as the two sent renditions back and forth, like no time had past.
“I feel like I haven’t been doing as many features with other people because I love staying in my own album lane, but with Illenium, he taps into such an emotional place that is so rare, especially in the electronic space.” MAX elaborates on the collaboration. “And I think that’s why we’ve worked so well together because it’s very vulnerable.”
Also out today is an accompanying music video, which features both musicians in performance with one another juxtaposed with bits of a CGI avatar. And although the visual sees a video game avatar, we can assure you neither artist came to play–With Illenium’s bone-rattling synth breakdowns and MAX’s rousing vocals, the pair deliver an electric track of epic proportions. And while the release of “Worst Day” seems like an explosive final act, wrapping up 2022, it only sets in motion an even more explosive couple of months for the two artists. Besides gearing up for his highly-anticipated fifth studio album, Illenium is also preparing to bring his Ember Shores festival back to Cancun this December. And this year, MAX embarks on a headline tour of his own, visiting 39 cities–including Los Angeles, Dallas and New York.
For more on the duo’s latest collaboration, read our conversation with Illenium and MAX below.
VMAN: Congrats on the new track, “Worst Day.” How did this song come to be? And when did you guys first connect?
ILLENIUM: MAX and I did a song–How long ago was that? I would say five years ago.
MAX: Yeah, which is crazy.
I: In 2017, we did a song called “Beautiful Creatures,” and we’ve always been friends. But for this song, I just had this rough demo that I thought was right in MAX’s wheelhouse. I think he has such an amazing presence and he absolutely crushed it within the first day. So it was really smooth, honestly. It was just like, “What up, homie? You want to check this song out?” And then, “Yeah, I love it.” That’s how it happened.
VMAN: That’s amazing. So once you guys decided to work together with this demo, what was the process like after that?
M: So Illenium sent me the instrumental and then I got into it with my engineering partner Ryan. And we were in my studio and I just recorded it for like a few days. I just wanted to nail it because it’s just such a special song. I’d send one version and then Illenium would say, “Maybe try tweaking this bit,” and then I would do it. We really wanted to make sure that the emotion came through. When he sent me the song, it was such a universe moment because I was going through a really rough time in my relationship and I really did feel like everything was kind of crumbling. I think the right songs come to you when you need them and I felt like it was the perfect time to be able to portray the emotion of the song. I’m glad that it’s in a place where people can really digest it and in the way it was meant to be digested.
I: I can’t remember did I send you the first demo I had where I couldn’t really get a guitar riff down so I sampled “Mr. Brightside” for a second. Did I send you that?
M: I think you did it with the guitar because I feel like I would have remembered that.
I: I had this song for, like, I don’t know, a few months and I just couldn’t get the guitar riff right. And then I finally figured out the guitar riff, it worked out super well.
M: And Illenium, we wanted to know why you approached MAX, specifically, for this single?
I: I mean, he has such an amazing vocal range and vibe. And the last song we did together is one of my fans’ favorite songs. It’s this really amazing, beautiful song and I feel like this just fit that same kind of realm. This song is an emotional song that’s really easy to escape to and I feel like MAX is really bringing such a character–shooting the music video was like the most fun ever. I was just watching MAX do his thing. He’s he has such a unique and amazing spirit to him. It’s really, really awesome. So it was easy.
VMAN: The music video is so electric, and we do want to talk about that, but in a bit. First, I wanted to ask about the significance of the track title. Why is it called “Worst Day”?
I: When we are in the original session, one of our friends that we wrote with–his name’s Jason Evigan. We were all together and he was just having this crazy moment with his child and there was like this struggle with doctors and they thought something was wrong with the child and it was really emotional. We got to the studio and it was this gloomy thing and then Jason found out a couple of hours later that everything was okay. But he was in this state where it was like, “I don’t know what’s going happen. Is she okay? Is everything going to be alright?” The song imagines what life could be like without someone you love or after just losing someone. How does a song embody that emotion? It’s like saying, “It could have been the worst day of my life,” or “It could have been life-changing.” Those kinds of moments remind you why it’s so amazing to love and to be grateful. That’s at least the message I get out of the song.
VMAN: That’s beautiful. MAX, what does the song mean to you?
M: I’m a new dad, and my daughter is almost two, and I immediately felt that with not only my wife and my relationship but with my daughter. I feel like you are constantly worrying about anything going wrong. And, of course, when it feels like you’re going to lose something, that’s when it finally makes the most sense that it is the most important thing in the world. And I think that we just have to find our gratitude sometimes and this song is that. The strange thing is that it has this happy energy behind how emotional it is. I’ve been playing it live for my tour right now and every night, I’m having so much fun with it. It’s such an emotional, sad song but also something that makes you feel so good, which I love.
I: I think he’s just like an interesting human trait where a lot of times, it takes a certain amount of pain or a certain amount of fear to really realize exactly what you have. Like I’m a pretty stubborn person, a lot of times, it takes serious pain for me to want actually to change my life for the better.
VMAN: How long has the song been in the making?
I: About a year, I would say.
M: I think you sent it to me, what, two months ago? Like it hasn’t been that long, which is amazing. That’s the best when a song takes a year or two. I feel like people don’t always realize that, but some of these songs take about a year or so. But that just shows it stands the test of time and if it still means something, then it’s meant to be out forever.
I: 100%. Sometimes it’s fun to make something really fast and put it out and then sometimes especially when you’re making an album like I am right now, I like to take my time and be patient.
VMAN: Yeah, and the music video is very cool too. Can you guys elaborate on the creative direction? And what was the vibe that you guys were going for?
I: I’m starting to do a live show starting next year–I did a live show pretty much from 2016 to 2019 and then I stopped. I took a little break, and I’ve just been DJing, so this music video is like the reintroduction to that. So with MAX and our music video, there’s this whole larger story that goes with [my upcoming] album. There are some animations that tease it, but I don’t want to go into too much detail right now. But they’re easter eggs, if you will. Also, I just want to say that Rafatoon absolutely killed it with the CGI.
VMAN: We’ll we’re excited to see it all come together. As we’re talking about how this track primes your fifth studio album, I also wanted to ask about that. What can people expect?
I: Ever since I played the “Trilogy” show in Las Vegas at the Allegiant, I’ve been really inspired to do things at that scale and to make music that fits. The stuff that I’m working on right now is the most me. It’s going to have love-hate, probably with it, because there’s some super rocky stuff. It’s definitely a transition from what people are used to, but it’s very much me. So if you like what I do, you’ll love it. And if you really want me to make what I used to make, you’re probably not going to be happy. But I had the most fun making it, and I’m really, really excited about it.
VMAN: That’s exciting. And while we’re on the topic of it, I know that you’re also going to be performing in Cancun this December. What type of show are you hoping to bring? And then also, how will “Worst Day” fit into the set?
I: Yeah, “Worst Day” is definitely going to be in the set. Ember Shores is a festival that I put on with a bunch of awesome artists and last year, it was one of the most fun weekends. I played like seven sets, some of them were properly planned out and then a lot of it was just winging it. It’s so fun and unlike any other festival experience. It really feels intimate.
VMAN: And MAX, you’re currently off on your North American headline tour. How are you gearing up for that? What type of show are you hoping to bring?
M: I played Sacramento last night, and I played “Worst Night” there, even though it’s not out yet. I’ve just been playing it just to get people excited. But what’s really interesting is by the second chorus and drop, everybody knows the words, which is always the best thing when you’re playing a new song. So I’m excited for [the song] to finally be out and then play it when people actually know the song. It’s been amazing to have it a part of our set.
VMAN: That sounds very exciting. And as a quick digression, I know you’ve also had a busy 2022 co-writing a song with BTS. What was that like?
M: It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. It’s been amazing to work with them and be a part of that song. I recorded the demo in my bedroom in New York, so to think that it’s become this beautiful thing for them is such an honor. I’m very grateful to be a part of it.
VMAN: Sounds like a surreal experience. And to round out our chat, as you guys have each worked with so many different artists before, can you guys share what was unique about each other? And what made this experience so special?
M: I’ll go first. When I got that text from Illenium, it was like a no-brainer. I feel like I haven’t been doing as many features with other people because I love staying in my own album lane, but with Illenium, he taps into such an emotional place that is so rare, especially in the electronic space. And I think that’s why we’ve worked so well together because it’s very vulnerable. The music is vulnerable, but it still goes hard. It makes you feel something, and it makes you feel alive.
I: Thank you, MAX. I feel like just as people, MAX and I are connected. I feel so natural around you and so blessed to know you as a human. I love what you stand for. You just bring such an amazing vibe to a song and I’m lucky that we started with “Beautiful Creatures” because that is such a song that I want to be represented as.
VMAN: Finally, if you could have listeners take away one message, what would that be?
I: I think, for me, it’s kind of what I touched on earlier–just hoping people can listen to it and feel it. When it says those lyrics, “Could have been the worst day of my life,” or like reach that point of escape and find gratefulness. Even if shit is rough right now, they know there’s a community that is with you that feels that same stuff and wants you to pull through it.
M: I feel the same thing. And also, if anything, it makes me tick the list of who, without them, would be the worst day of my life. I try to make that checklist of like, “Did I call my mom today? Did I call those people that I love and say I love them?” Don’t wait until it’s too late. Give them love now.
You can stream “Worst Day” here.