Interview with Maxamillion Haunt and Anastasia Grace by Jeremy Saffer
Photographs by Jeremy Saffer
The Haunt may not be a household name yet, especially since the band recently changed its name from AnastasiaMax to the much more fitting moniker only a short time before this interview. However, this young, sibling team of Anastasia Grace (age 15, vocals, piano) and Maxamillion Haunt (age 19, guitar, vocals, piano), along with Natalie Smallish (Bass) and Nick Lewert (drums, piano), has been making waves on its first ever US and European tour opening for Palaye Royale. Having been said to sound like a mix of Evanescence, My Chemical Romance, Bauhaus, and Amy Winehouse, The Haunt is certain to catch the eyes and ears of any who cross their path. Max and Anastasia discuss the band’s name change, The Haunt’s latest self-titled EP, and their acclaimed song and video for “All Went Black,” written by Anastasia at age 12.
What was the reason for the band name change from Anastasia Max to The Haunt?
Max: AnastasiaMax never totally resonated with us. It was a name that was forced upon us in this weird situation, and we ran with it. We liked it somewhat, and we couldn’t find a name that truly encompassed what the band was without sounding too emo or dark. It was actually my mom’s idea. She was, “What about The Haunt?” We were, “The Haunted Haunting?” She was, “No, The Haunt,” and we were, “Yeah, that’s really cool.” After that we decided to make the EP called The Haunt, because we wanted to own the name. Then we knew we were going to transition at some point. Once we got the tour with Palaye Royale and we were going to go more national, we were this is probably the right time to make the switch.
Ana: Well, we went with The Haunt: AnastasiaMax for all of our stuff.
Max: Yeah, right now we are in a transitional period—The Haunt: AnastasiaMax, which is our old name and our new name. Eventually, we will be just The Haunt, but all of our stuff says The Haunt: AnastasiaMax, so it’s easy to not get confused for the moment.
Does the band have a different sound? Did anything change aside from the name?
Max: Absolutely not. AnastasiaMax is still us, and we still really care about that because it’s the same project. The fact that me and Anastasia started this together is super important to the identity of the band. So, when we start to venture into other creative aspects besides music, AnastasiaMax will be a big part of that as well.
You come from a family that loves music. Are they musicians or just big fans?
Max: Just big fans of music. We grew up with music pumping through the entire house. There was never a day when music wasn’t something that was always going on in the house. All different types of music, from 90s hip-hop to Red Hot Chili Peppers to The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. It was always something new, always something different.
Ana: I think my dad is convinced he can sing though (laughs).
Max: Yeah, he’s definitely convinced he can sing. He can’t sing (laughs), and he might be offended by us saying that. Our grandpa recently started taking up the drums.
What bands do you remember being a big part of your foundation that your parents introduced to you?
Max: The biggest thing to me was the 90s hip-hop, the way the drums and the musicality stopped and started so much to emphasize what was happening in the lyrics and the song. That had a lot to do with how we created the stop and start sound that we have, which is a big part of it more in the live show and content that will be coming out later.
Does the whole family still listen to some of the same bands?
Max: Yeah, we share a Spotify account, and we refuse to get separate ones because we are always listening to whatever the other person is listening to. We always at the same time have the same music taste. It’s really common that we’re fighting over Spotify, usually to listen to the same song (laughs).
What are some of the bands that you’ve discovered recently, old or new?
Max: Well, what’s your old stuff that you really like?
Ana: Nothing that I’ve discovered recently.
Max: (laughs) She’s always been really into amazing singers like Etta James and Nina Simone.
Ana: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Amy Winehouse.
Max: But those aren’t new discoveries. The stuff that we’ve been listening to is much newer music while we’ve been on the road. We’re obsessed with Palaye right now. They’re awesome.
Ana: Yeah, that’s like our whole Spotify right now, and then seeing them at night (laughs).
How supportive has your family been in getting the band going and helping you get your touring legs?
Max: There was an in-between phase of this is a hobby, and then when they saw how committed we were to it. I think they saw potential in it and were we need to help them take this more seriously. As soon as that clicked, as soon as they realized we wanted this to be more than a hobby, it was immediately more than a hobby to them. They were onboard immediately, and anything we needed, they helped in any way they could.
What are some of your earliest influences when you first played together?
Ana: Lots of Lumineers (laughs).
Max: Lots of Lumineers (laughs).
Ana: Of Monsters and Men.
Max: The band started out as just me and Ana alone.
Ana: It was all vocals based, with nothing else.
Max: Originally, it was just her vocals, and I played piano, then eventually guitar, then eventually I sang with her.
Ana: I didn’t want to go onstage alone. He was sitting there, so we needed him to do something.
Max: Yeah, she refused to go onstage alone, so I would sit on the stage and do nothing. She would sing a cappella.
Ana: (laughs) I’d tell him to face the wall.
Max: I couldn’t look at her, but I had to sit there.
Ana: Just facing the audience (laughs).
Max: Yeah, so that’s what I did for a while. Then I was like this is ridiculous, so I started playing piano and we started doing some Birdy covers and different things like that. Then I started playing guitar. We’ve always liked the same music, but we really started becoming friends over the band—we didn’t like each other much until the band was like a thing. That’s what really pushed us to become as close as we were and are, so I think it was a lot of Lumineers, songs that we sang together.
Max: White Stripes, Jack White, The Kills, Dead Weather.
Ana: Mobb Deep (laughs).
When you write and record, is there anyone who sets the direction, or is it pretty equal?
Max: I want to say its equal, but it’s not equal.
Ana: (laughs) I don’t think it is.
Max: She has the vision, and I try to convey what she’s thinking and get that out there. The main goal is to convey what’s in her mind because I’m convinced she has the right idea.
Is there ever sibling rivalry?
Max: Never for more than like five minutes at a time (laughs). It’s never something that we fight over. It’s just something that happens for a minute then goes away. It’ll be, “Ana, I think I should sing this part.” She’s, “No,” and then it’s over (laughs).
How do you feel your ages affect how people see you as a band?
Max: I feel like it helps.
Ana: Well, on this tour. All of the audience is like my age—they’re all 15. So, after the show that’s all they talk about
Max: We are younger than the rest of the bands on the tour, so it’s cool to relate to the younger audience that Palaye has. They have all really young girls and boys. But originally I think our age was more of a determent than a boost.
Ana: Yeah, no one took it seriously because I was like 9.
How did your sound develop from where it first started to now?
Max: Like I said, there was a lot of Lumineers going on in the beginning. It was very folk, because it was just vocals and guitar, or vocals and piano. So, there was a lot of, I don’t want to say country…
Ana: I had a country phase. I went to Tennessee and came back with lots of boots and country hats and started singing Nancy Sinatra songs.
Max: Yeah, that definitely happened, but then we moved more into the indie phase of the band. Then once we got a drummer, we started becoming way more Pixies and Jack White. Then it became a lot of punk influence and 60s pop. That’s what shaped what’s happening now.
What is your songwriting process?
Ana: It’s different.
Max: Yeah, it’s different every song.
Ana: Well, I meant it’s different for both of us, because I write lyrics then I write chords.
Max: That’s not the main difference. The main difference between our writing styles is the fact she can spend up to six months on one song perfecting it. I write like a million songs at a time, most of them are not good, and then eventually like one will be good.
Ana: Just testing his luck, eventually he’ll get one (laughs).
Max: Mine is just a numbers game. She’s got a real art going on here.
Is it equal as far as what makes it onto an album?
Max: It’s a process of elimination. Everything that she writes, because she spends so much time perfecting, will definitely make its way out. My stuff, we go through a process of this has good elements, lets take that, and then lets revamp it. The same goes for her, even though she’s much better at perfecting her songs before they get to me, there’s definitely a process to make it sound playable. She just writes on the piano, so we have to make it a full band ordeal.
Can you tell a difference between the songs you each wrote once it’s recorded?
Max: I think so. There are three songs on the EP that were written by me, and then there were three songs that were written by her. It’s pretty easy to tell. Hers are much more vocally driven. I’m not as good at creating vocal melodies as she is. She has like a gift for it. “Get Away,” “All Went Black,” and “Bullet” are all songs that she completely wrote. “Get Away” was written with a songwriter, Shelby Sputnik. She’s awesome; we love her. When we were starting to write music, they wrote that song together, and it was definitely one of the kick off points for the band.
Do you feel right now you’ve honed in on your style and have a solid idea of what the band should sound like?
Max: I feel like you’re constantly searching for that, like you’re never going to truly find that, especially in a band that’s not one person. If it was a band where I had complete say, maybe eventually I’d find that, but I feel like the constant back and fourth between styles and the constant always searching for the best style, it’s something that will never end. We know where we want to be right now, but I don’t think that will be the same in a year. We are definitely feeling more and more comfortable as time goes on with what we are creating. It’s becoming more perfected as time goes along.
Critics are saying you sound like Bauhaus or Siouxsie and the Banshees. Are those bands you are influenced by, or is that the older generation projecting it into your sound?
Max: There’s some of both. We definitely love those bands, but we try to sound as different from everything else as possible. At the same time, though, there’s elements of music you really like, and when you really like them they’re going to find their way into your music.
There are songs where the vocals are completely Anastasia, and some with both of you. How do you work out who will sing what?
Ana: When I write a song, it’s mostly me, and Max sings backup for it. And same with Max’s songs, so you can tell who writes a song just by listening to it.
Max: So far neither of us have written a song completely for the other person.
Ana: If he writes a song, he’s going to start singing it, and then I’ll just add my little finesses (laughs).
Max: She’ll come in and make it exponentially better. She’ll write a song, and then I get my hands on it and it becomes sort of a middle ground, but it’s mostly her. And I write a song and same goes vice versa.
How is it going so far on your first full US tour?
Max: It’s pretty fucking amazing (laughs). I couldn’t ask for something better at this stage in our career. It’s really life changing. The European part specifically, and now that we are in the US, it’s so different seeing what it’s like when people care (laughs). And it’s so different seeing what it’s like to get in front of these people. When you’re an opener, they don’t originally always want to like you, and it really feels like a challenge. So, it’s really fun.
Ana: To make them like you every night (laughs). They’re just holding their spot for Palaye, so we have to.
Max: You just want to make them want to see you if you were to ever come back. It’s been really incredible.
How did you end up on the Palaye tour?
Max: That was mostly due to upper management and connections that they had. When people ask me how I got the tour, I just say do it long enough and make enough connections and eventually things start happening. We were a band for three years before anything substantial started happening for us. It was really with the EP and the music videos making their way to Palaye, and eventually we got a call this tour is happening.
Ana:Before that, we met them when it was all being worked out at Warped Tour in West Palm. We went to their tour bus and just met them.
Your live show has a little bit of a different vibe than the recordings. How does it vary?
Ana: I yell more (laughs).
Max: She yells more. I yell more. We have a lot of songs that we don’t have recorded yet that are going to come out fairly soon.
Ana: We play a lot that’s unreleased.
Max: It’s definitely a different experience because of that. We only play three songs off the record, then the rest of the set is new content, so naturally it’s going to feel different. It’s more mature.
Ana: It’s a little more gritty, too. It’s not as clean as how we recorded it.
Max: Its a polished set, but it’s definitely much more raw sounding than the record, which I think will be something we strive for moving forward on the next record. That’s something we really strive for as musicians—realness, very cut and dry, this is what we have to offer.
What else can fans expect from your live show?
Ana: Expect me to beat up a bunny (laughs).
Max: Yeah, expect Ana to beat up a bunny. Wow, that’s hard. I would say don’t expect what you’re expecting to hear from a 15-year-old. That would be my biggest statement. When you hear that she’s 15 after we play the set, people’s minds switch on it a little bit, like, “Whoa I did not expect that.” I think you have to look at it as a band overall and not as a young band or a teenage band.
Anything you want to do onstage in the future, regarding props, lighting, or sound?
Ana: I want a big black tree in the middle of the stage that I could just climb the shit out of and I could hang my bunny from it. I’ve been thinking about this for a while.
Max: (laughs) This is the first I’ve heard of this.
Ana: Really? I could have sworn I told you this. Also, you’ve seen the album cover, how I’m walking down the wall. So, it would be a video on a backdrop of me walking down that wall, and then I’d appear on the floor. It would be so dope.
One of your most well received songs, “All Went Black,” isn’t in your live set. Is there a reason for that?
Max: It is in our usual set. We didn’t play it on tour with Palaye because of time restrictions, and because it’s a little low energy for that set. Our job as the opener is to try to make people like us and hype people up for the bands that come after us. When we have our own shows, “All Went Black” is definitely a song we’d love to perform.
Tell us about the anti-bullying organizations you’ve been working with in conjunction to “All Went Black.”
Max: Ana was bullied a lot throughout middle school. It was a really rough time for her. She wrote that song in that time period. There’s obviously other things going on, and she doesn’t like to talk about what her songs are about, but that was definitely part of it. When she had the concept for the music video, our mom helped figure out how to portray the imagery that we wanted to show in the best way, and eventually we got this really cool imagery of what it feels like because obviously it’s not literal. It’s more like what it feels like to be the odd person out and to feel alone in situations where there are people right here, but they don’t care at all. If anything, they just straight-up want you to feel bad. When we put out our first single, we wanted that to be part of the band’s message—stop being mean to people. We live in a time that has a lot of hate. There’s a lot of it with the internet and social media. Everyone just thinks they can say whatever they want, and the person on the other end isn’t going to feel it. We really wanted to take this approach like we are going to make music that is harder, but it’s always going to be this message of be nice to people and be nice to each other and don’t be an asshole.
Ana: Don’t be a dick.
Do you have any advice for fans that might be dealing with apathy or bullying?
Max: Look up to the people who didn’t give up. It’s always going to get better. It might take a long time, but there is definitely always something to look forward to. Don’t give up on trying to look for better, and always try to be better as a person. Don’t give up, don’t give up on it.
What are your plans once this tour wraps up?
Max: We’re definitely going to start recording some stuff. We have some songs that are ready to be recorded, and we are going to get in the studio with some producers and start recording. Then hopefully we want to be back on the road. We don’t want to be home for very long. We went home for 10 days between the Europe tour and the North American tour, and we were, “Fuck this. We want to not be here.” So, that’s our goal (laughs).
You can follow all things The Haunt on their official website