Max Viner knows suffering. He’s watched people tremble, fall, and lose themselves in it. Viner hails from St. Petersburg, Russia, and immigrated to New Jersey where he attended college before making New York City his home base. There, he made important connections with fellow musicians JON BOY (from the now-defunct Deal Casino) and pop artist Taylor Tote. Like many others, the sudden onset of the pandemic made his nightmares larger than life—from protests to mental health issues spreading almost as fast as COVID-19. These events factored into Max Viner’s concept for “My Dear Friend,” and Viner enlisted his friend’s JON BOY and Tote to bring his lyrical vision to life.
The trio met up virtually in the grey atmosphere of the pandemic, with the aid of Joe Pomarico of Telegraph Hill Records who helped to solidify a sound of feeling and fury that most—if not all of us—were feeling. The result was “My Dear Friend,” an anthem for empaths and empathy, love, loss, hope, and brighter tomorrows.
Initially, my reaction to “My Dear Friend” was wide-eyed awe. I was taken aback in all the right ways within seconds of it playing into my eardrums. That’s quite the impact, considering the song had yet to really get going. And god, did it go! The song struck hard, resonating from across the universe and into your soul, making the alien that inhabits the accompanying music video all the more relevant. I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it again: the intention behind the project is just as important as the project itself.
I firmly believe that isolation is an underrated gift and should be used wisely. We have many innovative creators to look to as proof: Max Viner, JON BOY, and Taylor Tote being a formidable example. Read on for this trio’s collaboration, whose resulting powered-up indie-pop anthem “My Dear Friend” was ‘made possible with a little help from friends.’
How long have the three of you been performing and creating music?
Viner: I have written music professionally for the past three years, but it took me around 10 years to put it all together [and] to start writing and producing music. Music has always been around me—opera, music at home, or live shows. [When] I was 13 or 14, I discovered “White Blood Cells” and “Elephant” by The White Stripes. Specifically [the tracks] “Ball and Biscuit” and “Fell In Love With a Girl.” Around the same time, I watched “It Might Get Loud.” Led Zeppelin and U2 have always been massive inspirations to me. Their conversations about music, instruments, theory, and [the] industry organically led me to write my first ever song…I’ll admit it wasn’t that great, but when I put the chords and words together to share my vision, I realized that I want to do it professionally.
JON BOY: I’ve been creating music for over a decade at this point.
Tote: I’ve been into music since I could walk and talk. I always knew I wanted to be an entertainer. It was never a thought, just something I knew I wanted to do! I was performing in shows at parties and at restaurants from a very young age, but I didn’t start taking lessons until I was in high school. That’s probably when my family started taking it more seriously. I’ve been really blessed with the amount of support I receive, and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to keep going without it.
Besides COVID, what brought the three of you together for “My Dear Friend”?
Viner: After I [did] “New Normal” (2020) I had an opportunity to work with [designer, film director, and assistant] Julia Pietro and Philip Christiansen (music video director), and of course, the great Zack Kornhauser of Atlantic Records. I could not stop thinking about the next project. I’m always networking and decided to message JON BOY and Taylor Tote to see if they were interested in working on a song. Maybe the great beyond in my dreams told me to do so. Long story short, they loved the idea and we collaborated on “My Dear Friend.” Personally, it is always [my] desire to collaborate, contribute and create.
How did your own experiences factor into what became “My Dear Friend”?
Viner: I believe that any kind of art has to be honest. My goal is to establish a storyline with my songs, a cinematic experience where people will be connected with all aspects of the composition. I feel that my experience as a musician, immigrant, and human connects my vision with something honest. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what sort of art it is—music, literature, film—in the end, it all establishes something beautiful.
In what ways did you feel connected (or disconnected!) throughout 2020 pertaining to the track?
Viner: I feel [the] most connected since the song is about an idea of a bright future. 2020 was tough, and I personally felt that people need more songs that encourage [and] give hope, [that] establish some sort of community where people can speak up. The terrible news of racism and injustice [inspired] me to finish “My Dear Friend.” Of course, it wouldn’t be the same without the help of JON, Taylor, and Telegraph Records. They put their emotions into the song, their story, and it simply connected. “My Dear Friend” just would not be the same.
Tote: I felt really connected to the lyrics, especially the verse I sing. I feel like there’s a version of me singing this directly to myself, telling me it’s going to be okay. As someone who suffers from anxiety and lately, the great amount of imposter syndrome that came with 2020, I was happy to sing on something that served as a reminder to me and everyone else that we will be okay and that there are people out there who care.
Does “My Dear Friend” address mental health in any way?
Viner: That is a great question! I believe that mental health has tremendously raised awareness for the past decade. While studying at Drew University and living independently, I met people who suffer [from mental health]. They were working hard to make their future better, looking for stable work…and some lost their hope, their spirit on that journey. I’ve witnessed many people give up their dreams in high school and college. They’re lost because of this lonely century. Politics and social networks only distract from the beauty of life…
I wanted to write a song that would encourage people on the ride home after work, after studying for seven hours just to get that A+, those who have lost someone close to them…experiences [of] tremendous pain. People need hope.
My goal is to share a positive message. “My Dear Friend” can be a part of the solution. Noreeba Hertz wrote a great book, “The Lonely Century,” that discusses the tremendous mental health problem these days. So I hope that anyone who feels down can find that one spark that can help [them] to build their character and move on.
“My Dear Friend” is a very emotional, empathetic piece. Explain more about the experience of working together virtually on this project.
Viner: Just like with “New Normal,” most of the production and post-production took [place] virtually. Between Zoom and FaceTime meetings, working via the internet made it difficult since what we worked on for almost two to three months virtually could be done in one or two sessions in a studio. When we recorded vocals, it was a blessing! Telegraph’s direction in the studio plus the human connection made the magic.
JON BOY: Definitely a different experience working virtually rather than in the studio. Working in a big studio brings big pressure. You want every second to count! Working virtually allowed me to have a creative workflow while being in my comfort zone.
Tote: The song is emotional for sure. I think it says a lot about what people go through, even before COVID. We often like to believe we’re the only ones going through something but songs like this prove you aren’t alone. I was able to work with Joe Pomarico and Max in the studio, and putting our heads together in terms of approach was really awesome. We knew the vocals needed to be clear and heard, yet emotional and powerful. I always learn so much every time I’m in the studio working on a new project.
‘My dear friend/please don’t give up on your dreams/there are so many things in this life that will make you believe’ is a powerful line. Can you elaborate on this?
Viner: The story behind this line comes back to the many issues of this century; mental health, racism, intolerance, homophobia, injustice, to name a few. I want people to remember that life is a beautiful thing. It can be harsh but lovely at the same time.
I got inspired by the movie “Soul” (2020). Some people want money, others [are] blade running to gain fame—but what really helps us to get through the day? What makes you reach your goal? What makes his or her dream come true? Everyone needs to experience the journey, it’s essential. Otherwise, you can get lost. I’ve always liked a saying by Mac Demarco: “You might be successful or might not… it doesn’t matter, enjoy it and the way.”
Do the three of you plan on working together again in the future?
Viner: We’ll see what the future holds for us. I’m open to collaborating and I hope Taylor and Jon feel the same way. Who knows, maybe we will perform at Governors Ball with “My Dear Friend.”
JON BOY: I can guarantee that the three of us will work on more stuff [in the future].
Tote: Yeah, for sure! Max, Joe, and I actually worked on a song that same day we got together for “My Dear Friend” really in the spur of the moment! [I] can’t say much about it now, but [I’m] really excited to see where it goes and for everyone to hear it! Jon and I had mentioned collaborating in the future as well, and I’d love to work on something with Viner and Jon in general. Everyone is super talented and very down-to-earth. I think we get along really well as musicians and friends.
Speaking of the future, what’s next for you?
Viner: I’m glad you asked! I am working on a lot these days, so stay tuned for more updates! Spoiler alert, something remarkable will happen during the summer and fall. Meanwhile, support your local indie musicians!
Tote: As mentioned, the potential collaboration after “My Dear Friend” with Viner and Jon! Also, my producer, Russell Hayden, and I have been working on a ton of new songs [that] should be released early this summer. We can’t wait for everyone to hear the new stuff!
Cover photo courtesy of Max Viner, taken by Marissa Fortugno.