Video Premiere: Max & Haley's "Atoms" Is The Bomb

Max & Haley is a Brooklyn-based electronic duo born out of a spirit of friendship and collaboration. They released their first EP Big Hug last month, and Cell Vision is happy to premiere their latest video, “Atoms.” Cell Vision co-founder Mattie Safer speaks to them about their creative process, their influences, and this beautiful, tone poem of a song.

words and interview by Mattie Safer

Big Hug is an apt title for Max & Haley’s debut EP; the record feels like the warmth of the sun or the comforting embrace of an old friend soothing your aching soul with soft-spoken mantras of brighter days to come. Having previously collaborated in the avant quartet HAI, Max High and Haley Maiden were forced to find a new avenue for creation when the pandemic hit. So they began trading audio files back and forth, creating a playful, electronic sound that mixes elements of the old and new, taking cues from new age and ambient music to make music that is “more concerned with creating worlds than songs.”

The pair are also both talented visual artists, Max a freelance videographer and Haley a graphic designer. They collaborated on the video for “Atoms,” which premieres here today. The video was created using footage shot on a camcorder that Max found lying on the side of the road while biking over to Haley’s house to record vocals in combination with graphic designs and animations made by Haley. The perfect accompaniment to the music, the ensuing visual realm is a beautiful, bemusing world to get lost in and forget the woes of pandemia.

In the spirit of Max & Haley’s socially distanced collaboration, I shared a Google doc with some questions about their music and the new video, which they each answered from separate locations.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

CELL VISION: Tell us about yourselves. What do you each do in the band?

MAX: I think the clearest contributions are Haley’s vocals and my mixing and mastering of the tracks. As for the writing of the songs, we both formed the sonic landscape with synths, field recordings, and instruments like flute and electric guitar. It’s been a fluid back-and-forth of contribution, so it’s hard to delineate who did what, which is the beauty of this process, no? We are also fortunate that our dear friend Mauricio played bass on the track “Atoms.”

CELL VISION: You guys started off playing live music together in the band HAI. How is that different from this project?

MAX: It’s such a different process in contrast to HAI since we were, back then, a live band. We would routinely write and practice, practice, practice songs, pushing each other to grow as musicians (I was playing keys and synths in HAI). With the creation of this EP, I think it was a much more open experiment: creating tracks by layer, one .zip file at a time, adding and subtracting ideas until we had a digital soundtrack that felt right. And sonically, it’s different in that Haley was mostly playing alto sax in HAI. Early into the pandemic, Haley mentioned to me how she wanted to sing more. And so we made it happen!

CELL VISION: What is your creative process like?

HALEY: I feel lucky that this project was such a joint effort because I learned so much from watching Max’s process and reading books that shifted the way I understood sound and listening, like David Toop’s Ocean of Sound and David Byrne’s How Music Works’. I realized that I’ve played in a lot of different projects but am pretty new to the specific type of creativity that comes from making something out of nothing. So, I guess I’m actively trying to take in as much information as I can and then just sit with it until something happens.

MAX: Generally, I think we tend to start off with a synth patch that’s inspiring, so we build and riff off of that. Like Haley said, we’ve both been motivated by ambient music in creating sonic worlds rather than songs per se.

CELL VISION: You talk about how your process “disclosed the vital themes of playful self-care and friendship.” Can you explain this more?

HALEY: Well, the lyrics are pretty bare-boned and repetitive, almost like an affirmation. I think there’s something nice about the idea of engraining a comforting message in your mind for when you need it. Maybe you’re able to take something new from it during different moments in time.

The process of making this song and video was sweet because Max and I got to work towards something and spend more time together. We took a lot of walks around Brooklyn in the summertime with this camcorder that he found right outside my apartment. When we weren’t in the same city, we passed a lot of files back and forth. This worked smoothly and required a great deal of trust and patience. It feels really awesome to have made something tangible with a good friend.

CELL VISION: Haley, what is that instrument that you are playing in the video? How does it work?

HALEY: It’s a theremin! Probably one of the best/strangest gifts I’ve been given. It’s basically two antennas and a radio frequency that runs between them that you manipulate with your hands. I wanted it to be in the video because I think they’re underrated and/or people just associate them with horror movies and alien sounds.

CELL VISION: What inspires your visual aesthetic?

MAX: Haley and I each have our specialties, as I do freelance as a videographer, and so does Haley as a graphic designer. I think a lot of our personal ventures in experimenting with Premiere and Photoshop merged organically. I’ve realized that, just like a synthesizer allows one to modulate a sound source in myriad ways, so can images be transformed by really pushing some built-in effects. It’s been exciting to create an audio-visual world of our own without much logic to it, and I love how the songs and visuals effectively complement each other. Like a combination of all of our favorite things, you know? The digital world we’ve come up with is pretty weird, colorful, random, and playful. More than anything, it feels precious, which may speak to other quarantine-like forms of friendships that have taken shape in the past year.

CELL VISION: There is a poem that appears in the middle of this video; can you tell us more about it? What are the words?

HALEY: I was trying to capture some fluid, watery feelings. Specifically, that moment when you realize you’re making progress with something, building momentum, and everything starts to melt and soften a little bit. It’s just an excerpt of a thought, a little taste before you’re meant to move on to what’s next.

CELL VISION: Your EP Big Hug is also available as a cassette tape, what can you tell us about that release?

MAX: Shoutout to Dylan from Funnybone Records for making that possible. For me, it’s been a dream to have a record on tape. Haley came up with the stunning layout, and I put together a half-speed mix of the EP for the B-side. The reel-to-reel that I use has two speeds, so the original tape masters each have their slowed down version that feel like portals to a more meditative dimension. I hope the tape comes through as a listening journey, from a fun side to a contemplative side.

CELL VISION: Are you working on any new music?

MAX: Yes :)

You can watch "Atoms" on YouTube, purchase a 'Big Hug' cassette on Bandcamp, or check out Max & Haley on Instagram via the links below.

Watch "Atoms" on YouTube
Purchase 'Big Hug' on Bandcamp
Max & Haley Instagram