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When Maxi Jazz first sat down with Alayah and Roland with the vague idea of writing one song he could hardly have imagined the effort an independent magazine from Dublin would have to go through to get in touch with him over two decades later.
"...nobody’s actually DJing anymore. I think there ought to be a new term for it."
The phone is ringing. Ahead of a show in Galway, the son of West Indian parents raised in the UK speaks with a soft modesty which shows himself as the antithesis of modern day ‘super-club’ VIP culture.
There’s a now out of place honesty about how he reflects on his time in the spotlight uniformly preferring to play more down than he does up. Maxi Jazz is quietly proud of his journey while any sense of invasive overbearing self-indulgence is the last thing you’d think of after speaking with him.
He granted only three press slots for his time in Ireland. His vocal cadence suggests he is more shocked than anyone that he or Faithless are still known in 2016 and he’s anxious for people to get to know the E-Type Boys.
He’s right. 22 years on it seems bizarre to still be talking about Faithless with a character whose musical influences stretch from Blues, to Rock, to Funk, to Jazz and from the crates of the UK and Europe to the guitar shops of the US. It does seem bizarre to compare a person to what they do, and yet that’s what we inherently fall back on.
Without much, or any, thought it’s exactly the tap we all fall into. What do you talk about with a figure as sinuous as this? Where do you begin with someone who by his own self admission couldn’t exist without music but who has never allowed himself to be defined any individual projects? The phone stops ringing. I suppose you just go straight in.
First things first, we’d really like to talk to you about Maxi Jazz and the E-Type Boys…
…I’ve got no problem with that! (laughs)
You’re playing in Ronnie Scotts at the end of the year (so congrats on that!) and I guess it’s pretty clear the project is an artist as you said returning to his roots, but could you talk a little bit about what exactly those roots are? Maybe even outside of music the things that have inspired this?
Well, I guess really and truly at heart I’m a 70s kid and a lot of the music I was listening to back then I still find comfort from today oddly enough. I started motor racing in the year 2000…
(Maxi chuckles to himself)
Yeah, it was the most thrilling thing I’ve ever done in my life but very, very nerve wracking mind you.
We’d well believe it…
Oh yeah! Before a race your nerves are just jangling like crazy because you know you’ve got it in the back of your mind that if it goes wrong you might well have had it. So I found myself in my motor home, you know at the track all weekend, listening to the music that I used to listen to when I was a kid, like The Steve Miller Band, JJ Cale and all these bluesy, funky kinds of records that kind of meant something when you were growing up.
Records that felt like they were singing from the heart rather than trying to make a hit record you know? I was listening to all of these records non stop so when I go and pick up my guitar and try to write a song ..I guess that’s just what comes out if you like.
I’m not musically trained so I can’t just pick up and say: “right I’m going to write a jazz song”. I just mess around until hear something that I like and go, “Oh! Let’s see if I can write a riff around that”, and then I usually go off for a while and come back to it and eventually a song comes out. So yeah, I guess that’s just what’s in me.
That’s so wicked to hear. I think we all get that a little with music from back then.
Honestly, it was so authentic. I had old school West Indian parents, right? Kind of like from the last knockings of the Victorian era and they did not talk to their children to much about anything, So yeah, most of the stuff I learned about life that was of use to me I learned through the radio. Because honestly now; there were artists who would sing about when they’d made mistakes, or about how to be brilliant. Like you’re listening to people singing songs like “You’re brilliant, you!” and you’re listening to it everyday. It goes in. For me, my radio was my source of absolutely everything. The only place I went without my little radio, my transistor, was school, because I wasn’t allowed. If my mum asked me to go around to the shops to get some cigarettes for her I’d take the radio with me in case I missed a really good song.
And what kinds of stations were you listening to? Like Pirate radio?
Yeah Pirate at first. Like Radio Luxembourg, Radio Caroline and then Radio One started and I remember listening to Tony Blackburn’s first transmission on Radio One. I think he played The Moves’ ‘Flowers in the Rain’? I think that’s what he played.
Then in 84 I started DJing so I’m out there buying all of those old records that passed me by at the time because I was 10 years old or whatever? So all of those Hendrix records, Traffic records, Cream records, Tower of Power, James Brown all of those records I just went out and bought them!
A still from 'Bitter Love'
Was it easy to get those records?
Oh yeah it was back then – not so much now. When Faithless became popular and we went on tour whatever particularly European city we would arrive into I would go and hunt down the record shops. You’d find gems you’d been looking for years.
And if you did find them in England at all it would be over £100 for them but you’d see them sitting there for three quid each! I mean it was great. I’m a proper collector of albums and records. I just love it. I just had the E Type Boys album test pressing arrive last week and I stuck it on and to be honest as much as I love the CD version I just can’t listen to it after hearing the test pressing on vinyl. It sounds so so good. I’m so excited.
Do you know how many records you have?
I’ve never counted but it’s somewhere between four and five thousand. Yeah it’s like a wall of records. I’ve got a system so I can find whatever I’m looking for in a few minutes but yeah – I told you I was a proper collector! (Laughs).
Do you have one of those ’10 records you couldn’t live without’ lists?
There are about 100,000 records I couldn’t live without! But then I’d become upset about the ones that didn’t make the list!
Looking at The E-Type Boys, there are three guitarists listed in the outfit. I think by anyone’s standards that qualifies as a guitar band?
Haha! Yeah I’m happy to confirm that we’re a guitar band. But I wanted to do something that was completely different to Faithless. Yano the last thing I wanted to here was “Yeah nice new album. It’s not as good as Faithless”.
I guess it’s not even a comparison worth making. Do you think the guitar is the driving force behind Maxi Jazz and the E-Type Boys?
Yeah I think so. I wrote my first song on guitar something like 10 or 11 years ago. Sometime around 2005 then after around four years I woke up one morning and thought, “Hang on, I’ve got eight songs here I actually quite like!”. So I started to develop them. I’ve got a studio in my mum’s house in Jamaica and I spent a few winters there when Faithless had quietened down and thought why not do something like this? Like what I’m doing with the E-Type Boys instead of a hip hop album which is what I would’ve done I think. I mean look, I’d never played guitar on stage, I’d never really thought of myself as being a singer. I had to work really hard at it. I had to learn how to sing and play, then learn how to play without looking at the guitar neck, I’m still learning how to play and dance (laughs) – that’s not easy man!
I’m learning so much new stuff. I’ve got an incredible band. Guitar is primal. You hear someone playing, like really playing from their heart, and you feel it in your heart. It’s like a good trumpet player. There’s just something… it’s like physical too because it’s their breath. There’s just something so primal about it and for whatever reason with electric guitar it’s the exact same thing.
What guitar players influenced you the most?
Steve Millar. I just love his sound. I mean for one thing you can tell straight away that he’s playing a Strat. I’m influenced by Jimmy Hendrix, not to the extent that I’m even thinking about trying to play like him because I always had this idea that no matter how much I loved guitar that I’d never be like Hendrix so I guess I can’t really say I’m influenced by him in that sense but he’s one of my absolute favourites if you get me?
Yeah totally get you! The guy stands on a panicle by himself. There’s probably a lesson in that too about not trying to be other people.
I think so too. Just focus on your own thing and try to enjoy it.
You’re playing in HALO in Galway this Saturday night as Maxi Jazz, how do you separate your performances in dance club settings under two different monikers?
They’ve always been separate in so far as when I send on the contract (or well my lady sends on the contracts) it actually says pretty clearly that Maxi Jazz doesn’t play House Music. Now that’s not entirely true either because there are House records that I really like, I mean I’ll play Faithless records because that’s what some of the people want but I need to make it absolutely clear to everyone that if you’re coming to see Maxi Jazz do not expect two hours of bangin’ Techno because you’ll hear from James Brown to Groove Armada. I mean that’s my bag. It’ll be a very groovy night – I hope I’m not disappointing anybody (laughs)!
Our mag has kind of an obsession with the clubbing scene, it’s health and the significance to the people around it we’d be really interested in your opinion on the scene in the UK in 2016…
I’m actually the last person to ask!
Yeah, I think it’s because I travel quite a bit and end up in dark room with flashing lights for work, so when I get home the last thing I’m thinking about is that environment. Unless it’s some old time DJ that I haven’t heard for years or something then it’s a bit different. I really don’t know with clubbing. I’d been to Ibiza with Faithless a few times and found myself in a nightclub for a couple of hours and just thought to myself everybody’s just playing the same bloody tunes. Each DJ that comes on, it’s the same hit records, it’s all on USB, nobody’s actually DJing anymore.
I think there ought to be a new term for it. You know doing your DJ set in your house, throwing it on to a USB and turning up and getting money for it – I mean you can’t call that DJing. When I started DJing and you wanted to keep a beat looped you needed two copies and a certain amount of skill, you know? I guess it just doesn’t inspire is what I’m trying to say.
Given the focus on the E-Type Boys do you consider Faithless as parked?
To be honest it’s been 22 years since I sat down with the view to writing one song and it’s been an amazing ride, but yeah if you ask anybody if they’d want to perform songs they wrote last week or 22 years ago I think the answer would be the same for everybody.