"Drink six to eight glasses of water per day” – there’s advice that’s simple enough, right? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – again, a pretty simple concept also known as “The Golden Rule” of life. But while both of these ideas seem simple enough to grasp, most of the time they’re far from easy to apply in everyday life. That’s just the nature of things, according to the frontman of dance legends Faithless and leader of ‘chunky-funk’ outfit Maxi Jazz & The E-Type Boys, Maxi Jazz (real name Maxwell Fraser). Naming the latter’s debut album after what he considers “a metaphor for life”, Maxi is currently over the moon about the record’s overwhelming success on the day of its release – and it’s only late afternoon.
“A lot of things sound simple but they’re hard to do,” he reiterates. “The interesting thing about these things is that a lot of the time they really are all of those things that help you to make a success out of your life. The things that help you be the best person you can be or make a success of your life – things that just help you progress – they’re always these really simple concepts that are absolute devil’s work to try and apply. So the album title Simple...Not Easy is kind of there for that reason; it’s to remind people that some of the greatest concepts are simple, but not easy to do.”
What has been incredibly easy to do, on the other hand, is achieving enormous success with every project Maxi has taken on thus far. With electronic icons Faithless, he managed to build a rich legacy that lasted for two decades, and if his new project with the E-Type Boys is anything to go by so far, everything the man touches turns to gold. To say the singer is thrilled would be an understatement given that Maxi strongly equates his musical output with his very essence.
“At about 3pm today we got an email from our record company telling us that Amazon are having to re-order CD copies because the album has pretty much sold out,” he enthuses. “It’s just going out so quickly that they’re telling us it’s sold out already – and the day hasn’t even finished! I mean, you can get it on iTunes too but it’s just amazing. All of our plans from now on were dependent on what would happen from today, so it’s been really good news. You always hope that people hear it, love it, go out and buy it immediately because they’re just so entranced by it that they can’t resist and can’t live another day without it,” he laughs, “but you have to please yourself first... You want to be able to walk into a record shop and hear a song and be like: ‘What’s this?!’, and it’s you and it sounds great! You have to love it and you cannot care what people think. But it’s hard, obviously.”
That old saying – about people and opinions – it still stands, Maxi claims. In fact, because of it artists must make it a priority to value their own thoughts above anybody else’s. Once again, a simple concept and a sensible piece of advice that’s often times almost impossible to accept. As he explains, your music represents you and therefore you must be happy with it first and foremost. People will always judge others’ efforts and one man’s garbage is another’s treasure, so the only thing that matters at the end of the day is what you think of you... Yep, simple.
“There will be opinions but I just don’t care,” Maxi states. “To me, you have to trust your own genius. The ultimate goal should be conquering the world! So we’ll start with conquering home at the earliest possible opportunity to get a booking agent and sort out a UK and European tour. We’re not going to stop until we’ve done that! To a large extent, when you’re putting out an album or when you’re putting on a gig, you walk into a big room full of people who are all holding out to see what you’ve got – you’re literally exposing yourself! And, you know, if they don’t like what you’re bringing, you literally feel like they just don’t like you. It’s just the nature of the beast, isn’t it? So thank God people obviously do like it! It’s not the motivating factor though; I mean, you better come out with something that you’re going to be okay with playing every night... Night after night.”
Same goes for who you play it with, he adds. For that reason, personality has always come before the instruments when it came to every collaboration he’s been involved in over the years, as he proudly declares. Spending ten hours a day crammed on a tour bus with a bunch of guys for the next six months? You better make sure they’re cool...
“I’d say 40 percent of the E-Type Boys are people I’ve known for 30 years or more,” he reveals. “I’ve literally known them since the early 90s. And if they’re not people I’ve known for as long as that, they are friends of the people who I have known for that long. So it’s a very lovely vibe, quite family-like, we all enjoy each other’s company, and that’s all that matters. That matters the most to me, actually. With this band, when we get together – even before the instruments come out – I just love seeing the people! It’s just fun and it’s an amazing moment we have together and there is this whole feeling like it’s us against the world, you know? ‘Right, we’re doing this, we’re making this, we don’t care what anyone else thinks, it’s about us.’ So the biggest prerequisite for my band is you must be nice. If you ain’t nice, I don’t care how well you can play, I don’t mind how talented or how much of a musical genius you are – if you ain’t nice, I ain’t spending the next decade on a bus with you.”
Prerequisite number two is a genuine understanding and love of the music. Sure, Maxi Jazz & The E-Type Boys may be very much Maxi’s baby, but if the rest of the band isn’t feeling it or doesn’t get it, it just isn’t going to work out, he laments. Emphasising the importance and application of “one mind, one heart” from the rehearsal room, to the recording studio, to the live stage, it’s absolutely vital that the collective shares Maxi’s enthusiasm and affection for the aptly-named brand of “chunky funk”. Otherwise, what’s the point?
“I had the songs more or less together, then I got the band together,” Maxi reflects on his early plans for the project. “I wanted to get this band to rehearse for months and months until everybody knew the songs inside-out. I wanted them to feel the music. I could have just got someone, anyone, to come in and play the songs and record them and all that – but I didn’t want that. I wanted the people in this band to play the songs with feeling like they felt the music, loved the music, and wanted to be a part of the music... So we rehearsed for a year! Then we did a gig and it was so good that we started to take the band very seriously and decided to make the album. At one point we were on the road with Faithless and we came back so much better from that experience and being in front of those crowds. We just gave them the whole album on stage, we just ran through it all, and to be honest, that one gig was worth a hundred rehearsals – we came back at least 800 rehearsals better off for it in the end!”
Funnily enough, the best part of the experience has been the nerves that come with it all. That’s right, nervousness. It’s how you know you’re alive and doing what you’re supposed to be doing, according to Maxi, and if you’re not nervous about doing what you love, well, then you’re just not doing it right.
“Being on stage with these guys reminds us all of why we started doing music in the first place,” he offers. “With these guys, especially when we first started, you had no idea what was going to happen – none at all. It’s still like that. It’s all about the performance – we’re still new to a lot of people, so can we charm the audience? Can we get them to come along on this journey with us? It’s unbelievable, I do get nervous! Also, I was doing Faithless for so long that the surprise sort of gets lost. You’re there at the show, you’re in that moment where you’re standing on the stage just before you go on, and you sort of already know what’s going to happen because you’re about to perform in front of thousands of people who are paying lots of money to see you. You know how it’s going to go. I’m not blasé about it at all, it’s been brilliant, but Faithless has done it a few times and you know what’s going to happen every time.”
With more than 15 million records sold and countless tours that saw them play pretty much every corner of the globe over the last 20 years, Faithless set the bar for electronic music with massive hits like ‘Insomnia’, ‘God Is A DJ’ and ‘We Come 1’ to name just a few. But in 2005 something important happened, and it changed the direction in which the singer’s career was heading. He picked up a guitar. And he hasn’t put it down since.
“The first guitar song I wrote was in 2005, in Jamaica, and it’s on this album,” he says of the track ‘Back To The Bottle’. “The next one I wrote was in 2008 in Ibiza and is called ‘Chasin’ Shadows’; it’s also made it onto the album. I wasn’t taking it seriously at first, but then I was like: ‘Wow, I’ve got two guitar songs, oh now I’ve got three, four, five...’ Suddenly, I’ve got six or seven and I’m thinking; ‘Hmmm, this is going somewhere’. So I made a point of writing some more, and before I knew it I had ten. Then I realised I wanted to share it with people, I was like: ‘I wanna get a band together now.’”
It wasn’t hard, really. Consisting of bassist Alexis Countouris, keyboardist Chris Jerome, percussionist Basil Isaac, drummer Martin Carling, vocalist Leigh Kenny [LSK], blues and rock guitarists Chris Dover and Jake Libretto – and not to mention the girl in the E-Type Boys, singer/songwriter Azadeh Akhbari – the line-up alone paints a pretty clear picture of what Maxi’s project sounds like. Perhaps ‘band’ is the wrong word to use here. On stage especially, think one huge party instead.
“We were thinking about that some time ago,” Maxi recalls, “about what to call the album, and none of us could think of a genre for the longest time! We don’t sit comfortably within any genre. Maybe within two or three different ones, but there is definitely no one genre for what we do so we just kind of function as a collective of all these sounds... It’s funk with some chunkiness and blues – so it’s chunky funk. There is a lot of freedom about that too. It’s the same thing that makes me like jazz music, the journey of going somewhere you have no idea where you will end up. Jazz takes you to some places where you all of a sudden find yourself going: ‘Hold on, how the hell did we get here?!’ and I love that about it. There is inspiration in that. The best part is that people are willing to follow you through the choruses, the verses, all of it, and you’re all just going on this adventure together. It takes courage and you’re risking a major fuck-up on the stage for the sake of just following a feeling, but I respect that about it.”
Adventure, risk, freedom – what more could you want from a live show? The good news is it’s what you get pretty much every time the E-Type Boys get together for a gig and, according to the singer, it seems to blow the minds of those unfamiliar with Maxi’s previous output as well as those in the know. Watching the audience’s faces is half the fun, he claims.
“When you look out at the crowd in front of you, when you see their faces, it’s always like: ‘Oh, what? What is this? This isn’t what I was expecting’,” Maxi explains. “And that goes for people that know and love Faithless and are coming to see us, and the people who have never heard any of my music. I think mostly it’s just because none of the songs we do sound like the one that preceded it, so that always keeps people on their toes. You get to surprise them each time. It’s handy when you don’t want to lose the crowd, you just keep them guessing as to what’s coming next. It really could go anywhere. “
It is, after all, the sign of a true Gemini, Maxi reveals.
“It’s my sign,” he laughs. “We get bored very fast, I get bored with music quickly. If it has no power to hold my attention, it’s no good to me. It doesn’t have to be any genre in particular, it just has to have feeling and be inspirational. I hope that listening to the body of work that I leave behind people will find some inspiration from it too. I hope that I’ve spread the idea that a person as an individual is so gifted, the only trick is accessing your gifts. You have to believe that you have genius and that’s the only thing I’ve been trying to say the whole time with my music – believe in yourself. Your genius comes to you through your intuition and every human born has genius in them. There is a Faithless song called ‘Tweak Your Nipple’ which goes: ‘Welcome once again to the ceremony / Briefly, this is my testimony / I see genius in everybody / To perceive it in yourself is the difficulty’. If you can hear that and understand the message, then I’ve achieved what I’ve wanted to achieve.”
Maxi Jazz & The E -Type Boys’ new single, 'Bitter Love', is out on 2 September 2016, followed by the album Simple... Not Easy out 9 September, both on Man In The Moon Records. For more information about the band, visit their official website.