Principal members Maxi Jazz, Sister Bliss and Rollo have been concocting a combination of politically infused electronica/trip-hop for more then a decade. 6 albums and more then a few compilations later and despite previous speculations of a split it has just been announced, on the release of their latest album, that Faithless are going to call is quits! This is an interview done with Faithless member Maxi Jazz, whilst he was in a car on his way to a gig in Norwich (UK) some time ago. It is to date one of the interviews that I enjoyed the most…
During the years Faithless have, despite being very prevalent in the mainstream, managed to avoid becoming overtly commercial. Although their first release ‘Salva Mea (Save Me)’, on its 1st release, achieved nominal success it was 2nd release ‘Insomnia’ that propelled them into the limelight. It is still considered by many as one of the greatest dance tracks of all time. Initially played in clubs across Europe Maxi explains, “It seems to me the fact that people were so in love with Insomnia,” having discovered it on the European club scene, “that they bought it in their droves when they came home from their summer holidays, by then it was actually a year after we’d put it out”. Insomnia was again released in 2005, almost 10 years after, to notable success, which just goes to show that it is still the classics that get you grooving.
“After that initial flash of attention we went on to the second album ‘Sunday 8PM‘, but always said that nobody was going to go and buy it and it was just an aberration. Then, well everybody went and bought that as well, and it was just shocking to us, really properly shocking, we were scratching our heads and said what is going on? So we went back on tour for another two years, on the road everyone was telling us we were fantastic and we’re thinking, “are they mad?” Then the third album and you’d think we actually had had our half an hour of success, we’d had a good 15 minutes more than we were due, so we said we’ll keep our feet on the ground, nobody’s going to buy the third album, let’s just be cool. And you know what? They went and bought the third album (Outrospective) and forced us out on the road again for another two years and so that’s how it’s been carrying on…”
Asking whether Maxi likes the touring aspect, he responds with a little revulsion, “No. I really can’t bear touring. I really love doing gigs. What with the travelling and being away from your family and your friends and doing the normal stuff that makes you a normal person, it’s very tedious and tends to put you off after a while. If you want the absolute truth! Living out of a suitcase for three months at a time, you know… When we put out an album with exception to this time, but previously, when an album has been released, about a week to two weeks later you’ll get your itinerary for the up-coming tour and it’s 18 months long. So there you are in September 2004 and you’ve got everywhere you’re going to be over the next 18 months till June 2006 and you can look at that and think – when you first do it, obviously the first time, you look at that itinerary and you think fantastic! You think these countries that you’re going to visit, amazing cities that you’ve only ever previously read about or seen on the telly, and you think amazing. But of course you’re only there for about 15 hours. And when you get there you’re totally knackered and you want to save all your energy for the show so you don’t see shit. After a while you say, I’m bored with it.” Interjecting, surely the comfort level has got better over the years; Maxi continues, “Oh that’s undeniably true. The first time we went on tour, sure, we were 10 years younger and full of adrenaline and wonder and marvel and sure, after you’ve been doing it for a few years and you’ve got a few more years under your belt, they can’t fob you off, nice hotel room thank you very much, three star . . . make sure that everything is cool. It is very tiresome after a while, when you’ve been on the road for three months, it can be extremely tedious and hard on the body, especially if you’re doing a lot of airplane flights, so it actually makes sense to look after yourself because you won’t get to the end of the tour with all the energy that you need and I personally have a real bad feeling about playing 80% of the show to people who’ve paid 100% of hard earned money to come and see it. So that’s another reason why we try and take things a little easy too” Needless to say that doesn’t mean that there’s no parties when I asked, Maxi adding “I wouldn’t say that that’s exactly true, perhaps not as much hard core partying!”
In 2005 Faithless released their first compilation of own material. Forever Faithless – The Greatest Hits which went on to be the best selling dance album of 2005. Asking how comfortable they were putting out an album under the ‘Greatest Hit’s’ label Maxi responds positively, “Well it’s interesting. The record company wanted us to put that record out the year before. They said, “You know, house is not selling any more, and rap and R&B is the new house music and we’re not entirely sure that we could sell an album of yours so how about we do a greatest hits?” And Blissy was just like, “over my dead body. We have untold things left to say and we will do another album and you’re going to bloody well like it”, and Dave [I imagine record company exec] said, “Oh OK then”, so we put out No Roots. After that we then said fine, and we put out the greatest hits record. You have no idea really, but because all the singles were going to be on it, you think it should do reasonably well, but for it to do as well as it did… that’s was incredible. I not a big numbers man but what I do remember was it was the best selling record of that year” Maxi adding humorously, “but we are really old and boring and out of date!”
Moving onto the subject of criticism Maxi interjects with a tale about a Dubai journalist he was doing an interview with who’d read a Guardian article which had said something along the lines that Maxi was, “becoming a parody of himself and was nothing more than a newspaper seller impersonating Victor Meldrew”.
The last album ‘To All New Arrivals’ released in November 2006 was not well received in a majority of circles, how does the band react to this type of criticism, Maxi responds “Well, as a band, all different, I couldn’t give a toss, actually I agree with a lot of what was said. We were totally lied to by our record company, plus Blissy was pregnant, so we had two deadlines, and they both had to be met, and it therefore didn’t really give us as much time. We would normally like to sit with something, generally to make something great, there’s really a lot of downtime where you sit with what you’ve done and you put it away for two weeks and you come back to it and you listen to it and you say oh, shit! Change this, this, this, this and this. We just didn’t have the time to do that. There is a lot of good stuff on the album, but a lot of good stuff is not on it that would’ve been there had we had another two or three months. There is stuff that is on it that would’ve been used, I think, had we had another couple of weeks to just sit with it. 10 years ago we were being told that we were the most important band in the country since Primal Scream, I thought what a load of toss, and now I’m being told that I’m likening myself to Victor Meldrew, which is just as much bollocks as the previous statement. The thing is that you never, ever, ever make music for anybody other than yourself, when you write it, that’s when you feel you need to play it to somebody else. So, given that we’ve been lucky enough that people have liked what we’ve been doing for the last 11 years, if we’ve managed to bring out a record that people don’t like particularly, or don’t like as much, what do you want? I’m not going to fall down and beg for it. “There is certainly no want or need on Maxi’s part to have to defend it. “Personally would’ve really liked it a lot more, I think, had we had more time. There are bits of that record that I find are not nearly where we could’ve taken it, and that’s hurtful on a personal level. You telling me that you think it’s shit won’t affect me at all, you could just as easily think it’s brilliant, but I still have my own opinion of it and that’s not gonna change no matter what anybody says. So as far as I’m concerned, people can say what they like, say it’s my style of rapping, whatever it is, if that’s your opinion, that’s cool. I know when it’s good and when it ain’t. It’s not a bad record but it isn’t where we could’ve been, so for me that’s just where that is. We had a deadline; we had to get the record finished before Sister gave birth. We managed it, but you know, I think that things do suffer if you rush them, it was a definite rush job.”
Renowned for being politically outspoken Maxi considers his views more topical then political, stating that he doesn’t believe politics are a force of change rather that it’s up to the attitudes of people changing. Quoting Maxi himself he’d once said, “the biggest problem that humanity faces is that individual people don’t know who and what they are” explaining he continues “That’s exactly the truth, nothing more or less than that, don’t even talk to me about climate change, global warming or any of the big issues, endangered species, that are facing the planet right now. Because, while mankind can’t recognise himself, then there’s absolutely nothing to be done in saving the planet. Mankind has to save himself first and then realise that he is part of the environment; in fact, the environment wouldn’t exist were there not life to put within it. That really is the equation.”
It is a deep rooted belief for Maxi, “the joy that you get as a human being from just giving your time to other human beings, is a joy that actually you can’t get anywhere else.” Asking whether he feels he is doing this through his music Maxi responds, “yes is the simple answer to that, and I think that the proof rather than being just my opinion is the fact that here we are 10 years later and 10 years older and I believe with all my heart that if two years from now, without having put out a single record or a note of music, that if we were to announce a tour, that within days the whole thing would be sold out. I think it’s because of what people get from the experience of the ‘Faithless vibe’. When you go to a gig and you are moved to just scream, throw your head back and throw your arms in the air and just let go with joy, the reason is because you’re watching somebody being creative right in front of you, and in the same way that somebody who’s in a good mood stimulates your good mood, somebody who’s being creative right in front of you stimulates your creativity, and creativity feels nice. It’s that that makes you want to scream and throw your head back and go yeah!”
The Faithless live show is big on reputation and they can certainly credit some of their fans as ‘collections’ from stray festival goers, stumbling upon the shows. Credited with an electrifying stage presence what’s the secret? “We work very hard on the music and on the presentation of the music, quite a lot of the songs that we do are very, very much, very heavily reworked from the album version because we want to – well they’re two different arenas and we want to try and use what works on stage. I mean, if it doesn’t work on stage then basically people are going to get bored, we work very, very hard to make sure that the dynamics of each individual song and then further than that, the dynamic of the entire set, is powerful and strong and functional.”
At around this point a Ford Escort Mark I in racing colours flies past the vehicle he’s a passenger off and Maxi gushes with excitement, “God that was beautiful! Did you see that?” A “car freak” in his own words Maxi races Porches for fun. Not something that had immediately come to mind whilst talking for the past half hour. Nevertheless, cars and all, Maxi is an astute honest individual and before parting we speak briefly about the Bombs video, which had caused some minor controversy, yet is worthy of a mention to all you MTVers as you may not have seen it and it is nothing short of superb, before descending into the uselessness of politicians, the questionable reality of democracy in our day and age and then a minor reflection in a far from positive manner of celebrity based media like Heat magazine (UK). Trip-hopper or not there is plenty to soak up from Maxi’s lyricism and if nothing else this interview proved it’s all heart.