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    Maxi Jazz

     

    Maxi Jazz wasn’t going to rush anything – even though, he notes with a typical twinkle in his eye, “as a Gemini, I get bored really, really quickly”.

    So his debut solo album is called Simple.. Not Easy for good reason. “It’s my metaphor for life,” he beams with his trademark charismatic, infectious passion. “Life is really quite simple; it’s just not easy. It takes a world of patience and dedication and determination and bloody-mindedness to get anywhere in this world, and it’s useful to impart that.

    “That’s brought me to the point where I can make this album,” Maxi continues. “Objective number one: I had to love it. That had never happened before – it’s always been, ‘the bass is too loud… can’t hear the guitar… my voice is flat… my voice is too loud.’ That just drives me crazy, and it’ll be three or four years before I can listen to it.

    So,” he smiles, “I wanted to love this as it was done.” But long before he got to that point, Maxi was happy to spend the best part of two decades as singer and focal point with Faithless, “it was about getting across what I firmly believe about life in my lyrics. Rollo gave me that opportunity and platform – and it was an amazing platform. It was about being able to say what I wanted to say, and have people take it onboard.”

    But in 2011, this legendary frontman – a Buddhist who wears his strong faith with cheerful, easygoing enthusiasm – was clear: “After 17 years, I thought: that’s probably enough now”.

    So, five years ago, Maxi stepped out of the spotlight. Having sold over 15 million records with Faithless, and helped them forge a fierce reputation as a live act, the time off was well-earned.

    Maxi took time off and a look at the music that had long moved him. For one thing, he’d been a keen guitar player – a happy amateur – from the age of 17. “Isaac Hayes, Blaxploitation, Seventies car chases, afros, flares – that’s all my era,” says this south Londoner born of Jamaican parentage. “I grew up in that, the most exciting time ever. But at the same time: I just loved the Fender guitar sound of The Steve Miller Band. Then Jimi Hendirix is the coolest guy that’s ever lived. I loved Todd Rundgren. Then, Dennis Brown, Brigadier Jerry, U-Roy – all of this stuff is in there.”

    Eleven years ago, wintering at his mum’s house in Jamaica, unable to sleep due to a severe bout of flu, Maxi spent the wee hours in a creative fever dream, writing a song based on a “four-chord bluesy rock progression” that he called Back To The Bottle. “That was the start of it. I played it to Rollo and Sister Bliss – she wanted to nab it for the next Faithless record, but Rollo wasn’t so keen,” he notes with typical honesty.

    The next flash of inspiration came three years later, poolside in Ibiza. He ran to his chalet, got his guitar, didn’t plug it in but strummed away, then got a pen and paper, “and I wrote the whole thing in 30 minutes. Then I spent the next 90 minutes in the shade with my beer and my spliff, learning how to play and sing it.”

    That was 2008, and the song was Chasing Shadows – a song that begins with a coolly relaxed vibe before breaking into the kind of swagger suggestive of early, British blues boom-era Rolling Stones.

    “I was like, wow, I’ve got two songs… why not write some more? Then I wrote another three over the next year.”

    By the time he’d left Faithless in 2011, then enjoyed his year’s sabbatical, he had the backbone of an album that spoke to many of his formative musical influences, a guitar album. I got turned onto guitar by Jimi Hendrix,” he explains, “then I loved Jimmy Page. I loved the electric guitar, and I knew I was never going to be as good as those guys. He hymns the feelings associated with his relationship with guitars – emotion, excitement – on another new song, Homesick Blues.

    Now that he had the makings of an album, he had to make a band with musicians reflecting his deep – rooted musical interests. So Maxi called Chris Jerome, a keyboard player with whom he’s been working for 32 years. “He’s my musical right-hand man. If Chris likes the songs, we’re good to go.”

    Then he called Basil Isaac, a percussion maestro he’s known for 30-odd years; bass player Al Countouris, another musical compadre of three decades’ standing; and vocalist LSK and guitarist Jake Libretto. The other members – Azadeh (vocals), Chris Dover (guitar), Martin Carling (drums) – are all “friends of my friends”.

    The result: a band of brothers with a soul-deep connection. The name: The E-Type Boys, a nod to Maxi’s love of cars and his passion for British history.

    “When I was growing up I admired the Bentley Boys, these 1930s boys who’d race huge supercharged, seven-litre Bentleys round Monza. So when I was thinking of a name for the band, that idea seemed perfect. So the name ‘The E-Type Boys’ was inspired by that.

    “There’s a really nice vibe in this band,” he adds. “We all love being together and hanging out. So when we do start playing, translating that vibe to a room-full of people isn’t hard at all.”

    Before getting anywhere near a recording studio, Maxi and The E-Type Boys played together – in every sense of the term – for months on end, locking into each other, locking into Maxi’s songs, locking into a groove. “Only then would we record the album,” he says. “ I only wanted to make the record after everybody was completely down with the music and the words.”

    Then, with Maxi in the producer’s seat and veteran engineer Phil Brown (The Who, Traffic, Hendrix) as his sonic wingman, the band went into north London’s iconic Rak Studios to record the album. Then, having played a run of blistering shows supporting Faithless on their 2015 20th anniversary shows, they went back into Rak and re-cut the entire the album in two days. “There was nothing wrong with the original version,” he shrugs. “We were just better after those shows. We went back into Rak and smashed it.”

    The first taster of Simple.. Not Easy is a twin release, Mass Destruction and Bitter Love. The latter features an especially soulful vocal from Maxi and echoes of Shuggie Otis and Rodriguez. The former is a dub re-rub of one of Faithless’s greatest tunes.

    “That kinda happened by accident,” he admits. “We started out doing a live version of the Faithless track We Come 1, but almost a country version with slide guitar, and we did it just for fun, almost as a quick intro to Homesick Blues. We did it at a festival, and the whole crowd went mental. I realised then you can’t run away from the past.”

    When it came to considering revisiting a Faithless track on the album, Maxi understands that fans might expect a new version of Insomnia, “but that’s too obvious. Mass Destruction has more resonance for me, and to do it as a reggae thing made complete sense because the band can play reggae really, really well. We did it one afternoon in a rehearsal studio, and the very next gig we played it at, people went barmy crazy!” he hoots. “I thought, ‘OK, that works, that’s a staple.’”

    Another album stand-out is the epic closing track, Like A Samurai. Maxi notes with poetic eloquence that there’s a reason Like A Samurai is the last track, and there’s a reason it’s epic.

    “It’s right at the end of the record because it has one of the most important things to say,” he begins. “It’s really important that human beings learn to love themselves. As far as Buddhist belief goes, one’s external environment can only ever be a reflection of one’s internal environment. If I believe the world is dark and dangerous and difficult, my world can only be the same. If, conversely, I believe the world is beautiful and full of fantastic people, my life will be fantastic. It’s really important that human beings learn that inside them is some incredible shit, and to rely upon that feeling”.

    “So Like A Samurai is saying, (a) you’re amazing, and (b) don’t let anybody tell you any different. That’s what the lyrics are about: ‘Let my demons attack, I look them dead in the eye, and stand firm like a samurai…’ You have to be like that sometimes in life. Because what you’ve put out in your world, that’s what you get back”.

    “That’s my whole raison’ d’être,” he concludes with a 60-watt grin. “Otherwise, fuck it, I just go and drive racing cars.”

    Much as he’d love to do that, Maxi knows that a band called The E-Type Boys is the only way he’ll be getting anywhere near anything to do with fast cars any time soon.

    “I’ve been completely liberated. This band is my next ten years. I’m going to give it absolutely everything. Over time you realise there’s only one way to do things, and that’s fully.”

    Like the man says, things are simple.. not easy.