He’s best known as the frenetic frontman of dance music titans Faithless, but Maxi Jazz will be busy doubling up this summer.
Not only will he be playing that familiar role at festivals across the UK and Europe – including headlining the main stage at The Isle of Wight Festival next Friday – but he’ll also be performing with his own, new band, Maxi Jazz and The E-Type Boys the night before in The Big Top.
Faithless had announced they were splitting in 2011, but Maxi reunited with Sister Bliss and studio mastermind Rollo in 2015 for a 20th anniversary remix album, and a string of live dates.
And this summer they’ve agreed to play a few more dates.
Maxi took time out from rehearsing with his new band for quick chat with WOW247.
This appearance is Faithless’ second headlining spot on the island – they last topped the festival’s bill back in 2005. ‘It was a good while ago, but I remember I really enjoyed it. I know it’s not the same site, but it’s the same place, there’s so much history for rock music and festivals there.
It’s like a voyage of discovery for me – and the rest of the band too, everybody’s enjoying how it’s evolvingMaxi Jazz
‘It’s a great pleasure for me to play there.’
But this time, he’s not just playing with the headliners, as the laidback MC reveals, the E-Type Boys project has been one with a long gestation.
‘The songs came over a matter of years.
‘I wrote the first in 2005 and then I didn’t write the next one until 2008. It wasn’t like a big thing, it was like I found these chords and I had a little something to write about, and over the next few years I had a few more things to write about.’
With Faithless seemingly coming to an end in 2011, he says: ‘I was fleshing out these songs, developing them with choruses and middle eights, etc, then I thought to myself, why not do this?
‘It would be a real challenge, I’d never done complicated songs like this before on stage where I played guitar and sung with a band. I’ve been a rapper for the last 30-odd years, so it was like, this is something brand new, let’s give it a shot.’
Has he found this new way of performing difficult, then?
‘Completely, you have to get your confidence up and that takes a bit of time. I had to learn how to sing and play guitar at the same time – if you’ve got a microphone in front of you, you can’t be constantly looking at the neck to make sure your fingers are in the right place.
‘I realised after doing a couple of gigs with the guys that I’d also have to learn how to dance and play.
‘I’m telling you now, if you see anyone on stage and they’re jumping around all over the place and they’re still hitting those right chords, they’ve worked at that. That takes practice. It’s still a work in progress for me!’
The E-Types did their first gig in January last year, and as Maxi puts it, ‘we absolutely murdered it.’
So they decided to strike while the iron was hot and recorded the album that spring. Maxi was champing at the bit, but the Faithless machine was coming back to life for the 20th anniversary album, and some shows were in the offing.
‘My take on it was, I can’t give you three months, I’ve got this band I’m trying to get up to speed, and they were like, “Well ok, bring your band too”. And I said, yeah, that’ll work.
‘We did seven or eight really good festivals over the course of the summer. And when we got back we were three or four times the band we were, so we went back to RAK Studios and recut the entire album in two days.
‘We did six songs in the Tuesday, four on the Wednesday, recorded it all to tape, all of us playing together in the room.’
Maxi knows there’s still an audience for Faithless, and while his focus is more on the new band, he realised that he could use the situation to his advantage. Every time Faithless play a festival, you’ll find The E-Types somewhere on the bill.
‘It’s going to sound terrible, I don’t mean it to, but were it not for the fact that it really helps the E-Type Boys for the exposure, then I probably wouldn’t be doing the gigs.
‘If the band weren’t ready, then I would be staying home here rehearsing them and working them hard until they are. It’s very much a package.
‘I know you guys want to do some shows, but you have to sort my band out,’ he chuckles.
‘It’s a double shift this summer, it’s going to be hard work, but I’m looking forward to it.’
But joking aside, he says relationships are good in the Faithless camp, and he relishes performing the old hits like God Is A DJ and Insomnia.
‘We’ve had quite a few meetings over the last few weeks, and Bliss is my darling friend, they have no problem with it, it’s just that I have this new thing that is really exciting and thrilling and scary as well.
‘It’s like going onstage and pulling your pants down and saying: “What do you think?”
‘Anyone will tell you it’s way more thrilling performing songs that you wrote last week, rather than songs that you wrote 17, 18 years ago.
‘I never have a problem with performing any of those songs, never, because you’ve got a crowd in front of you and there’s all that energy and vibe, so it’s always, always, always good.
‘I’ll always get up for a Faithless gig, That’s not a problem, we have the best fans in the world, bar anybody.
‘That said, when I’m backstage at (renowned Edinburgh music venue) King Tut’s and it only holds 150, and we’re about to play our first gig outside London, it’s like: “Wow, come on!”
‘Your mouth is dry, you’re nervous. and you’re hoping you don’t make a mistake. It’s all that stuff that happens right at the beginning of something, like a new relationship – it’s rose-tinted spectacles, the whole deal.’
And he says the gigs they’ve played so far have gone down well with the Faithless faithful.
‘The very first gig we did, we were supporting Faithless in Luxembourg, we were on at 7.30 and I think Faithless were on at 10.30. It was a big auditorium and I’m saying to the boys, it’s a 4,500 capacity auditorium, but do not expect to see more than 100 people because they’ll all be coming later to see Faithless. So don’t be upset about it.
‘We rocked up on stage and there’s 4,500 people at 7.30, three hours early to check the band out. And they got it from bar one, they really enjoyed it.’
With a line-up consisting of his old friends and their friends, and Maxi’s influences ranging from The Who to John Lee Hooker via Funkadelic and Sugar Minott, they certainly don’t sound like the house/dance-oriented mega-selling Faithless.
‘It’s like a voyage of discovery for me – and the rest of the band too, everybody’s enjoying how it’s evolving. We have a great vibe in there, everyone’s properly enthusiastic and they’re all great players.’
Once festival season is out of the way, he’s hoping to get the album out – he says there’s already been a fair bit of record label interest, and then they’ll hit the road for their own tour.
Is there likely to be another Faithless album?
‘Now’s probably not the time to ask. Now, I’ve got this brand new thing and I want to see how far I can take it. Right now, it’s not high on my list of priorities, let’s say that.’
n The Isle of Wight Festival runs from June 9-12. Camping tickets are £195 plus fees. Go to isleofwightfestival.com