As the vibrant frontman of Faithless, Maxi Jazz provided thousands of fans with dance music influenced by almost every other genre.
The global star and poignant wordsmith now returns to the stage with a new venture – Maxi Jazz and the E-Type Boys: a nine-piece jazz, blues, funk and reggae ensemble which lives up to his name.
And while their sound has a relaxed vibe at heart, its initial conception stemmed from Maxi’s life in the fast lane.
“I really didn’t realise how much this music affected me until a few years ago when I started racing cars,” says Maxi, speaking to MM during a break from rehearsals ahead of his show at Band on the Wall in Manchester.
“It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done. I spent the entire weekend full of adrenaline, so I made mixtapes of music which I knew were going to calm me down.
“Rather than hip hop or reggae, it was that old sounding music – from J.J. Cale to Sly and the Family Stone – that took me out of myself to the point where I wasn’t worried about the race anymore.”
The 59-year-old acknowledges that the band and their sound parallels what his fans would’ve expected from him next, defying even his own expectations.
“Once I’d decided I was going to break from Faithless [in 2013], the next obvious thing for me to do was to make a hip hop album and I was in preparation for that.
“But I woke up one morning and realised that I had six songs that I’d written on guitar which I thought were good, so I spent the winter in Jamaica at my Mum’s house and she allowed me to build a studio in the basement.
“Suddenly I had ten songs, so I played them to my [E-Type Boys] keyboard player, Chris [Jerome], who’s a bit of a musical professor – he really liked them and here we are now.
“It’s all happened so quickly and it’s so different from anything that I’ve done before.”
Maxi titled the band’s debut album ‘Simple…Not Easy’, which he explains has a double meaning for him: both musical and philosophical.
“I played guitar a little bit in Faithless but it was always just two chords and nothing particularly difficult – most of my own songs have at least nine chords: I like simple sounding songs which aren’t necessarily simple.
“But I think it’s also a mantra of mine for life. The golden rule is ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. It makes total sense – it’s a really simple rule to think about but is very difficult to apply.”
The band is formed from a cross-fertilisation of talented musicians within Maxi’s home turf of South London, both old friends and new.
He explains that having perfect harmony within the band translates to perfect harmony on stage.
“There’s a really good vibe between the nine of us. It’s almost a football team,” he laughs. “But everyone gets on really well.
“I always feel that if you’ve got a really nice vibe between the musicians before the instruments even come out of their cases, then transmitting that to a room full of people when you play is really not that difficult.
“Everyone feels proud to take [this album] out and play it to people. Building [the band] up from scratch, recording an album and going on tour has been exciting for everybody.
“Everyone’s confident about it and there’s no trepidation involved. All we’ve got to do is just keep on doing what we’re doing.”
For their forthcoming shows, the band will be accompanied by a further four-piece horn section called the Kick Horns, which will see a total of 13 people on stage, but Maxi takes the orchestration of such large numbers in his stride.
“For some reason, I’m able to handle it. I think that with a South London upbringing you can only take so much before you start cursing people and telling them how to do things and when,” he jokes.
Last summer, just as Maxi was ready to launch his new project with the E-Type Boys, he received a phone call from his Faithless bandmates, requesting his essential assistance with a series of 20th anniversary shows.
“When they asked me if I would go back out on the road my first response was that I had my own band now so I couldn’t spare the time.
“But they said to bring them along, so I went out on the road with [both the E-Type Boys and] Faithless. We did eight or nine shows, playing to tens of thousands of people.
“They say that one gig is worth a hundred rehearsals so we were eight or nine hundred rehearsals better off.
“I’d pretty much finished cutting ‘Simple…Not Easy’ [before we left],” he recalls.
“But when we came back the band was ten times better than it was before, so we went straight back into the studio for two days and recut the whole album, which is the basis of what you hear now.
“It’s not that we’d made a bad album the first time, it was that the energy and confidence had grown.
“We’d played these completely unknown songs to a world of people who were there to hear [other things] and had totally charmed them because there wasn’t any one song that sounded anything like the one which preceded it.”
The band starts their tour with three nights at the legendary Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London before showcasing their material in Manchester.
“The drummer in Faithless, Andy [Treacey], is a Mancunian. He said he’d played [at Band on the Wall] many times and that it’s absolutely fantastic.
“Particularly at the beginning, you want to play really nice venues that have got some history and some heritage – that people go to because they like the place rather than it being the brand new venue they’ve just built across town.
“It’s a shame that a lot of great places are being closed down,” he reflects.
“There are loads of places I used to play back in the day that were fabulous but now they’re completely gone, so I particularly want to be playing [these places] right now – those little gems hidden away in Manchester and all over the country.”
After the arena tours and high profile festivals Maxi became accustomed to with Faithless, this tour will see Maxi back in the cherished settings of his early career with fresh excitement.
“I’ve been used to intimate shows my whole life,” he says. “I had 20 years with Faithless going some big shows, but I’ve been playing music since I was 17, so most of the shows I’ve played have been really little.
“The band make my songs sound better than I could’ve ever imagined and so, as a result of that, I’m utterly enthusiastic about playing them to as many people as I possibly can.
“[This tour is] going back to my roots on many levels, but at the same time, it’s a brand new thing – I feel like it’s ‘our band’ rather than ‘my band’ with a bunch of hired guys. This is our sound.”
Maxi Jazz and the E-Type Boys play Band on the Wall on Tuesday December 6.