Max Tundra Interview
For fans of London’s Ben Jacobs, aka Max Tundra, six years is worth the wait. That’s because his new record, Parallax Error Beheads You (P.E.B.Y.) finds him meshing textured electronic music with slyly edited cut-and-paste soundscapes. All of this is then glazed over with catchy lyrics.
Every song on the record has its own life span which, when taken as a collective whole, makes a beautiful record of blippy lushness and lyrical emotion.
KDHX: Why did it take so long (6 years) to record the new album?
MT: Because the music is very layered and complex, and I use very old-fashioned means to create it. Also London is a very distracting city, so it’s very easy to switch off my machines and go out to the cinema, the park, a restaurant, a show, or to see friends and family. And the songs themselves emerged very gradually – one pops into my head every six months or so.
KDHX: Do you make your music with software and computers?
MT: I really don’t! I use a computer from 1985 with a $1 piece of software for sequencing, and everything else is done on real synths, samplers and real instruments. I have absolutely no clue about the current music software and technology scene.
KDHX: Discuss your creative process. How do your songs come about?
MT: Very infrequently. They usually appear in my mind when I wake up in the morning. Then I hurriedly switch on a keyboard or two, and record a basic demo version of the song. Then I think about arrangements over the next few months, deciding whether a song might benefit from trumpet, banjo, drums, piano, bass guitar or whatever. The recording of one song takes six to nine months from start to finish.
KDHX: What is it like touring with Junior Boys?
MT: Wonderful. I was a little nervous at first, as I’d never met them before and it’s a bit like having new housemates for six weeks without getting to interview them first. But it turns out we all have a similar sense of humour and enjoy belching a lot, so it’s pretty cool (and windy) on the bus.
KDHX: Your songs have a uniquely experimental texture but the lyrics seem steeped in traditional pop song writing. Is this intentional?
MT: I think the melodies are rather poppy too, this time round. If the words are less “experimental” than the sounds and the melodies, this is probably in order to lure people in who wouldn’t otherwise listen to my sorts of songs.
KDHX: You have remixed records for Franz Ferdinand, Pet Shop boys and others. How is remixing someone else’s music different than making your own records?
MT: You often get saddled with a lame accapella and have to work around that. But if it’s someone I like, then it’s fun bending my sounds around an already written melody. Quite often my remixes are more poppy and upbeat than the original tracks!
KDHX: Besides being a recording artist you have a visual sense artistically. How does this interplay with the music you create?
MT: It gives me a break from the arduous recording process. Sometimes I think of things to look at, rather than things to listen to. It’s fun combining the two.
KDHX: What inspires you as an artist?
MT: Eating a delicious pasta-based meal, and kissing my beautiful girlfriend.
KDHX: How do you transfer your sound from the Studio to a live show?
MT: With the addition of freaky dancing.
KDHX: Would you like to work with a ‘band’ in the traditional sense?
MT: As long as I got to tell each of them what to play. I actually recorded one of the last ever John Peel sessions in the UK, during which I arranged four existing Max Tundra songs for an eight-piece band with twenty musical instruments. It was fun unpacking my tunes in this way, but it was hard work. A couple of the people involved in that session are too busy to make music these days, which is a shame because they are incredible at it. This might be something I revisit at some point in the future.
KDHX: Do you think there is still a stigma for artists that use heavy synths in their music?
MT: Only among people who are fixated with genres and would never listen to “dance music”. Bands have always used synths, from U2 to Coldplay, they’re just disguised to varying degrees. If all that you can say about a band’s music is that there are heavy synths on it, then that band must be making pretty unexciting music!
KDHX: Are Max Tundra records perceived differently in the UK then in the US?
MT: Hard to say at this stage, but the Americans I’m meeting at these gigs are certainly more openly enthusiastic than their English counterparts! I love the feedback I’m getting on this tour – it’s very exciting.
KDHX: Do you think you have more creative freedom working in the UK then if you worked within the US music industry?
MT: Not necessarily, no. My album is out on a label with UK and US offices, so I’m actually working in both industries. I have to say, the Americans I’m meeting are very open-minded about this record.
KDHX: What is your favorite track on the new record?
MT: Number Our Days.
KDHX: What would you like to do next as an artist?
MT: Sell about 100 times as many records as I currently do. Oh, and find myself on Obama’s iPod.
Max Tundra’s digital release of the single “Which Song” is available through Domino Records Digital website.