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AlexGoldstein on 09/01/2010 at 10:00AM

Max Tundra Interview

Max Tundra in the KEXP record library, photo Creative Commons by-nc-nd Brittney Bush via flickr

 Max Tundra (or Ben Jacobs as he's known around the house) is a London-based electronic producer/multi-instrumentalist whose last album, the brilliant Parallax Error Beheads You (Domino), took six years to make. His music runs the gamut from Scritti Politti-like pop to prog-rock in the vein of Gentle Giant ...with a lot in between.

While he recently announced on Twitter that PEBY will be the last Max Tundra album (say it ain't so!), Jacobs plans to keep producing new music under different pseudonyms, and he's been spinning out great remixes via Soundcloud where you'll also find fabulous covers of Taylor Dane's "Tell it to My Heart" and Daft Punk's "Digital Love", a mash-up of pop superstar Brandy and shoegazers Ride- "Leave Them About Us" (credited to a hilarious combination of the names, Randy Bride), and other goodies.

In 2009, a few months after releasing PEBY, Max Tundra stopped by Talk's Cheap with Jason Sigal on WFMU, delivering a set spanning his two vocal albums, plus a sped-up instrumental cover of The Beatles' "Lady Madonna." The featured track from this set, "Lysine," was originally sung on the album Mastered By Guy At The Exchange by his sister Becky Jacobs (of the band Tunng). Hearing Max Tundra himself perform the song is a treat within itself, as we not only get to hear a new version of the track, but also we get to witness a bit of Tundra's growth as a singer, which he claims took many nights's-worth of karaoke. 

I interviewed Max Tundra via email.

It seems that much of your music is inspired by films; be it in the references to auteurs such as David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Michel Gondry, or the cinematic flair that embodies music videos such as "Ink Me" or "Will Get Fooled Again." What relationship does your musical work have with film? Who were the cinematic influences on those videos?

Those videos was directed by talented film-making friends of mine so I'm not sure what their specific influences were.  However, it is possible that their love of weird cinema drew me to make friends with those particular people.

Your influence section on MySpace lists well over one hundred artists, as varied from Brandy to Black Dice. However, with each of those groups, I can see how they have affected your music in some way. I wanted to ask about Steve Vai, who is placed in between R. Stevie Moore and Fiona Apple. I'm a fan of his first album "Flex-Able" but I feel like after that he became a bit self indulgent. What do you think of his work?

Many of the artists I've listed in that section have only written one or two albums or songs that I love, but an album like "Flex-Able" is so superior to many bands' entire careers that it's worth listing Steve Vai.  (For the record, apart from the StSanders "shreds" clip with the triple-neck guitar, "Flex-Able" is the only thing of his that I like that much.  Too many solos!)  Furthermore, a lot of these so-called "Influences" are just things I like but which I may have discovered after recording my albums, but Myspace doesn't have a section for "Music I Like".

Jim O'Rourke is in your influence section as well, and has recently released the album "The Vistor", which like your record "Parallax Error Beheads You" was recorded completely by the artist and took the better half of a decade to make. I was wondering if you had heard this album and if you had found any parallels to your own album within it.

I haven't heard "The Visitor", but I do love JO'R's other work.  He seems like a lovely fella.

Are there any new artists or albums that have particularly spiked your interest recently?

The J-Pop band Perfume (see http://www.schmooze-blog.com/?p=2880 ) are pretty cool.  They make me think that I could potentially have a successful career producing a Japanese pop band, and not have to resort to doing a boring office job two months after releasing an album.

Run us through a typical day in the life of Max Tundra.

Wake up.  Drink tea.  Eat toast/Marmite.  Feed the cat.  Biscuits (i.e. English "cookies").  Switch on studio.  Biscuits. Check emails.  Waste time on Twitter.  Tea.  Go and buy lunch ingredients from the shops.  Come back and cook them.  Eat lunch whilst watching an episode of something from a DVD (e.g. Upright Citizens Brigade, Arrested Development, The Day Today, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, Look Around You).  Waste time on Twitter.  Waste time on Twitter.  Check emails.  Make phone calls.  Vacuum the hallway.  Feed the cat.  Clean cat's litter tray.  Generally mess around on the internet.  Cook dinner.  Eat dinner.  Watch another DVD episode.  Tea/biscuits.  Wash up.  Switch off studio.  Go to bed.

Your albums have some rather nice packaging and artwork, I'm quite fond of the dove on the keyboard in the insert for "Mastered By Guy At the Exchange." Do you fear that with digital downloading becoming the norm for music listeners, the art of packaging may disappear?

I think so, yes.  Already in the move from LPs to CDs we've lost the joyful experience of holding a 12"x12" cardboard picture whilst listening to an album.  Now all we have are little square icons on an iPod screen, or not even that sometimes (if the person illicitly downloading the album can't be bothered to Google the artwork).  But let's not forget, the music is the main thing - it is important to write an album so special and unique that the artwork doesn't matter. 

You've said a few times that "PEBY" will be the last Max Tundra album, but not the last by Ben Jacobs. What do you have lined up for the future, and what will become of Max!?

I will still be remixing bands as Max Tundra and playing shows as him, although there is a pressure on promoters to only book bands who have a recent album.  At this point I would like to point out that I have never played a North American music festival, and it is my hope that several festival promoters will read this interview and act upon it.  Anyone who leaves their email address at www.maxtundra.com will be the first to hear about my future activities, but I cannot reveal anything at this point.

You've spoken several times in interviews about if you wanted the atmosphere of a particular street at dawn per say on a song on your record, you would go to that street at dawn and record it. I've noticed these atmospheres in tracks like Lysine and Acorns, and I think it's a very interesting idea that is unfortunately not used much. Where did it come from and where have you recorded?

I have a bunch of audio cassettes I have amassed throughout childhood, of me recording various places, I can't remember them all.  However there is a ticking clock on Lysine which was recorded at the British Museum.  It took several visits to nail it, as we kept getting kicked out of the gallery by the security guard.  The background on Acorns is the introduction to my friend Lucy doing some singing at a gig of hers - you can hear her saying hello to the crowd and them laughing at a joke she makes.  I'd also like to point out the sound of a nocturnal street, near the end of "Carbon Cones" on my first album.  You can hear a truck going past at one point.

Max Tundra - "Lysine" (04:20)
Max Tundra - "Lysine" (04:20)
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