Maxi Jazz has had a productive afternoon, being interviewed about Faithless’s new album The Dance, imbibing champagne and smoking. He wears the demeanour of a relaxed man. Sister Bliss, on the other hand, is an animated chatterbox.
“There’s definitely a vibe that we wanted to do a record for the fans this time,” she says. “It feels like a record that’s really connecting with people genuinely, not a pop product. That’s how the biggest Faithless tracks have reached out, through the clubs and stuff. By that I mean it’s quintessentially Faithless, and not like any record out there really – it’s a bit gritty as well.”
She has much to say about individual tracks too. “What I like about Not Going Home is that there is a sonic wall, and it sounds like a rock track which is quite exciting, because when we’re going to promote it at festivals it will take on another new life. It feels like it lends itself to that context, as well as in a club. Something like We Come 1, which I think was the last global club and chart hit, it took on a new life live. It has to live and breathe on, and we’ve got to really love it, so we worked long and hard to make the tracks as compelling and exciting as they could be, so that DJs would include it in their sets. So many DJs play their own stuff we’ve got to convince people that they can give up their eight minute slot for one of our tracks.”
With Bliss still active as a DJ, the band have been able to road test their material. “I’ve been DJing it out for the last year or so with the Faithless Sound System, which is essentially a pared down version of the live show. We mixed in new tracks and a few old ones in a mash-up style, and that was a great crowd tester, a way of improving and ‘finessing’ the music before we committed it to the final version that got sent out to the DJs. It’s testing, testing, the whole way through.”
“If you’re not on stage giving out lyrics that mean something to you you will quickly get bored, to the point where you develop a drink and drugs habit.”– Maxi Jazz of Faithless offers a candid assessment of the dangers of touring
Is that a problem with dance music, that people don’t test their music enough on clubbers? “We’re lucky to be able to have that facility,” chips in Maxi, definitely the more thoughtful of the two. “We can see if the reaction’s right, and if it ain’t then we can go back and tweak it.” “I think a lot of DJs play out so much they knock out a track for the weekend”, says Bliss, “but Faithless lives and breathes so much, the tracks that we did 10, or 15 years ago even, still get remixed and bootlegged, and they have a timelessness about them. I like that Faithless has more layers in it, and I hope that’s because there’s some lyrical content. It’s been around a while, dance music, so how can you come back and be fresh, but be yourselves?”
Though the band have consistently tried new approaches, talk inevitably turns to how they communicate, with Insomnia always held up as their most direct track. “That was a big eye opener for me,” says Maxi, “because the group for me has always been a vehicle for me getting out some of my more esoteric ideas and beliefs, as a Buddhist. So when Insomnia was that huge and people were hearing about the lyrics, their hearts and minds were open, and it was great to know you could do that with lyrics as long as people were open to things. The other major issue about the lyrics is that when you’re touring and doing three or four shows, then a day or two off, for a year and a half, if you’re not on stage giving out lyrics that mean something to you you will quickly get bored, to the point where you develop a drink and drugs habit.”
The champagne bottle is dry, but it’s clear Maxi isn’t about to depend on it. “It’s because I’m saying stuff that I mean, and I’m getting the reaction from the crowd. It means something, and you look forward to those moments, when you actually are saying something directly to the crowd and getting a reaction back from them. That is the most amazing feeling.”
The band are back on tour this year, beginning with a festival stint that takes in Glastonbury. Clearly Bliss got a buzz from rehearsals. “It was really enjoyable putting the new stuff and the old stuff together. I don’t want us to become like a tribute band; I’d rather just stop”, she says, banging on the table to make her point. “I’m constantly climbing that mountain. It’s very exciting to be able to grow and I never want to keep still.”
They return to Glastonbury this summer. “It was so special, that event, when we played there before,” says Bliss. “It felt like Faithless was being taken to the bosom of the people. It has an inner spirit to it, a philanthropic message if you like. Glastonbury was the first festival I went to – when I was 16 and it was 15! So to be invited back is amazing, especially before the record is out. Michael Eavis said something really nice about us getting the crowd in a good mood before Stevie Wonder, and I can’t wait for that.”
Do the pair feel it helped them to have time off? Bliss jumps in immediately. “I don’t know if it helps, but we just got on with living life, and that gives you something to talk about in your music. To keep touring would just be soul destroying. I made music for the National Theatre last year, Maxi never stopped writing lyrics, and it just came together in that way. I read a good article about Richie Hawtin where he didn’t release anything for months, and that was his musical statement. We don’t want to flood the dance music market with umpteen Maxi-focussed tracks every year. I think the new vibe now we’re on our own label is that we can make our own stuff, our lounge album, our Perry Como album if you like, and not be judged.”
“It’s a totally different musical climate today, and a lot of the good record shops have disappeared.” – Sister Bliss of Faithless defends the group’s exclusive deal to sell their physical product through a single supermarket
There are other benefits too. “We can be indulgent, and there are other things to the side of Faithless that we can all get busy doing. Creativity is what it’s about, not about a corporation where you’re forced to do something when it’s in your contract. Faithless has all sorts of musical expression, it’s important for us. We’re not teenagers and obsessed with killing ourselves over some things, though we did have a period where Faithless consumed us and ate our lives. All of our relationships ended at that time because they weren’t strong enough to withstand it. Not many relationships have that thing when you’re in a band that is demanded in every corner of the world. Suddenly when you haven’t people around you who knew you before you made the first album, that can really mess with your head. And hence we made the second album Sunday 8pm.”
The new, self-governing label is clearly having a positive effect. “Now these are our terms and we’re not killing ourselves,” she continues. “I’m not saying we’re not averse to hard work but there’s got to be time for life, with a capital ‘L’. It wouldn’t be right with the audience we’re trying to connect with if all we did was sit on a tour bus and smell each other’s farts all day!”
As Maxi observes, “I think once I’ve done a long tour I’m musically burnt out, and you just want to get a different view on things. When you’re 18 that’s great, and for the first few months that’s great, but after a year I want to go home and just go down the pub.”
Though the band are in charge of their own affairs, they have completed a deal whereby only Tesco and iTunes can sell their music. Aware of the controversy this has caused, Bliss immediately defends their position. “It’s a totally different musical climate today, and a lot of the good record shops have disappeared. We were told to sit down and take a deep breath, because this opportunity had presented itself to us and we had to think about it very carefully. It’s just for the physical product, which as we know is disappearing fast, and it’s able to fund the year ahead which is just incredible.”
Maxi is also on board. “When you think about how many Tesco shops there are in the country, and how many real record shops there are, that’s the point”. “It felt more bespoke.” continues Bliss, “rather than just being fodder for the supermarkets. (Producing lynchpin) Rollo’s philosophy has always been ‘I want as many people to hear this music as possible, and I kind of don’t care about the means’. He’s quite obstinate in that way, and you may think that’s quite at odds with the Faithless philosophy but the musical landscape has changed completely. Having the deal with Tesco is just amazing.”
“It wouldn’t be right with the audience we’re trying to connect with if all we did was sit on a tour bus and smell each other’s farts all day!”– Sister Bliss on the merits of tour breaks
Referring back to the title of the new album, has it always been the Faithless aim to get people dancing? “Dancing and thinking,” says Maxi. “Blissy’s a very emotional person, and when she’s composing it always come from a deep place. Lyrically I’m only ever really interested in that bit of us internally that is connected with everybody else’s internal bit. Those connecting modes I feel when I’m on stage with a whole group of people, because we are connected, and if that’s the avenue you’re looking for then generally you’ll find it. That’s why people buy the music in the first place.”
He has more to say on this. “I have this theory that everybody in the world is creative, and that you don’t appreciate creativity unless you yourself are creative. In the same way someone’s good mood puts you in a good mood, and if someone’s being creative in front of you, be it Lewis Hamilton in his racing car, or Slash with his guitar, it works back. Creativity feels great, and this idea that everybody has creativity, genius and proper power works – you can mobilise a lot of forces to help you, whatever it is that you want to do.”
Though he knows we’re more or less finished, Maxi won’t let up. “It is cause and effect. If you make the causes you get the effect. It’s not going to come overnight and you will be tested, but that’s the end of the issue. Once you’ve decided to do it you’re making the causes and you will get the effect. If it’s a new life for yourself and your family, a new car, whatever it is you decide to do, it will work.”
“These are Maxi’s Maxims, as we’ve nicknamed them”, says Bliss. “He’s got the ability to unlock stuff. It’s changed my life sitting next to him and hearing him spout stuff on tour.” The pair will be repeating their roles when Faithless head out on the road again. It may be 15 years after Salva Mea and Insomnia broke, but the hunger is clearly still just beneath the surface.
Faithless’s new album The Dance is out now through Nates Tunes. Faithless play the Glastonbury, T In The Park and V Festivals during summer 2010. Full dates can be found at faithless.co.uk.