As a wannabe journo/hack/mud-raker (maybe not)/Lois Lane style reporter (minus the obsession with super human powers and the 90s hair-do), I feel it is my job – no, my duty to accurately review the CDs that are sent to me by my lovely editors at the Trinity News offices. If an album is bad, I’m definitely going to say it’s bad and if it’s really bad, then I’m probably going to say it was the worst record I’ve ever heard. Some of my friends (what would they know anyway?) have pointed out that my writing is too reactionary, too I-just-listened–to-it-and-here-are-my-exact-emotions rather than actually saying anything about the music. It’s not easy though, when you hear an album that the online press blurbs and the band’s MySpace have told you is the next big thing and it ends up sounding like a remix of the Cheeky Girls by Peaches Geldof (back when she was fat – oh, and a DJ). It’s hard not to take out all your frustrations on some of the lesser mortals of the music industry by writing a really bad review. It’s just so easy to write something cutting rather than complimentary, and forget constructive criticism – my aim is to make it so cruel it could force a tear from even the most hardened, or, as is more likely in today’s celebrity world, botoxed of faces (see Danni Minogue on X-Factor every Saturday night). But the thing is that when you’re sitting in your darkened smoke-filled room at your creaky typewriter writing scathing reviews of bands/singers/someone you saw at karaoke just because you can, you forget that you’re actually writing about a human being, who is probably a nice person.
You never think you’re going to have to come face to face with the person you’ve just shamelessly slagged off for five hundred words or if you’re lucky enough to be granted a whole page for your tasteless rant, maybe even a whole one thousand. Let’s face it, it’s fairly certain that he/she/they are never going to read your oh-so-ground-breaking piece of music journalism in this world-renowned and highly esteemed publication.
It’s like bitching about the geeky kid in your Popular Culture lecture who always asks the most obvious questions and causes even the ever-diplomatic lecturer to cringe – you enjoy it, relish it, revel in it and he, the unsuspecting victim, never finds out. Today’s society absolutely loves the anonymous bitching session. If we didn’t all those celebrity magazines that point out Mischa Barton’s cellulite wouldn’t sell the millions of copies each week that they do. It is, for most people and especially myself when it comes to writing, the Perfect Crime.
Or at least it was – until yesterday, when I got another of those mysterious text messages from an unknown source calling himself the Trinity News Music Editor. “Maeve”, it said, “can you interview Max Tundra tomorrow at five?” I took a deep breath. Max Tundra? I definitely knew that name. And then it hit me: Max Tundra a.k.a. Ben Jacobs, London based composer, producer, singer-songwriter and the proud creative force behind the album Parallex Error Beheads You which I recently described using terms you wouldn’t even say to your worst enemy (if they released an album, that is) and now I had to interview him, in person, just me and him. Oh shit. When I relayed this problem back to mystery editor number one by text, he was unsympathetic. “Glad you get to meet your hero,” he replied wryly. Charming. Still though, I’m a professional (or at least that’s what I like to tell myself) and after all, there was no way he could have read it. Unless the production company that organises the interview sent him a copy of the paper so that he’d know who was interviewing him or unless he clicked on the Trinity News website. But what were the chances? A bizarre concoction
of elaborate ways in which he could have found out what I said about him, been deeply hurt, angered and/or emotionally scarred by it and now be seeking revenge, came flooding through my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I am not usually this self-centred – I do not ever think that my articles, opinions or general off-the-cuff comments affect anyone even in the smallest way. I know that what I say has little effect on the public at large and probably even less on my closest friends. But when faced with the prospect of doing an interview with someone whose brand new six-long-years-in-the-making album I mercilessly ridiculed, I was filled with a wave of paranoia and remorse. Oh Ben, I thought, I’ve done you wrong. Here are some things you should know about the man himself. As I said before his name is Ben Jacobs and he is indeed a full blown Cockney. He has been on the music scene now for ten years having released his first album in 1998 and since then has released five more on two different record labels. Why the name Max Tundra? His reply seemed a little rehearsed when I quizzed him on this during the interview but then again it was hardly a very original question. By the slight grin of recognition on his face I could see he’d heard it a million times. “Absolutely no reason behind it at all. I do like to make up a different story for everyone
that asks me though.” With this he put his head in his hands and started to think of “a special answer” for me. I’m not a fan of silence at the best of times, especially not during an interview. That familiar wave of awkwardness began to wash over me. Looking around feeling very confused, I hoped and prayed that the moment would end. Perhaps sensing this he lifted his head, grinning again. “Well,” he said with great pride, “I once murdered a man called Max Tundra A few issues back, Maeve Storey controversially declared that Max Tundra’s new record was rubbbish, so when the offer to interview him arose, she was a little hesitant – unfortunately for Maeve, everyone else in the office had mysteriously disappeared When the Tundra calls you I wanted to create something that you can’t really describe. You’ll hear flashes of stuff that I’m into, but hopefully, it doesn’t sound too much like anything else tn2 25 November – 8 December, 2008 5
and stole his identity.” Oh Max, you are too funny. I contemplated asking him about the title of his new album (Parallax Errors Beheads You) which is named in an equally mysterious manner but I thought better of it, fearing another lengthy pause in dialogue. Later, I read in his press release that it has nothing to do with his music but rather for his album titles he tries to pick a “semi-poetic but oblique phrase.” A parallax error, it seems , occurs when you take a photo on a camera that has a separate eyepiece and lens, so that when the picture is printed the actual image is slightly lower in the phrase than normal. Perhaps Ben got a thesaurus for Christmas?
Despite my (unnecessarily cruel) jokes, while talking to him, I did get a sense of the kind of artist he is. Music is definitely a huge passion for him and something he takes extremely seriously. Throughout the interview he talked articulately about the complexities of music and the painstaking processes involved in making it. The man really knows his stuff. When I asked him about Frank Zappa who was listed on his MySpace page as one of his influences, he points out the amazing technicalities of his music, “the strange time signatures” he uses. When I hear frank Zappa I hear his often crude lyrics as he belts out songs about paedophilia and makes fun of Catholic schoolgirls.
I began to realise that I judged Ben too harshly. His knowledge makes me look like a music philistine. He seems so dedicated to his work, treating it like an art form, working for months on end to create just one track. “It’s like painting a beautiful picture. It takes time.” In fact, just a single track for Ben can take longer than it takes a lot of bands today to produce an album, release it, do a tour and be forgotten about. “It takes me three to six months at least and that could be for the words alone. If you listen to my new album there’s layers and layers of really complex music going on.” I can’t deny that he’s telling the truth. Although I found his album too chaotic, I can’t deny that there is a hell of a lot happening in it and according to Ben, that’s a very good thing indeed. “So much of this so-called cutting edge music is conformist and safe. People just don’t really take risks. Some styles of music are very limiting. I wouldn’t say that any of my songs are one style the whole way through.” Perhaps that was my problem with the music, that I just couldn’t listen to all those sounds at once. Maybe I need my music to be a little simpler, or maybe I just need to open my mind to new things. After all, tn2 editor Hugh McCafferty has sworn to me on numerous occasions that Max Tundra’s last album was pure genius. But then again can you really trust a man with a beard? So if his music is as he says not just a cacophony of high pitched sounds and repetitive drum beats, then what exactly is it? Well, even Ben doesn’t know. “I wanted to create something that you can’t really describe. I wanted to make something that exists for itself.
So you’ll hear little flashes of stuff that I’m into, stuff that I’m listening to at the moment but hopefully it doesn’t sound too much like anything else.” In most of the reviews I’ve read about him, his music is generally described in the electronic genre, but when I tell him this he disagrees. “I don’t consider myself an electronic musician but a lot of people that listen to me do. If you listen to the new Coldplay album, there’s a lot of technology on that but obviously it’s a very boring record so people don’t really notice. There are many songs on my record that I don’t use computers on at all, but because it’s just me recording in a bedroom studio set-up people think everything I do is computerised.” Making fun of Coldplay? I knew then that I’d treated him badly – he did know what bad music was. Next when I asked him about the new electro-scene that has emerged in the last couple of years he replied with a chuckle “I never really understood what nu-rave was. It’s just people wearing day-glow.” I’m really starting to like this man. Perhaps our opinions on music were not as different as I thought?
Regardless of the fact that his music is, as I previously stated in much harsher terms, not my cup of tea, I did leave the interview with a great respect for the man. For the last decade, he has dedicated his time to producing the music that he chose to completely on his own. Just one man, in a studio, painstakingly working on each individual track, going so far as to learn an instrument if he just needs a single note from them. He even learnt the cello for this new album, on top of the seemingly dozens of other instruments he has already mastered. Talent is not something the man is lacking. So what is a girl to do? Should I retract what I said, tell you all that his album is a masterpiece, that it is, indeed, an aural work of art? Having met him, liked him and even admired him, I can’t say that the temptation isn’t there to eat my words. But unfortunately, on listening once again to his album, I haven’t changed my mind. I still find myself confused and even annoyed after sitting through just one track. Am I just too out of tune with the detailed composition of his music? Is there some glorious musical genius in there somewhere that I can’t hear? All I can say is – you’ll have to see for yourself. If he almost managed to convince me that I liked his album just by talking to me, perhaps his music will be able to convince you. Plus, if he becomes famous, I can always say that I interviewed him. If not, at least I can say I thought he was shit before everyone else.