Prior to my interview with Max Graef, I’m armed only with my prior knowledge of him and his debut album Rivers Of The Red Planet. A young 20-something producer, influenced by hip-hop and jazz, with a certain knack for introducing weird and wonderful sounds and samples into his music. Upon hearing his new album, Lo Siento Mucho Pero No Hablo Tu Idioma, I’m immediately intrigued by the stark contrast and evolution in Graef’s sound. With new influences evident and a definitive theme across the whole project, stretching to a micro-site with films for each track, I could only dream of the complexities that may come through in his answers.
In our conversation, we delve deep into the seismic body of work that is Lo Siento Mucho Pero No Hablo Tu Idioma. An opportunity for Max to collaborate with the people closest to him, this project is packed with feeling and an immense level of care; whilst also taking extra care to not take itself too seriously.
To give our readers some context, tell us about your musical background. What were your early experiences with music at home as a child, through your teenage years? How did you come into making music?
I was always making music when I was a child, I was playing the guitar a lot and I had drum lessons for years. I mostly grew up with rock and blues on one side, then there was also a lot of jazz music. From drums and the guitar, I got a tape deck and started making things on the computer, around the age of 12 or 13. I used to record things on tape, then my mum had a very old computer in her hallway, so I started to record things on the computer. It was a wide a mix of things that I was recording, some of the stuff was actually quite psychedelic; if I listened to it now, I’d find it quite funny that I used to make such weird music
When I started on the computer, I remember we were also into house and techno. At this point, it was very naïve, done in a way that was very much trial and error. There was some new rave stuff that we were also into at the time, the techno was mostly minimal, but there was always some sock and pop. It was always about just making something. There was never a particular plan, it was just whenever myself or my friends had the time to record something. Everything evolved naturally from there.
Your new album is 20-tracks long! It’s also your first big solo album project since Rivers Of The Red Planet. The album name translates to ‘I’m sorry I do not speak your language’. This also ties in with the artwork of Paella. Why Spanish?
It could have been any language to be honest. It was taken from a joke my Dad used to say. He has a relationship with Spain as he has some friends there, he used to travel there a lot. He’s someone who always tells a lot of jokes. From his time in Spain, he started to learn some of the language, so he started to tell jokes in Spanish. This used to be one of his jokes that he would say in a very polite and sophisticated way (Lo Siento Mucho Pero No Hablo Tu Idioma) to Spanish people. They thought it was very funny and this always stuck in memory, as part of the holiday we had there. The Paella was just a visual idea that came with the sentence. It’s nothing to with the music really, but in the end, I think it does fit with it as there is such a wide mix in there; maybe it sounds like a Paella to some people.
So the name doesn’t have much relation to the music, but what do you think this says about the album project as a whole?
I guess it implies a sense of anti-positioning. When you’re not really agreeing with what is happening around you – I think that’s a little bit of it. I think it’s quite funny, but it wasn’t intentionally chosen to reflect anything. I didn’t think about the title too much, the fact that it’s funny is what it means to me. I also think it’s funny how long it is.
Could you specify what you’ve not been agreeing with?
I think the title says it a little bit. I’ve certainly felt a little misplaced the last couple of years at more house orientated events. I was very unhappy with most of my DJ gigs the last two or three years, as I was getting grouped as being interested in very different music; this ‘funky house’ sound or whatever people wanted to call it. This sound seems so old to me, I play very different and have done for a long time. Promoters and people going to the party were expecting a certain sound, they were usually disappointed I guess, because I wasn’t playing what was popular on the internet. Feeling misplaced a lot of the time, relates to the title and the music a little bit. At the moment I’m not playing any gigs at all really, I’m working a lot. For me the most important thing was to have a cool finished music project, that doesn’t act as a tool to say ‘this is the type of music I’m playing now – book me’.
You’ve created a microsite with films for each track. It’s a really interesting concept, where did the idea stem from?
The routes of this idea goes way back with my step-brother and best-friend who I grew up with. We used to make a lot of films when we were younger and that was always a passion; we’d make these silly crime movies. For Rivers Of The Red Planet we planned a lot of video stuff that never happened, so I saw the chance in this new album to finally go back to this idea and make the movies alongside the music. At the same time, it was also just a chance for me to work on something with my best-friend again. It’s also a nice promo thing, it’s really hard to get people to really listen to stuff, I thought adding a visual aspect to it might help to present the whole thing.
Are there any particular inspirations behind any of the film ideas?
To be honest, it was very intuitive, we didn’t think about it too much. Some of them are based on cheap television, but some of it is just really random stuff; stuff that we would watch. Like the ‘Let’s Play’ videos of games, where you see someone actually playing the game and commenting on it. I thought it would be funny to do a really shitty version, where the person can’t really play the game very well but still does the video to address his fans on YouTube.
We’ve spoke about this contrast in music, over the past couple of years in between your last full length and now. I can certainly see a contrast. The music seems techier in Rivers Of The Red Planet, where as I feel there is more emotion in this album?
I think you described it quite well. All of that just happened, I didn’t necessarily think about it. Rivers Of The Red Planet was already very old for me when it came out, as it was a year old when it finally came out. I felt different vibes about it when it actually dropped. This new album basically acted as a different time frame, to work with different people who inspire me. The work flow was different, I recorded a lot of it just on my MPC and tools I had at home; without the use of the computer. It was all pretty much unedited, recorded onto tape and then sent straight off for mastering; some of it is very raw and unedited. Whereas, with Rivers Of The Red Planet I was still working and editing a lot on the computer.
In the last few years, I have tried to find a certain sound and with this album I think I might have found a sound that I like for myself. This hasn’t happened much in the past, I have always been in search of this style, I wasn’t very happy with my stuff until this album came.
Can you tell us about the main musical influences behind it?
With a lot of the tracks my main influences came from game and dungeon music. This is music that has always been with me and has never really left me, similar to jazz and rock; some styles come and go but these have always been there. I think you can hear this more in the new album. There is a lot of Legend Of Zelda and Metroid, a lot of fighting games along with more up-tempo games like Mortal Combat or Street Fighter stuff. This was all inspiring.
There are also a lot of dub and reggae influences, which has been a big thing for me in the last few years. This has grown and become a stronger influence for me in the last two or three years because of the people I work with; different DJs and artists who inspire me. They have made me listen to this music more, a lot of digital reggae. I find the way they produce very inspiring; the way they use reverbs and delays.
The 20-tracks are split up between longer episodes and shorter interludes or skits. Did you do this in order to tell a story or construct a narrative?
For sure! Regarding the timings, the length of each track is actually based on a certain session where I would record the track live. The time would depend on whatever I felt was right when recording and I wouldn’t change it afterwards. I didn’t repeat or change any parts, I left most of it unedited. I didn’t copy and paste any elements, so it just stayed the way I recorded it. I didn’t think about any narrative, it just came naturally through my production process.
I shortened some tracks, for example I had to cut out some parts that I didn’t like anymore and they ended up becoming those little skits. Some of them, I had revisited and recorded again at half speed, then I found I could only use certain parts of the track so that dictated the length. In the end, I put everything together in a way that just felt right to me, I didn’t put much thought into the order everything just felt right as I was doing. I think this album is a good indication of my workflow over the last few years, it’s all the best bits that I have brought together and put out.
As we previously touched upon, Spanish themes run through this album. The third track ‘No Hay Trabajo Para Mi.’ translates to ‘No Work For Me’. Where’s the main vocal sample from? And also, why this name?
This sample was inspired by a very cool short movie, about a guy who gets trapped in a telephone box. I wanted to use this for the skit because I really like the movie. The same day I watched it, I had recorded this string thing and put it all together to make the track. Again, it’s basically a document of time. The film was a really abstract horror movie and I think this inspired the sound a little bit; not necessarily the narrative. The name ‘No Work For Me’, I just thought was a funny name. I was also looking for work during the time I made this track; maybe it was a theme of my life at the time.
The film you made for it is very sci-fi-esque…. and a little bit scary!
That was actually a really funny shoot. We went to a place in Northern Germany, where my best-friend’s mother lives. They’re in the process of building a studio there and it made great scenery for our idea. In the beginning of the film you see a spaceship landing, you don’t know what’s happening and then during the night an alien escapes from this farm. It was based on quite clique sci-fi horror, but my best friend edited it so well; I really like the video.
The track ‘Master Quest’ clearly channels video game influences. Can you tell us about this track and the inspirations behind it?
The title is from the legend of Zelda, although the music is not very Zelda-like, for me it sounds like the final level of an ego shooter game. The synthesiser reminded me of some form of final quest, with the upbeat tempo it has a running vibe. The making of it was very basic, I was a bit lucky with the chords, I remember, I accidentally put in the wrong reverb, but it had a really nice effect. The synthesiser sounds in the front are also very basic, I think I made those with a software synthesiser from Logic. The drums were made on the MPC; feeding drum machine sounds into the MPC and then I changed them around a little. I work like this a lot, I don’t have an extreme technical knowledge, but I know my way around some things; I’m always using trial and error. It’s a very naïve way of making music, but I think that’s the most interesting part of the album. I was never thinking from a particularly musically. My thoughts always came from a more aesthetic point of view, looking for certain effects and textures that came from the process. I obviously used classic guitars and drums, but then I always try to breakdown the natural instrumentation of it.
There are a few returning collaborators on the record, like Funkycan on ‘Albania FM’. Are you two working a lot together these days?
Funkycan and I have started a label this year called Tax Free, so we’ve been working together a lot. I find him very inspiring, as he was one guy who helped me out this state where I didn’t know what interested me; he gave me a real kick with the music he makes. He’s a really great musician. ‘Albania FM’ was just one of the tracks we made together. With the name, we thought ‘Albania FM’ sounded like it could be a cool gangster radio station. We had this ongoing vibe of really cheap synthesiser lines that had a gangster feeling.
You also collaborate with your father on ‘Termina’, Gerry Franke, who is a guitarist. How did he end up featuring on the record? Are you pretty close with him?
Yeh, so my dad is a guitarist, but he actually plays Bouzouki on that track. I guess my father and I are more like friends rather than father and son. That’s how it’s always been. We used to play guitar together and he also featured on the first album. Whenever he makes music, I sometimes play some drums on his productions, helping him here and there. Again, it was just one of the collaborations that happened during the time I had been making the album. I also thought it was important to have him on there, as he is so related to the title and the project as a whole; it just made sense.
The video for ‘Termina’ appears to be a safari theme or a wildlife documentary style of filming. These themes also reoccur in the videos for ‘Funk’ and ‘Shrimp’. Can you explain your fascination with the wild?
I think it came mostly from the track ‘Funk 3’, to me it sounded like the Crocodile Dundee theme song. As I mentioned before, when we went up north to my best friend’s mother’s house, they have a very wild garden, so we shot the safari thing there as well. They also have a Range Rover and we knew they had some other gadgets for props, so we just built the around that. It made perfect sense to do this kind of film as we also had the right outfit. It was a lot of fun, for sure!
So what’s in the near or distant future for Max Graef? What can your fans be excited about?
Tax Free is a very exciting new project for me with Funkycan. We recently put out the second record on the label, I did this with a friend from Cologne called TBZ. He’s also a very inspiring person for me, everyone should definitely keep an eye on him, he’s making some really cool music. That record is out now and it’s called ‘GRRRR’. We have another record coming out on Tax Free at the end of this year by DJ Neuman – he’s cool!
We’ve ended the label project that I do with Glen Astro – MoneySex Records. We’d been thinking about it for a while, but we’re going to start doing a new thing here that’s more personal to us. We’re going to put out a 7” from my dad first. My dad does a lot of music, he already has four albums finished that he wants to put out; so we’re going to put out some of that stuff for sure. He’s doing all sorts of stuff, some of it is very percussive in all tempos, some is a little bit more rock, quite hypnotic stuff. I also recording something new with the band just recently. I’m always making new music as I often have the urge to. There is so much output, but there can also be a year where I won’t have much at all, you never know.
Lo Siento Mucho Pero No Hablo Tu Idioma is out now on Tartelet Records.
Buy it here.
Words: Sophie McNulty