“Live now, cry later,” proclaims legendary MC and electro rock producer, Maxim (born Keith Palmer). Indeed, this is a motto he has lived by with gusto. Hailing from outside London, Maxim’s career was initially inspired by his socially conscious side. In fact, his moniker was born of this imperative. “When I was writing solo stuff I always wanted to write intelligent lyrics… when I was at school I used to practice my signature ‘Maxim Reality’ as in ‘maxim’, to be or not to be, and ‘reality’ because I like to write lyrics about current situations. I used to write lyrics about AIDS and things like that– real life situations–so I put the two together.” After realizing he was becoming more of an “entertainer” as opposed to the lyricist focused on “current situations,” Maxim dropped the Reality from his name.
In 1990, Maxim teamed up with English electronic music group, The Prodigy. The rest, so to speak, was history. Since their fated collaboration, the group has won two Brit Awards for Best British Dance Act, three MTV Video Music Awards, two Kerrang! Awards, five MTV Europe Music Awards, and have been nominated twice for the Grammys. It’s been almost 25 years since the band came together, but time isn’t stopping them; The Prodigy is working on a new album, which will come out later this year.
Coinciding with his work for The Prodigy, Maxim has also been working on a side project that’ll demonstrate his talents as a DJ. Teaming up with female MC/vocalist Cianna Blaze, Maxim has curated a brand new EP, “Animal Anger” slated for release this October on We Are Noize. Until then, you can listen and download “Phase Me”, a single from his forthcoming EP featuring Cianna Blaze and D Dark here.
Check out our exclusive Q&A with Maxim below:
Indira Cesarine: Going back, all the way back, can you tell me a little bit about how you came up with that amazing name ‘Maxim Reality.’ What is the story behind your moniker?
Maxim: You know what, it goes back so far you wouldn’t believe. It actually goes back to when I was at school. You know what ‘Maxim’ is right? I just wanted to use ‘To be or not to be.’ That’s maxim, isn’t it? When I was writing solo stuff, I always wanted to write intelligent lyrics, so I kind of wanted to come up with an intelligent name, like an MC name. When I was at school I used to practice my signature ‘Maxim Reality’ as in ‘maxim’, to be or not to be, and ‘reality’ because I like to write lyrics about current situations. I used to write lyrics about AIDS and things like that–real life situations–so I put the two together. But as time went on, I dropped the ‘reality’ and just called myself Maxim. Like I said, I used to write a lot of stories back in the day on poverty, and things going on around the world and so forth. I don’t just do that now. I’m predominantly more just entertaining, so I dropped the ‘reality’ because it’s kind of less reality, if you know what I mean.
IC: That makes sense. When I look at all of the costumes you perform in and amazing presentations you have done, your look seems highly driven in fantasy. You started performing with The Prodigy in 1990, how exactly did you hook-up with a band?
M: The story goes like this: it’s actually that I used to rap and MC in clubs, and there was an MC, a famous MC. I can’t remember his name but he came from the U.S. and he was performing in the UK. He was performing at this club and one of my friends at the time was really drunk, and went on the stage and tried to challenge him at MCing–an MC battle. Obviously, he lost, so I went up and kind of defended him as an MC. Obviously my friend remembered that–he remembered how good I was. Anyways, years had gone by, I moved to London, (I was actually brought up in the countryside). I moved to London just to get into music and MC on sound-systems and so forth. Liam was writing music, and Keith and Leroy were dancing in the party scene–in the rave scene. They met up with my friend, who started to manage them. They said ‘We need a front man. We need someone to be the voice of the band. If we form a band, who are we going to get?’ Obviously he remembered, ‘Oh, yeah, Maxim was on stage and he kind of defended me in an MC battle. He’s a really good MC, let’s get him.’ So that’s how it all came together.
IC: What were your early performances with the band like?
M: Very hit or miss. We were at the Labyrinth and it was all very spontaneous. Before we went on, the promoter said, ‘Well, the last band that performed here got bottled off. So, let’s see what happens.’ So we went on, and we only did like a thirty-minute set and he loved it! He said, ‘You’ve got to come back.’ It was literally two weeks later, we went back and did the same thing, and from that experience on, we’ve never really rehearsed. We go into the studio and we write music together. And when we perform it on stage, it’s like a testing ground. We take the music onstage, and we perform it live, and see if it goes down. If it goes down, it stays in the set. If it doesn’t work, it gets binned and we write something else. That’s what we’ve been doing for years and it hasn’t changed.
IC: What would you say is the ethos of The Prodigy? Did you have a mission?
M: There wasn’t really a mission. The only mission back in the day was to do the big parties, you know? In the U.S. now, you have the big parties going off–it’s really taken off. But in the early 90s, we had Rain Dance, Telepathy, Eclipse. They’re really big parties, like fifty thousand people. Our ambition was like, ‘Wow, imagine if we played those big parties!’ We were getting booked to do Rain Dance, and then we hear of Perception, and we’d be like, ‘Wow, we’d be lucky if we could play Perception. It would be great fun if we could do that.’ It wasn’t really a long-term goal; it was really thinking about the next show. It was just about playing the next big party and that’s all it was really about. It wasn’t about long-term projects. It was about next weekend–where can we play the next weekend and the next weekend? Before you know it, it was twenty years later and we’re still doing the same thing.
IC: What was the inspiration behind your early albums and performances? There’s something almost theatrical about the overall direction of how you guys presented your videos. Where did you come up with those themes?
M: It was all inspired through the dance scenes, through the party scenes. In the U.S., you’re getting that now, but drugs fuel a lot of it, you know? I’m not saying us doing the drugs or anything like that, but it is a drug scene. It was a heavy drug scene. A lot of people doing ecstasy, promoters put on shows, and it’s a very visual scene. Obviously music plays a big part. But because of the drug scene, what was going around–watching people perform on stage and being quite theatrical and the lights, the lasers–that all plays a part in how you feel when you listen to music.
IC: So you were kind of playing up to that sort of crowd?
M: Yeah. It was all part of the scene and that’s what everybody was doing. As years went on, we realized that we kind of went a bit too far with the theatrics and we toned that down a lot. We realized that it was all about the music. Prodigy is about the music, and the excitement of the music. That’s what it’s about really! It’s not just about theatrics.
IC: I guess in modern day EDM and whatnot, you have these insane electronic festivals, and it’s all highly driven towards that. Although, these days you have just DJs standing up there instead of bands, you know? Back then, there was real music being performed live.
M: Well, you see, DJs need visuals to make it stimulating and interesting.
IC: Yeah, it’s all about the light show…
M: Exactly. Obviously we came from that, but we wanted to inject a show into that whole scene, and that’s probably why we stayed around for so long; because we weren’t just about a DJ behind a deck, or just one guy behind a keyboard, waving his hand in the air. It was a highly driven band with energy, and the music was quite energetic as well. That’s what gave us longevity I think.
IC: How would you describe the sound of The Prodigy?
M: It’s kind of electronic with a punk ethic. Because our inspirations–in the UK, you’re going from listening to punk, listening to rock, listening to Rage Against the Machine, listening to hip-hop, listening to Public Enemy–those are our inspirations. That’s sort of what Prodigy is about. It’s about all those sort of sounds all into one. It’s dance music with rock dynamics. It’s really hard to describe Prodigy music. It’s just Prodigy music because it stands on its own. It doesn’t really fit into a category of anything else.
IC: Can you tell me about your inspiration with some of the amazing visuals in your performances?
M: I can’t really speak for the other guys, I can only speak for myself, but I’m always into the darker side of things. If you could put me in a film, and be like what’s your ideal film, it’d be The Matrix or Batman or something like that. I just like those kind of dark looking things, but I don’t like to go into theatrics too much. Because what you see on stage–it’s not just an outfit. It’s not like ‘Oh, let me just put on this outfit and go onstage.’ It’s actually me. That’s how I like to dress. That’s how I like to be seen.
IC: So they weren’t performance looks at all–this is how you dress day to day?
M: No, no, no, not day-to-day. I don’t walk down the street like that. But what I’m saying is, it’s in the same way as somebody going to a nightclub; I’m going to put this on and they want to feel comfortable because it’s their way of expressing themselves when they go out. When I’m on that stage, it’s an opportunity for me to express myself–how I want to be. That’s what I do when I’m on the stage. You know, I wear make-up. Ninety percent of the things I wear, I make myself. I’ve made skirts and I’ve made coats out of bras.
IC: So you actually sew? Did you ever want to be a designer, or design a collection?
M: Yeah, I do sew. I did think of doing that at one stage, and I did have a friend who ran a company who said they were interested in doing that, but it never actually came to fruition. I do have some mad ideas.
IC: What kind of things did you make out of bras? How many bras did you have to use?
M: I made a coat out of black bras. I think it was about fifty bras I used. I actually went to a store and bought fifty bras and made a coat. The thing is, they were actually satin bras, so it didn’t look like bras. It actually looked like some kind of parachute, because I left the straps on and they were all kind of hanging off.
IC: Do you remember what cup size they were? Like triple F? These enormous torpedo bras? They all looked like parachutes? I’m dying to see this thing! I hope somewhere you’ve got a photo of the bra outfit so that we can include it with this piece.
M: No, I don’t. I just went in and bought them. I did actually throw it out into the crowd. I wore it on stage for quite a while, and then I threw it out into the crowd.
IC: That’s so funny. Going back to your costumes and that sort of thing…you came up with your own inspiration and the rest of the band had their own unique looks. Did you ever consolidate and make a plan to have a look for the band or did you guys all just have your own character?
M: We’ve never been like that, you know. We’re all quite individual people. Obviously we do quite respect each other’s style, so the only time we consult with anybody is in the dressing room, just saying, ‘Oh, yeah, that looks really good’ or ‘Maybe you should wear that with that, maybe you should do that.’ But we kind of respect each other’s taste and judgment to turn up with whatever you’ve got, your own style. Keith wears some mad outfits as well, and he’s been through some things.
IC: The Prodigy have performed and toured extensively. Did you come up with specific themes for your tours?
M: One thing about The Prodigy that people don’t realize that’s different from all other bands is, everything you see is us three guys. As far as the visuals–we’ve got a guy who does lighting and visuals–but we also put ideas into that as well. And the set, what it looks like, the music, and obviously the theme. Ninety percent of the time, the theme is always based around either the album or a single release, and they’re all our own ideas. Also the videos as well, the videos are ninety percent all of our ideas. Because we were never a band, and we still aren’t a band who…you’re never going to see us perform at an MTV Awards Ceremony or the Grammys, you know. We just don’t do that.
IC: You won quite a few MTV awards back in the day, though.
M: Yeah, but we’ll never perform on those sort of shows. We did a show in the UK– I think it was like 1995/96–and it was a TV show, and they asked us to perform, and it just wasn’t real, you know? The crowd was told to clap and told to dance. We perform in front of people who want to see us, and that’s it. So we can’t perform on those sort of false TV programs. When we do videos, sometimes that’s the only time people see us. So it has to represent us, one hundred percent. It has to represent what the band is about.
IC: The Prodigy have won a lot of awards for your music videos. What is your favorite video that you have created?
M: Yeah, we’ve won a couple. Personally my favorite video is “Spitfire.”
IC: What about with your tours? Was there any particular performance that stood out?
M: Probably the first tour when we came to America, which was in 1992. We toured with Richie Horton, who was in a band called Cybersonic at the time, and Moby. It was kind of the electronic tour in America. We were kind of trying to bring electronic music to America.
IC: Moby? That’s interesting. That seems like really early days for Moby, no?
M: Moby was vegan, and it was quite funny. Because at the time we used to smoke a lot of weed–I don’t smoke anymore, but at the time I did–and he used to always sit in front of the tour bus and would put a wet towel in front of the door to block the smoke from coming through the door.
IC: Because he didn’t want smoke near him?
M: No smoke! Yeah, it was quite funny. It was quite entertaining. We played in some weird places. We played in some real dives. We toured on the “Hotel California,” you know, that famous bus.
IC: That must’ve been insane. It was a proper bus tour, going city to city on a bus? Did you go through the Midwest?
M: We toured all over. We toured from the west coast, from San Francisco all the way down. Then we went through down to Dallas, and right up through Gainesville, and out to Washington. It was a four-week tour; it was full on.
IC: What would you consider to be the band’s breakthrough moment? Was it that first album tour that put you guys on the map, in your eyes?
M: The funny thing is that we’ve been touring for so many years, and when The Fat of the Land came out, obviously it had some big hits on there. It had “Smack My Bitch Up”; it had “Five Star”; it had “Breathe”; it had “Diesel Power.” It was when that album came out that people thought ‘Oh, yeah, who’s this new band, The Prodigy?’ but the truth is, we’d been touring. We’d been on the road for like six years, but everybody thought we were some new band. So that was kind of the breakthrough album.
IC: It was probably good that you had a few years to kind of nail your thing.
M: It had its good points and bad points. Like I said, so many people were thinking ‘Who is this new band?’ We’d been touring for years before that and we had two albums out before that album. And people didn’t even know. They thought that The Fat of the Land was our first album.
IC: Well that was before the internet, right? So people couldn’t Google you.
M: Yeah. I remember coming to America and we toured–I think it was on The Fat of the Land–and the record label was saying, ‘Oh yes these guys want to do an interview over the internet. It’s a chat room.’ We were like, ‘What are you going on about? What’s a chat room?’ ‘It’s eight people who want to talk to you in the same place.’ We were like, ‘This is never going to take off. What is this?’
IC: How do you think the internet changed things? Did it have any impact on The Prodigy as a band?
M: No, if anything the internet has kind of benefited us as a band. It has its good points and bad points. It’s taken the control of record labels. Record labels before had too much control; you had to go to a record label to release any music. And if you didn’t go through a record label, the radio station wouldn’t play you. So they controlled everybody; there was only one route to get music out. The internet has sort of freed that up, because people can set up their own labels, set up their own Soundclouds. You can search and you can find music all over the world. There are radio stations all over the world that you can listen to. Some music, which some young guy has created in Denver in his bedroom…you can think ‘Wow, what’s this?’ and you can take it, and download it. You can buy it, or whatever you need to do, and play it out. Let other people hear it. I think it’s really freed up the music business on that kind of level. The bad point is now that it’s free, it has so much exploitation. People exploit other people’s music. And piracy. You have so many people putting music out that you’re saturated with so much rubbish! It’s sort of like, you really have to search now to find really good music. So, it has its good points and bad points. I also think that in some respects it has bad points (not music related, this is kind of just more general). I think it makes people a bit narrow-minded in some respects. Because the internet, it has so much knowledge out there for you to find out about something. But I find that people who spend their time on the internet–it’s kind of like they’re blinkered. It’s like their knowledge of the world is even less than what it was when there wasn’t any internet. It’s really weird.
IC: Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s like they rely on the internet for their source of any knowledge, and in the real world there’s so much more out there to see and to learn. I was in school before there was internet, and I definitely remember access to knowledge was just being out experiencing, and reading, and doing your thing. You learn way more than you do just Googling people.
M: Exactly, and sitting on Facebook and sitting on Twitter…
IC: Yeah, that’s not reality. It’s like a false reality that’s limited to only what information has been put online. There’s huge gaps of time that are not even online and documented yet.
M: Exactly. Like I say, it has its good points and its bad points, but it’s taking the good and leaving the bad really.
IC: You’ve been working with The Prodigy for so many years, and you’re also doing your own solo work. Can you tell me about some of the your recent solo work?
M: I’m a master of so many things. I’m an artist, I’m a designer, and I’ve done a couple of art exhibitions as well. I did one in London and one in L.A. I write music. Like I said, from an early age, I’ve been MCing and writing music, so that’s what I know. I did a couple of solo albums, and I’ve helped people to write music as well. Now I’m getting into DJing, which is just another chapter of my life, you know? I always see it as: I don’t like to stay, I like to always create. I don’t like to just do one thing. Being in Prodigy is a great thing, and we’re writing a new album right now, which will be out around August/September, but I’ve been doing that for so long. It is hard and challenging, but I still like to challenge myself with other things. I don’t like to sit still. I like to challenge myself all of the time, because I think you can stay in your comfort zone all the time. If you don’t step out of your comfort zone, you’re not challenging yourself. That’s why I like to step out of my comfort zone and have a little bit of fear, and challenge myself. That’s what DJing has sort of brought to me.
IC: It’s definitely a different point of view as an artist, as a musician. Would you say that your solo work is similar or different to The Prodigy’s music?
M: Oh, it’s totally different. When you’re in a band, there’s always a compromise. It’s a collective, and it’s three people putting their heads together to come up with a piece of music that works. And that works in the realm of The Prodigy. But when you’re doing a solo album, it’s just about you. I grew up in sound-systems and I was a rude boy. I was into hip-hop, and I listened to a lot of punk as well, but my inspirations are totally different. As a collective, that’s what I bring to The Prodigy. But the other guys, they’re into different things. I like listening to old soul music, R&B, so when I’m doing a solo album, I might get a singer– like a soulful singer on my album–whereas that wouldn’t fit in The Prodigy album. It just gives you a chance to do different things.
IC: Are you collaborating with other musicians with your solo work?
M: Yeah. Other singers, other producers. Like I said, I’ve been an MC, I grew up around MCs and singers and people who do vocals all of my life. I know a million and one vocalists who can just come into the studio and do vocals, and write together and so on.
IC: Who would you say are your own musical inspirations?
M: There isn’t really anybody that I could pinpoint because I’ve been through so many different stages. Like, The Specials. They were a big influence in my life because when I was thirteen/fourteen, I was listening to The Specials and they kind of molded my youth. But then when I got a bit older, I used to listen to Public Enemy, and I really found Prince really inspiring as well. I remember watching Prince on stage and thinking ‘Wow, I’d love to be onstage and perform like him.’ Obviously, I’m a bit different from how he performs. I actually met him, and it was kind of like wow! That was a memorable moment in my life because he was such an inspirational person when I was younger.
IC: Yeah, he absolutely is. He’s an inspiration to a lot of musicians. He’s phenomenal. I hear you have a daughter as well. Is she also a musician?
M: No. She sings a lot. And she whistles, believe it or not. I’m like ‘Why are you whistling?’ It’s just the oddest thing. This girl whistling, walking around the house, whistling like some old man. She’s a very happy girl. I’ve got two sons as well, and they haven’t got a musical bone in their body.
IC: Are you inspired at all by the new wave of music that’s happening now?
M: I’m more inspired by some of the producers from the U.S. at the moment. It kind of reminds me of early Prodigy. We always say if there’s a band that comes along, and they create music harder than us, and they perform better than us, then we’ll pack it in, and say ‘It’s your turn’–we’ll just step aside. But that band hasn’t come along yet. We can’t see that band; I haven’t seen that band yet. The only band I can say that was anywhere close is Rage Against the Machine, but it’s not electronic music obviously. They’re in their own category, but that’s the only band. But, yeah, there are a lot of producers out there at the moment which I kind of like. Like RL Grime, Brills–I don’t know if you know them–Flosstradamus, Mayhem, I love them. Kind of like the EDM, the trap guys, I really like that style. That’s what I DJ and write at the moment, so I plan to come to the U.S. and play some proper heavy tracks.
IC: Do you have a personal motto?
M: “Live now, cry later.” I’m trying to think of some others. “Find yourself, and be that.”
Interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Maxim Photographed by Oleg Tolstoy for The Untitled Magazine