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Max Tundra on Extending an Album’s Life Through a Remix EP

Max Tundra, Photo by Jack Barnes
December 9, 2019
The producer and DJ talks about Daphne & Celeste’s Sunny Day.

In March 2018, the ’90s teen-pop alums Daphne & Celeste released their first album in 18 years—and it was one of the decade’s alt-pop triumphs. Daphne & Celeste Save the World is a thrilling record, filled with Velcro-trimmed hooks, pointed observations on 21st-century culture, and sonic detailing that rewards headphone listening. Produced by London-based Ben Jacobs, a.k.a. Max Tundra, Daphne & Celeste Save the World sounds beamed in from the future.

Daphne & Celeste, Photo by Abram Seaman

Daphne & Celeste, Photo by Abram Seaman

In September of this year, Max Tundra released the Sunny Day EP, which supplements Save the World*’s sparkling dance-pop cut with five other versions, including one where Daphne & Celeste sing the song in Japanese and a starlit piano version played by Canadian Grammy winner and piano maestro Chilly Gonzales. We emailed with Tundra about joining forces with Daphne & Celeste and keeping *Save the World in the pop consciousness through the power of remixes.

Spotify for Artists: Can you give our readers a little background on Daphne & Celeste Save the World? How did you come to work with them?

Max Tundra: I originally reached out to Daphne & Celeste on Twitter back in 2011, saying, "I make weird pop music. It'd be fun to write and produce a comeback single for you two." Celeste messaged me back, saying, "That sounds rad!" and the ball started rolling. I sent over some of my music, namely “Which Song” (from Parallax Error Beheads You) and “Lysine” (from Mastered by Guy at The Exchange), as well as a bunch of my remixes, including those I made for Pet Shop Boys, Missy Elliott, The Futureheads, and Franz Ferdinand. They were not too weirded out by my sounds and were very much up for doing a track. After recording and releasing "You & I Alone" on my label Balatonic, set up especially for my own productions, we decided it would be fun to go ahead and make a full album. Daphne & Celeste Save the World was the result. It was a huge honor to work with these incredible people.

How did you decide to spin "Sunny Day" out into an EP?

“Sunny Day” is probably the poppiest song I have ever written—I am immensely proud of it and wanted as many people as possible to hear it. I decided that focusing a release around remixes would bring the track to the sort of audiences that wouldn't normally hear Daphne & Celeste or Max Tundra, i.e. the fanbases of the remixers in question.

What was the first alternate version to come together?

I think the first one that I received back was the Dutch Uncles one. It's ace. I am a big fan of this inventive, delightful band. I originally remixed their track "Flexxin" in 2013, so they returned the favor with their fabulous reworking.

Daphne & Celeste With Max Tundra, Photo by Nathalie Taylor

Daphne & Celeste With Max Tundra, Photo by Nathalie Taylor

How did you approach collaborators? Were they people you'd worked with before?

Each one was slightly different. Chilly Gonzales emailed me out of the blue at the time I was considering remixers. Years ago I had remixed his track "You Can Dance," and the "fee" was that he would be my "piano slave" at some point in the future. We both forgot about it, so it was synchronicity to receive his note at that time. He turned out a beautiful, mournful solo piano reinterpretation of the track. Jilk contacted me on Twitter, saying they'd love to have a go. They're a relatively unknown band from Bristol whose music sounds entirely different from my own, so I was intrigued and excited to hear how they would twist and contort “Sunny Day.” They did us proud with their eerie, epic repurposing of the track. And then I thought I'd have a go at disco-fying the track myself, so there's a Max Tundra extended version on there too. Stay tuned for the delirious sugar-rush end section.

Why did you decide to do a Japanese version of "Sunny Day"? When did it come together?

I always thought that Daphne & Celeste could do well in Japan. I have visited that incredible country about seven times and have had unforgettable experiences playing countless shows over there. I recalled that the ’90s pop duo Shampoo had achieved moderate success in that country, and supposed it wouldn't be too outlandish an idea for this other pop pair to achieve similar. To that end, I asked a Japanese friend to translate the lyrics, and we re-recorded the vocals on an evening off during last year's UK tour. Considering Karen [Daphne] and Celeste had never spoken Japanese before, they absolutely nailed it. The hugely talented Dan Hett did a gorgeous video for the track, which takes place in an amusement arcade in which D&C appear on the screen of a dancing game.

What one piece of advice would you give to artists who want to spin out their albums into EPs?

Let it go! That is to say, do not be too protective of your song. This is an opportunity for your track to live and breathe outside the ecosystem of the LP, to be seen in a different light. I am always somewhat precious about my own compositions, so it was liberating to let other people get their hands on them and twist them into unruly, fresh shapes. I mean, that is all well and good if a remix EP is what you have in mind. Another classic route is to partner your single's lead track with some unreleased works, or even a demo version of the song. With the Max Tundra back catalog, all the single/EP B-sides are unique tracks that are unavailable elsewhere and didn't quite fit on any of my LPs.

What other projects have you been working on in the interim? Do you have anything coming out soon?

I am slowly working on the fourth Max Tundra album in my ever-dwindling spare time. As well as this, I am looking to get into the world of soundtracks and have been reaching out to producers and directors with the hope that I may someday write the music for some as-yet unreleased cinematic (or Netflix-based) masterpiece. In terms of Daphne & Celeste, the next single from Daphne & Celeste Save the World is an uncanny, almost terrifying remix by a beloved English visual artist whose name I cannot reveal just yet. He has worked his magic and conjured up a video too, as well as artwork for an ultra-limited cassette version. I can't wait for you all to hear it.

—Maura Johnston

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December 9, 2019
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