Tebi-Rex are, according to Tebi Rex, Kildare’s premier, interracial hip-hop and pop duo. To everyone else, they are a band whose popularity is growing week upon week and, following the release of their latest EP “Welcome To The Year of Our Darkest Adventure”, are the most talked about duo since Picture This.
Matt O’Baoill and Max Zanga, both students currently studying for their Masters in Maynooth, make up the group, and have seen their latest single ‘Men are Trash’ rocket up the Spotify streaming charts, with more than 90,000 streams at the time of writing, and played on radio stations both at home and across the pond in the U.K.
During a rare quiet time between travelling to and from gigs, the Express got a chance to chat to Max, the more rap-orientated of the two members, about the group’s origins, his early musical inspirations and where he could see the band’s journey taking them in five years’ time.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I’m from Kill Village Co. Kildare, my parents are from Nigeria.
Q: Was music a big part of your childhood growing up?
A: Yeah, my parents played all the old-fashioned bops, like Shaggy ‘Wasn’t Me’ so it was already great craic to listen to and it was also very different to what the people around me were listening to. My friend’s parents used to play like rocky stuff while I was living off Hip-Hop and R&B.
Q: When did you first fall in love with music?
A: Hmm, I’m trying to think about that, when you first said, “When did you fall in love with music?” I just thought about when I first started to listen to albums. One of the early albums I literally paid attention to and listened to was Childish Gambino’s ‘Camp’. It was a masterpiece, and then after that I started going back and listening to the Kanye West albums, so yeah, probably something like that.
Q: So, Kanye was one of your early loves, what was your favourite Kanye album?
A: Ohh…. See this is the thing, and I know what’s objectively the best Kanye album is but the first Kanye album I really sat down and appreciated was ‘Yeezus’, because that was kind of revolutionary for me, but probably the best is ‘The College Dropout’, so that probably the best but I’d say my favourite is ‘Yeezus’. Kanye is a revolutionary, no matter what album you talk about!
Q: How did Tebi Rex come about?
A: So, I think it was like, you know, it’s very generalized. I just posted on Facebook saying I wanted to make a band and I liked these certain artists and that’s where it kind of came from. It wasn’t a special story, I kinda knew Matt from the talent shows in college, he came first, and I came second, but yeah, it’s almost the most boring story you could have. I liked these artists, he liked these artists, simple.
Q: When you put out that post on Facebook were you just producing music or were you playing the guitar with it or what was the plan for the sound you were going to make?
A: Ohh man, my thing was that I was into, like, hardcore rap. Deep, dark, heavy “I’m gonna murder you” rappers, violent, aggressive teenage angst shit, Odd Future inspired so I didn’t really have a plan of action, I initially didn’t even plan on a guitar being involved in any of the shit we do. Obviously, it’s involved now but I was just into beats and that sort of stuff, you get me?
Q: Once you started playing together, how quickly did you realise that there was something special there?
A: I think it was the first day, Matt played me something he wrote and I thought it was good, it wasn’t perfect, there were issues with song-writing and singing styles but it was so individualistic and that’s what I really liked about Matt as a performer. All of my favourite performers, I don’t think there are people that sound like Kate Nash, I don’t think there are rappers that sound like Gambino, and that’s what makes you great, when it’s your own thing, you are you and there’s no one like you and that’s when I began to think ‘Yo, this is a unique sound’ you know?
Q: How do you write as a band?
A: Usually me or Matt will come up with an idea for a song, and, basically, we’ll write our whole part and the whole structure of the song and then we’ll send it to the other person saying, “What do you think of this?” you know? I have a tonne of songs that are 80% done and I’ll send them to Matt and then…. I never tell him what to do I just tell him to do what feels right to him and then when he finishes I’ll come back and see what he did, we work very much individually of each other, obviously because we’re very busy but also, yeah, I don’t really like anyone looking over my shoulder you know?
Q: Who were your inspirations, as a band, when you were writing and releasing the EP?
A: It’s funny because we don’t… me and him don’t aim for the same thing, that’s why the music can be very jarring to listen to sometimes, he’s very chart-inspired and has those sorts of influences while I’ll listen to some different shit, like Daft Punk or whatever because I like that sound. Then we just kind of do what we always do but yeah, we’re both inspired by different things and you can hear that in certain songs, songs like ‘Ducks all The Way Down’ has no particular, distinct genre because half was the type of song that Matt wanted to do and half was his type of song that I wanted to do, and we’re fine with putting multiple genres of music on the same project if that’s what the other person wants.
Q: How have the live performances been so far?
A: We’ve played almost every venue in town about from The Academy main stage or something like that, but I think it’s pretty tight, we know what we’re doing and most importantly we’re very comfortable doing it onstage, and that’s what matters most, the people watching seem to like it so yeah…
Q: Tell me about being in the Word Up collective, how did that come about?
A: Man, I think what happened was one of the guys named Phil used to run State Magazine, which just recently closed down which is a shame, but we started sending him music and saying things like “Yo, please feature our song on 2FM” or something like that, so he featured it and that was good and we sort of opened up a dialogue from there. We met him a couple of times, just having chats and everything went from there. It was very cool though, he gave us tips, helped us out as much as possible and that’s how it came about.
Q: Tell me about writing the EP, was it easy sailing in terms of sound or was there lots of little arguments about the directions of songs or how you want them produced and what not?
A: I’m gonna be a straight shooter with you here man, I honestly, in terms of music, am a little bit over-bearing. I sort of just do what I want, see what happens and go with it you know? We have a system where, I came up with the idea for the name of the EP a while ago and I had ideas as to what sort of topics I wanted to touch upon so he was like “Cool” so I thought I basically had free reign now, you like have his song, you do it and he edits them, but I think we’re very much the same in the way we think and how we want things to sound on a whole, we usually agree about most things so it was fairly smooth, but I think just recording it was a headache because I was in America for a bit and our producer was busy and then there was a mad rush where, you know the song ‘Pink’ on the EP? We finished that a day before we needed to send it off to Spotify, so it was very tight at the end, very last minute.
Q: You’ve seen the reviews of the EP, you’ve seen peoples response, if you could change one thing on the EP, what would it be?
A: I would get rid of all the songs bar ‘Ducks All The Way Down’, definitely. I mean, I like a lot of songs, and they mean a lot, I think when you talk about things like that emotions are important, but in terms of music production….. We have songs, you know? We have songs that were too good to go on the EP, an independent EP, we have more music and I’d say definitely better music on the way. I probably would have kept working on it a little longer and release a bigger project in the summer. That’s not saying I don’t like the songs or that they don’t mean something to me because they do but you’re your worst critic as an artist, you’re constantly trying to outdo yourself.
Q: What do you want the listener to think when they hear one of your songs?
A: Ohh that’s a good question…. I’d love them to feel something real, I love that old Justin Bieber album (‘Purpose’) because it’s a bop, but I don’t feel anything when I listen to it? I mean ‘Love Yourself’ off that is emotional but it doesn’t feel emotional. I’d like our listeners to walk away and be like ‘That impacted me’ even if they don’t know how it impacted them, I’d just love them to feel something. I mean, a lot of people have come up to us and said ‘Ducks All The Way Down’ made them cry and that’s, well it’s not amazing, but that’s great, it elicited a response from you and that’s all I want really.
Q: What are your plans for the remainder of 2018?
A: I’m gonna play shows, I’m gonna make music, I’m gonna get drunk, I’m gonna graduate from college and I’m just gonna chill man really, I’m still living my best life and I just wanna keep killing it.
Q: Where do you see yourself and the group in five years time?
A: Probably signed, that’s it and probably living in Ireland still because everywhere else is gross. That’s it, probably signed and with my own TV show, my own Netflix show, a show that I wrote.
Tebi Rex are playing Cork’s An Bróg on Thursday April 26th as part of the Music Cork Showcase. Entry is free, and doors open at 7:30pm. For more info go to the Facebook event. To keep up to date on Tebi Rex & their music, you can find them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. Their debut EP, Welcome to the Darkest Year of Our Adventures, is streaming now on Spotify.