Tebi Rex’s Max Zanga talks about songwriting, the Irish hip-hop scene and more

Aoibhín Bryant

Credit: Niall Byrne

In the dim light of Nubar, Tebi Rex’s Max Zanga stands out with his bleached blond dreads.

One half of the alternative hip hop duo, the pair met at a Maynooth talent show, where they both studied. When Matt O’Baoill, the other half, placed first with his runner-up, the two decided to join forces.  They’ve been growing over the past couple of years, cumulating in 2018 where they’ve launched their EP ‘Welcome To the Darkest Years of Our Adventures’ and performing at both Longitude and Electric Picnic. However, where they came up with the name ‘Tebi Rex’ remains a secret.

“We’d like to keep it a mystery,” says Zanga. “We’ve left clues in a few of our songs which a few fans have figured out already.”

Both Kildare natives, they have a unique songwriting process of both writing separately and coming together with their finished works to mash them together. Their music is a compromise of sorts and leaves a dichotomy in their songs

Zanga is upfront when he confesses that a lot of his music is a way for him to apologise to others. Although it didn’t start off as such, admitting that he started rapping at around 16 in order to get girls. Nowadays, he likes looking back on his old songs in a way to “mark his own growth”. Song writing is very much a therapeutic process for him, allowing him to “figure out everything”.

“There’s a juxtaposition to our work; we have an idea, go off on our own and come back with completely different angles.”

“It leads to an interesting contrast where the music is really upbeat and energetic but then the lyrics are super grim,” he adds.

This formula has seemed to work out for the both of them as they swing from success to success.

“I don’t want to sound like an a**hole, but we’ve really had no lows this year,” he laughs, “A highlight definitely has to be the launch night of our EP in Workmans, the show was totally ours in every way. It was really fun to do.”

Although the pair have decided to take a short hiatus from Tebi Rex, the first half of 2018 proving to be draining as the two have been “flat out” with performances as well as juggling to finish a master’s in media. They hope to focus on working on a few more songs and have something solid out by the new year.

“Matt and I currently both have jobs but realistically, by September next year, we’d love to be working on music full time. It’s not quite a career yet but we’re hoping to change that.”

When asked about inspirations, Zanga lights up when given the chance to talk about rapper Earl Sweatshirt.

“I always think of his songwriting to be really similar to the show Black Mirror, y’know. Each episode of Black Mirror is different but they all have the same sort of message. Earl does that but instead it’s with his verses in his songs. It’s not a regular form of storytelling but all of his songs have a theme that you figure out when you look at the big picture.”

Another inspiration, surprisingly, is English singer-song-writer Kate Nash. The group recently covered her hit song, ‘Foundations’ on RTÉ’s Studio8. Kate Nash even quoted the tweet of their cover, stating that she “loved it!”. Zanga said that whole experience was “dope”.

On how to break it into the Irish music scene, Zanga’s advice is to “find out what your strengths are and play to them”. He is also honest that at the beginning, himself and O’Baoill “sucked”. Tebi Rex grew and changed, adapting to the music scene. He likes to think that the group’s success has almost been a slow-burn, that they “snuck (their) way into” the music scene as they haven’t had a massive hit. Zanga also admits that they found a lot of success through social media.

“For sure, we owe a lot to Twitter! It’s a blessing and a curse in a way because we can talk to people who love our work and want us to do better but we’re way more exposed to people who think we suck.”

Max Zanga has nothing but praise for the Irish hip hop scene, which has flourished over the past couple of years.

“It’s really great, there’s been so many people doing some great stuff and there’s a really supportive atmosphere at the moment,” he says, “Although, that may change as people continue to get bigger and more money is involved. But for now there’s no beef.”

Aoibhín Bryant

Image Credit: Niall Byrne