Interview: Maximo Park’s Paul Smith
I’d love to tell you that the band’s new album is a classic Maximo Park belter – full of sharp lines and hooks aplenty, but unfortunately no copies were available to listen to before we went to press. A shame as, aside from making my job here harder, I’m dying to hear it.
If recent singles and the snippets I’ve found online are anything to go by though, the record is as diverse and as captivating as I’d hoped; songs like The National Health, with its nineteen-to-the-dozen rocketing melody and Hips And Lips’ sultry drawl and blasting synth serve to showcase a band at their most vital.
I had a chat with lead singer Paul Smith to get the gen on how the rest of the record sounds. “It’s definitely our most diverse record, it goes from aggressive, full-on tracks like Waves Of Fear and Banlieue to stuff like This Is What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted which is a fast piano ballad. Unfamiliar Places is a bit like my solo record – just acoustic guitars and a droning organ in the background, then Wolf Among Men is pretty synth pop and Write This Down is a classic Maximo Park rocker – it’s got some strange keyboard lines through it that distort the fact that it’s a stonking riff. Whatever it is that we do, that’s it!”
Paul admits that the process of getting this album out has been much more drawn out than with previous efforts, and not always easy. After spending the majority of 2009 touring and 2010 working on other projects, 2011 was the true genesis of the album. “We realised things we’d been working on in the first six months of the previous year weren’t doing it for us. They were good, but they weren’t great and a band should strive for greatness, on a day to day level. If it’s not great – what’s the point in putting it out?”
The band regrouped and rethought their position. “We’ve spent three albums exploring the possibility of what the band could be – we’ve gone from punky stuff to more rock stuff then to groovier synth stuff. After all these experiences and a year of working on songs that didn’t quite get to the point it felt like – not make or break, it’s never that dramatic – but it did feel like we needed to come up with something that was as good as anything we’ve ever done. We had to ask ourselves, what is Maximo Park, and what do we do that’s different from other people?”
The realisation for the band that it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel on each new record, brought a clearer focus to their writing and ultimately yielded great results. “Realising that being ourselves wasn’t a regressive step was the best thing we could do. We felt more relaxed and just did the things that came naturally to us instead of trying to force them into directions that didn’t suit the songs.”
“We had to ask ourselves, what is Maximo Park, and what do we do that’s different from other people?”
The band headed into the studio with producer Gil Norton (Foo Fighters, Pixies) who they worked with on 2007’s Our Earthly Pleasures. Given that they were at that time label-less, their contract with Warp having ended after the last record, it was a potentially risky decision. “We ended up making the record with our own money, and that was quite scary because Gil Norton’s a big producer and he’s not cheap and the places he wants to record in aren’t either! We were confident I guess, and it could have backfired but once we knew what the songs were going to sound like we just had to push the button on it, and all the money we had in the world came out of our bank account and we had to say ‘yeah, we believe in it’.”
Having no label to answer to gave the band breathing space to work to their own schedule, with no one to answer to but themselves. V2 Records – a subsidiary of Universal – soon came knocking on their door. “We were really lucky to find people we wanted to work with and didn’t want to change us in any way. After three records of being on an indie label and being able to do what we want, anything other than that wouldn’t be applicable to our band. We’ve done things our own way for the last nine years or so, without that level of independence and creative control we’d just give up.”
And so, with a home for the band at V2 and a direction firmly entrenched, what of the content of this album? “I wanted this to be a modern record – I don’t want to be stuck in the past in terms of our music or our lyrics, and I don’t want to ignore what’s going on in the world – it’s something that concerns me. I wanted to express myself, and in each record you’ve got to express yourself as a lyricist – it’s got to have its genesis in an emotional response.”
Paul found inspiration through literature, in particular a Russian author called Yegevny Zamutin and his novel We, widely thought to be the inspiration behind many of the themes of 1984. “I read this book and I just thought the parallels are still there, this thing that’s almost a cliché now, a dystopian society – that sort of stuff felt more like a cliché until I read this book. It’s about love in that environment and how hard it is to be humane in a modern society that’s gone beyond where it should have gone.”
Relating this to the band’s music encouraged Paul to bring these themes of disillusionment and finding your way through difficult times more to the fore on this album. “The whole of the western world has taken an economic battering because of the system it allowed to be put into place. The National Health is the second song on this record, and I think that’s such a big statement. All the other songs take place in this sick country that’s almost heading towards a slow motion car crash, we’ll never be able to see the final destruction, but we can see hints of its decline. The National Health casts a shadow on some of the more straight-forward songs and makes them a bit more complicated and a bit more nuanced.”
- Feature: Maxïmo Park Instore @ Sound It Out