Maximo Park: Quicken The Pace
interview by Daniel Coston
originally published in the Big Takeover Magazine,
fall 2009 issue
With Maximo Park’s first two albums having gone double platinum in the UK, and their new album, Quicken The Heart, climbing the charts, US fans had hopes that their planned fall tour of the States would finally break the band in this country. Sadly, Maximo Park was forced to cancel the entire tour, with the band hoping to tour the US again soon. But while Maximo Park’s original plans may have changed, they appear resolute on focusing on the band’s future. Wherever that future may take them.
Formed in Tyne And Wear, near Newcastle, England in 2000, Maximo Park has forged a sound that mixes rock and melodic sensibilities, while their lyrics touch on life’s light and dark possibilities. Quicken The Heart brings more of those extremes to the fore, with producer Nick Launay accenting the rhythmic qualities of the band’s darker hues.
Much like his lyrics, vocalist and lyricist Paul Smith puts a lot of himself on paper. One really gets the sense of how much the music and day-to-day living of being a musician really means to him.
BT: With the new record, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted, going into the studio? Were you looking to try things that were different than the first two records?
Paul Smith: We had a quite a clear idea once we got to the studio in Los Angeles, and when we were choosing a producer. After we’d finishing touring Our Earthly Pleasures, our second album, we just went straight back into the studio, a little studio that we’ve created here in a warehouse. We thought, “Oh, we’ve got a fair amount of songs that we really like. We should just go in and do it like the last two. Just go in, straight off, and at the end of a few months, you’ve got an album’s worth of stuff, and then record it.”
It proved a little bit more difficult than that, because we hadn’t really decided what we had wanted as a group, and all five of us had slightly different ideas of what we wanted to achieve with our band, and our music. We’re pretty good mates, and sometimes, it’s very hard to say anything to someone that you’re close to, that they might deem as offensive. If I was thinking, “I’m not sure about this, it’s a bit too poppy for me,” I’d go with it, and you don’t even realize it.
It sort of reached a breaking point after a couple months of working. We had lots of demos, but the sound wasn’t what we wanted. Sometimes you get caught up in trying to perfect your demos. I don’t think we had a clear idea of what we wanted to sound like on the third record, and we thought that the evolution would be more natural than having to even speak about it. Which wasn’t the case, but once we had spoken about it, we were all on the same wavelength, and as a group, we’re good at writing pop songs with catchy melodies. And then, individually, we bring to the table all of our idiosyncrasies, and it becomes a Maximo Park song. At the end of the process, we thought that we were really happy with the songs now.
BT: Did you come at this record from a different place than you had on the first two albums?
Smith: Not really. It’s all different things that are going on with you that filter into the music. I will say that on the second album, I was questioning myself a lot, asking myself, “Is this what I wanted? Is this what I really the life that I want to have?” But on this album, the lyrics are guilt free. (laughs)
BT: Maximo Park had to cancel a US tour this fall, but do you have some European dates coming up this fall. What are you guys looking at doing from here?
Smith: Over the next new months, we’ve got some personal things to deal with, and after that, get straight back out there on tour. We’re hoping to get back to America next year, and try and play some shows. It’s one of those things where I’m very proud of this record, as I am of all of our records, and I think that if you’ve got something worth putting out there to people, then it’s worth making out get out there to places. That’s why we just booked some shows in November in South America, and then we’re off to Australia.
I think in December, we’ll just try and hook up together, and keep working on new material, ‘cause at the moment, we’re all sort of passing things to each other. Passing songs around. I think there’s a lot of music to be made, and in the past, we’ve thought of it as more of, “Right, here’s the album, let’s go out and tour it, and we’ll tour it until we feel we’ve done enough.” When we were making the last album, one of the things that we did to loosen up the whole process was to work on little blocks together. [Keyboardist] Lukas [Wooller] will come up, and I’ll work with him on a song, and maybe then he’ll go away and work on the same song with Archis, our bassist, might put a bass line down, or a vocal melody, or anything to keep the creative process going. Now that we’ve made three albums, in our pop context that we’ve created for ourselves, it’s time to move on, and see where we can go next.
It’s going to be interesting, because I think we’ve all got slightly different ideas of what next, but keep experimenting with our sound, and yeah, hopefully get out there again next year with new material. Maybe I’m jumping the gun (laughs). Just keep moving on as a band, and indulge ourselves musically. If you’ve got an idea, let’s try it out as a group. If you’ve got individual ideas that don’t mind into the group, do that as well, and don’t feel constrained. Sometimes it feels like you’ve got your head down, and you’re working on the fine details without looking at the bigger picture. Music’s about fun, and being creative. I think everything that we do over the next few months is just to keep ourselves creative, and our live shows as vital as they need to be.
At the moment, I’m working with the rest of the guys on the light show that we’re going to put out. We’re lucky to be playing quite big venues, sort of arena size venues. Our work in Maximo Park is rarely done. We’re pretty involved in every side of it, so that if you’re buying a t-shirt, I want it to be good quality. We’re always in contact with the people that are working for us and with us to try and keep whatever comes out of Maximo Park in the highest quality. I sound like a marketing man there (laughs).
BT: Needless to say, the music means a lot to you.
Smith: I think it should be if not your life, a large part of it. I’ve fought so hard for our band, whether is physically, mentally, creatively. It’s only a small thing to other people, but for us, if I didn’t put all of that effort in, I’d feel like I shortchanging not just other people, but myself. Too many bands coast along. There’s a song on our album, which is “Cresting, Not Coasting.” The first line of that song sums up my attitude to life. You’ve got to try and maintain a rich life, a life that takes in lots of different things. I try to absorb as many things as I possibly can, so that it can enrich the songs.
I can be a large part of your life, but not forget the things you need to do as a human being. Being in a band is sometimes quite dehumanizing. You could allow yourself to go, “Well, we’re doing the same thing, I know what I’m doing,” and go through the motions. My life is dedicated to not going through the motions, and keep connecting with the music that we have. In order to perform it to people, and to try and craft something. Something that’ll inspire others, and inspire ourselves. If I have a job, that’s it (laughs).
BT: I saw your invited fans to pick your set list for Glastonbury. Were you surprised by what they picked?
Yeah, I was. A lot of the big hitters almost didn’t get in there. You’d look at the votes, and we were like, “Blimey, are we going to play ‘Apply Some Pressure’ tonight?” And in the end, some old favorites won out. We knew that one of the songs that people wanted us to play was “A19,” which is an old B-side. We decided to open with that, and I thought, “Not many people are going to know this song, apart from the front row.” And most of those fans wouldn’t even get in, because the opening show of Glastonbury was in a little tent, with 1500 people squeezed in, and there was tens of thousands trying to get in. And in the end, it caused a complete crush, and the show had to be delayed by five or ten minutes while extra barriers were put up.
It was a pretty intense time, because I knew that we were going to play “A19” as the first song. And I was thinking, “Why are we opening with this song that nobody knows?” But we were like, “But it kicks ass (laughs), so let’s just do it.” But it was cool, because it put us on edge. I also thought, “Well, we’ve given something to people that are interested in our band.” We’ve actually engaged with them, and we’re not just prancing around on stage, detached. It’s about making sure that the people in the audience are part of the show, and not just spectators. They have to engage with the songs, the lyrics, and the melodies, and only then does the show become this kind of transcendant rock and roll experience.
BT: I know that you’re a football fan. Has being a longtime football player helped your perception of the frontman role in a rock and roll band?
Smith: Yeah, I suppose so, in an very abstract way. The thing I love about football is the rhythms of it, like you’re into the game and your absorbed by it. The passing and the rhythms, and when there’s a flow about [a team], it’s a joy to watch. And as a frontman in a band, I’ve physically got to know what to do to really engage the guy in the back. The girl down the front, she doesn’t want to see some guy pulling off stupid, airhead stadium rock moves. But at the same time, I’ve got to project outwards so that the person at the back is having a good time, but also knows what the song is about. In a way, my body is the only thing I can use, because I don’t have an instrument.
Some of the things that I love in football are when somebody does a little move and expresses themselves, and says, “I can do this, and I’m gonna show you what kind of a player I am.” (laughs) Even when you’re doing a set, you’ve got to find the right time to play certain songs. You don’t want to play loads of fast ones, and then just a slow set afterwards. It’s about pace, and about rhythm, and I’ve jumped around for the first two songs, and then knackered for the rest of the show, then people aren’t going to get the best show possible. I’d like to think of myself as a flair player. (laughs). Let’s just leave it there.