– GoldFlakePaint meets The Maccabees –
by tom johnson
As we testify to in today’s album review, The Maccabees have created a tour-de-force on new, and fourth, LP ‘Marks To Prove It‘. Expertly crafted, beautifully delivered and with a fiery heart underpinning it all, the record is a thrilling reaction to the more softened glow of previous record ‘Given To The Wild’. Painstakingly created and recorded in their own studio space in the middle of London’s ever-changing face, it was a record that pushed them all the way.
Ahead of its release this coming Friday, GoldFlakePaint sat down with frontman Orlando Weeks to speak about their achievement, what it means to him and how it sits with one of this generations most sublime and enticing back catalogues. Check it out below and read our review of the album here.
How does it feel to be back in Maccabees form, does it ever feel any different?
I can’t really remember how it felt last time. I assume it was an equal amount of pride and feeling we’d done the best job we could. It’s interesting…I mean, if people don’t like the record that’s fine and if they do that’s fine too and you can have a good conversation about it either way, but I’ve already done the worry so it can be nothing but interesting now to see how it goes from this point.
At which point does the worry come then?
In the making of it. I’ll fret over everything. I was just saying that, in a way, it’s one of the ways of knowing that we’ve made the record as genuine or sincere as we could, because we’ve fussed over it so much during the process and constantly doubted it.
Do you feel any older or wiser this time around?
(Laughs) I’m not sure about that. We started this because we wanted to make something…to make something you know? And one of the most attractive elements of that was to do it as a gang, and the bands we thought were great all uphold that tradition, and in as much as you’re never just your father’s son, you’re also not just the band you’re in. It can often be a strange thing but I love all the boys very much and I feel very grateful to be lumped in with them.
With that in mind, do you get reflective about where you’ve come from and what you’ve achieved?
While mulling a fine whisky and passing around a cigar? No, I don’t, sadly! All of those things, when look back now, all I can see and hear is this self-conscious nineteen year-old trying way too hard. I don’t like watching old performances or listening to old records, I don’t even like listening back to the new songs while we’re recording them because I’m already working out the things I’m not going to like in six months time. In many ways I’m very nostalgic about a lot of things but when it comes to things that I’ve done, no, I’m not at all. I don’t have any desire to relive it.
So what can people expect from the new record, now we’re on the cusp of its release?
We wanted to put ‘Marks‘ first because, after the slog of making the record, it felt like it set it up really nicely. The album version has this long, twilight demise, like it’s already drifting off somewhere else, and I consider that the real intro to the record, almost like a preface. Then Kamukura follows and I think that’s much more representative as a whole. But I think one of the records strengths is that were you to only listen to the first and last song I’m not sure you’d think they were the same band and I think that the record has an arc to it that isn’t predictable. And that was something we really cared about; how it all fits together, how each track justifies its inclusion, and the context. We thought about it a lot.
How much time did you spend on sequencing?
Unbelievable amounts. I’m pretty sure we created the most boring email chain there’s ever been. We would settle on something and that would last for two days and then someone would say it didn’t work at all. We had thirteen or fourteen songs and I was convinced it should be a ten track record. Then we had two sets of songs; one we considered nighttime songs and one set that we felt were like the beginning of a new day and that was so key to some of my understanding of the record, as a whole, but then some of the other boys pointed out that the record should be able to stand-up to people who didn’t have that knowledge and so it became a very tough process.
Do you think you got where you wanted to in the end?
Yeah, I do. I think it has a narrative and I think some people will notice that and others won’t, and that doesn’t matter either way, and hopefully the songs carry themselves. For those that do get it, I think it’s a further revelation in the record and that’s a really nice thing to have.
Is that narrative you talk about natural or is it worked upon before and throughout?
Unfortunately not. It would be a lot easier if we could do that, and there have been times when we’ve tried to force it, but I think the way The Maccabees works is that there’s this exhaustive process where it slowly reveals itself. This record took a long time for us to figure out what the key components were going to be and in finding those characters – be it the fifty year old piano we found in the studio, or the female vocal all full of reverb – all of them were so important in establishing what we were trying to get at, and we needed that long amount of time. It’s a process of elimination rather than immaculate conception.
Was there a certain moment when you felt it all started to pull together?
There was this song, Spit It Out, which I could imagine it working completely differently to the way Felix thought it might. We got this guy Lloyd to come in and be a presence in the room while we worked on it and his input suddenly made us see a lot of the songs in a different light. Spit It Out especially went from being something of a bone of contention to becoming a bench mark for what we could make work. It was proof that songs we thought would never make the record, given the right motivation, could be made to work really well.
And I guess that came down to having your own studio space for the first time. How much did that impact the record?
It was crucial. It’s strange because you’re in your own space and it can feel entirely liberating because your time is your own but it also can feel a bit like a prison sentence. You can come in for three weeks, from ten in the morning until ten at night, and nothing works and it doesn’t feel like anything is happening and it starts representing everything it’s not supposed to. It should be a liberating space for original and productive thought and actually it’s a drain. Which isn’t the space’s fault at all but it can feel like it. So you just keep bashing away and hopefully you find a way out of it. You’ve got to go through the ringer.
Did a lot of the songs change quite dramatically then?
I think all of them will have been on a merry dance. ‘Something Like Happiness’ has had twenty versions, I should think, and a lot of them exist in all sorts of different states of undress.
A lot has already been made about the ‘weird’ parts on the record – where did that side of things come from?
I can’t speak for other bands but I think some of that is a result of there being five people having different opinions on what will make a song good and having to recognise those – maybe not on every song, but I can take each song individually and tell you who’s vision was leading. Hopefully it’s not disjointed as a result of that; I think we still found a cohesion.
I also think, as with all things, you’re trying not to repeat the mistakes you’ve made and trying to improve on the things you felt worked well last time around. It was never a conscious thing but I think one thing this record has done is justify a lot of the music that we’ve made in the lead up to this one, and it shows it up and gives it some context. I think Given To The Wild was so disjointed from the previous two records, that playing it live among the older songs just didn’t really work. But somehow this new one allows them to all sit together as a set, and also justifies the work we have done previously, so that’s really nice and quite unexpected actually, a nice happy accident.
Did you always feel that way about Given To The Wild?
Well that record was made to be that way. We made a decision that we would never try to work out how it would be played live while we were recording it. But actually, in the end, that was a bit of a shame because after it had been released we realised that the live show just didn’t work in the same way, it just wouldn’t fit. But with this record, one of the things we were sure of was that we didn’t want to do that again, so it was trying to achieve the kind of atmosphere…that it had its own personality but without using the tricks that felt very limiting when it came to playing it live.
A lot has been made about the band’s thoughts on London and how this record is about gentrification etc – what are your thoughts on that?
For me, the record is only about London because we happen to be London-based just now. I think what I was trying to get across, with what I was writing, was that it’s a record that should appeal to you wherever you are. It’s about where you are and that, within that, there will be things that given the right opportunity you’ll look at differently and see romantic or extraordinary stories happening everywhere, all the time, even in a place like – in inverted commas – “Elephant & Castle” that doesn’t have a very good reputation for any of those things. So that was my point, and I hope that the record, while set in a place that doesn’t have a reputation outside of the ‘grim’ representation that it’s been labeled with, shows that there are those things and they do exist and they can be beautiful and sometimes all they require is a second look.
Where d you tend to pull your lyrics from?
Quite often it’s just a seed of an idea taken from something I’ve overheard, walking to the studio or on the night bus or anything really, and then I apply that one line, even if its taken out of context, to an idea I’ve had and try and make something out of that snapshot. With this record I wanted to see if I could make songs that felt like they achieved that without them just being about me and not being in first-person, while also hoping they still had an emotional pull and a relevance.
Your songs are always very character-based and humane – I was wondering if you ever wrote stories or if that’s something you’d like to do?
Yeah, I do, I really enjoy it too. I do a great deal actually. I find it very therapeutic to fix my brain in that way and escape. There about all sorts of odd things. I don’t expect them to ever see the light of day but I think it’s a great way to spend some time. I’m very bad reader, so usually when it’s the time that most people would read, I’ll scribble down a short story.
And did you do that before you started writing songs?
A little bit. I always thought I’d be an illustrator, so I used to do that a lot more and I always thought that was how I was going to try and make a living. I imagine I would have liked to have written stories to go along with them.
So what about the next chapter – do you have any inkling for where the band goes from here or does that come later?
I think it will have to come later. At the moment it’s very much in the moment, we’re spending a lot of time talking about the record so we naturally feel very much in that headspace for now. The record is out this week and we’ll tour it for eighteen months and then we’ll take some time out and go again, and that’s certainly the way we’re looking at it just now. Also by talking about this new album I’ve become more and more aware of what a reactionary album it actually is, I think it’s the counter-point, in many ways, to Given To The Wild and it wasn’t necessarily supposed to be that, so I’m still exploring this record and learning and understanding a lot about it myself.
I wanted to ask about your longevity and why you think you’ve succeeded where so many others have fallen by the wayside?
I should think it’s lots of things, but I think we’ve never had a blow-up moment, it’s always been a very gradual process. The size of venues, the album sales; they’ve all been very steadily increasing as we’ve gone on. And I hope we’ve never rested on our laurels and we’ve been very conscious of trying not to repeat ourselves…we’ve also been very lucky. We’ve had a label that have supported our very slow processes and turn-around, and a manager and agent that have been there all along and feel very much part of the team. So there are lots of reasons but I’m sure luck is an enormous part of it.
So you just keep on keeping on – is that the plan?
Yeah, it is. I think you can plan as much as possible and of course you always want to try and make the best possible thing that you can. You want to push yourself as much as possible and you’re always trying to improve and streamline, and that’s always exciting and, I hope, meaningful.
Marks To Prove It is released on Friday.
Read our review here / Pre-order your copy here