Maximo Park are all smiles. They’ve been at it for two hours, at least, but they’re far from out-questioned just yet.
Lukas Wooller, keyboard player and sporter of fine spectacles this fine weekday lunchtime, flashes DiS a smile in Warp Records’ office; he’ll be with us in a minute, he’s just going to grab some water. They’re doing all their interviews in the office’s kitchen, where a water cooler is to be found. Just what water, exactly, does Wooller want?
Duncan Lloyd, lead guitarist and the firmest of hand-shakers of the assembled four (Tom English, drummer and former member of Field Music, is absent), welcomes DiS as we settle in for fifteen minutes that soon becomes more; vocalist Paul Smith and bassist Archis Tiku soon join the Q&A. We’re all here because of one thing: Our Earthly Pleasures, the band’s second album, due for release in early April. The album, produced by the revered Gil Norton, is preceded by a single, ‘Our Velocity’, on March 19.
The record will take fans of their first LP, the acclaimed A Certain Trigger, slightly by surprise; it’s a fuller-sounding record, one that benefits from the band’s obvious love of pop music. Adjectives like ‘angular’ and ‘jagged’ are likely to be left by the wayside as reviewers wrap their ears around an album that’s as Elton John as it is any wickedly influential post-punk act of years past. Its influences are myriad, and its cohesiveness is surprising given the single-quality of many of the twelve tracks.
But Our Earthly Pleasures will be reviewed in due course; for now, it’s over to the band to talk about its genesis, and their plans for the coming year. Something they're set to be doing all day...
Our Earthy Pleasures: there’s a tried and tested adage that goes along the lines of ‘difficult second album’, but was this difficult in any way?
Duncan: Not really, no. The only difficult thing was that we’d written quite a lot of songs, so it was tough actually picking out which ones to use. Gil Norton helped with that actually – he came to Newcastle for about a week and we went through them all. He helped pick the ones that were the best of the bunch, or the most finished. I think the thing is with us, as a band, is that we’re writing all the time, so there’s always a lot to choose from. But we didn’t fell any pressure or anything.
Lukas: We had a lot more time on this record.
You’ve never been a band that’s shied away from doing ‘proper’ b-sides, so there must be a place for the extra, ‘leftover’ material?
Duncan: Actually, all the b-sides on ‘Our Velocity’ are new songs. We like doing stuff like that rather than just putting out loads of versions of one song, or remixes. I think we’ve always wanted to put out more songs, and songs that show a side to the band that we can’t put on our album.
Lukas: Like, really acoustic stuff – we can’t put that on the record, and it’s nothing we ever do live, but it’s nice to put it on a b-side.
Duncan: It’s nice to experiment with the recording, too, ‘cause some of the songs are recorded at home on old reel-to-reel tape that’s spliced a bit. You get to do stuff like that on b-sides, to experiment a bit.
I suppose it helps once the weight of the album is off your shoulders…
Duncan: That’s it, yeah. The b-sides do come off with an air about them…
Lukas: On some of them, Paul’s constrained himself by writing these obituary songs which are, basically, lyrically, just a biog of someone. He’s been looking at obituaries and taking the best bits and using them for a song.
Duncan: He says that it’s almost easier to write about other people. He’s been reading the ‘papers. There’s another song that didn’t make the album, called ‘Distance Makes’, which we all really like. We played it live at some small local shows, just to try out some new stuff, and it went down really well. That should become a good live one, so we’ll keep playing that.
It must be good having this wealth of b-side material in your back pocket?
Duncan: Yeah, that’s it. We always try to write a mixture of b-sides, so when we write an upbeat one they come through in the live sets, and when they’re rare songs it makes it more exciting for people, you know? Like, ‘Which one was that?’
Working with Gil must’ve brought out other sides of the band that weren’t there on A Certain Trigger. He’s quite a reputation – I’ve certainly got a lot of records with his name on the back of them…
Duncan: One thing I got off Gil was that he gave us a lot of confidence, as he had a lot of belief in it. Towards the end of one of our tours – I think we were in Manchester – we just got a phone call from him saying that he really liked our stuff and he wanted to work with us. His engineer, Adrian, had suggested us to him and he said he’d love to do some stuff with us. He saw us at T In The Park and he said, then, that he wanted to get our live sound onto tape. The fact that it was Gil Norton was amazing!
Lukas: We were at the point were there were other producers in the running but then this guy came up and, like you say, you’ve got loads of records with his name on them. He said he really wanted to do this album, so for him… he hasn’t done a band like us for a long, long time. We’re definitely a step away from his usual work. He obviously really meant it, too, to step out of his comfort zone.
Duncan: When we were recording a lot of the songs you could hear his methods. I could hear, especially with the guitar, how he gets those sounds, like even on the Pixies records. It was great, and he was also bringing out that live power that we have – if you heard our first record, but then saw us live, we’re much bigger-sounding live.
Lukas: It’s heavier than we imagined it would be.
Duncan: Yeah, while he was mixing it we were like, push it, push it! So I think we’re all really happy with it – it all came together luckily, because we just clicked with Gil. He was very encouraging – if we had ideas we’d try them out, as he’d let us do that. I think if he felt that there was a part in the wrong place, or if a part was weak and he wanted us to work on it, he’d kind of leave us to it. There was one song, ‘The Unshockable’, that went through loads of changes before he told us the original was fine. And he, himself, was learning too, as were all of us. But we never once felt any pressure – we felt we were going through the process that was needed to get the album done, and it just made sense. He helped make things clear and more focused. I suppose when there’s five creative minds all going on one thing, you need someone on the outside to give you a little more direction.
Was ‘Our Velocity’ always marked out as the lead single?
Paul: It was marked out as a single, but then the more you record the more things come to the fore, and then you realise that you can’t make those decisions until the end. While we were aware that the song had this incendiary quality and a sort of traditional Maximo Park sound… people aren’t gonna go, 'Woah, they’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater'. You write a selection of songs for nobody but yourself, but then you realise that certain songs will help people get into the new album. ‘Our Velocity’ was written in the middle of the process – some of these songs were written around the time of the last record, and we thought this is the new direction, then. You don’t know which ones are going to go on and which won’t, but there was definitely a point where a bit of old and a bit of new were mixing, and for all our talk of heaviness on this new record, there is a real contrast between that and the lighter moments.
Something that’s really apparent after just a couple of listens to Our Earthly Pleasures is that almost all of the songs could be plucked and used as a single. There’s a real consistency of quality throughout…
Paul: It’s an interesting thing, because it is quite arbitrary: you could pick any of the songs and they all have an element of ‘the new’ to them. I look down the tracks and wonder why certain songs like ‘Our Velocity’ stood out in the first place. Y’know, I like Billy Joel – I call him Billy Jo’elle – and I like The Stranger record, and that’s the bottom line. Some of the lyrics are poor, and some of the melodies are on the side of cheese, but there’s something about that music that makes me think, great. When it’s a piano, you start thinking how different it is, and it encompasses a lot of things that aren’t necessarily cool… You know, something like ‘Your Urge’ had us thinking of Yo La Tengo, and for a while we called it ‘Yo La Lukas’, because he’d come up with this riff that sounded quite mesmerising but it was still a gentle, piano-led thing. But then the song turns into something a lot darker, I suppose. You need that nice juxtaposition, between light and dark, on a record.
And the sequencing of the album must’ve been very important. You just know that some bands fall out over thing like that…
Paul: It’s like that Metallica film, Some Kind Of Monster, where they argue over every little thing. What we did was have a little discussion, and in the end we all had an individual opinion. We decided on the sequencing on the day of the ‘Our Velocity’ video shoot, and it suddenly seemed really obvious. Even Tom, Mr Set List, was like, ‘That was easy, then’. You have to think about it from different aspects – from a downloading point of view and a traditional album aspect. And you have to think about singles – there are still discussions about what’s going to be the second single, and what’ll be the third one. In the end it doesn’t matter too much, because all the songs have strengths enough to stand alone as singles, and we do have these pop sensibilities in our brains. We sometimes do write things that don’t work as Maximo Park songs, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good! As writers, pop songs are in our brains – choruses and melodies, these are what we were brought up on, and I don’t think we’ll ever lose those.
Do you think Our Earthy Pleasures will successfully move the band on from being bracketed as an ‘angular’ act, whatever that means, or part of the scene that seemed to rise up thanks to the production of Paul Epworth? (Epworth produced A Certain Trigger.)
Lukas: We never said we were part of anything. That was something that came from outside.
Paul: I thought we were very new rave at the time.
Lukas: But yeah. ‘Acrobat’ is a good example of us not being ‘angular’.
Duncan: Even ‘Graffiti’ and ‘Going Missing’: they’re pretty pop songs, but they’re ‘angular’ are they?
Paul: You’re defined by the time you’re around in, and I think with this second record people will see more of what we’re capable of as musicians.
So you think that Epworth directed you a little too much on the first album, as you were presumably excited to just be making an album in the first place?
Paul: It’s difficult to say, ‘cause we were in the studio for the first time. All we wanted was our record in the shops so we could point it out to our friends.
Do you think you moving away from Epworth, and Bloc Party doing likewise, is a sign that acts want to distance themselves from that whole ‘angular’ thing of a couple of years ago?
Lukas: They’ve always been a very different band to us, and that’s become a lot clearer on these second records. Y’know, I don’t think there’s any band like us, and any progression we make is going to take us away from anyone else, and I think the same of Bloc Party – we started going in different directions, and now we’re even further apart.
Paul: I think both of us are quite ambitious, artistically, if I can say that about such flimsy things as pop songs, but we do care about them. There’s no real irony about what we do – in the studio, I don’t think there is one band that would want to do the same thing twice. The world’s our oyster, as musicians and performers, and we can do anything we like.
You’re touring fairly extensively in April and May, but what does the rest of the year hold in store for the band?
Paul: Festivals, other countries… we’ll keep recording b-sides. We have a plan for those – something’s brewing. I think you only find out what people think of a record when you play it live. Like, I went to see Low last night at The Spitz, and now I’ve an idea of what their record’s going to sound like. Rather than me coming to it cold, I’ve already got an opinion of those songs live. And there will be moments of our live set that people have never discovered on record.
Duncan: We did ‘Your Urge’ in Newcastle, and we wondered if people would get it. But straight away people were like, YEAH.
Paul: I have a sneaky suspicion that ‘Sandblasted And Set Free’ will become a real live favourite because it has this real lift in it. Even though it’s quite an abstract song, especially for us…. You just want to find out these things. It’ll be nice to be talking to you in a venue rather than a kitchen, because then you’ve got something to look forward to that’s very alive. We’re talking about something, right now, that’s a very live and beautiful thing that we’re hoping to connect with people. So I can’t wait to do that.
Maximo Park tour in April and May – lookie lookie!
23 Cardiff University
24 Leeds University
25 Nottingham Rock City
26 Manchester University
27 Liverpool University
30 Bristol Carling Academy
1 Southampton Guildhall
2 Norwich UEA
3 Birmingham Academy
5 Glasgow Barrowlands
6 Aberdeen Music Hall
7 Sunderland Manor Quay
8 Newcastle Northumbria University
10 London Astoria
11 London Shepherd’s Bush Empire
12 London Forum
Our Earthly Pleasures is released via Warp on April 2; click here for the band’s MySpace site.
Photograph by Dean Chalkley