Maximo Park Interview

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Maximo Park Interview

We talk online streaming, dressing up and the influences of the North-East of England with Maximo Park frontman, Paul Smith, following the release of the band’s fifth album, ‘Too Much Information’.

Hi Paul, how have you been?
Not too bad, how are you?

We’re good thanks! We’re really pleased to see Maximo Park back with fifth album ‘Too Much Information’; what has the response been like?
I try not to read reviews but when you go out and play the songs you can get an immediate response from the people in front of you and we’ve played a few shows and people have been really positive. I can hear people playing it on the radio and I’m very happy that people seem to like it because when you love the record and you’re excited about putting it out, the public response makes you a little bit nervous. All is well.

Are you one to check chart progress?
Only in the first week, because you can’t escape it. The people around us are all obsessed with that sort of stuff and it has an impact on people booking you for festivals and people see commercial success as a very important thing, whereas for us, I suppose it’s something we have to worry about because it’s our day job, but it’s never been a measure of success in the music that I’ve liked – Nick Drake was never in the top ten! I was happy to see us go in at number seven, so I was very excited that night.

The album is available to stream on your Facebook page; does this risk slow initial sales?
I would assume that it does. You’ve got to be realistic and think, if you’ve not got any money, and you can hear an album online for free, then you’re not necessarily going to go out and buy it. However, as an avid music consumer myself, I would always stream something first and then buy it if I thought it was really good. Even when I was a poor student, I would have a few less drinks and spend that ten pound on a record because it’s accessible in terms of buying something that’s a beautiful piece of art, if you want to consider it like that. It’s a relatively cheap art form, so I have that faith that if you like it then you’d buy it. We put a lot of effort into the artwork and bonus discs and making something that’s worth you spending your time and money on. Having said that, we’re not Beyonce so we can’t just drop an album and everyone will buy it, so we want people to hear it on streaming services. It’s a compromise of the modern world: music is free so let’s give people access to it and put the faith in the music.

You mentioned the artwork; whose idea was the cover of the man shaving his tongue?
It was the idea of an artist called Matt Stokes who’s based in Newcastle. I’ve seen some of his work in the Baltic Art Museum in Gateshead and it was investigating subcultural activity you could say, and one of them was rave culture. The image on the front cover of the album is a rave flyer from 1992. It has a kind of in-your-face quality, which we felt reflected the idea of too much information, and also connections to more Electronic stuff, and we’ve investigated a few musical landscapes that felt in tune with that era. He actually did the videos for ‘Brain Cells’ and ‘Leave This Island’, where he’s interpreted it artistically instead of it being a more commercial enterprise. We’ve tried to get something quite moving and someone shaving their tongue felt like it was definitely too much information!

So, five albums down the line, how have Maximo Park changed and developed? What are you doing differently now?
Pop music’s a funny thing because when people start making music it’s very exciting and they make the statements that they’ve been working on their whole lives, and then it looks like a downward curve a lot of the time. I won’t mention any names, but as people get older their music sometimes gets worse, and my theory is that it should get better. You should learn from your mistakes, the things you’re good at, and I feel like our fifth album is an example of perhaps an upward curve. On one level I would like to think that we set a good standard and we’re a consistent band in terms of our songwriting, but at the same time, there’s a confidence on the new record that we could do anything, and as long as the song was good, it would still sound like Maximo Park. For example, you’ve got more lyrics that are like short stories, compared to more emotional outbursts off our first album, and musically, if we didn’t need to play guitar, then don’t put it in – let’s think about how a record can work and partially that comes from producing an album the first time ourselves instead of going in a studio for four weeks with strict rules and coming out with something that’s a document of those four weeks. This one was a bit more sprawling in terms of its conception and execution – we built our own studio in Newcastle, we recorded some songs with friends – so for us you could reflect on what you were doing, and add that extra confidence and maturity, usually a bad word in Pop music, and you’ve got something that is a real move forward without throwing the baby out with the bath water.

You recently described the album as having a “pot pourri of influences”; can you tell us any specific ones?
Musically there’s an early ‘80s Electronic feel to some of the songs; I’m a big fan of The Associates and The Blue Nile and emotional music but with a frosty musical palette, and it’s a very diverse record that sits alongside Punkier stuff like ‘Her Name Was Audrey’, and you’ve got influences from Minor Threat and Minute Men, a more aggressive American music. It’s quite an unusual mix of different continents and styles. I’ve actually put in a recommended reading list and recommended viewing list – very short – inside the lyric booklet to give people a few extra nods in the right direction. For example I went to my local cinema, The Star And Shadow Cinema, which is a completely volunteer-run place, and they were showing a film about Audrey Lorde, the African-American feminist poet – hence the song ‘Her Name Was Audrey’ – and I was really inspired by the way she spoke and that’s what the song’s about: being bowled over by somebody’s speech and the way they carry themselves. You can realise who it’s about. There are people like that that crop up on the record; Roberto Bolano the Chilean writer and Mark Cousins the filmmaker, both influenced the song, ‘I Recognise The Light’. If you hear about an artist and they’ve been influenced by somebody else, then you can check it out, and it will add to your realm of influences. There are so many things that thread through the songs on this record.

Was it quite a long process writing it?
The writing was pretty quick, actually. The recording was probably that longest that we’ve actually done. Duncan would bring in stuff on guitar that he’d recorded at home and Lucas lives in London so he would email keyboards and some of the singing was done at home on a very primitive microphone, but it ended up on the record just because it sounded good, whereas in the past we might have thought’ “Let’s record it properly on expensive microphones…” It’s out of a sense of pride really wanting to make the best album ever, which is what you’re always trying to do when you go into the studio, whereas this one was a bit more relaxed and spread out over a few months, but come out quicker than any of our others because we didn’t have to wait around for studios or producers. We were just in the North-East of England.

Do you feel like the North-East influences you as well?
I suppose so! When I was at university I used to walk up the same steps that Bryan Ferry used to walk up in Newcastle Art Department. I suppose it kind of isolates us in the North-East. We’re not part of any scene or particular fashion, which made us look a bit odd when we came out, which was in our favour I suppose. People thought, “Who are these guys?” which was fine by us! It allowed us to develop in our own way rather than be influenced by anybody else; we always felt like we were on our own in the North-East, and there are echoes of music in the past, but we were rallying against what was going on at the time. There was bland music, as we perceived it, and we wanted to inject some personality into things.

What would you say were the vital characteristics of a front man?
Being yourself is very important to me, y’know, I’m not Tom Waits – I don’t inhabit any character. However, I do think you need to crank up the volume on whatever personality you have. Some of the angrier songs, it will be a full-on performance, and you want people to remember the way that you are, so you dress in a more extravagant style and that to me is a nice way to create distance between what we do, which is pretty unusual really, going onto a stage and moving your body in a way that attracts people to the music. I don’t stand still, I want the energy and the excitement of the music to be transmitted through the way that I move on stage and obviously, sometimes that’s pretty extreme. When I get dressed up and prepare myself for stage, it’s almost a protective barrier so people don’t see the exact me. Anonymity is something that I prize; it’s a pretty unusual way of living and some people get caught up in that and become odd characters themselves and you meet some people who believe in the Rock ‘n’ Roll myth, so it’s nice to have some of that mythology on stage and dressing up, but it still needs to come from the music itself rather than a cliché. When I’m picking a suit or a hat, hopefully it adds to what’s going on rather than just walking on in tracksuit bottoms!

Thanks for talking to us, Paul, and congratulations on the album.

By Charlotte Mellor

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