Maximo Park
Defying right wing populism one show at a time...

“I saw Tony Bennett here and it was a brilliant outing, so when it came round to booking dates for this tour I said, ‘Can we play the Royal Festival Hall?’ And here we are,” says Maxïmo Park frontman Paul Smith of the meteoric occasion that is the band’s performance inside the Southbank centrepiece.

The quartet are nothing short of indie icons. First hurtling onto the scene in 2004 with electrifying debut ‘A Certain Trigger’ vocalist Paul Smith, guitarist Duncan Lloyd, keyboardist Lukas Wooller and drummer Tom English have gone on to release a further five studio records all as infectiously rhythm-fuelled as each other, but tonight the attention turns to latest LP ‘Risk To Exist’.

The singer describes the venue as “an exemplar for concert halls” ahead of their show in the capital. “I think it’s going to be the first time we have played an all seated place in London. We played Newcastle City Hall maybe a year and a half ago and that was all seated. That was the first time we had played in an all seated place properly and it went really well, so it didn’t feel like a hindrance to me to do that. The new record has a bit more space in it and the pace is not always frantic. Our records are pretty diverse within what we do but I guess some people still associate us with breakneck speed stuff.”

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The new record has a bit more space in it...

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‘Risk To Exist’ is a politically charged record and, while still being threaded with a quintessential romanticism, it is perhaps a slight departure of overriding themes from the Newcastle natives. Lyrics include, “We will have to make a journey through the eyes of idiots, where every problem in the country is blamed upon the immigrants,” on ‘The Reason I Am Here’, so does Paul feel like he has a duty to speak out about issues in our currently desolate society?

“I don’t think every artist should write a political song or make a political record, but I don’t know how it couldn’t impinge on the way that you create something, unless you’re completely divorced from reality. I feel a duty because our songs have always been about the real world, elevating the ordinary and putting it into a song. Singing about things seems to make them feel a bit better and a lot of people who listen to our music tap into the melancholy side of it. We’re not Kasabian or somebody else who is a bit more in your face, and we’re not some jaunty people making frivolous things for no particular reason, we care about the songs and we care about music.”

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This is evidenced in part on the track ‘Work And Then Wait’. The song tackles the stigma surrounding citizens who sign on to the UK’s benefit system. “How do you put that into a song? How do you make it clear what you’re on about? How do you not just state the obvious? It’s the idea of people accepting any old job and then being told to be dignified and being told that they’ve made it. Usually they’re told that by very rich people who have been on benefits since the day they were born, only their benefits are handed out by their mother and father or their guardian. It’s amazing that those people don’t see that as some sort of contradiction. The main refrain is, ‘I won’t be put in my place’ and anybody could connect with that,” Paul offers.

The LP was recorded in Chicago at Wilco’s recording studio, a decision made due to the impeccable live sound the band could achieve there, however the location was not entirely integral to the output from the four-piece. “I think in some ways we could have recorded it anywhere and it would have sounded fairly similar,” begins Paul. “I guess if we hadn’t of done it in America we certainly wouldn’t have had Mimi Parker from the band Low on it, and if we never make another record then at least we spent a day in the studio with her singing our songs. We had three weeks and that was it. We’ve always done the other records in four or five, but this time around we rehearsed as much as we possibly could so that we could just go in and play.”

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I also love dressing up, I’m already ready for stage.

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Their stateside trip also coincided with the American Election, and made all involved in the job realise the scale of widespread political unrest our world faces. “Watching the election out there unfortunately confirmed what we were writing about was not confined to our own country – if we needed that confirmation it was there. Max who arranged some of the horns on the record said, ‘This to me seems to be about Donald Trump, this seems to be about the idea of trying to be resistant in the face of people with right wing views,’ and so it validated what we were doing knowing that the people that we were working with understood the songs as much as anybody in our country would, that was interesting,” recalls Paul.

Extracurricular activities undertaken during the recording process included a trip to a basketball match for Paul. “I went to see the Chicago Bulls play basketball, it was amazing. They were playing the Cleveland Cavaliers who are the reigning champions. I’m a big basketball fan, I used to play when I was at school and I just went by myself because nobody else cares, so it was just me taking selfies with loads of trophies in the background,” laughs Paul.

“I love the showbiz of it, and it extends to our band as well. I love playing and being into the songs, emoting and trying to figure out what they’re about on stage while people are there and having a unique experience each night. I also love dressing up, I’m already ready for stage. It’s a bit of fun and it’s something that people can recognise when they come and see us, that I might dress up a little,” he continues alluding to the leopard print shirt he is currently wearing.

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Six albums in it’s interesting to know whether the band are still inspired by the same topics as they were at the time of ‘A Certain Trigger’ being released. “I think that album set our stall out somehow and we have tried to extend outward from there, but somewhere within us we’re the same people that made that record. It was a very romantic record so from that point of view there’s still that on our new album. Even though it’s more politically orientated it ends with a song called ‘Alchemy’ which is fairly pure love song – it’s love conquers all.”

“We try and upset the rhythm a little bit, we want to write pop songs. I just remembered the other day that we put out our first single ourselves on red vinyl and we had etched into the groove ‘Popular music that isn’t popular yet,’ so we’ve always had that idea of being very ordinary people, polite and pleasant, but making this music that we believe is bigger than the four of us,” the singer explains.

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I try and write with visual things in mind...

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Maxïmo material also finds much inspiration in many other art forms, the first video for ‘Apply Some Pressure’ took influence from David Lynch, (Paul hopes the Twin Peaks resurrection is, “more series one than series two”) and ‘The Hero’ from the new record was inspired by the Italian neorealist Visconti film, Rocco and His Brothers. “Reading certain poems has definitely influenced the way that I write. I try and write with visual things in mind having been somebody who likes to draw and paint, although I don’t get as much time these days, but I often go to art galleries,” Paul expands. 

Wrapping up our chat Clash feels obliged to enquire about ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’. The track from their second record, ‘Our Earthly Pleasures’ is over ten years old now, but it’s a relevant sentiment as a rising crop of girl bands begin to storm to the forefront of the new music scene. “Girl Ray are really good, I’m looking forward to seeing more of what they’re doing. Obviously we’ve PINS playing with us, and there’s so many bands at the moment, there always is. I’m interested to see what The Big Moon will do, I heard one of their songs that I really liked but because we’ve been on tour and practicing I haven’t had the time to investigate further, but I was intrigued for sure,” Pauls says.

Highlighting so many of the flaws within our society, ‘Risk To Exist’ is Maxïmo Park at their boldest, offering honesty in lyricism and escape within musicality, but most notably it’s a testament as to why, as a band, they are still achingly necessary.

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Maximo Park's new album 'Risk To Exist' is out now.

Words: Shannon Cotton

For tickets to the latest Maximo Park shows click HERE.

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