It’s 10 years since ‘A Certain Trigger’ was released! Paula Frost caught up with Maximo Park’s Paul Smith ahead of the celebratory tour.
Soon you’re playing The Roundhouse, The Albert Hall Manchester & Newcastle City Hall. What song do you expect the crowd to go nuts for on tour?
(Laughs) Well, it’s a 10th anniversary party and we’re going to play quite a few singles and rarities so I think there will be quite a few parts of the crowd going crazy for some of the old B sides we haven’t played in a long time. But at the end of the show we’re going to play our first album ‘A Certain Trigger’ in full so any of those songs! We haven’t done that since we made the first album. We did it live at Brixton Academy as one of the last shows we did for that record and we played it in order and we wanted to do it again as a bit of a laugh and a celebration of 10 years and still being here. Something like ‘Apply Some Pressure’ always goes down really well.
How does it feel to be selling out shows like that 10 years after your debut album?
It feels good. It’s nice to know that people are still looking out for us and they are excited by another tour after 10 years. We’ve just come off the back of a top ten record so the tour is selling really well which gives you a warmth inside to know that people care about your music.
What’s your favourite album you’ve written?
That’s really difficult because they’re all like your children! You work hard and you create something and the lyrics are all about my life so all of the songs are close to me. They’re about the experiences I’ve had but you always think that the last album you did is as good as anything you’ve ever done. It has to stand up, otherwise you wouldn’t have put it out. I’d say the last album because we’ve learnt a few things and its quite an eclectic record and concise in its own way, quite short. It’s a tough one! For me the first album is still a really good record the songs sound really good to me. I did a record last year with my friend Peter from the band Field Music and we did that with a string quartet. It was totally different from Maximo Park but I still feel it’s as good as anything that I’ve done. It’s a different kind of sound and a different kind of song but it still feels very close to my heart.
‘Books For Boxes’ is to me, one of your most chilling songs, can you shed some light on the lyrics?
I don’t want to spoil it for you! There is a personal meaning to me but its something that resonates in a universal way that people everywhere can get into it and bring their own meaning. Someone packing books in boxes could mean moving in, or moving out. It could be looking back at our life or a new start and throwing books away. It’s got multiple meanings and when I’m singing it I can relate it to a new part of my life although I remember what the songs about exactly from writing it 8 years ago.
What does indie mean to you?
‘I’m aware that people have to try and describe your sound so I never get too upset by the way we’re described. Independent music is where the word ‘indie’ came from so definitely something I associate with and we were on an independent label when we started ‘Warp Records’ and we felt independent to a lot of other bands. Lucas our keyboard player is a key part of the band. It’s not just guitar music, its interested in dance, synthesisers, pianos and it different from other bands. We always felt our sound was different from other peoples. Indie has come to mean safe guitar music, which we don’t allow ourselves to become. Its become a bi word for boring music and its funny how the word has changed over the years, I suppose its because a lot of the bands shifted from indie labels to majors and as a result its all about selling records, commerce and not necessarily about the music and the feelings that go into music in the first place. I have mixed feelings about that word but I’m not too down about it!
When I listen to your first album I feel that the guitar work has a real Johnny Marr type warmth to it, are you influenced by The Smiths?
Yeah, when I was growing up I loved The Smiths and they were my favourite band when I was 14 and through them I ended up listening to Joy Division and listened to more bands by looking at their influences. The idea that Morrissey took bits of literature and put them into his lyrics, ends up being something that you feel influenced by and think its something that you can do whereas if you only listened to Oasis you wouldn’t do that and you might view it as pretentious. The things you grow up with have an effect on your life and for me The Smiths were one of the leading lights of indie music. In my new solo album the music is jingly jangley and it has chiming guitar. It’s also influenced by bands like ‘The Go Betweens’ an Australian band from the 80’s and ‘The Lemonheads’ – when I was growing up I absolutely loved their album ‘It’s a Shame About Rain’ the guitar was jangly, grungy and the vocals were dreamy with lots of harmonies. My new record features Wendy Smith from Prefab Sprout who are another 80’s band and she does a few harmonies on it. I absolutely love their early stuff which was on the independent label Kitchenware Records and I suppose they became more of a glossy pop band but their early stuff defined the word indie and it had a different quality to it than mainstream music. Even now on my new record that sort of stuff still influences me and I love indie pop, circa 86’ was the best of it.
How do you juggle your solo work with Maximo Park?
It’s a big time management issue but it’s a good issue to have. Variety is the spice of life and if you do one thing enough, you get sick of it, one of our songs ‘Girls Who Play Guitar’ is about that funnily enough. The path of excess leads to boredom. You can have too many nights out and forget what its like to be at home, be peaceful and read a book. On a simple level, variety is something I look for and I’m lucky to be able to do two different things because some people become stifled in their own bands. For us we’ve realised that the more we do outside of the band, coming back as a group reenergises us, we come back with new ideas and we don’t get sick of it. When I put my first solo album out in 2010, I could sense that eventually Maximo Park playing the same songs over and over again would get boring and tiring so rather than that I decided to record some new and different songs and go on tour with new people. You end up writing new songs on the tour bus, trying new stuff in sound checks and I realised that I was enjoying making new music with these new people so we called it The Inflammations and made a record but it took four years because Maximo Park takes up so much time and we were touring around the world. But in the mean time I spent weekends catching the train up to Manchester and recording guitar solos, backing vocals and piecing the new record with The Inflammations together over time. I just had to find a way to manage it and I’m lucky enough the rest of the guys don’t mind me doing my own thing and they have their own projects. It’s good to collaborate with other people and keep your options open. It doesn’t mean you cant do two things at once, although it is quite tight now that I realise I’ve got to write some new Maximo Park songs but I’m going on tour with The Inflammations as well! I’ll fit it all in but it’s a nice problem to have! What you want ultimately is to lead an interesting life and live it well.
What makes the songs so different in Paul Smith and The Inflammations compared with Maximo Park?
I think it evolves in its own way. You’re not quite sure of things until its over and you can look back and realise what the album you’ve written was about. Things come together and you’re aware of it but its subconscious. A group of songs can feel right together as a Maximo album and then I can write another bunch that are a bit more dreamy, use simpler structures than Maximo Park and they’re more like old rock and roll songs which are traditional in structure but then I experiment with them to make them soft using synths. The new songs are quite quick, there are only a couple of slow ones but it’s mostly very upbeat. It doesn’t feel too fast because the vocals are dreamy and the guitars are shimmery with effects on them and there’s often an acoustic guitar underneath. It reminds me of music I grew up with like The Cocteau Twins, The Sundays – quite theorial music but at the heart of it my vocals are always quite direct. I sing from the heart about things I know. I think sometime the stuff on my own records are more personal. In Maximo Park there’s that line that I don’t cross because I think What would Tom think of this?‘ You know you start thinking about other people whereas doing your own record, ultimately it comes down to me driving it and what I feel it should sound like. So once you actually get in a room with four other people the whole thing changes and your own ideas mutate and you go into different forms so with the band that’s always going to be the case but with my own stuff I can make something that’s very true to the stuff I listen to and it’s a big mixture of all the things that I like. It comes out as very me and very personal whereas the stuff with Maximo Park is another side to me. It’s more about having an edge and an energy that’s rung through it that feels Maximo Park whereas the music on ‘Contradictions’ ins very me and I’m very pleased with it because it’s a bit more focused on the guitar because I don’t play the keyboards really. There’s a few different touches on there but ultimately it’s a kind of guitar, indie pop record which sounds very summery so its nice to have that contrast from Maximo Park. This feels different, which is one of the reasons I called the album ‘Contradictions’ because I like to do different things that contradict each other and I don’t mind having a slow song that goes on for 4 minutes next to a two minute pop song and I don’t mind doing a record with a string quartet, then doing one that’s completely different with Maximo Park and then doing my own record.
When you come to the band with a set of lyrics for a song, do you already have a structure in mind?
I leave it as open as I can. I write songs that are quite simple and the band decide whether they want to work on them or not. If I’m with my guitar I can make something quite seamless but if I work with a band I usually need to change the lyrics to kit with the music. When I’m writing with my guitar I do that automatically anyway so it’s not dissimilar. When we’re all in the studio we arrange things together so Tom our drummer has as much influence as me. Even though I’ve written the songs he’s still got a big say in the structure and overall sound. I want a good tune, good riff and strong vocal melody.
What bands are you listening to at the moment?
I buy records every week and right now I’m listening to Sleaford Mods ‘Key Markets’, Slow Dive, Holly Herndon and this morning I was listening to The Tinder Sticks who I absolutely loved growing up.
How long have you given yourself to write new material for Maximo Park?
In an ideal world we’d have something out next year. But obviously we’ve got other things on and we’ve got the 10th anniversary shows as well so it will be tricky but it can be done it just depends if we can get our heads together on the tour bus in November and December so we’ve already started writing and I think we can start writing a few extra songs soon. The key is to write as many songs as you possibly can and then you’ve got songs to pick from and you can choose the cream of the crop so that’s where we are at the moment.
What’s your hope for the future of your solo career and Maximo Park?
I just want to keep making good music and make music that’s important to me and to the other guys in the band and keep evolving and trying new things other wise you’re giving people the same thing over and over again which I don’t want to do but its nice to try and stay true to the things you do well and work from the core ideals you’ve got. I love making music and I don’t want to do anything else really so I just keep trying to make good music and each record to me is just another record – I don’t prioritise Maximo Park or my solo stuff. I just want to keep making records that I’m proud of.