Maximo Park: ‘We’ve always been an anti-cliche band’
Their seventh album, Nature Always Wins, is, says singer Paul Smith, “a very spacious record for us” – the result, he feels, of a period of reappraisal with bandmates Duncan Lloyd and Tom English.
Reflecting on Yorkshire-born Wooller’s decision to quit the group and emigrate to Australia in 2019, Smith says: “At first I thought it was sad because we’re friends and we’ve been through so much together, but then, as soon as you realise, there’s no going back on this, I started to look at it as an opportunity, really, a way of changing the band. We would’ve had to change anyway because after six records you’re always looking for the way of disrupting your own systems and not going through the same processes whilst also still being Maximo Park somehow. That was the kind of challenge for the other three of us.”
Whilst keen to retain keyboards upfront in their sound – “it separated us out from the crowd, there’s a lot of laddy guitary bands and we’ve never been one of those,” Smith reasons – without their “most musical” member, they had to make the synth lines less complex. “Duncan played a few little riffs and synth parts which we built songs around, like Child of the Flatlands, which was him playing piano, but we also thought this is a good opportunity to have a bit more space in the songs to differentiate this new version of the band from what’s come before. There would be no point in trying to replicate what Lukas does because that was his thing.”
Fortunately they found an empathetic producer in Ben H Allen, who has also worked with Gnarls Barkley, Erasure and Kaiser Chiefs. “Even though there’s lots of hooks and melodies and very upbeat songs, there’s an underlying bed of synths on a few songs,” Smith says. “Versions of You is a prime example of that, where we discussed with Ben what kind of things that we liked between us and he said, ‘I’m thinking Eno and Lanois’ and we were like, ‘yes, we can do that’. People wouldn’t necessarily expect Brian Eno to come up in conversation about our music, but that was how we started the conversation about what the next record would be like.
“It would have been easy to use our live band in the studio, but we thought this is an opportunity to see what the core of the band is, the remaining founder members, and also get the chance to collaborate and get this new territory.”
Where their 2017 album, Risk To Exist, was overtly political – a response to “dog whistle politics or gaslighting” – here the emphasis is on the personal. “It felt like right, we’ve been explicit about this now, people know where we’re coming from, and if anything politically was submerged in the songs in the past it would cast a new light on them,” Smith says. “Going forward people would understand we’ve done that, but also that’s how we feel about things.
“We do come from probably a more left-leaning side and are very interested in social issues. I come from a working class background and it felt like the most honest thing to do, we’re very heart-on-sleeve about our feelings. So now, moving forward, I thought, ‘we’ve done that now, we’ve been explicit, it’s time for more ambiguous stuff’. I don’t mean that in a woolly way, I mean it in a more subtle aspect. The music is really upfront and in your face, then the lyrics are much more reflective, introspective sometimes, melancholy. Those elements rubbing up against each other is what makes it a Maximo Park song.”
The songs Baby Sleep and I Don’t Know What I’m Doing reflect on parenthood. “As a songwriter I’m still following the path of trying to elevate everyday things into song and make them celebrated,” Smith says, considering how fatherhood has changed him as a writer. “My everyday life has changed for sure, I have less time to write songs but I’m trying to make more of that time. I’m up in the attic where I recorded all the vocals and do a lot of writing, and that time is so precious now, but also I do want to be a good father, I don’t want to be absent or absent-minded, so you need to somehow switch off from one thing to the next in order to do things well. I’m less self-centred. If you want to be a good parent it’s just part of the deal, and you hopefully prepare for that in your life, and make space as best you can.
“Sometimes I’ve written songs from the point of view as a parent and then I’ve looked at them at the end of the writing process and tried to take out anything that felt too specific. I just want the songs to be open to as many people as possible without them being too universal and wishy-washy and cliched. I think we’ve always been an anti-cliche band and that still counts on the lyrics on this record. I’ve tried to talk about being older and ageing and looking back on life and wondering about the future, just being true and honest about things.
“Partly Of My Making, the opening song, talks about I had no idea about what it was going to be like, the intensity – the opening line is ‘As you can clearly see, I’ve lost some luminosity, I hadn’t bargained for such intensity’ – that could be about getting older, it could be about a certain situation you’re in and also it could be about having a child and being knackered. Nobody can prepare you for it until it happens but it provides so much joy and also total despair when you think you’re not doing things right or you think you’ve passed down your worst traits like mine – a quick temper – and you wonder about those things and they keep you awake at night. I’ve tried to mask some of those things to make them more ambiguous so people can apply their own lines to what’s going on.”
Maximo Park have lined up a number of shows for later in the year, including The Leadmill in Sheffield on June 15 and Brudenell Social Club in Leeds on August 28.
Smith says the band are “very, very excited by the prospect of getting back on stage”, but he adds: “We’re realistic, we will wait until the last minute with everything so that we can play all of the gigs if possible that are lined up, and if not we will eventually play them for sure.”
He adds: “It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot because I used to two or three gigs a week if possible and I know the love that people have for going to see live music or live arts in general, so I think it will be quite a cathartic thing when we get back on stage.”
Nature Always Wins is out on Friday February 26. www.maximopark.com