On the cover of The Maccabees’ fourth album, Marks To Prove It, is a photograph of a large steel box-shaped structure lit up at night.
It’s a monument, on the southern roundabout at the Elephant and Castle, that perhaps few, bar the denizens of this south London neighbourhood, would be familiar with yet the band saw in it a greater metaphor for the album they’d spent three years perfecting in a nearby studio.
Singer Orlando Weeks explains: “It’s a photograph of the Faraday memorial which is a 50s architectural sculpture in the middle of the roundabout at the Elephant. It was by a photographer who took a picture of it in its very early days, in its pomp.
“We’d been going to commission some artwork, maybe make some kind of light installation in the area. All of our plans were exciting but just massively expensive and we didn’t have the money so we felt like ‘what are we going to do?’ Then I saw this photograph and suddenly it made sense, it did everything that we were trying to explain with the record [which was] that probably on your doorstep, on our doorstep, was something that did the job that was sort of extraordinary or had more to it than perhaps you’d given it credit in the past, so that was the feeling trying to show something that you’d overlooked.”
Though curiously ignored for this year’s Barclaycard Mercury Prize, Marks To Prove It is the biggest step up yet in both artistic and commercial terms for an indie rock five-piece who have been going for more than a decade. Two months ago it entered the UK charts at No1, however the creative battle to get the battle to get the record right had been a long one.
“I think we gave ourselves a bit of a false start,” says Weeks. “We had that awful thing of thinking that we could see the finishing line and then having to be really honest with ourselves that it wasn’t good enough. I think that’s why we made things tricky, really, but we were very conscious of getting it right.”
Because the band have their own studio, Weeks thinks The Maccabees spent much of the first year on this album experimenting, “trying out all these things and carrying on where we left with the last record [Given To The Wild], with it being over-lush and over-complicated”.
“What we came back to,” he says, “was thinking, ‘Right, we’ve got to be able to play it with us in a room and if it works then that gives it the go-ahead’. Rather than just layering and layering and samples and drum machine, it just needed to go it bit more back to basics.”
After being perennial nearly-men for several years, the widescreen sound of Given To The Wild had proved a turning point for the band, winning over new fans and music critics alike.
“It gave us a fresh lease of life, I think, it gave us a new starting point,” Weeks says. “I think of the records we’ve done as the first two and then the second two.”
Going to the very top of the charts with Marks To Prove It, however, was “very odd”.
“It doesn’t really count for anything, if you know what I mean, you don’t get a funny hat or something to prove it,” the singer reflects. “But I think we’ve been very lucky that we’ve had the same label, the same management, most of the same team, pretty much everyone we’ve worked with we’ve stayed in touch with, and I think it felt like a joint achievement.
“I was away for about three weeks when it happened but when I got back I was bumping into people and feeling a very brief and unspoken moment with someone that I can see in their eyes it meant something to them, so yes, it’s been nice staggering what is a very abstract and surreal experience, it’s been gratifying.”
The Maccabees play at the O2 Academy Leeds on November 25. www.themaccabees.co.uk