PAUL SMITH may have been releasing records for the past decade but the Maximo Park singer, currently moonlighting with a solo project, says that in many ways the time has flown by in the blink of an eye.
“I feel like I am just getting started as a musician,” the Billingham-born frontman says. “There are so many things to do. That’s why I end up putting out records like Frozen By Sight [his late 2014 chamber-pop collaboration with Peter Brewis of Field Music] and Contradictions [his new album with his band The Intimations] then want to make another record immediately.”
The next few months are certainly going to be busy for the 36-year-old singer. There’s a UK tour already under way with The Intimations swiftly followed by dates in Europe. Then in November and December he’s back on the road with Maximo Park.
The songs on Contradictions evolved over a four year period after his last solo outing, Margins. While touring with bass player Claire Adams – who’s also in the Leeds bands Beards and The Commiserations – and drummer Andrew Hodson, they started “putting songs together on tour buses and in hotels”. Being called back to record and tour with Maximo Park gave Smith “time to assess what we had”. In windows of opportunity last year he drafted in his friend Peter Brewis, Wendy Smith from Prefab Sprout and Rachel Lancaster from Silver Fox to make guest appearances on specific tracks. The periods of reflection, he feels, “worked in my favour”, giving him chance to “finalise other things like the artwork and make something a bit special”.
Many of the lyrics were assembled at home from notes he had made while “looking out of windows on buses or on the train”. It’s approach he says he likes. “Even in Maximo Park somebody might send me a song from the rest of the band and I’d maybe do a demo based on what they’ve done. There’s a home made quality to the early stuff that you sometimes want to carry into the final thing.”
Singing the songs around the house he’d adopt a softer approach “probably because of the neighbours” but found he liked it so much that he decided to carry that on to the record. “Over the years I’ve done different things vocally that did not fit into Maximo Park. It’s more home made. I like to layer vocals. I love old doo-wop recordings. Records end up being hybrids of different things. I like the idea of having a different selection of sounds that you can try out by yourself that perhaps you would not do with the band.”
Contradictions, the album’s title, reflects the contrast that Smith likes in his work. “If people have kept notice of what I was doing they’d see me going from alternative, energetic rock and roll to chamber pop with Peter Brewis, something that’s more austere and considered, with a string quartet to this,” he says. “Contradictions is more up.
“I like a lot of types of music – experimental, hip-hop, pop, techno, folk. You can end up a Jack of all trades and master of none if you attempt to do everything so I select moments from my interests that work well together.”
The presence of Wendy Smith on the song All The Things You’d Like To Be was something of a dream come true for Smith. He recalls he’d been turned on to Prefab Sprout at the age of 17 by his then girlfriend. “She played the CD Life of Surprises a few times. We were only going out for a month but it got into my brain. When we stopped dating I went out and bought the same CD and thought I’ve been missing out on this highly sophisticated pop music. There are so many layers under the surface, though the surface is really alluring as well.
“Paddy McAloon’s lyrics are off the wall. It’s hard to describe them to an outsider who’s perhaps sceptical of the band but from the first album onwards it was just very clever ideas alloyed to universal themes, it’s something I wanted to have in my songwriting. There’s an ambiguity, what does it mean to a song like Cars and Girls.”
Behind McAloon was Wendy Smith’s “golden shimmer” of a voice. “To have her on one of my records is a dream come true as musician,” Smith says.
Paul Smith plays at Brudenell Social Club in Leeds on Saturday September 5. Visit http://www.brudenellsocialclub.co.uk/whats-on/paul-smith-and-imitations/ for details.