It’s been a long time coming.
The Maccabees first appeared on our radar almost five years ago, fresh faced young tykes with perfect pop songs seeping out of each pore. Yet for all their obvious talent, each of their two studio albums somehow fell short – as if the band themselves were still exploring exactly what made The Maccabees tick.
‘Given To The Wild’ solves that problem effortlessly. Out today (January 9th) the album is the sound of a band on their game – The Maccabees have mined into a seam of confidence which has left them utterly transformed. A sprawling work which continually tests the boundaries of what The Maccabees feel they can accomplish, ‘Given To The Wild’ is an ‘album’ in the very classic sense of the word.
Rewarded with a rare 9/10 review in the pages of Clash Magazine, writer Simon Harper said: “the South London five-piece have not only developed their intoxicating soundscapes into majestic pools of sound so deep you just want to dive in, they have, quite possibly, delivered the album that will send them stratospheric. It’s their ‘Born To Run’.”
With critical praise ringing in their ears, ClashMusic peeled Hugo White away from The Maccabees for a quick chat about their new album…
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Firstly, congratulations on the new album – it feels like a coming of age for you, is that how the band perceive the album?
Definitely, more than anything. It does feel great for us that people are picking up on that. It has been that, and I think this record the process of it was difficult and it was really us putting ourselves through our paces to get the best thing we could. You know, we wouldn’t have been able to do this two years ago on the last record. It does feel to us that this is the best body of work. The first two records for what they were at the time were great but ultimately they now feel like they’re leading to us really understanding what we’re about and what we want to do and now having the ability to achieve what we want to do.
Did the touring after ‘Wall Of Arms’ bond the band?
Possibly. Touring does that. Generally, we’re pretty close both in the sense of spending a lot of time together. Spending that much time together really does create an understanding of what each person is all about and being able to play on each other’s strengths. Also with this record, for us the way we write is really collaborative. For me, this record feels like rather than it being a band – with a frontman, or whatever, the traditional thing – it feels like a group of people that are collaborating together to achieve something and that’s a great thing.
Did you have a solid plan in mind before you entered the studio?
We spent a year and a half writing before we even thought about going into the studio. We were demoing everything as we went. We started the process doing four months of writing individually which I think was the basis on which the record was built and says a lot about it. We didn’t really meet up to write – four of us in a room staring at each other with guitars and bass and your usual stuff. This time we decided not to do that we decided to let everyone have a bit of time to really be able to realise pieces of music or ideas a bit further and then bring them in. Do it that way. Sometimes in those situations we have a tendency to tear things apart pretty quickly and it’s not always for the best.
Tim Goldsworthy oversaw the initial sessions in Wales, did that way of working impact on his role as producer?
Yeah it did. After that we came and put it altogether ourselves and basically created the songs that way – which involved basically taking on the production role ourselves. We had fully formed everything before we even went into the studio. We went in to do the record with Tim Goldsworthy – we felt that if we were going to go with someone who would just record a guitar band then we could do it ourselves, so we thought Tim had an interesting background and he seemed interested in it. That was an interesting period and some good things came out of it, but after that session we ended up taking back the record and spending months finishing the record ourselves.
What was Tim like in the studio?
When we first went down with him he brought with him loads of odd, strange equipment which we had never seen and never used. Mainly stuff that creates weird sounds, just really kind of out there. He basically let us loose with stuff like that which was a massive thing to introduce us to and really helped us creatively. That was the main thing. The songs were pretty much fully formed in the way that we wanted them before we went in. It was the sounds which Tim helped us with – that side of the production.
It is a very lush album, did you have specific reference points or is this a case of the Maccabees discovering what the Maccabees should sound like?
I think was the latter really. I think with this record more than any of the others, for us we didn’t have anyone who was kind of our guide and us saying we could do it like that. This time, we’ve learned to take our influences less literally. It was more a case of taking moods from something, or if something’s great looking at why that mood is created and how those things make that sound. Without it being literal. I think that was quite a big step for us.
It’s taken you three albums to find that sound, have the label given you leeway in this process?
They have. We’re not a band who have sold many records. You could name pretty much any guitar band who’ve been around in the same time as us and I could almost guarantee that they’ve sold more records than us. I think the fact that fiction our label have stayed with us and kept with us demonstrates that they’ve really shown a belief in us as people. Sometimes we’ll take weeks to do something, to get on our way there – they’ve been really supportive of that. Also, you know they really let us get on with this record, there was no pressure on us or them directing anything it was very much us writing, delivering stuff and they supported it. It’s a great position to be in.
That level of support is quite rare.
I think it is, man. Literally, there are so many bands since we’ve started who have these first albums which are huge, way more successful than us. There’s a moment when you think “how come everyone else is so successful and we’re not?” Then their next record comes out and they’ve disappeared. It’s kind of a blessing in disguise for us, really, that we’ve had this time to be able to reach a peak or a higher place, musically.
It feels like a very unified album, did that come from the second sessions at the Drugstore?
That happened earlier on, really. Things do get argued out and you really have to fight your case if you believe in something being a certain way. It really takes a lot of disagreements – there’s a long process of that. It’s sort of realising that it’s more about realising when your time is to really fight for something or whether to realise that they can see something in it which is better than your vision. You need to be able to not be stubborn. It’s realising when to be stubborn with your point, getting it across. I think in that sense, that’s something that for the first time we’ve really figured that out in the band.
Were you aiming for an ‘album’ in the classic sense?
Yeah. Seriously. I mean, from the start. At the start we began piecing things together, we had the tracklisting down before we even began recording. The way the album flows is.. I think with some of the songs on the record if they were in a different context – or not in the context which they are on the record – they wouldn’t necessarily work. I think the sense of it is that it was created as a record, to be heard in one piece. That’s massively important to us, rather than having four singles and then songs which aren’t as good. Everything really has its place and that’s how the record works and that was a real thought our process. All of us, really, created that.
Did you have full blown arguments over the final tracklisting?
A million. Loads. We argued about that for a long time. I think we got it right, because the album we ended up having starts really punchy. There’s a tendency with albums to have the singles early on, the sort of upbeat material to start with. It’s almost flipped on this record so you get that on the second half, that’s when it picks up. It would otherwise be the other way round.
This is very much a studio project, how will it develop in a live context?
It is. Because it is, essentially it was written on computer and not necessarily in the same room at the same time, so some of the songs we’ve not really played them to the extent of what they are on the record. We haven’t done that in a room together, so it’s quite an interesting thing to re-create those songs live and do them justice live. That’s quite a big process. We’ve got another member for the band now, live – he’s playing samples, keys and loads of the stuff which is on the record to help us out, soundwise. Which is an interesting thing to be doing and is something that needs to happen in order to help these songs. It’s no longer kind of guitars, bass, drums and vocals – not all the songs could happen that way any more. Well they could, but not in the way we intend them to be. But there’s massive excitement for us, in terms of playing these songs live to people. You know, since the single has come out we’ve played one show and having the reaction to it, feeling like “ shit, people are really getting this!” There was a point when we were writing when we thought that until people heard it then it could go either way. People might totally not get it. Even things like the reviews and stuff like that, it’s been amazing to find that people are seeing in it what we intended people to see. That’s a great thing and I think the shows are going to be all the better for it.
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‘Given To The Wild’ is out now.