Newcastle quintet Maxïmo Park have swapped the grim English winter to swan around L.A., basking in sunshine and lazing by the pool. Oh, and to record a little project known as their third album.
The band have hit the studio with producer Nick Launay, whose CV includes Nick Cave, Kate Bush, Talking Heads, and the latest Yeah Yeah Yeahs album. We caught up with singer Paul Smith for a catch up…
Why did you choose to work with Nick Launay?
We approached him due to his work with Nick Cave, especially the Grinderman record, which manages to sound raw and dirty as well as having a fun side to it, with the vocal pulling you through the madness. Added to that, he’s worked with PIL and Kate Bush, who were both very adventurous, working on the fringe of the mainstream, which interests us, too.
How has it been to work with him?
Really great, because he brought a boundless enthusiasm to the process, which can be a bit like pulling teeth sometimes. He told us he really wanted to produce the record and that’s very important to us because we don’t want someone who’s just pushing the buttons, going through the motions.
Does he have a set way of working, or does he take your lead?
We wanted someone with an opinion who could collaborate on the sonic side but allow us to be ourselves, creatively, so it was a bit of give and take. We started out just re-arranging the songs – he wanted them to be simpler and as direct as they could be, even though we already thought they were direct! Then we played them in a room together to get the basic tracks. Last time around we were more perfectionist in attitude, but this time it sounds more like us playing live with an adventurous set of sounds at our disposal.
Describe a typical day in the studio for the band
The first two weeks consisted of going in at 11.30 and working through a particular song until it was ready, mostly so that the rhythm section found a comfortable pattern – that makes it simpler for everyone else. I was trapped in a small room with the guitar amp, which meant I had to re-record the vocals at the end. After that initial fortnight, we just went in the studio when Nick was ready for us and spent time reading and listening to music (or going in the pool!).
How long were you writing new material for before you started recording, and how much material did you take in with you?
We always write on tour so we had quite a few songs written in January, which we then spent time recording in our own studio. It took us a few months to build a studio and get into the swing of things. We realised we were going around in circles a bit, so over summer we wrote a number of new songs and, eventually, we took fifteen songs in and recorded twelve of them.
Did you approach the songwriting differently this time? If so, how?
I’m thankful to say that songs come fairly easily to us, but since we all contribute, and have diverse individual tastes, it became quite difficult for us to agree on a direction.
At one point we had a conversation and came to the conclusion that what we do best as a group is write pop songs. They might be off-centre, melancholy pop songs, but they’re still songs with big choruses and catchy melodies so let’s play on that and enjoy the process. After two albums of just rattling stuff out, we took a few diversions this time.
What kind of inspirations have you drawn upon for these songs?
Well, we’ve always wanted to play around with various styles but each album needs to sustain a certain mood. With this one, we wanted to try and blend the sound of a band in a room with something more adventurous and dreamy, which may sound like a contradiction, but I suppose we’re full of those already…
Have you chosen a name for the album yet?
There are a few floating around my brain, but the rest of the band have to agree yet!
You mentioned that Nick thinks this is a dance album – was the plan to make a dance album or were you aiming for something else entirely?
Maybe dancing in your bedroom with it on at full volume! I think Nick was referring to the groove of the songs, which is quite different for us. Each song sounds really driven and the beat is strong throughout the album, but it still sounds like a descendent of rock n’ roll. No drum machines were harmed – or even touched – during the making of this album.
Any surprises planned for the new album?
We just want to thrill the listener, so hopefully that’ll happen, but there are no gimmicks or guests. We try and surprise the listener every time we make an album.
How’s LA been treating you? Any celebrity stories to share?
The rest of the guys went to a party near the Hollywood sign and it sounds like some very painful activities were going on, but I couldn’t possibly divulge any more information. Another night, we danced to The Specials under the gaze of a beautiful movie star in a Mexican bar. Personally, I was more than happy watching my Eric Rohmer DVD boxset and reading Raymond Carver with my toes dipped in the swimming pool.
Describe the new album in five words.
Upbeat, upfront, uptight, uppity, uplifting.
What’s the band game plan for 2009?
Put it out, play it live. See what the people think. Enjoy life to the full.