Personality Clash: The Maccabees vs Good Shoes

Orlando Weeks talk with Rhys Jones

Squaring up to each other this issue are two lead singers whose bands rose to prominence simultaneously last year, and who now find themselves on the brink of following up that success with their second album.

Orlando Weeks fronts The Maccabees, the Brighton based indie starlets whose ‘Colour It In’ was one of the best UK debut LPs heard in years.

Rhys Jones heads Good Shoes, the South London peddlers of taut wry pop. Their album, ‘Think Before You Speak’, was released on Brille to great acclaim, not least from us…

The mutual appreciation society between the two vocalists was apparent when the Clash request came through for them to interrogate each other, and the two subsequently spent a week furiously trading lengthy emails…

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Rhys: I guess we’ve known of each other for a while Orlando, but only really got to know each other in the last year. I used to see you round Brighton Art School and then I think we attended each other’s gigs every now and then when we were starting up (I saw you guys play Audio with Mystery Jets for the first time I think). But Glastonbury was the first real time we hung out, watching Arctic Monkeys then Bjork. It was a pretty funny night; I was also hanging out with Curly, your manager there, and she has been integral to our start as a band too, putting on gigs of ours in Brighton and being generally amazing. How do you feel Brighton influenced you and the band? There was a really nice environment there; I bunked off life drawing to play gigs on a Friday; there were people like Joe from Metronomy putting on clubs. What’s your take on Brighton now and how it’s helped you get to this interview?

Orlando: Brighton was a really good place to start. We had been playing a few gigs around South London at Brixton Mass and other places, but Brighton had so many small venues and such a concentrated network of gig goers and friends that you could play and start building up a bit of a following. Curly was definitely the first to get us some big gigs supporting Maximo Park and Arctic Monkeys. Do you remember the first time that you supported a big band? Who was it? Oh, and Glastonbury was pretty funny; do you remember Bjork’s funny ouiji board thingy?

Rhys: Yeah I do, it turns out one of our crew was mates with the guy who worked it I think, he said only three people can control it in the whole world or something; it was pretty amazing. I thought a lot better than Arctic Monkeys even though I like that band a lot, it worked better as an ‘experience’. The first person we supported who we considered big was probably Tom Vek. We didn’t really know anything about the music industry and had been offered this gig by him, which we thought was amazing and it was a sold out show. After that we tried to do stuff by ourselves (only cos no one really offered us a support tour). That changed when we went abroad so The Rakes were the first big band we supported in France. It was the most fun we’ve ever had with a band on tour; supporting takes away so much pressure, and obviously we’ve just toured with Maximo Park. We’re playing a gig at the Newcastle Arena with them, which I think will be crazy! You supported The Strokes at the Brighton Centre, which everyone thought was a massive deal. How did that come about and what were they like?

Orlando: I can’t really remember how it came about, but I do remember feeling so nervous and all of us watching the sound check, sitting on the floor like little kids. We didn’t really hang out with them that much, but they watched our show from the side of the stage and that gave us a boost. After, they were really encouraging but the only bad thing was that when they were playing I got in amongst it and lost my shoe somehow. I remember one of our first big support gigs was for Ben Folds at the Birmingham NIA, which is where they filmed Gladiators, and we were so new to it all that when at the end of the set someone shouted, “What’s your name?” Felix shouted back, “Felix”. But when you are starting out that just seems like the obvious answer. At the stage we are at, supports and festivals is the best way for us to get abroad; we got to go to America with Bloc Party and this summer we did quite a lot of Europe’s festivals. Have you been to Japan yet? I really want to go to Japan. Where is the best place that being in a band has taken you?

Rhys: I really want to go to Japan and America but it’s so expensive. I don’t understand the logic of our record label really; they have released the album in Japan but haven’t sent us out there even though we keep doing MTV interviews! The best place we have been to on tour for me was Ibiza, playing Ibiza Rocks. The day off was amazing; the deepest sea I’ve ever swam in and jumping off a rock into the sea the whole afternoon – it changed my view of Ibiza really! Back to what I mentioned before, being on a record label and things being out of our control really pisses me off. I really think that if we could start again I’d do things completely differently and probably not sign a record deal, get a publishing deal and do things ourselves. We’ve sold around 20,000 records in England and if we’d done that ourselves we’d be making a good living but that many records can’t even pay back our record label’s expenses and our advance. What, if anything, would you do differently if you had the chance?

Orlando: I think that maybe the thing is that now with hindsight it’s easier to think that, but we got signed two and a bit years ago, knowing very little about anything to do with making record or distribution etc. I think unless you’re Coldplay or Radiohead then you don’t earn much, especially not at our stage. Sometimes I do feel like it’s all a bit out of our control, even though we have final approval on everything we produce. At the end it’s a double-edged sword; it’s giving away some of the control but it’s also sharing the load. We just let one of our songs get used on an advert and I kind of felt like it was a bit like selling out because it’s not the standard route for a song to get out there, but it also seemed like an amazing opportunity for a Maccabees song to get the kind of exposure that radio wasn’t giving us. I figure that this is the thing with being in a band: nothing is properly clear cut. I know what you mean though, you get a record deal and then besides the already conflicting opinions that exist between the band about what’s best for you, suddenly there’s more. Do all of you have similar visions for what the future of Good Shoes should be, music, artwork, second album, etc?

Rhys: The future is something we never really talk about. It’s a strange thing in Good Shoes; this was never something we really yearned for or it was never something I dreamed of; Steve [Leach] and I just started playing music together and liked what we were doing so just did it for a laugh, playing a couple of gigs. Then I went to Brighton and didn’t really enjoy doing illustration the same way I did on my foundation at Kingston, in fact I was pretty fed up so I just put all my effort into getting Good Shoes going somewhere so I had something to do when I quit uni! It was pretty lucky it worked out. I seem to have this thing where I work really hard to get somewhere and then I get there and I’m not too fussed about it anymore, like pursuing a girl, the less interested they seem the more you want them. Like the thrill of the chase, and now we’ve got our way into the music industry I don’t really like the way it works. It’s not a very good place to create art; the music industry makes music a very impure art form. Steve and I chatted a long time ago and sort of decided we definitely wanted to make two albums and I think three is a good number but we’ll see. Some of the best bands made three good albums then turned shit! We’re writing our second album at the moment; it’s very different to how we worked on the first, with no pressure, but it’s going well. I’m excited about a song that might be called ‘Time’, or ‘Time Goes By’. We have about 12 songs that are finished or we’re working on. As for artwork I’m talking to Sam Blunden who lays it out for me and I’m gonna start drawing more. I’ve just bought a book called 700 Penguins about Penguin books’ artwork and am re-buying children’s books like Where The Wild Things Are, Moomin and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, so we’ll see where that leads!

Orlando: Do you watch yourself back when you’re on TV or read interviews that you’ve done?

Rhys: No not at all anymore, especially not watching myself. I get really embarrassed by it and think I look like an idiot most of the time! And in interviews I always feel like I become very incoherent; if I’m speaking to someone one on one I have a habit of forgetting the questions or going off on tangents! I think this is probably the most coherent interview I’ve done in ages. It’s like listening to your voice on a recording just talking, it’s really embarrassing; that’s how I feel about watching myself or reading interviews.

Orlando: If you were going to collaborate with anyone who would it be?

Rhys: I was thinking about this, this morning. I was thinking it might be interesting on the second record to get people to come along and add stuff, maybe uncredited, like doing backing vocals on something, maybe get you along to do some backing vocals! I think I’d only get friends that are in bands, not anyone I idolise or anything. I think that sounds like a good idea for the second album.

Orlando: Outside of music what’s the biggest influence on your writing?

Rhys: I think my relationships really. I mainly write about my love life. I guess I’m quite honest about it. It’s a strange thing to have all these personal things in the public domain, but I think I wouldn’t change it at all. Writing lyrics is like a diary for me, it sorts out things that have happened for me, a bit like therapy really. For the second album I’d like to write more about things that affect me in life that aren’t relationships. I’ve written a song called ‘Rudimentary’, which is a lot more political. I think I touched on that stuff on the first album but it was brief. Maybe touch on my beliefs more about religion, politics or just the general situation the world is in – I guess that gives me a lot of subject matter!

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