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Paul Smith Interview 2014
I think I might just start by being as bold as to state the following: if everybody was a bit more like Paul Smith, maintaining the values of friendliness and pure positivity, the world would be a better place. In his function of frontman and lyricist of Maxïmo Park, who released their fifth album Too Much Information earlier this year, he might be best known for his ability to upstage everybody else in the room, bouncing across the stage, swinging those hips like there's no tomorrow, and giving his performance everything, while on the other hand he simply is an absolute sweetheart. Finding yourself in the presence of this man, who actually, in contrast to the aforementioned, describes himself as “quite a reserved person” in our interview, it becomes clear that you are facing somebody who truly loves their profession and everything that comes with it (i.e. also giving interviews). Big eyes alert, hardly ever breaking eye-contact and emitting a warmth and modesty that makes you feel at ease instantly, he reminisces in stories of the creative process of himself and his band of brothers, or rather “road warriors” as he calls themselves, that are Maxïmo Park.Well, I've been missing Archis, your original bass player. I could only find out that he “he took some time off touring“, so is he still a band member?Yes, well, he's been off for sort of the last two or three years now, so I'm guessing he doesn't really want to tour anymore, which is, you know... We just said “Look, if you want to come back and tour, then the door is open.“ But I think he's happy not being on the road. So, yeah, Paul Rafferty is our current bass player and in the foreseeable future he'll be in the band. And, yeah, I mean, if Archis wants to come and play on an album, great. But I think he's settled having a life outside of music now. You know, doing it for fun instead of it being a profession. For us, we are in the zone, we're road warriors now. (laughs) But, yeah, we still see Archis quite a lot, but he's... I don't think he wants to tour anymore.I can imagine it must be a very stressful life on the road, so...Yeah, yeah, exactly, and I mean he toured with us for such a long time. He's done his service to the band. (laughs)I was also curious because I saw that his name was still mentioned in the album sleeve.Yeah, he played on the latest record. Then again, now that Paul's in the band, I'm sure he'll probably contribute to the next record, if he wants to. We're going to get around to sort of writing it and get back in the studio soon.Wow, you're doing things quickly at the moment, aren't you?Yeah, I think we realized that this is probably the best way, it suits our band to do things quickly. So, we're getting back in the studio, probably next year, start thinking about it after this tour and discuss what we're going to do next, what kind of record we want to make.I figured that your latest album was self-produced and this seems to be a kind of “trend“ at the moment with a lot of bands. Do you think that this is also what you'll do in the future?Well, I actually like working with other people a lot. You know, collaboration is an exciting thing. But obviously being in control of your own destiny as well is another... I actually see it from two different sides. I think, now that we have our studio space in Newcastle, we started to use it for the last record, we recorded half of the record there. And I think we have to do a full record like that, with all the equipment we have, and the space that we have, and see how it turns out. I mean, if it turns out great, everybody's happy. We might suddenly think it's time to change for another album after that, but now that we have that space it makes sense for us and it's more... More and more bands do it, because it's cheaper, if you build up the equipment and you've found the space that you like, and it works for you... You know, we have somewhere in Newcastle which works for us, then it makes sense, you learn with each record that you make. With great producers like Paul Epworth [who produced A Certain Trigger], or Gil Norton [who produced Our Earthly Pleasures], or Nick Launay [who produced Quicken The Heart] you learn a few things here and there, and it's nice to be at home as well and to feel like you're together in that environment. Then again, I like being away, making a record in Los Angeles is fun as well as serious and work-related. You know, I would never want to say no to stuff like that. But, like, personally I want to make records with my friends and they're probably not going to sell lots of records, so, you can't afford to do it, you have to live within your means.I've also heard that some people prefer to have like a secluded space for recording, being away from friends and family, because they feel that it distracts them from their creative process...Well, we've tried it the other ways and they worked for us, and we've tried this way, and it also worked, so we've got the best of both worlds on all of our records. In the future it would be great if Brian Eno suddenly wanted to work with us. (laughs) You know, probably not, but again, if you really want to work with those kind of people it costs a lot of money and they've got to be into it and very happy about it. We were very lucky on this record that the person who mixed the record, Nicolas Vernhes in New York... You know, we said “Here are the raw files, do what you want and we'll see what comes out. Can you make the record work together as a whole thing?“ And he did. And the guy's worked with Deerhunter, and Dirty Projectors, and people like David Grubbs, who I really like, you know, hardly anybody's heard of David Grubbs outside of kind of more specialist music circles, and I was absolutely buzzing to be working with the guy who produced a few of his records.So, yeah, we've still got that edge of collaboration and we've worked with David Okumu, who worked on the Jessie Ware record, very different records to the kind of stuff that we make, but we felt like for Leave This Island or Brain Cells we needed to step up and make new kinds of music than rather just repeat ourselves, obviously. David Okumu came in really handy on Brain Cells, and again we were thinking “He'll never want to work with us.“ And then he did, so it gives you a kind of confidence to work with other people. It's nice.So talking of Brain Cells, I think that this one rather stands out, if you have a look at the album as a whole. Was this song a bit about leaving your “comfort zone“?Yeah, you've got to do that all the time. You know, if you've got a good riff, don't throw it away! And also, trying new things... Duncan was working with new synthesizers and he usually plays the guitar. It's that kind of level of experimentation and, you know, we're still a pop band. The song is still a song and it's still us playing it, but yeah, we feel like we can push ourselves a little bit, keep ourselves having an edge. It's good to retain an edge to your music, and with all of our music it has been an emotional edge, and an edge to the lyrics, I think. They're quite raw, in their own way, and some of them are a bit more cerebral than your average pop record, not saying that they're clever or anything, but they're thoughtful. I think about them a lot and to other bands they're like secondary things, the song's the main thing, the tune.We have that aspect to it, to have an edge in the music is important to us as well, and there are moments like in Her Name Was Audre which are super punky and have stuff on that we've never done before, this kind of weird funky-punky breakdown. Never done anything like that before. Even Midnight On The Hill, which is just a straight rock track, we'd usually just have sped that up and it just would have been a sort of in-and-out kind of thing, whereas we thought “No, there's a good groove here...” It doesn't sound like anything we've done before, but it's still a pop song which people won't be disturbed by. They'd still go “Hey, that's a Maxïmo Park song!” but they'd be like “Hey, it sounds a bit different.” And that's our challenge, really, to change subtly with each record and we've always had electronic elements like the drum machines on Acrobat, or the synths on Limassol. You know, that's from 2005. [When A Certain Trigger came out.]2005? Good God...Exactly! Ten years on we're still moving subtly further and further away from that point, but still we need an anchor. Our anchor is to write pop songs with some sort of an edge, some sort of alternative to the mainstream stuff. But still we love pop songs. Can we make a pop song that is us, that doesn't sound like anybody else, but still has the components of a pop song so that people can recognize it? There's the verse, there's the chorus, but you might have an extra chorus, like in Apply Some Pressure, you know. And that template is still there for us to mess around with even now, later on.You did something quite clever I think. You've got two female names on your record and everybody would be like “Okay, who's Lydia?! Who's Audre?!” and you just put those references there into the booklet and there's no speculation going on, really... [“Recommended reading: The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis; Recommended viewing: A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde](laughs) Yeah.But what I would like to know is, I saw this lyric video for Lydia, The Ink Will Never Dry and I was thinking, when I heard the song for the first time, “Okay, what kind of ink is he really singing about? Is it like the ink on paper, or tattoo ink?” So was the idea behind this video really about this pun on the word “ink”?Yeah, we put that out there to young filmmakers and were just like “Look, if anyone wants to make a lyric video...” But, you know, there's a theme in the lyrics, a kind of duality. And, yeah, it kind of plays on that, you're never quite sure, it could be about writing a book, it could be about a tattoo, it could be about, well, anything that's etched or written. And memories are kind of engraved in our brain, you know, “You hope the ink will never dry”, “You hope the memory will never disappear”, or you have a tattoo and regret it and you hope the ink will never dry and it's too late. Or, again, you write a love letter or something and you hope that this still remains fresh in some way. And I think it's the idea of life being quite difficult at times, but saying “If things feel good, let's not question it too much and let's keep things fresh.” I think that sort of relates to the idea of the ink and it's an image that will mean different things to different people. You know, there'll be an image in people's minds. And whatever they're like, it's good. There are a few different ways to take the lyrics, so I was kind of aware of that, but I don't want to give too much away, in terms of what it might actually mean.I read in the comments underneath the video that some people thought this song sounded very much like The Smiths, which I don't necessarily agree with, but anyway. Were The Smiths an influence for you when you were growing up?A big influence, yeah. But Lukas [Wooller, keyboards] doesn't like The Smiths, Lukas hates The Smiths. (laughs) So it's quite funny that we, you know, I think everybody else in the band likes The Smiths and Morrissey's solo stuff. Tom [English, drums] was saying the other day “I think I like Morrissey's solo stuff more than The Smiths”, which is like heresy amongst the Smiths' fans, probably. But, I mean, I go along with some of that. If you use a kind of picked guitar and it has that kind of jingle-jangle, people are always going to say “The Smiths!”, because they're the most famous example of that kind of thing, whereas, you know, to me it stands related to that era, the whole era, it could be Felt, or it could be a kind of C86 band like, I don't know, Josef K., or Orange Juice, this whole era of bands who had that kind of picked guitar. It's something that Duncan [Lloyd, guitar and main songwriter] does really well, and on Books From Boxes, for example, another song of ours [as if I didn't know...], it has that kind of quality where you think “Ah, there is something of that era written in this.”, because it has this sort of guitar picking and it's one of our weapons that we use every now and then, we can dip into it, on each album there's a little flavour of that. On the last album there's a song called Reluctant Love, which has that kind of lilting picked guitar. So, yeah.What I was very curious about is the following: on the last song on your album, Out Of Harm's Way, there is this quote at the very end saying “Angst Essen Seele Auf” and after being a bit confused about it, I googled it and found out that this is a title of a 40-year-old German film by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Now, how did this title of a 40-year-old German film title end up on your album?Well, I think it's a great phrase, but it's not quite right. I think the point of it was that the main character in the film is an immigrant, so it's not pure German, which is a very interesting thing, especially for me. When I speak German, I'll be very bad at it, because I'm not a native speaker. Yeah, I've got a film poster in my house with that bit “Ali: Fear Eats The Soul”, as it's known in English, I've got it framed in my house. So I was writing that song and I thought it would sound good, sort of, this idea of... the whole song is kind of about fear. If you're never going to the garden, you'll never no what's there, all the riches. But there in the garden, you might get stung by a bee. You know, it's a kind of a very simple thing. But the idea obviously is more about a metaphorical thing, if you don't try something, you don't know what it's going to be like. And yes, you will make mistakes in life. For me, I've always sort of battled with my own kind of prudishness (laughs) or whatever, I'm kind of quite a reserved person, and if I break through that reservedness, there's a kind of a more emotional, more demonstrative person underneath. And that shows in performances when we're on stage, it goes from quite calm things to more frantic things, and that song is one of those... it's a special one for the German edition. So I thought “Well, we've got this song which we're not quite sure about, it's not going to go on the album in full”, so in England it finishes with Where We're Going, and that's quite a nice way to finish the record, but also, yeah, we felt like “Right, let's do it for the German people!” I love that movie, Fassbinder's a really interesting filmmaker.
Maximo Park Interview