Interview: The Maccabees frontman Orlando Weeks

After starting off the new year in real style with an early contender for album of the year, THE MACCABEES are preparing to hit the road for a major UK tour, including a visit to Wolverhampton’s Civic Hall. Frontman Orlando Weeks tells Brum Notes why Given to the Wild is their best work yet.

While guitar music in 2011 may have been dominated by talk of being ‘stuck in the doldrums,’ 2012 kicked things off nicely with the return of one of the most innovative exponents of the genre in recent years. Not that The Maccabees feel any sense of responsibility for helping to drag indie music back up by its bootstraps. For the London five-piece, all that matters is making the best music they can, irrespective of what else may be going on around them.

“I think we’re just conscious that we put a lot of work into making the record and we want to do it proud, that’s all we’re worried about, I definitely don’t feel any responsibility to guitar music,” admits Orlando.

And why should they? Orlando and his bandmates are right to be proud of their album without worrying about the ever-evolving musical landscape upon which it is being unleashed, one which is very different from when debut Colour It In was released back in 2007. He is also confident that it represents another leap forward for the band creatively, yet underneath that confidence is still an artistic apprehension that something the band have worked so hard on will be not necessarily be appreciated by fans. Not that they are a band writing songs simply for approval from the masses, but it seems they have poured their hearts and souls in to the album and naturally hope that their fans can connect with their craft on a similar level.

“I think every time you bring out something you’ve put a lot of work into you worry about it a little bit but I feel confident that this is the best record we’ve made and so I look forward to being able to show it off a little bit more.

“We were all conscious of trying to not make the same record twice and we didn’t feel there was any other way of going about it than starting afresh.”

Coming up with material for the new record also involved a fresh approach, one which seemed to allow their creativity to come to the fore once more. The challenge, it turned out, was not coming up with the material to fill their third record, but making sure it all fitted together.

“When we started out writing, all of a sudden we were quite aware that we could do more of it not all in a room all staring at each other, so we did lots of bits and pieces either on our own at home or as ones and twos or threes or whatever, and then just tried to then take that and make it sound cohesive rather than cobbled together bits and pieces.

“I think that became the challenge rather than worrying about stuff, we knew we’d get enough new material but we had to make sure it didn’t sound like it was all written in bits and pieces. That was a nice thing to start going back into the studio as a gang and making sure it didn’t sound ‘bitty.’

“We’ve always done it that whatever happens, whoever writes whatever, whether it’s a chorus or a verse or a bare bones structure of a song or whatever, we know that it’s gonna be made better by putting it to the gang.”

That confidence in each other and gang mentality is something that has helped The Maccabees push forward, without resting on their laurels, leaving egos aside to be able to write the best songs they can as a band.

“Yeah, it’s a weird one because sometimes you think you know best but it turns out you don’t. There’s no room for egos in most things let alone in bands, there’s a lot of room for people to get annoyed, ‘no, that’s right, no I think that’s right,’ and you sort of fight your battles and choose them, but at the end of the day the point of a band is to be the sum of its parts. Everyone knows that if you try and impress your opinion on something it’s because you think that’s the best thing, I don’t think it’s ever an ego thing.”

Another fresh element involved in making Given To The Wild came in the shape of a new production team, with Tim Goldsworthy and Bruno Ellingham (UNKLE, LCD Soundsytem, Massive Attack) taking over producer duties alongside the band. But despite the pair’s obvious electronic background, this was not a hackneyed attempt to blend into the current trend for crossover music, but more a fresh set of ears bringing their own influences and approach to the new material and helping push The Maccabees on to create a more sonically challenging record than ever before.

“I felt that when we started and people came down and listened to the songs and stuff, it was really nice to have that, as we hadn’t really played them to anyone,” recalls Orlando. “In the past we would write these songs and play them for a little bit and see how they go down but with this one we didn’t, it was just, ‘right, we’re gonna write these songs and we’re gonna see how they feel in a studio.’ So when Tim and Bruno came down it reasserted our confidence in the songs and made us feel there was something there, they wanted to be involved and they wouldn’t want to do that unless they thought there was something going on so that was like a really nice thing.

“They came from a very different musical world so we were trying to cover bases, you know? We were thinking, we sort of understand, or we think anyway, we understand how to make the most of guitars and record vocals as well and they understand how to take samples and bits and pieces that we’d already recorded and make them sound classier and make them sound record-worthy, and they did in many ways. But also, we started understanding that sometimes you’ve already hit upon a happy accident, so there were things that we’d recorded in our bedrooms or in our studio and thought, ‘wait until we record this properly, it’ll work,’ and then you start realising that actually what you’ve already recorded was the best that was ever gonna be recorded or, if not the best, it was the right way. So the whole thing we felt was a pretty steep learning curve really, and I think Tim and Bruno were the same, we were all kind of figuring stuff out as we went along.”

It was a learning curve that certainly paid off, but the learning continues this month as the band take the new material on the road for the first time since the release of the record, due out on January 9. Having showcased some of the songs during an intimate set of shows during the autumn, Orlando says he was pleased to see fans responding well but admits figuring out how to transfer some of the songs from the studio to the live stage is still a challenge.

“I can’t wait to try it out. We’ve still got to learn four or five of them, we haven’t figured out how to play them live yet. [The October tour] was really good, we played five or six new ones and all of them were met in a nice way, people were sort of waiting for them, interested and not just wanting old songs that they were used to, they were keen to hear new stuff and that was a good sign.

“That’s all we could hope for really, that’s what we were going to do and we didn’t feel like we wanted to rest on our laurels or get staid, so the fact that we did what we were going to do and to be met with the kind of appreciation that we would hope for was a really nice feeling.”

For Maccabees fans, the band’s new offering was the perfect post-Christmas present to blow away the January blues. If the timing seems a little odd – new releases often slip under the radar early in the year – Orlando insists it doesn’t matter, as he would have felt odd whenever it came out, so it was just a case of making sure the record was ready to be released out into the wild, for want of a better phrase.

“We just knew we had to make the best record we could. We were hoping it would come out in September and when it got to September it wasn’t right, we knew it was more important that we waited and pushed on to try to make the best record rather than a record that came out on a deadline.

“From my point of view, it feels pretty weird bringing out a record whenever, it’s an odd thing to do, just all of that work and worry and thoughtfulness and all that kind of stuff that goes on for one thing, so it could come out whenever and I would still feel a bit peculiar about it. I’m not worried about it coming out then [in January], I think it’s nice at the start of the year to bring out something new and I feel excited about it, starting afresh, it’s good.”

The Maccabees are live at the Civic Hall, Wolverhampton, on March 18. Tickets are available here.

For a chance to win a pair of tickets to the show click here.

Given to the Wild is out now.



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