“It’s quite an explicit record and quite political…” - hmv.com talks to Maximo Park
It’s been a little while since we’ve heard anything new from thoughtful indie types, Maximo Park.
Their last LP Too Much Information arrived in early 2014 and after touring that album the band went off and pursued other interests. Various members have done various solo things, while the whole band united to tour their hugely successful debut album A Certain Trigger in full, honouring its 10th anniversary.
Today they return with Risk To Exist, a new album recorded in Chicago with Wilco/Beck producer Tom Schick, inspired by the UK’s turbulent political climate and much more besides.
To celebrate its release we sat down with frontman Paul Smith to find out all about making the album...
When did you start putting together the songs for this album?
“We started in 2015, which was the year I put out my solo album, so that put a slight spanner in the works in terms of doing something with the songs. I’d actually done some writing in Berlin around the same time and came back with some songs that I’d worked up from music the rest of the band had given me and it felt like it was going somewhere new.”
In what sense?
“It felt punkier and punchier. We always want to do something different with each record and this time it felt like the lyrics left more space. It’s quite an explicit record and quite political. The songs are quite groovy and very direct, so once we had enough songs and we felt like they were rehearsed enough, we went out to Chicago.”
“The guy we did the record with, Tom Schick, who's worked with Wilco a lot, he records live with the whole band and that’s how we wanted to do things. It was more like Motown or Muscle Shoals, you get a direct connection to the music and the room. We wanted the energy and crackle of our live show.”
How did working with Tom come about? Have you wanted to work with him for a long time?
“Not really. We did feel like the songs needed to sound as live as possible and we’d seen Wilco’s loft on DVDs and we thought it’d be a cool place to go and work and so we asked the question. We don’t have money to burn so we only had three weeks, we started in this AirBNB with centipedes crawling everywhere, hardly the lap of luxury, but we did have our own rooms in this weird little bungalow with a basement. We’d recorded Quicken The Heart in Los Angeles and we had a great time and I think we’re aware that we might not always have the chance to do things like this, so we decided to go for it.”
You’ve got some great special guests on the album too...
“We’ve got Mimi Parker from Low, which was incredible for me as they’re one of my favourite bands. We wouldn’t have got her if we hadn’t been in Chicago and she’s on five songs. The horn section we got were great too, really groovy fellas, and they were all able to record live.”
Having just three weeks in Chicago, you must have had to work fast...
“We did. We were very lucky that Tom Schick was so on it because that was all the time we had. The closest comparison I’ve got is the first album, we’d played those songs up and down the country and we’d rehearsed them to death in our little rehearsal room with egg cartons on the wall for soundproofing. We just knew we had to get it done and there wasn’t time for too many changes. There was no experimenting with drum sounds or weird keyboards, no unnecessary takes, Tom was very good at knowing when we had a good take.”
You’ve been touring A Certain Trigger, did going back to those early songs feed into the writing of the new ones?
“That celebration definitely turned into more than it should have, but I’m glad because people love those songs. It was a good thing to do, it really felt like clearing the decks, we’ve done five albums in 10 years, we had a chance to look back at what we’ve done, the punkier stuff, the more electronic stuff, and assess it. This was a band in a room and that’s never happened before and maybe playing the songs from A Certain Trigger, which was just fun, was a bit more of a release and freed us up.”
You said earlier it’s a more explicitly political record...
“We’re a heart on sleeve band and the songs are very emotional, without being an emo track. I didn’t want to make it too complicated and not too simplistic, no empty sloganeering. A lot of the songs are trying to talk about the world in a nuanced way and not be too extreme. I was very angry about the cuts to disability benefits and I wanted to say something, but also get it into a pop song and make it catchy without dumbing it down.”
Can you give us an example?
“So on ‘Make What You Can’ I talk about how violent language can be and throwing around words like ‘Cheats’ and ‘Scroungers’. People on benefits need help, they’re vulnerable, so the song is about the future and how we’re supposed to make it. There’s a lot of discussion of political language on the record, how things get hopelessly skewered, but trying to keep things as simple as possible without losing the edge.”
Finally, when did Risk To Exist pop into your head?
“I was reading Don DeLillo while we were writing and something in his book Mao II made me think about the idea of birth, how fragile people are when they’re born and how life could all go in an instant. It seemed to go well with the idea of people being in distress. I was watching the refugee crisis happen and I was following that and seeing all these people drown trying to get Europe, and all those horrible and powerful images seemed to coalesce.”