“You really can go down the worm hole and we did…” – The Maccabees open up about making Marks To Prove It
Indie foursome The Maccabees have never done things the easy way when it comes to making their records, but with new effort Marks To Prove It (which hits shelves today and you can preview and purchase on the right-hand side of the page), they took things to new extremes.
Although they started work on the record way back in January of 2012, the same month their incredible third album Given To The Wild was released, it’s taken a full three years to complete. Produced by the band’s guitarist Hugo White and recorded in their own studio in their beloved Elephant and Castle, it took a full year of tinkering, experimenting and driving themselves insane before they eventually settled on the formula for Marks To Prove It.
More bombastic than anything they’ve done before, yet more intimate and far more tender, this is the band’s grand statement and one they should be justifiably proud of, especially given how long it took to get there.
We sat down with the band's other guitarist Felix White to talk about the album’s long gestation, taking long trips down worm holes and why they chose a photo of a roundabout in Elephant and Castle as the album’s cover…
Your album’s out today, are you nervous or just happy it’s out there?
“It’s more relief than anything else, relief that it’s actually a real thing. We’ve spent three years in this studio making it so it’s just actually seeing it’s a real, physical thing. We’ve gone from thinking “This ain’t going to work” and thinking about giving up to it actually coming out.”
So when can you actually trace back starting work on it?
“There was no time after Given To The Wild, which was probably our first mistake, we just went straight into making the record. We did write bits of what became the album when we were on tour, I wrote the music for ‘Kamakora’ at the beginning of 2012, so that was really the start of it.”
No gap at all then?
“No. We were quite anxious because we’d been on tour for quite a while and when you spend such a long time doing one thing, you always want to do the other one immediately. We were pretty restless and we just went straight into the studio and that’s why it took so long. We were a year in and we hadn’t worked out what we wanted to get out of it. It wasn’t working and we were still exhausted. That’s why we really got held up.”
Were you thinking it’d be a bit quicker this time? Because Given To The Wild took longer than you’d have liked right?
“We really should have learned by now, it always takes longer than you think it will, it took a year longer than it should in this case. Once we had a framework, once we figured out the rules of this record it actually happened relatively quickly, but it took a while to get to that point.”
Did that mean you ended up scrapping a lot of stuff?
“We always end up scrapping a lot of stuff, but not usually whole songs, it’s normally bits of music or little chord progressions, we had hundreds of pieces of music by the end and some of them turned into songs.”
Was this the first time you’d done a whole album in your own studio?
“We did a lot on Given To The Wild there, but that was more of a rescue job, we’d worked with other people and it hadn’t worked so we took it back there and finished it. This time we were there the whole time.”
How did you adjust to having no deadline to hit?
“That was the main thing we discovered, you really can go down the worm hole and we did. You pay a producer to deliver the record and you’ve got a studio for that time and you have to get it done. With this, the possibilities were endless and it did feel like we were stuck there at times. It’s weird, no one wanted to finish the record more than we did, so it was really frustrating.”
Were your label okay with how long it was taking?
“They came down to hear stuff a couple of times, but I think they were always confident enough that it was going to work out and they left us to it. We’ve been lucky with Fiction, we’ve known them for 10 years and it’s a bit of an old-fashioned relationship. They’re happy to facilitate us moving at the pace we want to, we’re grateful for that.”
How did it work with the album being produced?
“My brother Hugo took the wheel on that one, he was in control of the production duties.”
Was it weird having him tell you what to do?
“It wasn’t weird, we’ve been doing this for a while and we’ve built up our own dynamic and our own language. When you merge that with a bit more technical ability, it makes sense to do it this way, we want to have total ownership of everything we’re doing, I don’t know who could have made this record aside from one of us.”
At this stage in your career do you need less of the disciplinary aspects? You’re happy to work until it feels done?
“Absolutely, we were all desperate for this to be as good as it could be, it’s not about discipline or caring that needed to come from outside.”
You did some touring earlier this year and played a fair few new songs, was it good to get them road tested?
“The best thing about that has been the realisation that they really sum up The Maccabees totally. Each of our records have been so different and I think the new songs really put a positive spin on our older tracks, it sums up the band in a way we haven’t been able to before.”
What kind of album would you say it is lyrically?
“A lot of the lyrics are in the third person this time, it’s watching other stories. I think it’s quite a deeply emotive album, more than I thought so. More stories than diary entries.”
When did you settle on the album title?
“Like most things it was left to the last minute, obviously there’s the song, but we gave it that title right at the end. It’s similar phonetically to Given To The Wild, but it’s also kind of the opposite. We like that.”
Do you kick titles around for a while first?
“Things go untitled for months, it’s a nightmare, especially for this record, lots of them were started on tour so they’re all called things like ‘January’ and ‘Alberquerque’, we actually have to sit there and name them. The band whatsapp group goes round and round with that shit.”
Tell us about the cover, it’s an image of Elephant and Castle which is where your studio is, you clearly love the area…
“It’s an image of the Faraday Memorial on the roundabout and what we like about it is that it ties in with a lot of the themes on the record. People go past that roundabout all the time and don’t take it in, but the photo makes it look special and otherworldly. It’s asking people to look again at what they see everyday, it’s got more beauty than they realise.”
How did you find it?
“It was just searching on the internet. It’s this photographer called David Busfield, he’d just taken that one photo of it, 40 years ago and put it on his website. I think he was very touched to be asked, it was quite nice.”
How much touring do you have lined up for this cycle? Will you be a bit more selective?
“We’ll wait and see. You never really know. It’s a crash landing straight into the festivals, then it’ll be Europe, a proper UK tour and then Australia and America, that takes us to the end of the year.
What do you think is the main thing you’ll learn from making this album for next time?
“What we’ll take from it is to not be too keen. Enjoy it a bit more, we’re quite happy just to celebrate it and play it live. We got into a mess last time with too much pre-planning, I think a break after this one would be advisable.”