hmv.com talks to Maxïmo Park's Paul Smith
Maxïmo Park return after their last album Risk To Exist back in 2017, with a brand new album Nature Always Wins.
Ahead of its releases we caught up with vocalist Paul Smith to talk about how they put the album together during lockdown, how the band dynamic had changed now a three-piece and what is was like working with Pauline Murray...
You made this album during lockdown, working remotely with your producer Ben Allen, who was in Atlanta, had you planned to go to Atlanta to work?
Yes, that was the plan - a certain pandemic got in the way! We met Ben in Newcastle in February 2020, just to run through a few songs and get to know each other. When he left, we said, "See you in Atlanta in April!" He was into the idea of working remotely, once it became clear we couldn't collaborate in the same room anymore.
How did you find working remotely? Did you switch to work on one timetable? Or would files be ready for you the next morning?
It was fairly normal in one way - I'm used to recording my solo albums that way; Duncan, too - but with MP albums, there's usually a producer giving me immediate feedback and encouragement. There's also a spontaneity and rapport that you have in the studio, which we missed, but funnily enough, the final album sounds seamless!
We would send files across and get new rough mixes the next day, as parts got added and redefined (e.g. Ben would rework a bassline or re-amp clean DI guitars that Dunc sent, to alter the sound). Annie Leeth, the engineer in Atlanta added some strings, which sounded really amazing when we first heard them, so there were nice surprises when we woke up, some mornings! We used Whatsapp splitscreen calls every few days to talk things through. Mixing remotely was pretty tedious, though!
Did you have a goal of how you wanted to move on from what you did on Risk To Exist?
We wanted to stretch ourselves, as we always do, and I think Child Of The Flatlands, Meeting Up and Feelings I'm Supposed To Feel really give the album a different feel overall - more dreamlike. That was one of our original goals - to allow more space in the arrangements (especially with Lukas, our keyboardist leaving) without sacrificing the edge we always aim to have.
We wanted to collaborate more with a producer who was a multi-instrumentalist, whereas last time, we just recorded us playing live, pretty much. There are Brian Eno/ Daniel Lanois ambient synthscapes rubbing up against feedback-drenched guitar lines, and I think the subtle sonic touches really enhance our sound and give this record a quite specific vibe. Lyrically, the last album was political and very unambiguous, (perhaps quite simple and sloganeering to some ears!) but we felt it was important to be clear in the face of gaslighting and dog-whistle politics. I didn't want to repeat myself or use that style this time around, so this album is more about domestic, introspective themes. However, making Risk To Exist will hopefully allow listeners to think of certain lyrics in a political light even though they're less overtly about a certain subject.
This is your first album without Lukas, how did that change the dynamic? How is life as a three-piece in the studio?
One less opinion certainly makes the process quicker! But it's different, for sure, being such an egalitarian band. His personality was a big part of our entire sensibility, never mind his keyboard abilities, so we definitely felt a shift in the dynamic between us. We've known each other for so long, we knew we could work well together, but I think we'll only be able to assess what Lukas's absence means after another couple of years.
You’ve got punk legend Pauline Murray on one track, how did that come about?
We've known Pauline for a long time, as she runs a practice room and studio in Newcastle called Polestar, where we've rehearsed since day one. We actually went out for a curry with her while Ben was here, and he said we should ask her to guest on the outro of Ardour, to give it a bit of extra attitude. Now, it seems obvious, but sometimes you don't see an opportunity even though it's right in front of you. She ended up singing my harmonies and adapting them to her own style. The song, Ardour, is about the harder aspects of being a parent and Pauline knows all about it, with two kids of her own!
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to it?
It's another snapshot of a life in modern Britain, so it covers the intense highs and lows of parenthood (I became a Dad four years ago), the Grenfell Fire, a decline in public services, nostalgia for semi-rural childhood walks, the concept of romance as you get older, amongst other topics. The album title sums things up in many ways, mostly in terms of human nature and how our behaviour, both good and bad, can affect other people.
Which song on the album took the longest to get right?
The Acid Remark. We worked on the arrangement endlessly - even though it's a rocker, it has an unconventional structure
And which came together most quickly?
Placeholder. Dunc sent the music to me, I sang it, using lyrics from my notebook, and it was done! We still tried to tweak elements of it during recording, but always came back to the simplicity of the original.
When did you settle on Nature Always Wins for the title? Were there any other titles in contention?
Before we started recording, it was the main contender (after I texted it to the other guys), and it only got stronger through the process. I thought it worked from the POV that our 'true' nature generally reveals itself as time goes on, but there are obvious ecological connotations that seem prescient. I can't remember the others now, but we've always had a three-word title taken from an album track, so people can hear it pop out when they listen.
How’s 2021 shaping up for you? Are you able to do much planning?
Aside from a couple of socially-distanced album launches in Kingston and Newcastle, we have live dates in mid-June, and we're hoping the vaccine rollout goes smoothly! Our actual album launch shows are in late summer, to give them a chance of happening, and then we go to the rest of Europe. It's tough to plan, but you have to put something out there, even if you have to reschedule due to the current uncertainty.
Nature Always Wins is out now plus we have some event shows avaiable - you can find it here in our online store.