“It’s more personal and more intimate than what I do with Maximo Park, there’s more of me…” - hmv.com talks to Paul Smith
He’s best known for his wry wit and his flailing arms as the frontman of indie stalwarts Maxïmo Park, but singer Paul Smith has also been quietly cultivating a fine solo career alongside his endeavours with the band.
He returns today with his fourth outing, Diagrams, a lo-fi, grungey collection of tracks which Smith largely wrote and recorded in the attic of his home in Newcastle.
We spoke to Smith about the making of the album, drawing inspiration from Brexit Britain and where things are with Maxïmo Park...
How soon do you know which songs are meant for your solo career and which are meant for Maxïmo Park? Is it obvious?
“Certain songs are, but there are a few that blur the lines. There’s a song on this record called ‘Around and Around’, which is one of the poppier numbers and we tried it for our last record. The band was in quite a funky place last time and the song went in a totally different direction and I didn’t like the way it had gone. It was a simple song and the band complicated it. So I took it back.”
Does the way you write songs change when you’re on your own?
“I like complicating the songs and I like what happens to songs when it goes through the filter of the rest of the band, but I also like simple, melodic songs. I love bands like The Go-Betweens and The Lemonheads. Bands who make breezy pop songs, but with lyrics more complicated than your average pop lyric. I want people to get something new each time. Some of the lyrics are more personal and more intimate than what I do with Maximo Park, there’s more of me.”
Is there less pressure with an album like this?
“The goal with Maximo Park was to write pop songs that weren’t popular yet and to aim for a broader audience. With my own records, I’m not as bothered by that. That might be the comfort of being in Maximo Park. The way I record doesn’t have the same high production value, it’s more DIY. The only quality filter I have is my own. It’s what I want to share.”
How was recording this time? Is it a more gentle process?
“It is and that brings a weird pressure because sometimes a song can just sit on my computer for years. There’s a song called ‘Syrian Plains’, which was written back in 2010 in soundcheck and we’ve been playing it for years, but we didn’t record it. It didn’t fit on the last solo record, but it worked for this one, it’s a harder record, it’s grungier, there’s more of an edge to them. I’ve been listening to Codeine and early PJ Harvey.”
Were you largely working on your own?
“I produced the record with my friend Andy Hodson, who is in a band called Warm Digits. As I made the record they’ve got much busier and so I’ve ended up piecing a lot of the record together on my own. It was me in my attic room at home, fitting it in around family life, working on Garageband. It was mostly done up there, except the drums, there’s not enough room for them in the attic.”
You said you’ve been collecting songs for this album for a long time, does this affect the lyrics? You’re not afraid of being topical, do songs date?
“Unfortunately not in our own country at the moment. A song like ‘Around and Around’, it wasn’t written about Brexit Britain, but it was inspired by the idea of turning your back on something and being led up the garden path by people who’ve fooled you.”
“‘The Public Eye’, which is the first song on the record, is about a climate of hate, which something I’ve seen myself, just walking about Newcastle as well as reading about what happened with the Windrush scandal. These topics aren’t new ones, we’ve been hearing about the hostile environment for years and years. I wish that they weren’t relevant, you always wish there was less turmoil and you’re capturing a snapshot in time. But I don’t think so. Not yet.”
What are your plans to take the album out live?
“I’ve got six dates in the UK and I’ve put a band together. I’ve got Tom English from Maximo Park playing the drums for me, Andrew Lowther from Field Music and a singer called Natalie Stern, who is relearning the guitar for me. I need extra guitars and backing vocals, so she’s going to provide that. I’m looking forward to playing the songs, I wanted to record the album live, but I couldn’t afford to do it, so hopefully, it’ll bring the songs to life in a different way. And I might drop in the odd Maximo Park song for the hardcore fans…”
Finally, what’s happening with Maximo Park? Is everyone busy doing other things?
“We’ve got a few things in the pipeline and you’ll be hearing from us over the next few months. We are working on new material, it’s very slow, but we’re all friends and we still love working together. There’ll be plenty more from us…”