Interview - Paul Smith of Maximo Park
Posted on Friday, 31 January 2014 | No Comments
For the cover story of NARC Magazine February 2014, I got to speak to Paul Smith of Maximo Park about the creation and ideas behind their new album Too Much Information, out on 3rd February. Have a listen to their new release here, then scroll on down to read Paul's take on it.
If you’ve read on past the title, then it’ll be no surprise that Maximo Park – for it is they – are back this month with their latest album Too Much Information. What is a surprise, however, is just how it came about, and the record that it is. It’s a bold, flab-free effort that encompasses both the literary indie dramatics that made their name and a desire to move into new areas and new sounds. For its diversity and exuberance, it’s possibly their most exciting album since Our Earthly Pleasures – and it’s the band that seems the most excited out of anyone.
Over a telephone conversation just before Christmas, Paul Smith laid out the desire to keep progressing and keep moving that drove the record, and also delved into its unusual genesis. As he explained, even the band didn’t expect to be back this quickly. “It’s definitely the quickest we’ve ever released a record after the previous one. It felt like we were doing pretty well after The National Health, and when things are going well you just have to sustain that.”
“We went into the studio with Field Music for a week and a half in the studio in Sunderland, as we had these five songs that we’d written straight after touring The National Health. We still had some shows and festivals lined up, a few bits and bobs, but we thought that maybe we should just do an EP if we had these five songs, maybe play some of them live to spice up the set-list whilst still playing The National Health.”
“We were all very proud of the songs we did in the Field Music studio: Dave’s a great producer, and Peter’s always a good guy to have around in the studio, you know, giving advice and making a good cup of tea! We thought that we had five very different songs – we had Brain Cells which was very much an electro song, stuff like Her Name Was Audre which is quite punky, and then other stuff in between – and that seemed to suit the idea of an EP, somewhere where we could experiment with our sound and try different things out. That said, we started playing it to our manager and our record companies with the idea of doing it as an EP, and everyone just said to us that there weren’t any experimental moments that record companies run away screaming from, that the songs were all good, so…”
It turns out that just this once, the industry people might have known what they were talking about, because in pushing the band towards making a full LP release, they pushed the band towards creating an exciting, diverse set that works far better as a statement of continued relevancy than a swiftly-forgotten end of cycle EP would have done. As such then, it was back to the studio to “think of it as an album, to think of what songs we needed to make it an album, what themes were running through the five songs. Some of the themes were nocturnal images and memories, which are in all of our songs in a way, but there was the sense of these songs as looking at memories as a springboard for other things.”
Talking more about his lyrics, I got Paul to explain his song writing philosophy for us. “In all of our songs, I try and have something simple and direct so that people can connect with our songs, but I also want to disrupt that slightly, and put in something that disrupts it, and there’s where the intellect kicks in and refines the instinctual side of the band.” As an example, Paul cited how the chorus to Drinking Martinis ended up being influenced by a sequence in Don DeLillo’s post-modern epic Underworld concerning deference, the lines ‘For one night only you were drinking martinis, deferring to me’ marrying a memory of a night in town with the influence of DeLillo’s writing.
The theme running throughout Too Much Information then might be of a band finding new ways to subvert or disrupt their pop songs, be it the slow, Blue Nile pulse of single Leave This Island or the sudden, shocking ending of manic punk track Her Name Was Audre. It’s not just the music that’s received a shake-up this time around either, with the band’s visual identity receiving a fairly comprehensive overhaul courtesy of artist Matt Stokes providing the album artwork and music videos.
Over to Paul again to explain: “When we were planning our next step [to making the full album], I sat down and said I would like an artist to deal with everything this time. We’ve had a lot of trouble with videos in the past – they’ve got my ugly face in for a start, and they’ve changed a lot from the conception before as well, which is difficult for a band that likes to be in control. We chose an artist called Matt Stokes who has a background in archiving sub-cultural things in his art,” with Paul drawing a link between Matt’s work in archiving rave culture in his art and the night-life focus of much of Too Much Information.
Where the album artwork derives from old rave fliers though, the music videos provide fascinating, bizarre slice-of-life documentaries. “The guy in the Leave This Island video is a guy who inhabits lots of different personalities: the cameraman for it was saying how he was someone different moment to moment, but really up for being filmed and having his life documented. I suspect the first time people watch it, they might assume it’s an actor…and in many ways, this guy is an actor.”
If any more proof was needed that Too Much Information is the sound of Maximo Park getting their energy back, just consider Paul’s closing confession. “I was being geeky and listening to the album with the lyric sheets the other day to check all of the lyrics inside the booklet , and I was just singing along in my front room, getting excited about playing them!”