INTERVIEW: Maccabees

Back in 2007 there was much hype in the musical press about the London/Brighton based, arbitrarily named five piece, The Maccabees, sparked mainly by the release of their debut album ‘Colour It In’. The record tried to encapsulate their vibrant on-stage energy and showcased a collection of teen-trouble-inspired crowd favourites which lead to commercial success.
Then all went quiet on the Maccabees front for nearly two years until 2009 where they returned to the fickle world of popular music in thunderous style with their second offering, ‘Wall of Arms’. This time around the guys haven’t got a backlog of tracks they need to document and their songs are all grown up with moody, melancholic lyrics, in addition to grand brooding melodies –harnessed impeccably by producer Markus Dravs (Acade Fire, Bjork).
In the middle of their new tour I met with front man Orlando Weeks before their gig at the Student Union Cardiff to see what it’s like for him to be back in his touring shoes, if he still has artistic control of the band and his thoughts on recent developments in the music industry.
Weeks seemed, to put it bluntly, bloody knackered like he hadn’t slept for, well, erm, weeks but was all smiles as he approached me. Immediately interested in the mp3 Dictaphone I had he picked it up and beamed, “I gotta get me one of those.” Slightly bemused I proceeded with the interview and asked him what it was like to be touring again after the gap between albums, “It’s great actually we did it so much the last time I kinda know a bit more on how to regulate myself and get the most out of it so I’m not just feeling like I’m wasting huge chunks of the day… I’m pacing myself in a way that I’m getting other stuff done as well – so I feel like I’m achieving a bit.” I wondered what he meant by getting stuff done? “ writing and doing some little recording and things, and art work…you know keep myself busy during the day so when I get to a venue I’m not just sat there pondering.” He looked into the middle distance and you could see that touring can take it out of a person especially someone who is as passionate about his craft as Weeks is. He’s preoccupied with not wasting anymore time “I’m 26 now, oh no i’m 25, I feel 28. I’m gonna be 26 in three months and I need to feel like you know… I got gotta press on a little bit.” Not wanting to dwell on dossing I pushed on.
Interested in his involvement with the band’s artwork for their first album and single releases, I wondered if Weeks had decided to enlist the help of artist Boo Ritson for the current album, “Yeah I found her work and saved it for about two and a half years from a magazine… I saved it thinking it may be useful for something… it just seemed like the most brilliant idea* (*covering live models in paint and photographing them so they look like mannequins)” he enthused, “we tracked her down and she liked some of the songs, and she went for it.” Weeks, a former art school student, is clearly passionate about the band’s artwork as he provided all the illustrations for the their early releases – this time he has obtained the help of a unique contemporary photographer but still has input on the artwork for all the Maccabees’ releases telling me in intricate detail about use of textures, fabrics and spot glosses… whatever they may be.
On the subject of artistic control I enquired whether they had a say in who produced the album, “We’d sent out a few demos to people, sort of splattered around the place and he [Markus Dravs] was one of the people that came back, we had a trial with some other people and a trial with him and he was just the stand out man for the job” he went on /i>“We felt pretty sure that if it didn’t come out well then it will because our songs weren’t strong enough and not anything to do with his production.” At this point Weeks was almost reassuring himself “Which was the right thing to do as it needed to be on our shoulders … He’s not gonna make a shit album, he’s too clever , so it gave us a lot of confidence as well because it meant that if he liked it there must be something going for it.”
I could see how you would gain self-assurance from a revered producer like Dravs’ praises but wondered if the Maccabees latest album would be seen as too similar in sound to the Arcade Fires’ work. Was he was worried that people would draw too many comparisons between the two and indeed was he influenced by them at all? “Arcade Fire are a massive influence on us. I mean I think they are one of the best bands in the world. From that first EP to Neon Bible [they are] some of the best records of my lifetime… I’d sooner listen to those three records than I don’t think any other band. They’d all be my dessert island disks, so it’s bound to rub off on you a bit” he conceded. “I love the spirit of it and the grandiose of it. It’s just fabulous music and if people compare [Wall of Arms] to it, and I agree there are moments in the record where it does have that kind of thing, I’d be proud as punch.” but could it be seen as a negative thing? “Absolutely not. I don’t think you can utter a bad word about Arcade Fire and if we catch a little bit of that then psssh, joy.”
We talked about music videos and I wondered why Matthew Horne was in the video for the free single release, No Kind Words earlier this year “I’ve known Matt for about 2 ½ maybe 3 years and we’ve always kind of joked that he’d be in a video of ours.” But what inspired the idea for the video? Weeks explains, “I had this idea for a kind of Smith and Jones talking heads thing, like the old Wispa adverts which I watched on YouTube when Wispa was rereleased, and thought that would work for No Kind Words because it is about conversation – and there’s no more classic way of displaying conversation” he went onto mention that the use of 70s style arcade graphics was to replace subtitles or speech bubbles which Weeks informed me would have, “cheesied it up a little.”
I wondered what his thoughts were on both Colour It In and Wall of Arms being available to listen for free on new internet music programme Spotify, he replied somewhat wearily “I don’t really know, I wouldn’t have a clue I’m not very erm… digitally apt.” I altered the subject to file sharing and the way it’s changed the industry. Gaining his interest he told me through how cool it is that the internet can influence your music tastes, broaden your knowledge and see music’s evolution. He reflected, “I mean there’s a lot of this discussion over whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing and I don’t think it does enough harm for it to be a problem because maybe if people hadn’t downloaded how ever many copies of one of our records then we would be a little bit higher up the charts, maybe one place or something, but not a lot more, so it isn’t a big deal.” He tapped his hand on the desk with his fist “If we really cared about that, if that was gonna really get us down, then it would mean that we’re really not in it for the right reasons. That’s for the record companies to worry about, which I’m sure they do.” He continued passionately, “beyond that anything that allows people to listen to music I think has to be a good thing. One of the really exiting bits, for me anyway, is where you find something that you absolutely love and then tracing its roots so that you find the system that created that piece of music.”
Staying on the subject of the Internet I wanted to know how much he knew about social networking sites, as it appears that the Maccabees are on every one of them “I think it’s something that is beyond me really I don’t have a Face Book.” He I have an email address, just for kinda work stuff really and a couple of friends. Other than that I don’t really understand the Bebo and twit-twitter, it’s a bit beyond me. I just don’t really see the point. If I wanna speak to someone I phone them up, or text them.” So Weeks has absolutely no idea what friends of his are having for tea from facebook or if Stephen Fry is happy with his latest cheese purchase via a tweet – how archaic!
At this point in the interview a fire alarm sounded and we had to leave the building. I wrapped up the talk as although Weeks was very responsive to my questions I could see he was tired and needed rest before the event later that evening.
Weeks et al gave a wonderfully high-octane performance that night with crowd favourites like Latchmere, X-Ray and, reluctantly, Precious Time (purposefully down-playing the chorus) but most memorably, new cuts such as Wall of Arms, William Powers and Young Lions played to an adulated crowd who mouthed the words even to their latest non-releases – another triumph for the internet! It was an impressive act and I’ve never been to a gig on a Tuesday in Cardiff that was that rammed before. Students and tax payers alike all jostling to see the Maccabees calling out for encores which, although a little contrived, ended an excellent night with a bang. It was a far cry from when I saw them back in 2006 to an audience of just three. Coming down from that high every night must be a wonderful but equally exhausting touring experience. I know now why he was so drained earlier that day.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.