Luke Hannaford 07/09/2009
GIITTV's Luke Hannaford caught up with lyricist and lead vocalist Paul Smith of the group Maximo Park, at last weekend's Leeds festival.
Hey, how's Leeds/Reading Going so far?
It went extremely well for us. The crowd's reaction was brilliant as the sun came down behind them. It was the first time we've invited a brass quintet to play on our songs, but I've always loved the melancholy lift of brass band music, and I think it suits our songs.
You're quite well known for the bowler hat & suspenders look. Do you think fashion plays an important part of being in a band?
I just do what feels comfortable, and since being onstage is an unnatural environment, I decided to put on a show. There are tons of bands trying to make themselves heard and since we believe our music is significant, it made sense to stand out from the crowd. When we first started out, Roxy Music and Talking Heads were an inspiration to me as a frontman, since they managed to combine great music with a sense of performance without damaging their integrity. Going to a show should be fun and I'd like the person at the back to find it memorable as well as the front row!
Your latest album Quicken the Heart was produced by Nick Launay who also helped bands like Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kate Bush etc. Did you approach him to help produce the album? If so why?
We did. His work with Nick Cave piqued our interest and when we delved into his past and found luminaries like Kate Bush, PIL and Talking Heads we realised that he had the right blend of enthusiasm and experience to carry our sound forwards. We wanted a looser groove and a more experimental backdrop to the songs and after having a few phone conversations with him, we knew that he was into our songs and had similar ideas about how to develop the demos we'd done in Newcastle.
Do you think fans enjoy the newest album being played live more? Or are old time favs like 'Apply Some Pressure' still the best to get the crowds going?
It's difficult to say because everyone has a different perspective. For me, if I'm into the new album, then I want to hear those songs, but there'll always be a part of me that loves hearing my favourite song live. We always mix up our setlists to keep the shows vital, but it also encourages people to come again because there's always a chance that we'll play their 'special' song.
You put on quite a performance at all your gigs with the amount of running around on stage you must have to keep pretty fit?
The shows are the thing keeping me healthy! I'm knackered the rest of the time! I've always loved playing football so maybe that helps when I'm not on tour. I walk around a lot, too, trying to find something to write about.
I heard you had to cancel some September dates planned in USA and Canada do you plan on rescheduling to play sometime in the future over there?
Of course. Knowing that people had bought tickets and arranged to come and see us made it a tough decision to cancel but we had some important personal issues to take care of at home. So, it's great to know that people want us there and we'll make every effort to get back there as soon as possible. I love the feeling of being a bit of a nomad roaming across this vast country with all the different sights and people you come across.
Also you must appreciate your fans, it was nice to see you write a note about the cancellations rather than just typing it out like most bands do. You think it helps more to add a personal touch to it when keeping fans in the know?
I think so. It's weird because people read so much into the smallest things you do, which means a small gesture can make a big difference. The internet, however ubiquitous, is still a little impersonal for us so hand-writing a note seemed apt, especially when we'd made the decision ourselves and felt bad about cancelling.
Do you think the internet has benefitted your career? And what do you think of illegal downloading?
The internet is a massive communication tool and we've benefitted as much as any other band from easy access to our music, initially. We try and connect with our audience and not treat them like customers because, ultimately, we're music fans ourselves and we act in ways that we think are helpful to other music lovers. Having a mailing list is a basic but helpful way of letting people know when the gigs are or letting them hear new music first. I don't think anyone can stop illegal downloading and since it already exists you have to manage it in whatever way you can. Maybe I've been brainwashed by the system, but I have always loved the 'event' of buying an album by my favourite artists. I love looking through the booklets, going out of my way to get it, having the object around, and that first time of putting it on my headphones and listening to it from start to finish. I know most young people don't consume music like that anymore but we will always try to create music that we think demands attention regardless of whether people pay for it.
How do fans abroad react to your music do they differ to UK fans whether you get more support here or abroad too?
It's quite similar, maybe because our music is of a passionate, committed nature. Thankfully I've rarely seen a passive crowd before me over the last four years - just people grinning, dancing, crying (!) etc. There are subtle differences though. In Germany, there tends to be quite a cerebral angle to the journalistic line of enquiry. They seem to have absorbed the songs and are willing to dissect them in some detail. I think it's helped us communicate to our audience there since there's an obvious language barrier that our type of music needs to overcome.
As a fellow northerner are you proud to be from the North East? Do you think location plays a part in whether you're more likely to get noticed?
I find national and regional pride quite troublesome issues because I associate them with parochialism. However, I'm aware that the north-east has been historically marginalised by the media and government so I'm proud that we have had a measure of international recognition whilst remaining a north-east resident. We put out our own single, which was noticed by the London-based music industry, and prior to that interest we were treated as an oddity within the local music scene. I think we've always remained true to our ideals and, as a result, our idiosyncrasies have marked us out, locally and nationally. If we had been noticed too early in a bigger city, I fear our music may not have gestated properly.
Where do you find your inspiration?
To quote my namesake, the designer Paul Smith, "You can find inspiration in everything"! Life is a rich tapestry and trying to untangle it and make sense of it is an eternal process.
If you could make a dream team of a band which artists would it consist of?
It would be an ethereal folk group: Elizabeth Frazer (Cocteau Twins) on vocals; Dave Pajo (Slint, Papa M) on first guitar; Bert Jansch on second guitar; Richard Thompson on third guitar.
Are there any bands in particular you look forward to seeing at Leeds/Reading Festival this year? And are you excited to be a part of the line up?
I want more people to see our band live so playing a massive festival is a very exciting prospect. I would've liked to see Radiohead, but they were on a different day to us.
If you weren't in a band what do you think you'd be doing?
Finally what are your hopes for the future?
I'd like to remain creative and keep putting out records that mean something to someone.