The Maccabees Interview
“A lot of people came,” says Orlando gently. “It was nice.”
The Maccabees’ singer isn’t talking about a successful picnic, or a surprise party he threw for a friend. No, the quiet, thoughtful indie poppet is recalling his band’s gig at the Concorde, which sold out in 24 hours. One day. And nice it certainly was.
After the riotous previous appearance that had them erroneous banned from playing in Brighton for a short while, this airing of new material was a much calmer evening. Sure there was jumping about, singing along and youthful exuberance but as the band split the set in half with new material, everyone listened.
And what new material. No Kind Words gave an indication that Wall Of Arms, the new LP, was going to grow out of the tight indie pop they nailed on their debut. With a moody, slow first section, there’s an explosive moment that will make 1:57 of the track your favourite second of music this year. Drums crash and layers of guitars chime like the Psychedelic Furs – if the Psychedelic Furs were releasing pent up energy in order to survive.
“I think the thing that we didn’t want to lose, or sacrifice at the hands of making it not sound like the first record, was the spirit,” explains Orlando of the making of Wall Of Arms. “That’s what it still has, is these moments of spiritedness.”
“Not all of the songs have got these choruses in a traditional sense,” adds guitarist Hugo. “A lot of them do it musically, evolving through the song without going into a big sing-a-long.”
“We were keen to make the songs exciting, but not just because they’re really fast and they stop and start,” confirms Felix. “We’d have never have done No Kind Words on the first record. It’s almost monotonous but you get wrapped up in it by the end. We’d have never have thought of it first time round, but that’s part of learning.”
On first listen the songs sound nothing like the economic, live-centric outfit that we’re used to. Trumpets fanfare away on the amazing new single Love You Better, while Bag Of Bones is the most tender we’ve heard The Maccabees yet. Kiss & Resolve powers along with snared energy though, and at the heart of all of the songs is Orlando’s unique just-holding-life-together voice and the guitar interplay of Felix and Hugo, alongside that super-tight rhythm section. Markus Dravs – the super producer behind Arcade Fire and Coldplay – helped achieve the leap from the simple, clean sound of the debut and the disparate second album ambitions.
“All of us were coming at stuff from such different angles and imagining different outcomes,” says Orlando. “He helped us find the middle ground that everyone was happy with. At one point it seemed like that was going to be almost impossible.”
“We’ve got such uncompromising ideas about music and we argue about it all the time,” says Felix. “For example in the last year Hugo has been listening to Orange Juice and Leonard Cohen, Orlando has been getting into Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective, I’ve been listening to Public Enemy and Root Manuva, Rupert’s been bang into AC/DC. You try and put that together and that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. That sounds like the worst band of all time. But that’s the beauty of it.”
“We’re the best worst band around,” laughs Orlando.
Back on stage the ever-transparent Orlando is enjoying himself (you can always read his emotions on stage, especially when he’s touched by fans reactions). Felix, though, is having the time of his life, conducting the crowd through the old choruses with his never beaten enthusiasm and movie star charm.
“I think he’s the front man,” Orlando says later.
“I’m not the front man,” Felix insists. “I just get way too over-excited.”
When you’re writing songs do you plan your guitar parts so that you can conduct the sing-a-longs?
“Ha!” laughs Felix. “Sometimes I miss out guitar parts just so I can conduct them.”
“I’ve never thought of that but now that you’ve brought it to our attention…” grins Hugo.
One things that can’t not be brought to attention is that since we had The Maccabees on the cover, faces have changed. Firebrand drummer Rob left in a cloud of personal problems. Listening to No Kind Words it sounds like it could be about him, but Orland is firm.
“No,” says Orlando like a man who doesn’t want to talk about it. “It’s about another friend who wasn’t having a very good time.”
But have there been changes since Rob left?
“Having Sam drumming is quite a big thing,” of the new face. “The drummer puts a distinctive mark on the sound of anything.”
“He’s brought a fresh batch of jokes,” says Felix, lightening the tone. “OK, maybe not fresh as such.”
Sam has know the band for years, and they got their friend in to help when they could get their head around their stand-in drum machine. As soon as it sat behind the kit, just to keep time, the boys said it was “wonderful” and the invite to join was offered.
“We’ve been friends since the rise of the band so it’s not completely alien,” say Sam. “I felt honoured to be asked.”
Of course you would. Who wouldn’t welcome being welcomed into this wall of arms? Five hundred fans at the Concorde are hugging right back.