By alexander laurence
They are five guys from Newcastle. Maximo Park is Paul Smith (vocals), Duncan
Lloyd (guitar), Archis Tiku (bass), Lukas Wooller (keyboards), and Tom
English (drums). They started a few years ago after studying at the University.
Maximo Park are all about catchy songs inspired by post-punk legends like the Jam,
Wire, and the Smiths. Their first sonic blast of vinyl was “The Coast Is
Always Changing/The Night I Lost My Head,” in 2004. It caught the imagination of
the heads of Warp Records. This label is known as a mostly electronic label.
The label was overwhelmed and signed the band and immediately released their
second single, “Apply Some Pressure,” early in 2005,
It made the Top 20 in the national charts and shocked everyone. At that time,
Warp also released the “Apply Some Pressure” EP, which featured tracks from
both of the band’s singles. In the U.S. Maximo Park also finished recording
their debut album with producer Paul Epworth. They spent the spring touring the
U.K., Japan, and the U.S., making a talked about appearance at SXSW. The
“Graffiti” single heralded the arrival of the band's full-length A Certain Trigger
(2005). People were surprised by the new direction of the band. They returned
to the States to headline some shows in September 2005. The shows made an
immediately impact. I got to talk with singer Paul Smith before the shows at the
Troubadour. It was right before they went on a large American tour supporting
The Bravery. A fan attacked the singer while we were heading off to a café to
have a chat. Maximo Park are on the rise. Smith showed me a book about the
architect Anthony Gormley.
AL: You were interested in Anthony Gormley (www.antonygormley.com). How did
you find out about him?
Paul: He is a sculptor. Modern art inspires me. He has done some great
sculptures. He has done “Angel of The North” which is in Gateshead, as you approach
Newcastle. It’s very imposing. It’s made out of metal so it corrodes. It’s
like a lot of the industry in the area. It is intentional decay. There is an
art gallery in Newcastle where they show sculptures by Gormley. He gets
measurements of people and then he casts them. He creates strange metal sculptures of
loads of people. He creates fields of people milling around in a very abstract
way. He is an English artist.
AL: Are you all from Newcastle?
Paul: Yeah. We met each other there. None of us were born there. I was born
in Billingham, which is an hour south of Newcastle. There is not much going on
in Billingham. Jamie Bell (of Billy Elliot) is from Billingham. He used to
come around to our house when we were small. He was a friend of my brother. Then
I used to see him on billboards. He is in Green Day videos now.
AL: Newcastle is one of those university towns.
Paul: That is right. After university we all met each other. That is where we
studied. I didn’t want to go to far away. I had to do something. I didn’t
want to work. I wanted to learn a little more about the world. After finishing
school, starting a band seemed like the next logical choice.
AL: Did everyone from Maximo Park graduate from college?
Paul: Yeah, we all did. We all have BA honors. I have a Masters as well. I
studied American popular culture. It’s called the American science of history
and culture. I wrote about post-war American poets and literature. I wrote about
Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo. I like Frank O’Hara the poet.
AL: That is the good stuff. When did you start Maximo Park?
Paul: They ask me to join about three years ago now. We have been on Warp
Records since July 12th, 2004. We were together two years before the record deal.
Before I joined the band it was Maximo Park without me. Duncan and Archis
used to share the vocals. They used to write songs and each sing their own songs.
It was very eclectic. Bands like Pavement influenced them. Archis used to
sing in Hindi because he is Indian. You don’t get that sort of thing in pop
music. They were a little like Super Furry Animals. I saw them play in Newcastle.
AL: When you joined the band it was more about sharp lines and the power of
architecture in public spaces?
Paul: You have broken me down. I do like a direct esthetic that has layers.
What they did before lacked that directness. But when they asked me to join
Duncan had already written some songs that had that direct appeal. It was like
the last roll of the dice for them. They had some success but no one made them
feel like they were heading in the right direction.
AL: Did any of the old songs from the previous band carry over into the new
Paul: Yes. “Limassol” was one of Archis songs that he used to sing. “Signal
and Sign” was one of Duncan songs. I changed the lyrics in these songs to suit
how I felt about the world. Some lyrics are still there. “I’ll do graffiti
if you sing to me in French” is a Duncan lyric. To me it didn’t make any
sense. I liked it a lot. To me French stuff is quite romantic. Graffiti reminds me
of the riots in Paris in 1968. It’s about excitement.
AL: There is the whole Situationist idea of “detournement.” Are you
interested in that?
Paul: Yeah. I think it’s essential. Things should be geared towards, if not a
thrill, enjoying your life and getting everything out of it. We all lapsed
AL: Where do all the hipster hang out in Newcastle?
Paul: There is a place called The Head of Steam. It’s a pub right across from
the main railway station. Some friends did our first video for “The Coast Is
Always Changing” there. We did that before we were signed. We released that as
a 7-inch single on Warp Records. We were trying to get known in England. We
had about 150 people there but you couldn’t see how big the audience was. There
is a place called The Clooney, which is a step up from there. It holds about
300 people. We didn’t play those places for very long. Bands still play there
every day of the week.
AL: The perception of the Warp Label is that it is one of these places for
leftfield electronic music. We know bands like Plaid, Autechre, and Aphex Twin.
Is it odd that Maximo Park is also on this label?
Paul: I think it is true that Warp is changing. They have been looking for a
more guitar-orientated band like us for four years. They signed one or two
people who released an EP and it didn’t work out. We were looking for someone who
would respect our music. In a business that is very hard. We had some major
companies that were looking after us. It just didn’t feel right. We wanted to
say that we are not the same as all the other guitar bands around at the
moment. We felt like our music stands out. We know that we would stand out on Warp.
We are trying to push pop in a different direction. In a sense we have the
same questing spirit that Aphex Twin does in his ambient electronica. We want to
have the sense of invention in our music. Maybe we want to have words that
have never been used in a pop song.
AL: Does the band have any shared influences?
Paul: It’s funny. We have some many tastes. Today I bought a CD by John Cage,
one by Laura Cantrell, and one by Ron Sexsmith. I like melodic songs. I like
experimental minimal things. I like traditional music. I bought a doo-wop CD.
I am just interested in songs and sounds. We all bring different thing to
Maximo Park. Duncan is really into Bob Dylan. You can hear the traditional ways of
songwriting as much as the way we play around with rhythms. Tom likes the
German band Can. Duncan also likes Captain Beefheart. There will be these
rhythmic ideas along with my love for Smokey Robinson. You will have these two things
coming together. I like a mix of sad things and a sense of humor. There is a
balance with sad lyrics and an upbeat melody.
AL: Maximo Park got lumped in with some other UK bands like Futureheads,
Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party, and others, who in America always been compared to Gang
Paul: I guess there was something going on there. Bloc Party and Futureheads
were the more commercial end of that scratchy artpunk music. Franz Ferdinand
also broke down a lot of barriers. Kaiser Chiefs and Maximo Park got pushed
into that. Both bands are far more song based. We are more melodic and more
direct. I don’t think that the Kaiser Chiefs are writing really emotional lyrics.
AL: Kaiser Chiefs seem like they have listened to Parklife too many times.
Britpop took a while to catch on in America. When the Blur Vs. Oasis thing
happened, people were still into Grunge and Cobain had just died, and they weren’t
going to let that go.
Paul: It was very British. People say to me “It’s like Britpop mk II now.” I
don’t think that any of them are overtly British apart from the Kaiser
Chiefs. People think “The Coast Is Always Changing” is about the rough northeast
coast. If you didn’t know where we are from and our accents, that song could be
about Australia. Once people know about music or who makes it, they start to
have preconceptions as to what it’s about. They start to compare it to other
bands from that area. We didn’t know anything about these other bands when we
started. We wanted to make music that was exciting. I was born in 1979. When I
reached my early twenties, when I was looking for more music that I have never
heard before, and those were bands like Television, Gang of Four, and Talking
Heads. There is a lot of No Wave stuff and the less commercial stuff. I am a
big fan of Arthur Russell. He is amazing. He did some much different stuff. He
is much more an influence on me than Gang of Four. His stuff resonates with me
AL: We hear about many rivalries in the UK. Does Maximo Park have any natural
Paul: No, not at all. We always make friend with people. We have a lot in
common with other bands. We had a karaoke night with the Kaiser Chiefs and The
Bravery. I did a thing with The Rakes at the Reading Festival. The singer of The
Rakes was ill. I filled in for the singer. I sang my two favorite songs by
them, which are “22 Grand Job” and “Strasbourg.” Russell from Bloc Party was
playing guitar. Kele from Bloc party sang with them at Leeds. The Futureheads
are from the same area as us. We saw them on a plane a few weeks ago. We have a
similar sense of humor as them, and Ricky from the Kaiser Chiefs. I was with
the Futureheads and we were having a laugh about Bono and Bob Geldof who were
on the telly.
AL: What other bands are you playing with?
Paul: We are playing a UK tour with the Kaiser Chiefs when we get back. It’s
all sold out. We are doing two nights in each city. That is going well. We did
three shows with Bloc Party. We toured late last year with The Futureheads.
This year we have been playing by ourselves. We have ascended to a point where
we can invite other bands with us.
AL: Are there any new up and coming bands?
Paul: There is a band from Sunderland called Field Music. Our drummer Tom
used to be in Field Music. It’s like chamber pop. It is brilliant orchestration.
There are string quartets on more of the album, but all the songs are in crazy
time signatures. It’s really sweet music, like Big Star and the Beach Boys.
AL: Isn’t this sophisticated music going to alienate some of your teenage
fans, if you have Field Music opening up for you all the time?
Paul: Yeah. It already has. Some people like it. Some people wonder why
Maximo Park brought this band on tour with them. They made one of the best British
albums any band has done. When they play live it is quite different because
they swap instruments. They have a younger drummer now since Tom left. They are
quite genuine people. There is not much that in music I suppose.
AL: Why is that?
Paul: I think people are afraid to let some barriers down. I like Bloc
party’s music but I don’t know what Kele is talking about. There is that angularity
of the music of Gang of Four. There is a bulimical element to the vocals.
Field Music writes songs about their feelings the same way that Maximo Park does.
It is rare I suppose. Kaiser Chiefs tend to be observational I suppose. They
are making fun tracks. Some people find it hard to be self-aware without
AL: That’s why I like some of these newer bands like The Rakes and Art Brut.
They write about common things and everyday things. So it’s like the poetry of
everyday life, much like the poetry of Frank O’Hara.
Paul: Definitely. I can associate with that. Life is a very enriching thing
if you want it to be. My songs definitely stray what people do or don’t do
AL: Have you already started the next album?
Paul: Yeah. We have already done three or four songs. We have a demo. We have
finished the singles already. It was like “Wow, these are great tracks.”
Most of the rest is already written. There is an arrangement process where things
become Maximo Park songs. We will need time for that to take place.
AL: You are doing this tour with The Bravery. Are you going to tour America
again this year?
Paul: We would like to. We are doing a European tour in November. We are
doing our own shows in December. After that we are going into the studio to finish
up the album. We have some more shows in March 2006. Maybe in April we would
like to come back.
AL: Have you been to other countries?
Paul: We are going to Australia for the first time. We are flying over there
from America. After that we will be going to Japan. It will be our third time
in Japan. We are doing really well there. We have played the Fuji Rock
Festival. That was the biggest one I have ever seen. We have done a few tours in
AL: Did you go to festivals when you were younger?
Paul: Not really. I didn’t go any festivals until I was in the band. I don’t
like to sleep in a field with a thousand other people. I like to have my own
toilet and shower. I did go to All Tomorrow’s Parties in Camber Sands. I like
my music indoors and decent. I like all the curators like Mogwai, Tortoise,
AL: Have people been misguided in some way with Maximo Park?
Paul: I think some people have got things wrong. We are not the new
so-and-so. We are not another version of some group out there. We stand there and
combine catchy uplifting melodies with lyrics that you can care about really