Caught the early 00’s wave of a British re-invasion, Maximo Park is now five records in to a discography that is changing, but shows no sign of stopping. With Too Much Information, the Maximo boys have slowed it down both sonically and literally. Their first self-produced album recorded in their own studio, TMI is a change from the raucous and speedy tunes of the past. Lukas Wooller jumped on Skype with us and discussed the deliberate changes the band has made with this album and moving forward, their level of comfort as tenured musicians, and what it’s like to perform all over the world (people are different, but they’re the same).
Poppycock: Let’s talk about the new album, Too Much Information. How are you guys keeping it fresh and creative on this album, your fifth, to keep it exciting and new for you as much as your listeners?
Lukas: I think what helps is that everyone writes. We all contribute to the sound and we all have quite different tastes. We go out of our way to include everyone’s writing. It’s something we set out to do from the start. We’d all been in bands where you have one guy who writes the songs and everyone else just plays them. We wanted to be in a band where it was more collaborative. That definitely helps with people coming to the table with different ideas.
Duncan (Lloyd) is quite prolific. He is constantly writing. To be fair, he has shaped the sound of Maximo Park as the guitar player; especially in our earlier albums. He’s just an incredible, rhythmic, melodic guitar player.
Coming in to this last album, there’s a lot more synth and keyboard influences not to mention kind of slowing things down. That is something we set out to do on this record (Too Much Information). One of our weaknesses, is that we’re not very good at creating space in our music. When we write songs, we’re sitting in the room playing. We’re all playing at the same time a lot of the time. There’s a lot of things going on at the same time. We’ve been trying to find a little more space, which hasn’t always come easy for us, but I think it started when we began to write “Brain Cells.” That was probably the first time where we thought that this is definitely a good song and its got loads of stuff going on; its got some atmosphere. We really hit on something.
I don’t really know what it was, but it was the first song where we didn’t feel pressure to put loads of stuff in to it. I think we used to feel pressure to cram all of our ideas in to a song because you never know if it’s the last one you’ll ever do. It could all end tomorrow, so we’re a little more relaxed in our approach now. We’re confident now that we know we’ve got more albums to make, we’ll have the chance to make them, and we can try out different things.
Also, looking back on the music in the past that we’ve written; not just album, but B-sides and covers and we even did a movie soundtrack for a silent movie from 1927; we sort of did it as an exercise before we started writing our third album, and that was completely different than anything we’d ever done. It was totally instrumental; quite out there. It wasn’t the usual verse chorus we normally do. When we considered what we had done in our career we realized we can kinda do whatever we want. We can get away with going wherever we want.
Having Paul (Smith), who is such a distinctive singer and such a unique and interesting lyricist, at the helm of your music; as a band you can kind of get away with lots of things behind what he is doing, which is kind of a trademark. We’ve also pushed Paul on this last album to try different vocals, singing higher and singing a bit lower, which has definitely brought a different color to the music. I think being aware of what you’re good at is good, but being aware of what you’re not good at is particularly better because it means that you can push yourself to try something different.
Poppycock: You sort of touched on it, but is your taking a chance changing your sound and the speed and atmosphere of this new album something you’re able to do now 5 albums in and knowing you have a fan base to support you even if it isn’t what you’re possibly known for in the past? Are you able to take a risk now trying something new that you simply could not have tried earlier in your career as a band?
Lukas: Yeah, I think there is a little bit more confidence there you acquire the longer that you’re around.
When we did our fourth album we’d had a bit of a gap between the third and the fourth albums. We were very aware that people were sort of forgetting about us. We’d come out in a great period in 2004 and 2005 when a lot of great UK bands were coming out (Franz Ferdinand, Futureheads, Bloc Party). The problem was that we all got lumped together, which is fine, but we were all different in many ways.
We’ve always tried to differentiate ourselves in any way we could, but it’s been hard at times. When we were doing that fourth album with that big gap we had kind of assumed that people figured we just split up and we were getting a bit paranoid about that.
We ended up putting a lot of pressure on ourselves on the fourth record to kind of do something that was very Maximo Park. We wanted to do something that concentrated on what had gotten us to that point. We sort of describe that album as a “best of” from the sounds of those first three albums. We’ve gotten that out of our system. We know who we are. We know what we do well. Where can we go from here?
On the fourth record we put our marker down and established that we’re not going anywhere. This is what we do. We have a lot to say and are very proud of the music we make. On that record we established that we should still exist and have a place.
Once we got that out of our system our shoulders just dropped a bit and we relaxed. We just really enjoyed the writing process on this last record. It’s the first record that we’ve recorded and producer ourselves, which I think helped in making this such an enjoyable process. We just had more time to try out different things.
Normally, when we’re doing a record we go into a professional studio and the clock is ticking. Every hour is so many more pounds you’ve spent hiring a producer and for the studio and you’ve got to get this record done in a three or four week timeframe. Everything you’ve been writing and working on for however many months leading up to this needs to be nailed right then and there. It can be exciting because you get to come up with new and interesting stuff right there under that pressure. We perform very well under pressure, actually, and you’re also working with a producer who brings something else to the table.
We’ve always said though that we wanted to do everything ourselves where we can take our time and try out those things you normally wouldn’t have time to do in a professional studio. That had a huge impact on how this record turned out and how we’re looking forward to writing from here on in. I don’t think we’re gonna work with a producer again. We definitely won’t hire another studio, obviously, because now we have our own.
Poppycock: Well, that makes sense to me as a listener. Just from my perspective I can hear a more deliberate and atmospheric sound. As you said, in a paid studio with a tight deadline and cramming a lot of stuff and ideas in to each song, did the pressure of a producer and the pounds ticking away with every minute influence maybe the sound or speed of your music in those settings compared to the loose schedule you have now independently producing your music? Does the environment influence the sound that much for you?
Lukas: With this record we went out of our way consciously to slow it down. Some of our songs on other records are insanely fast. It’s partly just for selfish reasons, but we can’t continue to play such fast songs for the rest of our lives. We have to have some slower songs here. We’re not getting any younger. So, it’s nice to have some songs now that are below 150 BPM.
Poppycock: Looking through the actual content of this album, you seem to definitely have a storytelling aspect to the music. Is this material personal stories like something straight from the heart or more abstract, general content?
Lukas: It’s a little bit of both. Paul writes the lyrics, and if you trace back to our first album, that was very much confessional, heart-on-sleeve stuff. That’s kind of his trademark. Those types of songs that are really emotional outpouring and honesty of his lyrics. That will always be there and it’s what he’s so very good at. He’s influenced by a great many things, and he tries to bring that in to his music in a clear storytelling way. He may write a song about a break-up, something that it is in a lot of our songs, and is about just very personal and intimate relationships. They are still in our songs, but it is a bit more abstract at times.
“Brain Cells” is a very abstract song, lyrically speaking. It’s a song more about a feeling. That feeling of a little paranoia or fear in a city on a Friday night when people are slightly mental. People going out, getting drunk, and letting themselves go. We’re from Newcastle and it’s a big drinking town. It can be just a bit scary on a Friday or Saturday night, frankly.
“Midnight on the Hill” is a really good example of a story. Paul sets a scene, there are some characters, there’s an interchange, and there’s a question at the end he leaves.
Lydia and Audre are referring to specific people.
Audre Lorde was a poet. She was a black poet living in New York who worked as a librarian. She was a bit of an activist, a feminist, and somewhat active in politics. Paul saw a documentary and was inspired to write some lyrics that were the base of that song.
In being influenced by specific things, I think “I Recognize the Light” is a good example. That is influenced and inspired by a film by Mark Cousins, What is This Film Called Love? It’s a film he made when he had a day off at a film festival in Mexico City. He basically just walked around with a handheld camera and it was a stream of consciousness. That song is basically his film in a song form.
Poppycock: You’re touring with Eternal Summers. How do you guys choose or connect with who you go on tour with?
Lukas: It’s kinda boring really, but we just ask around to see who’s available and 99% of bands say no because they’re unavailable for one reason or another, but Eternal Summers just released their third album, I think, and were free to tour.
We really make an effort to find a band we like to tour with. First off, we like listening to music. So it’s important for us to be on tour with someone we like listening to night after night.
I remember back to when I was a kid going to concerts and I always got there early to see the supportive band which was usually someone I’d never heard of. That’s how I discovered a lot of the bands I found was going to see those supporting bands. So we like to educate, with a small e, our fans to discover new music.
Poppycock: Any difference you’ve experienced performing in the us compared to other places like in the UK or beyond?
Lukas: We did just go on tour in Japan recently. As you may know, their culture is generally a bit more reserved. We did a show in Tokyo and they were very polite and respectful. They would stand and listen and then clap for maybe ten seconds and then wait for the next song to start. We thought this is what we could expect on the tour. Then we did a show in Osaka and that was much more what we were used to. Fans screaming and getting drunk, jump all over each other. So, it’s hard to categorize Japan as a whole.
In the states, the response in the venue compared to the UK is about the same. We speak the same language and it’s culturally similar.
I think in America there is a slightly higher appreciation for the live performance. I think that in Britain we’re quite fashion obsessed and being cool is quite important. We’re not very cool. On stage, being cool is quite low on our list of priorities. We’re trying to put on an energetic and emotional show and you can’t do that if you’re being cool.
I think an American audience really appreciates seeing someone who is going out of their way to do a great performance. They appreciate when a band gets up there and just says, “Here’s what I’m feeling, here’s what I’m thinking, and I just want to lay it bare for you. Here’s some music that I hope will physically and emotionally affect you.”
I think the other thing is the perception of us in the US. Here we are a pretty well-established, medium-sized band in Europe. We regularly play 1,000 and 2,000 patron venues. In the US, we’re playing to an audience of a couple hundred people. It’s kinda like returning to our punk roots.
That’s what we are, a punk band with a little p. That’s where our heart lies. It’s in the rawness and the energy we play with. So, doing the smaller venues that we do in the US isn’t something we get to do anymore. We’re traveling with a small crew, so we’re setting up our own gear like a normal band and so it’s cool. This tour’s quite exciting, but we’re always very excited to play in America.
05/12/14 – Seattle, WA – The Crocodile*
05/14/14 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge*
05/15/14 – San Francisco, CA – Popscene @ Rickshaw*
05/16/14 – Los Angeles, CA – Troubadour*
05/18/14 – Chicago, IL – Bottom Lounge*
05/20/14 – Washington, DC – Rock n Roll Hotel*
05/21/14 – Philadelphia, PA – Underground Arts – Wolf Building*
05/23/14 – New York, NY – Irving Plaza*!
05/24/14 – Boston, MA – Boston Calling
* w/ Eternal Summers
! w/ Small Black