The Maccabees
Live @ Bristol Thekla Social
May 4, 2009
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman

Thought of as both a quintessentially English band and as “a gang of musical romantics” with a pop pedigree. The Maccabees – a name they came up with after flicking through the Bible and picking out a word at random – originally hail from South London and were even once based in the seaside town of Brighton, a place favoured by many young artists, musicians and creative people. Forming in 2003, the group’s line-up consists of, Orlando Weeks (lead vocals / guitar), Felix White (guitars / backing vocals), Hugo White (guitars / backing vocals), Rupert Jarvis (bass) and the newly-recruited Sam Doyle (drums / percussion).

Initially described by the NME as, “Too artsy to be pop, too polite to rock,” they released their debut EP, You Make Noise, I Make Sandwiches (Haircut Records) in 2004, followed by the single X-Ray (Promise Records) in 2005. Before then signing to Fiction and issuing more up-tempo singles, in the build-up to the release of their critically-acclaimed debut album, Colour It In, in May 2007. At the time, one memorable write-up said, “The Maccabees deliver a stunning record crammed full of sparkling indie pop that bites deep and just won't let go.”

Two years later, now sees their follow-up record, Wall Of Arms, entering the world on Monday, May 4, 2009 – the same day that I happen to be seeing the group’s hotly-anticipated gig at the Bristol Thekla Social. Labelled as “Less of a departure, more an evolution”, with stacks of wonderful reviews piling up, it’s impossible not to love Wall Of Arms – which was laid down in Liverpool, Lincolnshire and Paris, with producer Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Bjork, Coldplay) – due to the undeniable quality of its songs. The quintet’s Official Press Release even notes, “There is still plenty of melancholy melody and romantic observational humour, qualities which made the band so enduring the first time round. This time though, with the knowledge and craftsmanship they’ve learned along the way, The Maccabees sound even greater.”

Speaking to Loud & Quiet at the time of recording the LP, about its gestation, lyricist Orlando acknowledged, “When we finished touring the last album, we thought we’d written half of this one, but then we started demoing and it sounded so shoddy. So we went back to the drawing board and started again. It’s taken a while, but it’s definitely been time well spent. I relaxed back into the fact that I’m in a band with these other boys and I know what we’re capable of doing. And I think everyone did the same thing – we all went away and realised that when we’re writing, we need to be writing for each other’s strengths. As far as I’m concerned, the things I still feel capable of writing about, or feel like I’m allowed to write about because I know enough about, are still the same – being in love, or not being in love, family and those kind of things. I feel like I can justify writing about those.”

“In terms of the feeling of this new record, it’s more about atmosphere. Colour It In was a record of songs, rather than of a cohesive album. This time around, we’re intent on creating a body of work that feels more like a unit of sound. What I think Toothpaste Kisses had that a lot of the other stuff didn’t, was a much more grown-up understanding of melody and how to use harmonies. The first record is a pretty straight record to be honest, there’s not much of a change on there sonically. But this one’s going to sound a lot bigger and a lot more confident.”

Long-time favourites of Steve Lamacq, due to their British born ‘n’ bred “swooning melodies and spiky indie.” The Maccabees still want to “make music that sounds honest and like the best live show that you've ever been to – feeling pleased to have been able to make another album and progress, having never thought beyond that.” But after chatting to the very friendly and accommodating Orlando, about the band and their influences, it’s clear that The Maccabees still have untapped potential, and that their music means so much more than this to both them and to their die-hard fans. As put simply, it offers a window into their world…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.The next instalment of Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe’s ‘Masterpieces’ was recently aired in the UK, whereby Zane “plays out four albums that he and his crew think altered the musical landscape at the time of their release.” But if the decision was yours, which four albums would you play?
“Well, for me personally, I think I would play Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy, which is a Billy Bragg record – I think that’s pretty important. Turn On The Bright Lights by Interpol, Neon Bible by Arcade Fire and (thinking), Feels by Animal Collective."

2.On a similar note, the revered record producer Stephen Street, has just uploaded some rare archive footage onto his official website of Blur recording their seminal album, Parklife. But are there any artists / bands who you would like to see video clips of when they were making one of their classic LPs?
“I know that a film has been made of Arcade Fire when they were recording Neon Bible, so I’m waiting to get that – I’m really looking forward to seeing it! But that’s kind of like a serious one, for when I feel that I want to really try and pick something up. Otherwise, I’d just want it to be classic or ridiculous bands doing funny shit all of the time you know? Something like that I suppose (laughing).”

3.Would you agree that making a record is like putting an intricate puzzle together?
“Um (thinking), well, in a sense, because I think for us it feels like that’s definitely what happens early on. Then, after that, I think the puzzle is kind of made – if you’re looking at it in that respect (pausing), hmm (thinking)… I suppose you do have all of these pieces which you have to pull together and like I said, that happens first and then when you actually go into record it, I think for us anyway, if we didn’t have everything all there – or at least 90% of it – it would be a really relentless process. And you kind of need it to stay a bit fun, so that it doesn’t ever become a drudge, otherwise it gets a bit much.”

4.One of the most outstanding aspects of The Maccabees’ music, is your unmistakable voice – but which vocalists do you find inspiring?

“Thank You for saying that about my voice (smiling). I really, really love Jamie T’s voice, because it’s such a hard thing to pull off without it sounding naff or clichéd – the London wide boy kind of thing. I’ve always loved Billy Bragg’s voice as well, and Richard Manuel from The Band – he sings a song called Whispering Pines.”

5.I’m a really big fan of Blood Red Shoes, and wondered if it’s correct that Laura-Mary has contributed backing vocals on some of your new songs?
“Yeah, Blood Red Shoes were in Paris when we recording there, and so Laura-Mary came and sung a bit with us. You can hear her on one of the b-sides for Love You Better, and the Peggy Sue girls as well – all three of them came in! So we’ve got all the best girls on there – we got them all to sing for us (smiling)! It’s a song called Sleep Tonight.”

6.War Child has just released a new CD called ‘Heroes’ – which has been billed as, “The ultimate covers album recorded by today’s biggest acts, requested by the original legends.” But is there a musical legend who you would like to personally ask The Maccabees to record / rework one of their classic songs?
“Ooh (excitedly), I think if Babylon Zoo asked us to do Spaceman, I’d be really chuffed (laughing)! Yeah! Or Scatman actually – Scatman’s World. If we could do that, that would be special (laughing)!"

7.Has there ever been an artist / band that for years you didn’t ‘get’ – but then all of a sudden, their music just clicked with you?
“Um (long pause + thinking), I still feel like I’m waiting for Bob Dylan to click, but I’m having a bit of a Simply Red renaissance at the moment for some reason (laughing), I mean there are 2 songs that I listen to. There’s a lot of people – I’m still waiting for my Neil Young moment (pausing), I’m still waiting for lots of clicks (laughing). But it does happen, that’s the thing, so they’ll be great moments (smiling)!”

8.If you could entice any group to reform – providing that all of the original members are still alive – who would it be?

“Wow! Could I put any group back together again though, regardless of whether or not the original members are still alive?”
*I say yes, as the question is for fun*
“The Clash (without any hesitation)! I’d go and see them – that would be amazing (big smile)!”
*I ask Orlando that if Joe Strummer was still alive, if he thinks The Clash would have ever reformed*
“No, I don’t think they would have ever got back together. Because I’ve watched all of the documentaries and I think they felt that they’d done what they needed to do. Especially when Joe was saying, “When you’ve got a winning formula, you’ve got to stick to it!” I think it hurt him a lot – I think it hurt all of them a lot – the tragedy of what could have been you know? But, that would just be so special, to see The Clash playing live!”

9.The Killers’ Brandon Flowers recently said that he felt “Kurt Cobain took the fun out of rock ‘n’ roll.” What are your feelings on this?

“I think the fact that Courtney Love is still around, is a testament to the fun (pausing), I mean I don’t really know what I think about her, but she’s kind of fascinating isn’t she (smiling)? To be honest with you though, I think that that’s just a good way of someone getting their name in to the press and it’s a totally retractable comment as well. I think that’s a bit throwaway. So no, I don’t think Kurt Cobain took the fun out of rock ‘n’ roll at all.”

10.Do you read your own press and as a band, has it ever affected the way you work?

“I mean, I’d never go out of my way to read anything. Obviously, you do read things, but I don’t think it’s ever affected the way we work. I read something in the NME about our new record, which I kind of agreed with – there’s a song on the album called Wall Of Arms, and they said that they thought it was “overly nice.” I kind of agree, and in retrospect, I think we’ve could’ve swapped that. By no means do I regret anything, although I kind of see where they’re coming from completely with that. I’d never let press really affect the way we work, but as long as you can take it as constructive criticism, then I think it’s fine. Having said that though, I do find it very difficult watching interviews or listening back to them – even reading quotes or anything like that. So, I try not to watch or listen to our interviews or even read stuff (laughing).”

11.Which relatively unknown artist or band, would you like to see a music magazine run a feature on / put on their front cover?
“Mumford & Sons (without any hesitation)! I just think that they’re an amazing band and they’ve been the best support for us and the sweetest young men!”

12.Do you think the extent to which some new artists and bands are now being hyped, even winning awards on the basis of a few tracks, has gotten out of hand?
“Um, I think it’s just part of The Music Industry I suppose? That kind of attitude where everything has to be a superlative and everything has to be ‘The Hottest Ticket’ – or it’s nothing. So I think it’s fine (pausing), in a way, it makes it much easier to take everything with a pinch of salt, because it is all so ‘Everything or Nothing’. In a way, it’s kind of endearing that it carries on being this unapologetic, flamboyant creature, that screams about something and then disses it the next minute.”

13.Overall, would you say that music is in a healthy place in 2009?

“Yeah, I think it’s in a really healthy place and worldwide, there’s so much music that I’m excited about and can’t wait to listen to! I can’t wait until I get my 45 minutes where I can sit down with some new music you know? Jamie T’s new record is going to come out soon, The Big Pink’s record is going to come out soon (pausing), actually, that’s something, because The Big Pink keep getting compared to My Bloody Valentine, I thought, “Well, I should listen to My Bloody Valentine.” And now, I have done! So I can’t wait to sort of start getting into their music properly. So everything’s pretty exciting – Jack Peñate’s new record is going to come out soon, the Mumford boys are going to have their new record out in the next few months, Grizzly Bear’s album is about to come out, we’ve got the Festivals coming up and all the bills seem pretty good. Yeah, I feel like everything is really good!”

14.Of your musical peers, who do you think are most likely to have longevity?
“I can really, really see Jamie having longevity, because I just think he’s a completely unique thing, especially out of this country – I don’t think anything’s come out that’s anything like him (pausing), well, not that I know of. There maybe is, but I’m certainly not aware of it. And the curve that Jack’s on at the moment, from the first record to this record (pausing), I can’t even imagine what his third record will sound like!?! If he carries on this curve, then I don’t see why he won’t have longevity. There’s lots of other people though – I think Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear will have longevity, but who knows?”

15.Do you hope that The Maccabees will be seen as a group with a rich musical / visual tapestry – and can you tell us more about the commissioned Boo Ritson photograph taken for the sleeve of your new album?

“I just think we want to be seen as (pausing), I don’t know? I haven’t even thought about it. I definitely think – especially with artwork and music – it’s by no means the most important thing at all. But, I would just feel like it was a real missed opportunity, if we weren’t trying to make the most of it you know? Of every aspect – anything that we do! Just from whether it’s being polite to people (pausing), everything is an opportunity to do something that thousands of people would give their right arm for, so there’s no point being nonchalant about any aspect. The photograph taken for the cover of Wall Of Arms was a lot of fun! We dressed up and were covered in paint – which is what Boo Ritson’s work is famed for – so it was kind of like escapism as well. Because when you look at it, it’s not really you in a weird way, it’s kind of this character you’ve become or that someone has made you into. I guess it’s like when you get your face painted as a kid you know? One of those rare moments where you don’t have to be you for a bit.”

16.Although new music services such as Spotify are fantastic, do you think it’s sad how more and more record shops are having to close / that we need more campaigns like ‘Record Store Day’ to help save them?
“Um, I do in a way, but I also think there will always be a place for the record shop, because I just think that it’ll almost force it to go back to being so independent, that they’re the only places where you can (pausing), I mean it would be really sad if they all went. But also, I think it’s encouraged record shops to be a little less intimidating, like I remember especially when I was a lot younger, it used to be (pausing), because everyone who ever works in record shops knows so much about music. When you go in, unless you’re asking a really top-end question, I always felt that I was being looked down on a bit – it’s the same with guitar shops. They’re always a little bit intimidating. So I kind of think that the pressure of all this, has forced them to start being friendlier and more helpful. We did an in-store the other day, this acoustic thing, and Felix asked everyone if they were alright, and one of the guys behind the counter said (adopting a grumpy tone), “No!” So I said, “Oh, what’s wrong?” And he said, “Oh, you know, it’s the shop and the customers…” So I said (adopting a sarcastic tone), “That’s a shame isn’t it, getting customers? It must be a nightmare having people come in, wanting to buy stuff from your shop!?!” It’s going to force people to be more pleasant – but in some cases, there are already nice people in those shops. We played in Sister Ray’s in London for ‘Record Store Day’ (April 18, 2009), because we wanted to play for our friend Phil, who owns the shop.”

17.What are your thoughts on Amazon competing with iTunes by offering top-selling downloads for 29p – and what’s the most played song on your iPod?
“Wow, 29p (surprised)!?! I mean I’m not the best person to ask this question, because I’ve never downloaded a song or an album in my life, and if I like something, I always go and buy it, burn it onto my computer and then transfer it to my iPod. I shall have a look at what the most played song on my iPod is for you right now (taking iPod out of his trouser pocket). God, this could be really embarrassing (laughing + scrolling through the options)… You can’t find out on this type of iPod sorry, but I want to know now though (laughing)! I guess off the top of my head, it would probably be something like Stars by Simply Red (laughs heartily)!”

18.If you were asked to edit a music / culture webzine, what features would you commission?
“I’d like for David Attenborough to plan a walk anywhere in the world – like a really long walk – along with a pamphlet to point out things of interest, and for him to also put together a Playlist. So as you’re walking, you’re learning things from the booklet, finding out about everything that you’re seeing and also listening to things that he thinks would suit that particular environment. Yeah (smiling), and I would personally report on this for the webzine.”

19.As a music fan, what’s the furthest distance that you’ve ever travelled to see a gig?

“A friend of mine called Ben Taylor, plays acoustic guitar and sings songs, and it doesn’t even sound that far, but honestly, at the time, it was the biggest mission (laughs heartily)! I think I was in Wimbledon or somewhere like that, and I had an hour to get to Monument – to the top of London from the bottom of London – and I couldn’t afford The Tube. So, I had to jump trains and jump tubes and things like that! I don’t know why that’s stuck in my head, but that was a nightmare (laughing)! But I was so lucky, because I grew up in Clapham, so I had Brixton on my doorstep and everyone comes to London, so when you live there, you get lazy and are spoilt for choice. It’s probably the reason why a lot of International bands and musicians move to London as well.”

20.If you could choose a fantasy set list for a favourite artist / group, who would it be and what would you select as their opening and closing songs?

“See, in a way, I would hate to have to choose someone’s set list, because that’s part of the joy for me – not knowing what to expect. So I wouldn’t do that, but when I saw Arcade Fire and they finished acoustically in Brixton Academy, with Guns Of Brixton, like I couldn’t really hear anything, but just the point of it, and the nostalgia of it, and the intimacy of it, I couldn’t fault it. Arcade Fire could do whatever they fucking wanted to be honest and I’d go with it! But, if they could finish with that again and take me back to that magical night, I’d be very happy (big smile)!”

21.Continuing with this train of thought, earlier this year, 20 acts paid tribute to REM @ Carnegie Hall, NYC – a night billed simply as ‘The Music of REM’ – and the show was the fifth in a series of charity events which have previously honoured the likes of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John. But if you had to choose a legendary artist / band to be honoured in the same way, who would it be and why?

“I had an MRI Scan whilst listening to REM and fell asleep, so I kind of owe a lot to them for getting me through that Scan – I think it was an MRI Scan, or maybe it was a CT Scan? Anyway, when we started writing this record, I was listening to Love a lot, so I think that would be amazing for them to be honoured in the same way! Because the songs on Forever Changes especially, there’s loads of scope for people. Actually, that reminds me, we’ve got to cover a song and we’re stuck at the moment, between either doing a song by The Band or Love – even The Eurythmics’ song, There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart).”
*I mention that Stevie Wonder plays harmonica on this track*
“Really (surprised)!?! You’re on the money (laughing)!”

22.When playing live, do you prefer smaller / intimate shows or performing in front of large audiences?

“Well, when we have really good monitors, then it’s so much easier just to get on with it and feel like you can be detached from it. It’s just tricky whenever your monitors aren’t great or the sound’s not good. Because it’s a struggle, and the best gigs are always the ones where you just feel like it’s happening and you’re kind of watching it in a weird way. So, if everyone there is up for it and the monitors are really good, then it’s kind of irrelevant whether it’s a small gig or a big gig.”

23.I recently read how the video games Guitar Hero and Rock Band, now generate more revenue for musicians than their actual records do, with both Aerosmith and Metallica already having their own dedicated Guitar Hero titles, and The Beatles Rock Band set to be launched this September. But is there an artist / group who you would like to see one of these titles produced for?

“Um, I’d like to see people try and play Joanna Newsom (laughing), it would just be ridiculous, but let’s go with that! Joanna Newsom Rock Band (laughs heartily)!”

24.In another marketing idea, prior to the official release of Oasis’ latest LP, Dig Out Your Soul. A promotional campaign run in conjunction with New York tourism’s NYC & Company was arranged – all of which was filmed for a MySpace documentary – whereby the band watched buskers learn to play a selection of songs from their new album. The musicians then travelled to various locations around the City and performed these tracks, stood in front of signs saying, ‘You are the first to hear this new Oasis song.’ Do you think this was a good idea?

“Wow, that’s a brilliant idea (excitedly) – that’s amazing! Do you reckon I could still find that on the Internet?”
*I say yes, that the ‘Dig Out Your Soul In The Streets’ documentary is now on YouTube:*
“I’ll have to watch it, because that’s a genius idea – it’s very, very, very interesting and funny!”
*I remark that at one point, Liam Gallagher jokes that the buskers are playing some of the songs better than the original Oasis versions*
“Really (laughs heartily)!?!”

25.What have been some of your personal highlights / defining moments, during your career so far?

“Today is quite an important day, because the record comes out (pausing), no, today is a pretty massive day for us you know? Because we’ve weathered the storm a bit, we’ve lost Rob for a record and found Sam for a record and we’ve got it out, so I think that’s it at the moment. That’s kind of as far back and as far forward as I’m looking – today. Reviews-wise, it’s done alright, but I think being able to go out – when no-one has the record until now – and go and play gigs to thousands of people, who jump around to songs that they’ve never heard before, that’s been a testament to it all really, that’s been the proof in the pudding. Yeah (smiling)!”

26.Jarvis Cocker recently said: “I still believe that pop can contain a powerful truth and the thing that no one has said in a pop song, that’s the gold I’m still panning for.” Is this the same for you?
“Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true (without any hesitation)! Especially for someone like him, where lyrics are so crucial. That’s why people carry on making music, that’s why you get the bug you know? Because you just feel that perhaps one day, you’ll come up with something better than the last thing you came up with. It’s that constant struggle to do the next thing that’s a bit better, that keeps everyone locked-in.”

27.Of all your lyrics to date, which line or song are you most proud of writing?

“I could never say. No. Sorry (laughing).”

28.Lastly, chips or cream buns?

“I’d go for cream buns, because I’m not a big chips fan, but I do like cream buns though (smiling)!”

A very special thanks to Orlando, to The Maccabees’ Tour Manager George, and to Holly @ Chuff Media, for all of their time and help.

Bristol Set List

No Kind Words
Tissue Shoulders
Can You Give It
Kiss And Resolve
Toothpaste Kisses
Precious Time
William Powers
Young Lions
First Love
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Love You Better

“I noticed you, you stood out like a sore thumb
The most beautiful sore thumb I’d ever seen”

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?