THE MACCABEES: RIPPED TO SHREDS
debi del grande
London’s Maccabees are having major success in their homeland, including a nomination for The Mercury Prize. The guys made a quick stop to L.A. performing The El Rey, opening for Florence and the Machine and an in-store at Fingerprints. They will soon be on tour with The Black Keys in Europe. Will they be a huge success in America? Orlando Weeks and Sam Doyle sat down after the band’s sound check at The El Rey for a quick chat. This interview by Debi Del Grande.
I like that you guys are doing big and small gigs while you’re here. Do you think the new album Given to the Wild is best performed in a smaller venue? As opposed to the festivals you’ve been performing at over the summer?
Orlando Weeks (lead vocals): Yeah—it’s more patient. I think we were definitely trying to write a record that felt like it was a record. You know, that wasn’t made for live. We’re still trying to figure out how to play it live—make it feel like we are making the most of it. For us, just being in America is pretty great, so we don’t care where we’re playing. If it means we’re out here, then it’s been a success.
And so far you’ve had a bus crash and slept in airports.
OW: Yeah, we had a crash. The summer of festivals. We were playing all over Europe and every weekend for two and a half months. We were traveling a lot. I guess our law of averages started kind of catching up with us.
And didn’t someone steal your gear, too?
OW: Hugo had a guitar stolen and Sam had a snare stolen. It’s just part of it. I’d like to think that somewhere there is a band that is entirely made from stolen equipment. Then at least there’s a point to it.
Let’s talk about Given to the Wild. I know you all write the songs. But do you write together or separately?
Sam Doyle (drums): It started out separately—writing in twos and threes just at home or wherever it felt comfortable. Then once songs started taking shape, we would get together.
OW: With songs like ‘Ayla,’ I went to Sam’s girlfriend’s flat or somewhere and we wrote the basic of it with an acoustic guitar and a drum machine. Then I’ll pitch it to a tiny crappy piano or Casio keyboard or something. Then I sent that to the boys who then put bits and pieces on it, and eventually we all came together. That kind of approach was kind of it how a lot of it started. And then we get to the end of it—thousands of emails later trying to sift through it for that take that someone remembered was slightly better or the thing that like sounded really good because the bath was really full when they were trying to record this vocal part.
Do you all get along? Or is it ‘I’m the writer and you’re shit!’? I’m sure there’s some tension with everyone writing. You must be like brothers.
OW: There’s no ‘I’m the writer and you’re shit,’ but there’s definitely tension. You put a lot of work into it something and you think you have the vision for it, but then you have to accept it and be flexible.
SD: It’s tough not to feel too attached to certain bits and … and then have it ripped to shreds.
OW: And we’re all going to be ripped to shreds.
How about the videos? ‘Feel to Follow’ is so trippy. It’s kind of creepy at first, but beautiful. Do you work on the videos the same way you work on songs?
OW: I think on the whole, when we can, we’ve made two videos for ‘Feel to Follow. When we’ve got the time to do it, we do all of it ourselves as much as possible. You have input on everything and we final say on everything. Sometimes it’s hard to get a unified vision with as many people on visual stuff. But when it works, it works much better.
SD: We’re starting to get our feet in terms of which direction we want to go visually.
OW: We’re very slow learners.
As things get bigger and bigger, how do you stay grounded and focused?
OW: Well—it’s our product. I mean, every aspect of it is represented of us. With everything that we release, nothing disappears. Everything is going to be there, so you want to justify it and it’s got a point. It’s got a purpose.
How do you decide on the set list now? The albums are so different.
SD: It is tricky. We want to play a lot of the new stuff.
OW: But then you think some people might have been waiting to hear stuff because we haven’t played here in awhile. We’ve only been here once in 2007, so we don’t really know how to judge our set. We’ll see how it goes tonight. Just trying to have a balance that means that we’re that helping the first record and the second record sort of play to the strengths of the third record, which is the thing that we are most proud because it’s the recent thing that best exemplifies what we’re about now as musicians and playing live.
The entire album—I could be off—seems to have a theme about childhood or leaving childhood. Like growing up and getting away from things.
OW: Theme-wise, that was something I was consciously trying to think about a lot. Because all of a sudden I got made a godfather and people I knew that I’ve grown up with had babies. Because we’re away so much, when you go back, you notice change more—it’s more instant. You know—that kind of thing with the frog in boiling water and the frog doesn’t jump out. There’s some sort of saying about a frog in a bucket. The whole record is inspired by a frog. In the same way that when you make a record, it’s a cataloging of events over that period of time. So suddenly, it’s changed this much.
SD: The things you notice the most are like friends having kids—like my sister having a baby—and you see the shift in responsibilities in people. That’s the thing that you noticed the most, so that’s what you choose to write about.
OW: In terms of thinking it about it and talking about it and trying to write songs about it hasn’t even scratched the surface. It’s a nice thing to talk about. It’s a nice thing to spend time trying to figure out and understand—if that makes sense.
It must be therapeutic.
OW: Yeah. I think that’s the thing. You want to catalog the things that are important. I always kind of envy—in a way—people that write about things and can be kind of flippant when they’re writing. I think if I’d do it, I don’t think I’d pull it off because I think I feel very conscious of how much time everyone puts into making the music. I don’t want to be trite and kind of like throwaway. I’m sure I don’t succeed most of the time but that’s the kind of point—to try and live up to the expectations and the standards set by people making the recording of music.
Are there musicians you look up to that way?
OW: We were listening to Jonathan Richman at the hotel. It’s so wonderful that there is that person writing those kind of lyrics in that kind of way, that it’s refreshing—that’s what nice about trying to listen to lyrics or music in general, there are so many options and you don’t want just one. He can write some pretty funny shit.
THE MACCABEES’ GIVEN TO THE WILD IS OUT NOW ON FICTION. THEMACCABEES.CO.UK.