Imagine it’s 2007, Rihanna is soaring through the charts with her first single, Umbrella, and Radio 1 DJ, Steve Lamacq, is championing a new, up and coming indie band who have just released their debut album, Colour It In. Fast-forward to 2015, and each new album has seen The Maccabees go from strength to strength. 2012 saw the release of the number one album, Given To The Wild, with the single, Pelican, winning Best Contemporary Song at the Ivor Novellos. The album was The Maccabees’ first to go gold, and saw this once little known indie band develop a deeper, darker sound, winning over critics and fans alike. The South Londoners are back on the road touring their fourth album, Marks To Prove It. Recorded at their own studio in Elephant and Castle, the direction for the new album was inspired by the inner city. We caught up with guitarist, Felix White, to discuss the new release, and get the low down on their journey so far.
You released your first single back in 2005. How the band has evolved musically since then?
We have basically spent our entire adult lives in the band. During the early years, we couldn’t really play! [laughs] We used to share one tuner between us, and learn by playing one note each, really, really fast. It was a very genuine ‘beginning of a band’ when you are literally just putting together anything you can. That’s how we used to form songs. As we developed, we found our own dynamics, and as a band, we have recently become much more interested in production. Given To The Wild was extremely reliant on production, and different kinds of sounds - that was the total antithesis of how we wrote, originally. The new record is a kind of summary of all of the methods and characteristics we have used up until now, so it’s a nice place to have reached, really.
Reading around in the press, it seems like the album took a little longer than expected. Did you guys keep ‘raising your own bar’ when putting the new material together?
That definitely used to be the case, but in all honesty, this time we just found it hard to get anything going. We decided to write and record in our own studio, so we had to redo everything to be able to do that; from putting new carpets in, to new equipment, it kind of became a project in itself. It was something we always wanted to do; we wanted to have a lot of ownership over the album and the studio, but you run the risk of heading down a wormhole, as you don’t go anywhere else, so you don’t get the opportunity to see things differently. That was definitely something that held up the process, but it has also given the album the personality it has. It has a real inner city feeling, and it does sound like what the room looks and feels like.
The last two albums have seen you develop a really unique sound; it’s a bit deeper, and a little darker. Was there anything in particular that inspired this?
I guess being in that particular studio had a lot to do with it. There are elements of the new album that sound quite claustrophobic; there is something about it that sounds like the city in the evening, for some reason. We weren’t totally conscious of it at the time, but it completely makes sense, as that’s exactly where we were writing from. For this album, we went back to records that we loved when we were much younger, like The White Album. It’s so honest, and it’s recorded in quite a raw way, but there is something in it that just lives because of that. We were trying to get across a sense of authenticity - that it was just a band playing in a room and there weren’t too many tricks involved. We wanted it to be exposed and vulnerable, as well as being diverse, and that’s what’s great about The White Album, really.
Being in the music industry for the last decade, what do you think has changed... Or should that be hasn’t?
[laughs] Exactly! It’s changed almost beyond recognition since we have been a band. When we first got a record deal, MySpace was the thing; everyone used MySpace, which we reminisce about now in quite a romantic way. We had four songs on rotation, and eight friends; that led you on to other music and artists. I don’t really know what happened to MySpace, but I thought it was great! I think the avenues for finding new music are much more confused now; you find out about them through photos on Instagram, whereas MySpace seemed like quite a concise way to discover new music. But anyway, it shows how long we have been around for, and how much things have changed. When we first started, I was constantly asked, ‘why are there so many guitar bands? Now it’s, ‘why aren’t there any guitar bands?’ [laughs] I haven’t found a convincing answer for either question, really. Obviously we have been lucky enough to sail through this transition while the music industry has shrunk, in a way.
How do you deal with the immediacy of today’s industry, with regards to social media and digital sales? Is it a good thing?
It’s difficult, because you spend three years making a record that you put a lot of detail in, and then in order to keep up with the arms race, you have to post something every day, so people don’t lose track of you; there is a much shorter attention span. You are always trying to balance what your focus is on: you don’t really want it to be on a flippant photo that you have posted, you’d rather the focus be on the record that you have made. But the world is changing, and that’s the way it is. It’s something we realised was necessary, as it’s the world we live in. How do you find out about anything in the world these days? You look it up on the Internet. So it seems foolish for us to not utilise the power of social media to frame who we are, and what the record is about. That is what we are trying to do.
So what’s next for The Maccabees?
I don’t really know! We are going to be touring well into next year. Last time, we definitely made the mistake of being so keen that we went in too soon and tried to make a record, then a year later, realised we had nothing, and were totally shocked. So I think, even though we haven’t yet acknowledged it verbally to each other, everyone knows it would be best to give ourselves a bit of breathing space before we start up again.