By Victoria Irvine
They are Britain’s best kept secret and, contrary to what their name may suggest, not a singing Jewish army available for Bah Mitzvahs. Finally, after a two-year silence, indie rockers The Maccabees are back, more determined than ever and taking the charts by storm with their third album ‘Given to the Wild’. Mazel Tov!
Since their 2007 debut, ‘Colour it in’, the Brighton quintet have managed to encapsulate an entire generation with their wistful and heart-felt vocals, rippling guitars and nostalgically familiar lyrics. “We never know how fans are going to react when making a record,” laughs the band’s Hugo White. “We just write the songs and it’s a bonus when other people like them.”
This laid back approach certainly hasn’t hampered the band’s success over the years. Their first widely recognised track, ‘Latchmere’, saw vocalist Orlando Weeks pen an idiosyncratic ode to his local wave machine at Latchmere Leisure Centre in Battersea, South London. As a whole ‘Colour it in’ was a fluffy retrospective on life’s little quirks and did well in establishing the band.
Follow up hit, ‘Wall of Arms’ received exuberant nods from critics and fans alike. The 2009 record was notably darker than the Scalextrics-influenced lyrics that won over music enthusiasts previously. But this was in no way a bad move for the boys. They had matured, they had blossomed and they had a much more apparent presence. And with this progression, ripples began to spread further.
After touring with some of the biggest names on the indie scene such as Bloc Party and Bombay Bicycle Club, The Maccabees retreated quietly, slinking back into obscurity to work on their much anticipated third album. “We took it upon ourselves to do this record in a different way,” adds Hugo. “We began writing separately instead of together. We would write our own parts before it gets torn apart by the rest of the band. We spent four months writing different bits alone. By the time we got together there were around 200 parts written, none a finished project.”
The offbeat process of writing has certainly served The Maccabees well, as ‘Given to the Wild’ entered the UK Albums Chart at #4, a personal best for the band.
It’s a daring and complex record, dabbling with more electronic sounds than fans may be expecting, as the band shed the last layer of misunderstanding that they are simply a lingering residue of 2007’s indie craze.
Gone are the days of ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ as the Brighton natives insist ‘We Grew Up At Midnight’.
“It’s a long and difficult process writing music. Some of our best material comes from arguing,” Hugo laughs. “Not proper arguing but passive arguing. The lyrics are Orlando’s thing. The way we write a lot of the music is by having the songs before the lyrics and then Orlando would write over them. It’s really interesting because it means the music has to be so strong. The music has to hold itself for Orlando to really push himself.”
And push himself he did.
Working with former DFA producer, Tim Goldsworthy, the band expanded their instrumental horizons and tinkered with a whole host of eclectic gadgets. “We had written all the songs and demoed them before people got involved. It was really interesting to work with Tim. We managed to get it recorded in a studio in Wales in three weeks. But when we got the record back it wasn’t exactly how we wanted it so we took it back and worked on it more. The way that we finished it is how we envisioned it which is great as we were at that stage where we knew what we wanted.”
The overall flow of ‘Given to the Wild’ is one that wasn’t just a fortunate accident, but a painstakingly considered process that is clearly important to The Maccabees. “From the start of the record being written, we didn’t want to write it thinking: ‘That song can just be there’. It’s good to be a record that flows from start to finish. A lot of pop albums have the singles near the front and so people just get them out the way but our songs are there to be listened to.”
Their ethereal and arena-worthy songs are ready to be released on unsuspecting audience members, with fans already taking to the new tracks with vehement enthusiasm. “When the record came out, it was received better than before. We’ve been playing some of the songs live but mixing the newer stuff with old songs. It’s amazing that people have taken to them so well. You just never know when making the record how it will be received.
“It’s a great feeling. We’re stepping up a gear with bigger shows than what we had before. We’ve got this new record and these new songs that we’re proud are our own. We’ve got a lot more lights than before, that’s for sure.”
As he speaks, Hugo is gearing up to perform with The Maccabees at the infamous NME awards; a performance which we now know ultimately stole the show. Their slightly accelerated rendition of the album’s debut single, ‘Pelican’, had the crème de la crème of Britain’s music scene bopping on their feet; with Jessie J gripping her chest in adoration while Florence Welch headbanged with such ferocious energy that medical staff were surely on standby.
And this, right here, is why The Maccabees have captured the hearts and ears of music lovers worldwide. Their effortless knack for committing 100% both on stage and on record certainly puts the ‘art’ in ‘cathartic’.
Surely this level of public admiration would result in enough backstage demands to make Mariah blush? “We’ve got a ping pong table that we take around with us to play before a gig. You’ve got to keep the brain stimulated.”
We’ll make divas out of them yet.
The Maccabees play T In The Park on July 7th. They also headline the NME stage at both Reading (August 24th) and Leeds (August 25th) Festivals. www.themaccabees.co.uk
Read more interviews like this in the April 2012 edition of Scotcampus.