In Conversation: The Maccabees

It’d been a few years between drinks for fans of The Maccabees.

In their first visit to Australia in four years (2012 being the last time we welcomed them to our shores) the band kicked off the new year with a run of dates for Falls Festival, as well as two very special headline shows.
We caught up with Orlando Weeks and Hugo White of the band on the morning of their Melbourne show, the last leg of the tour.

You kicked off the new year with a run of dates for Falls, as well as headline shows. Australia isn’t the easiest of places to tour, how have you found the experience so far?

Hugo: We’ve enjoyed it. The last tour we did was in 2012, and that was our first time in Australia – our very first Australian tour. I think that carried a lot of good memories and fuelled the enthusiasm to come back – but yeah, it’s been nice. It’s a nice time too, it’s pretty grey in England right now, so it’s nice to be out.
Orlando: It’s just a different kind of grey. It’s been pretty grey here.

Do you feel as if things have been different, compared to your first tour in 2012?

Orlando: We don’t get here very often, so it feels like… We played the same venue in Sydney and that was great. I don’t think we played here (170 Russell) when we were here last time. So that’ll be nice, to see somewhere else. It’s been a nice response, I think because like I said – we haven’t been here for a long time, I was really prepared for there to be far fewer people and actually, it’s been nice. Good crowds.

As you’ve spoken about in previous interviews the idea behind Marks To Prove it was based around the stories, gentrification and changing face of your base, Elephant and Castle. Was this a concept that came about early on, or did it develop over time?

Hugo: It wasn’t initially the kind of thing we set out to do. The area that the record was made in – Elephant and Castle place, where we had our studio – It didn’t start off as being a big part of the record, but I think as the writing went on it did more-so. It definitely wasn’t about the gentrification, but that’s an area that is rapidly changing and I think the record has become tied to it. But yeah, it wasn’t a think we set out to do from the start, really.

Orlando: Pretty early on we knew we wanted to have it be relevant to the area. I wanted to make this documentary (Elephant Days) that was based in the area, I wanted the lyrics to reflect all of the work that we were doing. Hugo was really keen to have the record sound like we were people playing in a room, and limit our production. That fitted with the kind of ‘no frills’ thing that Elephant has. Really, the thing was, we could of been anywhere – we didn’t start thinking that we were going to make something about Elephant and Castle. That’s just where we were. We just felt sure that it would be enough inspiration there? I don’t really like that word, it feels weird saying it. But it would be enough of a resource to us. To have stories set there, to have the videos and the record made there – and this documentary film that James Caddick and James Cronin spent 2 and half years making. I think that was the point, it was that an area which had little to no press, and any press it did have wasn’t great. It was an abundant resource.

The documentary Elephant Days came about as a collaboration between the band, James Caddick and James Cronin. How did it come about? Was it something you primarily wanted to release to accompany the album?

Hugo: It was to complement the record really. The idea of soundtracking something – I think we wanted to do that before, but generally you finish a record and then try and find someway of using it as a soundtrack. In the past we have, and it’s never really come through so I think with this one we wanted to get that in place early on – and it seemed like the only way to do that was to create something ourselves. That was the start of it, really. Then it ran alongside the writing of the record, and both things happened and developed in their own way at the same time. Ending up, the record and the film, in a place that couldn’t of been predicted. The journey of it, was what turned it into what they both became.

With the record being very much so based in London – having obviously been created and influenced there – how do you go about go about taking it to places around the world? Is it a different feeling when you’re playing it?

Hugo: No, I think it’s the same. Same songs, I don’t know.
Orlando: I think some of the songs from across the record sit better with a festival crowd, or with our own crowd – or with a night time festival slot, you know what I mean? You’re trying to carry a mood, but that’s why you make the record. Because that’s it’s ideal setting. You’re transferring those ideas to vary degrees of 40 degree heat, and trying to figure out how to make a song set in drizzly south London feel appropriate to a hot cauldron of a crowd.

On the note of performance, you’ve spoken about how Marks To Prove It was crafted for the live show in mind – have you found that it has translated easier to your shows?

Orlando: Yeah, I think so. We didn’t know that it’d be the case, but somehow it’s ended up giving a really good context to the previous records. Given To The Wild works as a record, but it quite often felt uncomfortable when you put it in the set with stuff from the first 2 records. Somehow, this record helps that marriage. The sets feel less spiky – everything is kind of helping each other out, it excuses all of the variation we’ve gone through.

So it flows together better?

Orlando: Yeah, a happy accident really. We did definitely want to create a record that translated better. That was one of the things we felt the 3rd record didn’t do.

You’re headed back to the UK and Europe for a few dates over the next month. After that, is anything planned?

Hugo: We’re just taking a break after that.
Orlando: Until the summer, yeah. It’s been over a year now of touring this, in the summer there’s some nice festivals. In between then though, we’ve just got a bit of time to hang out. To go and do some stuff.

Marks To Prove It, the 4th studio release by The Maccabees is out now. Watch the trailer for accompanying film Elephant Days.