check serif;”>Rebekah Rennick sat down with one of the men behind the first great guitar album of 2012, Felix White of The Maccabees.
For any music enthusiast, when presented with the opportunity to interview a band there is always going to be that sense of excitement. Here is the chance to personally delve into the mindset of those, whoever it may be, that are providing the tunes for us mere punters. However, that feeling changes ever so slightly when it just by chance turns out to be one of your favourite bands. And this is your first interview. Ever. That excitement transforms into a subtle resemblance of what one may call nervous hysteria. Since their debut back in early 2005, The Maccabees have always been quite an enigmatic band, accessible enough through their music yet just that bit out of reach which leaves them with that aura of mystery. Seven years on, and fresh from a two year break, the London five piece have rung in 2012 with the career defining new album Given to the Wild. Wary of their past awkward and shy interviews, waiting to chat to guitarist Felix White about their successful third installment was a surprisingly apprehensive few moments.
To say The Maccabees have grown since their last album Wall Of Arms would be quite an understatement. Here is a band that has matured and developed into a powerful musical force. Pushing themselves further then ever before and truly taking control of their own sound, The Maccabees have created a 13 track delight that not only draws the wider world’s attention on them but truly makes you excited about music all over again. Innovative yet startlingly haunting at times, Given to the Wild truly is a far cry from earlier ‘jam session-esque’ tracks such as ‘X-Ray’ and ‘Latchmere’. But did they ever suspect that this album would accelerate their success as much as it has, and plant them in that No. 4 chart position; sitting snugly between those seemingly dominant occupants Adele, Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran? “To be honest, we didn’t even consider it” admits White “It only occurred to us that it might have a chance of doing well about a week before when we did an interview with the NME and they said it could go No. 1. That was a genuine shock.” From the moment they first appeared on the musical radar, The Maccabees have always been a keen NME favourite. What’s not to love about a band whose first recording experience took place in a converted bomb shelter on the Isle of Wight?
However, gone are the days of scratchy guitar strumming and Orlando’s romantic tendencies. While an element of that still remains, this album is composed of whispery vocals accompanied by smooth yet, at times, rippling guitar that produce a tidal wave of feeling and emotion, hitting you at just the right moments in each song. Were they nervous about how the fans would react to this new sound? “Well, I mean throughout the years, they have been amazing to us, Maccabees fans, and they have always let us do what we’ve wanted to do. But, yeah, it was pretty difficult. ‘Forever I’ve Known’ was one of the first songs we played from the album at Reading & Leeds, I suppose that was testing the waters in an extreme sense. No one knew it, and it was much slower, much longer, about six minutes long, but we realized if that worked, then we could be more adventurous”. And how about the critics, hailed by many as a band that are “entering the prime of their musical lives”, were they conscious of this praise or do they simply take it in their stride? “At the start of it all we did kind of feel a little bit different about the shows because we always felt like anything was a result, and that people were kind of with us. And then you start to think ‘will people actually enjoy these new sounds?’, and ‘will we get judged by this?’, but about three shows into it you start feeling exactly the same as you did before. You can wind yourself up very easily but to be honest, I don’t think I’d ever let myself get bogged down by what people think from a magazine or anything like that.”
The most surprising change from the band coming from this album is the entrancing nature of it all. Listening back over past albums, in songs such as ‘Young Lions’, ‘First Love’ and ‘Bicycles’, the band capture the jaunty exhilarance of youth. Yet, with Given to the Wild, you find yourself no longer toe tapping along but truly being reigned in by Orlando’s smoothened vocals, flowing from one track to the next. There is something deeper and more emotionally connected with the band entwined in these lyrics. “Well, we were at home for two years, and had decided to not tour for that space of time. So, I think a lot of things happened while we were gone. It’s a weird thing, to come back and all your mates from five or six years ago had changed, and got their own lives.” explains White “And with that kind of perspective I suppose you notice what is happening to people more and that transcends into the lyrical content of the songs.” There is a sense of poignancy as he says this, of the sense you’ve potentially missed out on something, be it a friendship or a relationship, that you are somewhat lost in your own life, and this can be found in many of the lyrics throughout the album, most notably in ‘Feel To Follow’ ‘It’s never too late, Until it’s too late and I’ll be stranded, And I’ll need something’. “I mean, Hugo wrote a little bit and I wrote a few bits, and I can’t really speak for him but I think he felt he could have more authority over what he was talking about. Really considerate and for the main part, it is about friends and families and documenting more about them, while the previous records were a bit more centered around love and relationships.”
Since it’s release in early January, The Maccabees have given much credit to DFA producer Tim Goldsworthy for providing them with the equipment that allowed them to produce Given To The Wild. Originally working in the electronic genre, Goldsworthy was a surprising choice for the guitar driven five piece; having worked with previous musicians such as Cut Copy, and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, §recruiting Goldsworthy held the potential of losing the essence of The Maccabees as they threw aside their usual jam-based method of writing to delve into the world of synthesizers and drones. “For us he came from a totally different world, musically.
He brought a lot of equipment with him, and they were like toys for us nearly. The drone is what made it onto the record the most. He helped us get that classier sound,but there’s still our own sound there.”
When looking back over The Maccabees’ musical history, it does seem as though it has been a rather smooth process. With two successful albums, a string of impressive shows including NME’s 2010 Awards Tour, sharing the stage with Bombay Bicycle Club and The Big Pink, and now an even bigger year ahead of them, there has always appeared to have been ‘room’ for this band, so to speak. A two year gap between albums does hold the potential to cripple a band, with many being unable to recapture what magic they once had that drew fans to their music initially. However, for this band, it’s as though the slot for them was reserved and that they were simply picking up where they left off, accompanied by a truly beautiful record. Making me wonder, has there ever been a moment where things weren’t running as smoothly as they wanted? “Well it always feels like we’re making it up as were going along to be honest! It’s quite easy for people to write about it like ‘Oh they used to not be so big’ and that we’ve made up this big plan that by the third record we’d be this bigger band. But it hasn’t been like that at all! We’re not like these ‘proper’ musicians or anything like that” he admits with a wry chuckle thrown in “ we’ve only ever learnt our own songs and played them together, we just always tried to remain honest and just keep going. We’re still learning and working things out.” It’s definitly not as easy as it looks, it’s still constant panic like ‘Oh my god, did you bring the bass amp?’” laughs Felix. “As soon as you lose a certain connection with people though, like a genuine feeling between those that listen to your music, well I don’t know what that’s like, but I can only imagine it wouldn’t be a pleasant thing at all and we tried to prevent that completely.”
Similarly, in today’s battle field that is musical credibility, The Maccabees’ sound could be related to some other bands, but the unique sound resonating through Orlando’s voice and the accompanying guitars and drums, produces something totally their own. With many bands relating back to the records that used to take prime of place in their parents’ own collection growing up, or to the album that became their calling in those turbulent teenage years, I wondered was there any album that still inspired Felix today? “Oh yeah, definitely, Hugo & I grew up listening to The White Album and Dylan records, Elvis Costello records and I still love all those things. The White Album is still one of my favourite records that I ever heard, but I love it for totally different reasons now then I did when I was like six, when I liked it back then it was nearly just good noises, nursery rhymes nearly, but now I realise how much more there truly is to it and I always find myself going back to that again and again” And how about contemporary bands, and bands of their own era? Relating back to NME, they did say ‘Child’ could sit comfortably on Radiohead’s In Colours; “Yeah, definitely, there’s so many incredible groups in the world and very alternative bands as well, even though some people may say that kind of music isn’t as big as it was. But those big alternative bands like Interpol, The National and Radiohead themselves, they’re still incredible in terms of their quality and outfit which is still so perfectly consistent even after so many records.”
On the eighth of this month, The Maccabees will begin their European tour stretching across cities including Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and our very own Dublin. From the band who arbitrarily chose their name from the Bible simply because it “sounded like a band”, playing to fans right across Europe is an exciting prospect. From the arresting, stabbing guitar of their first single ‘Pelican’, to the mournful questioning of ‘Heave’ you can’t help but think that this band are truly just beginning their journey into the same mountainous territory as Coldplay and Arcade Fire. “Well, we’re playing The Academy in Dublin and Spring & Airbrakes in Belfast, quite a long way from arenas really at the moment (laughs) but if it’s big enough to move onto such things,why not! It’ll be a bit of mix and match with this tour because we seem to be bigger in smaller and different places. It’s just weird sometimes, you could be playing to a capacity of 500 or 10,000, you never get used to it really…” And as my first interview with a band I truly admire comes to a close, with Felix assuring me “that it’s really just a great life” it’s hard not to believe that this is simply a band riding on the wave of well deserved success and enjoying every moment of it. And as I heave a sigh of relief, I’m simply thankful I didn’t put my foot in it, and go listen to Given to the Wild…again.