Risky Business: Maximo Park make their return

The state of British politics, Warp Records parties and the Chicago Cubs’ World Series win are all on the agenda as Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith discusses the band’s new album, Risk To Exist.

Hot Press catches up with Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith on the band’s tourbus, which is on its way to Bristol for the latest date on the tour supporting their new album, Risk To Exist. Having left the Travelodge behind (“In true Alan Partridge style!” he quips), and momentarily parked the pressing issue of where he’s going to watch that night’s crunch relegation six-pointer between Sunderland and his beloved Middlesborough, Smith ponders where his group sit in the current UK rock landscape.

“A lot of the stuff I listen to isn’t really rock, I suppose,” says the affable, chatty singer. “We did a gig in Rough Trade East in London yesterday and I brought some Flying Saucer Attack reissues, an ambient techno record by Gap, and an album by The Feelies, a jingly-jangly US group from the ’80s. One of the reasons why rock bands are less visible these days is because mainstream radio is playing quite different stuff. There’s only a couple of bands they’ll play – otherwise it’s pop and R&B.

“A lot of it’s pretty good, but on the other hand, a lot of it is pretty bland. When we first started out, there were a lot of bands being played on the radio and it was a good time to be in a group. But there were also a lot of bad bands around. That’s the way the industry works; if you can print up enough copies of something that sounds like something else, there’s a good chance you’ll make some money. There is that side to it. So I don’t mourn the dearth of guitar bands out there at the moment, but I also think mainstream radio should probably be a bit more diverse.”

Although these days releasing on Cooking Vinyl, Maximo Park are by our calcuations the only guitar band ever to feature on legendary techno label Warp, who put out their first three albums. Did Paul and the boys ever run into Aphex Twin or Boards Of Canada at the Christmas bash?

“We did go to a party on a boat on the Thames,” reflects Paul. “I think I’d had too much to drink. There’s a photo of me in front of Squarepusher and he doesn’t look very happy. I’d like to apologise to him for photo-bombing him! (laughs)”.

Like many albums emerging at the moment, Risk To Exist reflects on the tumultuous state of the current international political landscape. From Maximo Park’s perspective, post-Brexit and with Labour facing into a serious election loss this summer, is it a disheartening time to be on the left in Britain?

“It is a bit,” admits Paul. “But the only way to get through that is to accept the situation and try to improve it. There’s a lot of talk on the record about empathy and solidarity; on one of the songs it says, ‘Above all, I hope I’ve been of use’. If as individuals we can say that we tried to be part of a community – and it doesn’t mean in a lovey-dovey hippy way – we’ve done something positive.

“It’s funny, the right always put their differences to one side and the left continue to bicker over small points. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re people of principle, but it doesn’t really help when you’re trying to oppose a huge force. The record does deal with the way mainstream debate has turned towards a right wing mode of thinking.”

Risk To Exist was actually recorded in Chicago and, ironically, one of the local musicians who contributed, Max Hastings, shares his name with a noted Daily Mail columnist.

“I’m hoping he wasn’t a journalist in disguise now!” laughs Paul. “He was actually the guy who activates the scoreboard at the Chicago Cubs games. While we were over there, the Cubs were about to win the World Series for the first time in 100 years. We weren’t sure if Max was going to make the session, because he might have had to activate the scoreboard! The playoffs kept going and got to game 6, then game 7. It was a pretty weird time to be over there. We were going to Max, ‘Can you get us tickets?’ He’s like, ‘No – any other time but not now. History’s in the making here!’”

Risk To Exist is out now on Cooking Vinyl.


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