- 06 Apr 21
While many of their contemporaries have fallen by the wayside, Maxïmo Park have continued to make some of the most compelling rock ‘n’ roll around. Paul Smith tells Stuart Clark where it all went right.
It speaks volumes about both bands that having waited twenty-five years to score their first number one UK album with As The Love Continues, Mogwai immediately started campaigning for Maxïmo Park’s Nature Always Wins to replace them at the summit.
Sadly because of those pesky Architect kids selling 550 more copies than them it didn’t happen, but it underlines the sense of solidarity between bands, fans and, dare I say it, the music media, which has only strengthened during Lockdown.
“Yeah, it definitely has, and thank God because I can’t really see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ that’s being advertised at the moment,” says Maxïmo mainman Paul Smith. “Even when live music does start up again, as an English band it’s going to be virtually impossible to tour in Europe.”
Lest he’s branded a snowflake Project Fear Remoaner, Paul has some examples to illustrate his point.
“As it stands, the bus you’re travelling on with your equipment can only make two drop-offs before it has to turn round and head back home,” he explains. “We stop every night and play a show so that’s not going to work. We make quite a bit of money from merchandise, but we won’t be able to take that around with us. Then there are the visa requirements for each country, which have yet to be determined. The EU were proposing 30-day visa-free access to musicians but, no, we couldn’t go with that because it’s not Brexit. There’s all this talk about fishing – which deserves protecting too – but the music industry dwarfs that. We’ve bitten our nose off to spite our face.”
Gareth Southgate’s loss is about to become Stephen Kenny’s gain as Paul declares for Ireland by getting his first passport with a harp on it.
“I could be the next Bernie Slaven, a true Scotsman who I used to watch at Middlesbrough and played for Ireland under Jack Charlton,” he laughs. “My Nana was from Dublin, so I’m thinking of getting a passport. I want to travel freely. Britain has entrenched itself in this island mentality. That unfortunately is democracy; it can be easily manipulated.”
The good news is that despite Covid scuppering all the recording plans they had for it, Nature Always Wins is an absolute pearler.
“We were meant to be doing it in Atlanta with Ben Allen who’s worked with Deer Hunter, Animal Collective and loads of big hip hop artists,” Paul explains. “Ben spent a weekend with us in Newcastle so we showed him the sights and got to write some songs with him. He’s written with Christina Aguilera before – and I haven’t! – so it was quite the education.”
While they haven’t morphed into OutKast, Nature Always Wins does on occasion nod in Atlanta’s direction even though Maxïmo only virtually went there.
“Yeah, we did it via-the internet, which we were nervous about but actually turned out really well,” Paul enthuses. “I sent Ben a little playlist that had everything from JPEGMAFIA and Selena Gomez to Phoebe Bridgers and old stuff like Freddie Gibbs on it. I don’t know whether it had any real bearing on the record, but that smooth-soulful sound is something that kind of influenced me.”
Lovers of their synth-ier side, fear not, ‘Versions Of You’ and ‘Child Of The Flatlands’ both stray into Krautrock territory.
“Yeah, there are some interesting synth sounds on there that are like Brian Eno or an electronic Tindersticks. Then there’s sort of old soul music – William Onyeabor and Shygirl – stuck through a blender. It’s quite a psychedelic sort of odyssey, and Ben did a great job of binding all that together.”
Old punks like me will be delighted to hear ex-Penetration leader Pauline Murray guesting on the insistent ‘Ardour’, while elsewhere the excellent Jemma Freese who doubles down as their touring keys player provides the female counterbalance to Paul’s vocals.
“They’re both great,” he concludes. “What I really want to do now is be able to play these songs live. I feel very lucky to be in the position of having had seven top 20 records. Not many people get to experience that and a lot of the bands who were making music when we started have fallen by the wayside for all sorts of different reasons. As long as I can try and make a living from music I will because I love it so much.”
• Nature Always Wins is out now on Prolifica.