Interview with Maximo Park

By Gordon Wilson

One of my more wholesome teenage memories involves me singing along, horrendously out of tune, to Maximo Park’s A Certain Trigger. Something about that heady mixture of indie guitar riffs, profound lyrics and the Geordie accent pulled me in and refused to let go.

It’s hard to believe that Maximo Park are now seventeen years old as a band. I was lucky to get the opportunity to chat to Duncan, a founding member, about the upcoming album Risk to Exist (due to be released on 21/04/2017), in which they take a more lyrically active stance on UK and world politics than their previous albums. We also discuss Maximo Park’s views on Glasgow, and Bjork.

The press release for Risk to Exist states that the lyrics are “informed by the dire state of world affairs in 2016 and crumbling political systems” – Is there much hope for turning this around? What can fans do to help?

Writing about it and addressing it in some way helps –  just to realise that it’s there. The thing is, you can either stick your head in the sand or look at it and see that it’s happening to all of us. I think with the ‘Risk to Exist’ single and the song being about the risks that people are taking to escape warzones, having to take their entire families on rafts –  that was all happening around the time we were writing it – it seems mad how Europe’s kind of buckled in on itself in some weird way. We felt surely there must be some way we could help out as a group – we wanted to raise money for MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station), the service who pick up rafts who aren’t going to make it to land, save people from drowning. We didn’t want to piggyback on the cause or use it to promote the record, but we wanted to in some way help the cause, I suppose just by having a piece of music out there that is about that – hopefully we’ve raised a bit of money for MOAS and we can keep raising awareness that these things are happening. It’s important to unify and try to solve problems on a human level. For our generation, and for people younger as well, we want the world to be better, not worse, because the next generation should be able to feel positive about the world. So we’re trying, in some way!

The eye-opening video you made with MOAS, ‘Risk to Exist’, suggests a lack of empathy for refugees. Do you think this is a major problem in Britain?

I think the problem we’ve had is, with Farage, a lot of lies have been told and people who feel themselves kind of forgotten have been also made to feel like, ‘we’ve got to blame somebody, so let’s blame them [the refugees] – let’s blame other people’ – and not the people in government. The main problem lies in Westminster really, and the councils – it’s not to do with the things we’re being told. I think there is a lack of empathy because people are not being told straight what really is going on. It’s hard to tell sometimes what is really going on, but I think that again it goes back to the idea of if people from here were in the situation where they were taking to rafts, you’d hope that other countries and other people would go ‘we’re gonna help you out’, you know? But people can’t visualise that, they think ‘of course that’s not going to happen’, ‘these people are coming across and doing this that and the other’ – and I think that’s the problem. I think people would feel more empathy if they actually saw it for real and experienced it, rather than just being able to switch off from it. But it does feel like there’s a problem there, and it’s been brought on by people just manipulating the situation.

You’re playing O2 ABC Glasgow this upcoming May – what do you think of Glasgow as a city? Any fun Glasgow anecdotes?

We love Glasgow. There are so many similarities between Newcastle and Glasgow. We all love it. We always think, “Right, we’re definitely playing Glasgow, whatever tour we do of the UK”. I think the first time we started playing outside of the city [Newcastle], Glasgow was our first gig outside, and we turned up and people were hugging us. It was just amazing, it was like “wow, you guys are from Newcastle? C’mon”. We’ve had some great nights there. We work with a lot of people from Glasgow – our tour manager and some of the crew members are from there. It’s a really strong, independent and artistic city and it’s just exciting in that way. Glasgow feels like the next big place to Newcastle – we tend to look more towards Glasgow than we do, say, Leeds or wherever. So geographically, yeah, Glasgow just feels like the next most relatable place. The city certainly feels very similar. There’s this place Monorail where you can go in and hang out – the people who run that shop are just the nicest people. They ask, “Okay, what are you guys listening to?” – you can get really good tips in there, the atmosphere’s great and it’s always inspiring. In Glasgow, there are a lot of people, whether it’s musicians or whether it’s people putting on gigs, it’s supportive.  I’m probably saying too much now! But it’s a great city, I do love it, yeah.

Which track on Risk to Exist are you most proud of and why?

There’s a track called ‘I’ll Be Around’ and it’s really different – I wrote more on the piano and the bass, not just the guitar and I remember just trying to get a different feel, more of a feel where you can move to the music as well. I think it was a band decision too, to try to get people to feel like they can also dance to it. ‘I’ll be around’ has a very simple kind of refrain but I really like the feel of it, it’s just very different, in a similar way that ‘Brain Cells’ on our last album came from just messing around on a mood. I’ve got a little second-hand piano at home now, and I’m able to sit down and write things on it; it’s a very different writing process from the guitar. I like the sentiment in it as well – I like what Paul wrote, lyrically, on it. It’s very laid-back, quite different. So, yeah, I’d probably say that one.

Did co-producer Tom Schick’s influence change the final album in any major ways?

We were looking for someone who could almost just press record. We heard the Parquet Courts record, and we knew of some effects and stuff that he’d done. I think we just wanted to go in and record live and not have any overdos and literally just capture us playing live and have that kind of cohesive kind of band sound. Tom really enhanced that, and what was great about him was he would let us play, and he would come in and say ‘that was a great take’. He would be out between the takes. Most of the time he was right. He’s worked many, many years in New York – he’s worked with a lot of artists from the 90s. His whole thing is to just let the band play and feel through the song, feel through the takes. It was refreshing for him to just let us do it, but then, when he suddenly could feel it all clicking, he would just say ‘you’ve got a really good take’. When we first showed up there, we arrived without any instruments – he said ‘don’t bring anything, just turn up’. So we turned up, he said, ‘okay, just pick whatever you want’. He’s got a drum kit already set up and it’s some vintage kit. He was saying, ‘Oh, this guitar’s good, this guitar’s good, just try that.’ In 45 minutes we’d finished the first track, first take and that was it – we thought, “we’ll just keep that.” He said, “Oh right, great!” . It was really inspiring to know that we can just make a record with that kind of momentum, that we can just do things in two or three takes and that we’ve got to that stage of confidence as a group to be able to record live. Tom enhanced that element I think, by keeping it very free, which I think any musician loves – to avoid the ‘oh, replay that, redo that’ kind of attitude. I think he encouraged that kind of freer, more live feeling.

If you could collaborate with any musician (living or dead), who would you choose and why?  

Oh man! That’s tricky, that! I’d love to do something with Bjork! I’ve always loved Bjork and I recently visited Iceland and it’s an amazing place. I fell in love with it – I think anyone would really, because the landscape’s so untouched, with planes and planes of nothing and the mountains. They call it the land of fire and ice. I’ve listened to a lot of Bjork since then – her songs about Iceland are fascinating, and I love the way she puts her records together and the way that she doesn’t use the traditional instruments. It’s always inspiring to hear her stuff, so I’d probably say Bjork, that would be the dream, to be involved with something that she’s on.