Maximo Park: „Don’t Have To ‚Act‘ The Crazy Man“

With Apply Some Pressure, Maximo Park created a global indie hit song back in 2005. By now, the five gentlemen from Newcastle are touring Europe with their fifth album Too Much Information. mokant.at met their charismatic frontman Paul Smith at the Poolbar Festival in Feldkirch and talked to him about his crazy stage persona, uncool records and tie-stealing fans. -| Deutsche Übersetzung |-

Paul Smith is running across the stage, gesticulating passionately, shaking his hips and performing with emotionally charged facial expressions. In-between songs, he presents a considerable amount of German vocabulary and praises the cheering audience for the great atmosphere. Two hours earlier, Maximo Park’s lead vocalist is sitting on the tour bus, all set for the show, displaying his usual dandy-like appearance: Bowler hat on the head, his socks a flash of pink underneath neat suit pants. What he isn’t yet wearing, is his eccentric stage personality. Instead, we are facing an attentive and unobtrusive guy who chooses his words carefully while giving thoughtful answers.

(c) Christoph Schöch

(c) Christoph Schöch

mokant.at: In another interview, I read that you like to find record stores in every town you visit. Have you had the chance to do that here?
Paul Smith: Yeah, we were in a record shop today that had lots of new records. We don’t tend to buy too many of those in Europe because it’s more expensive. We really enjoy the second-hand stuff.

mokant.at: So you didn’t buy anything?
Paul Smith: Nothing today, no.

mokant.at: Do you know any Austrian bands or musicians?
Paul Smith: Well… not really. We are quite ignorant (laughs). I think it’s difficult, especially with the language barrier. You end up not hearing stuff on the radio in England. I mean, you get the odd thing that’s different, but not so much from Austria. Can you recommend a band?

mokant.at: If you want to hear something in German, maybe you should check out Bilderbuch. They are getting quite popular here right now.
Paul Smith: Okay, I’ll have a listen.

(c) Christoph Schöch

(c) Christoph Schöch

mokant.at: So, what else have you been up to today?
Paul Smith: Well, last night we watched Scarface with Al Pacino on the tour bus, so we got to bed quite late. So I woke up at about 10 or 10:30 and went for a walk across the bridges. I also tweeted about it. Then I came back and got some food and did a drawing of the cliff face behind me. I took lots of photographs and went round the Altstadt. I also went up to the Schattenburg area – is that an old castle?
mokant.at: Yes, it’s an old castle.
Paul Smith: So me and Paul (touring bass player, Anm.) went there and tried to admire the view. We’re lucky that we had time to walk around since it’s a really beautiful place. We were all blown away by the scenery.
We also did a lot of sound checking. It was longer than usual, because we are playing at the Acoustic Lakeside Festival and so we practised with acoustic sounds: Lucas is playing the piano instead all of his synthesizers.

mokant.at: I saw some videos on Youtube were you were performing at an acoustic set, but there were only three of you. At the beginning, you don’t introduce yourselves as ‘Maximo Park’ but as ‘three-fifth of Maximo Park’. It seemed like you didn’t consider yourselves complete with two members missing. Is this sense of community important to the band?

(c) Christoph Schöch

(c) Christoph Schöch

Paul Smith: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a very democratic band and we are all decision-makers. Somebody might come up with a song and then it’s all bound together by the others and by my lyrics and vocals, so each song still sounds like ‘the band’. We’re all very involved and that’s quite important to the sound of the band. The song is the biggest thing, bigger than all of us. It feels very much like a collective piece of work. When I’m on stage I might be the leader because I’m the singer, but off stage we can all take the lead at different times, which makes it an interesting dynamic.

mokant.at: On stage you are known to be very energetic and a little bit crazy.
Paul Smith: (laughs) Yes.
mokant.at: But right now you don’t seem to be a very attention-seeking kind of person. How does that work?

Paul Smith: I think the songs deserve attention. So I’m going to do everything that I can to make people listen. When you’re on stage it’s not ‘real’. Nobody would go up on a big stage and dance around in front of people normally. I don’t really know what I’m going to do until I hear the song and then it all makes sense. I like to think of something spontaneous, like ‘how does that person who is not paying attention make me feel?’, and then I get angry. Or if it’s a sad and melancholic song like Going Missing, but everybody is singing along and the energy is there, it might make me smile. And that is good, you should go with it as a performer and not pretend that the audience aren’t there. But when I’m off stage, I don’t want to be an extrovert. Maybe I was more angry or emotional before the band started whereas now, each night I can express myself and all of the different emotions that I have can come out on stage.

(c) Christoph Schöch

(c) Christoph Schöch

mokant.at: So it’s kind of natural to you, you don’t think ‘now I’m going to act like that’?
Paul Smith: Not really. Once I’m dressed for stage I can be in the right mind-zone. Our songs are very energetic. After five records, there are more moods to express and I think the show is more diverse now. I don’t feel like I have to go and ‘act’ the crazy man or really got to be super-energetic. The songs will tell me what to do.

mokant.at: How do you feel when you listen to one of your older songs like Apply Some Pressure – are you proud or would you want to change anything?
Paul Smith: I think, if there was anything we wanted to change, we probably would. But I have to say I’m quite proud of all of them. I gave it my best shot when we were writing and recording them. Each record should be a document of a time. When I’m singing the old songs, I’m trying to think about what they’re about and what the words mean to me. I’ve tried to build the songs with strong words, so that when I have to sing them, they have a strength that comes from thought as well as instinct. So I’m very happy with most of the songs, I like them a lot. And even, when I think ‘that lyric is a bit adolescent (laughs) or angsty’, it’s fun to think of that time. So, for me the early songs are still part of me, still part of the way that I want to express myself.

mokant.at: And the fans probably wouldn’t approve of changes.
Paul Smith: Yeah, exactly. They’re all pop songs, they’re not experimental, improvised songs. They are written to be performed and you can mess around with them a little bit but the core of the song needs to stay the same.

(c) Christoph Schöch

(c) Christoph Schöch

mokant.at: Is there a song you are looking forward to perform the most?
Paul Smith: Well, tonight I think we are playing Reluctant Love from our last album and we haven’t played it for a long, long time.
mokant.at: Why not?
Paul Smith: I don’t know, it just fell out of the set. On the last album, it was one of the rare softer moments and so it might not have worked as well. But we felt like it was time to change the set around and so we’ve got that back in. That’s how we keep ourselves interested in the set and yeah, now I’m looking forward to playing Reluctant Love whereas if we just kept playing it forever, I might be tired of it. The thing is, you can play some of the more popular songs every night and it’s easy to feed off the crowd’s great reaction. But when you come to Reluctant Love, it might be like ‘Oh, it’s all a bit quiet now’, and then you’d be back on to a really fast song. We also haven’t played Write This Down for a long time…

mokant.at: It’s probably not easy to decide because you have so many songs by now.
Paul Smith: It is, it’s so hard! We’ve got loads of songs now, it’s really difficult.

mokant.at: Is there one song that you don’t like to play any more for some reason?
Paul Smith: We don’t play a song called Sandblasted And Set Free very much. I think we were all kind of not sure about the end result at the time. But I still think that there are parts of it that are brilliant. Very exciting guitar playing from Duncan. And we don’t get to play our B-Sides a lot because hardly anybody knows them. It’s a shame because I think some of them are some of our best songs.

(c) Christoph Schöch

(c) Christoph Schöch

mokant.at: If you compare Too Much Information to your first album (A Certain Trigger), what’s the biggest difference for you?
Paul Smith: Instinctively, my first answer would be my voice. Doesn’t sound the same to me. It feels like I couldn’t sing as well on the first record. That’s just me personally… when I hear some things I think ‘ooh, that first album…’ You know, I think it’s a good record but I think I could sing that so much better now! (laughs)
mokant.at: But you can, on stage!
Paul Smith: Exactly, I can do that on stage. I also think that the first record has a unified sound, whereas our new record is deliberately all over the place. That’s one of the reasons why it’s called Too Much Information, it has genres from everywhere coming up. Midnight On The Hill kind of sounds to me like kind of a Tom Petty song, and Her Name Was Audre sounds like a Minute Man song and I Brain Cells sounds like some weird Aphex Twin song with me singing on it (laughs). We also have more ballads on our newer records, like The Undercurrents. I think we’ve expanded and gone through different things along the way.

mokant.at: When you’re performing, do you feel a difference between the audiences of different countries?
Paul Smith: Not really. I think, if you go somewhere like Japan, you’d notice that the crowd’s different. They’ll go crazy in between songs but the rest of the time, it’s very respectful, whereas in England, you might have people shouting out in the middle of songs or talking. It’s a different cultural experience. But the most of Europe is the same.

(c) Christoph Schöch

(c) Christoph Schöch

mokant.at: How did you come up with the video to Hips And Lips? I hope it’s not autobiographic (in the video, Smith is held captive by a crazy fan, Anm.).
Paul Smith: We thought it was funny, I suppose. But there is something sinister about it, something quite dark about people being locked away.

mokant.at: Have you had any weird moments with fans?
Paul Smith: Yeah, I remember being in London before one of our shows at a bank machine and there was a woman over my shoulder, and she was saying ‘hello Paul!’ And I was putting in my pin number and I was thinking, ‘This is not cool, this is not appropriate’ (laughs). And once, somebody stole my tie off the stage once. They gave it back in the end but it’s quite extreme behavior. People talk to you like they know you, and that’s weird to me, still.

mokant.at: Despite these happenings, do you prefer performing on stage to recording?
Paul Smith: Being on stage is exciting and it’s an instant kind of gratification. People are coming along and pay their money and you give them a bit of yourself, a tiny bit each night. I feel like I’m doing the best thing that I can in order to get people to hear our songs whereas when you’re at home, you are thinking: Can anybody hear these songs?
But also, you’re away from home and it’s quite a lot of effort for me. I give everything I can every night, and I always have. After ten years, you have got to be in the right frame of mind to be able to do it. And in the studio, it’s very creative. You can tinker away and mess around with the sounds of each instrument. If I had to give you an answer I’d say, I like being in the studio and finishing the song and say: It’s done.

(c) Christoph Schöch

(c) Christoph Schöch

mokant.at: I read that back home, you like to listen to songs in your bedroom and start singing and dancing.
Paul Smith: Oh yeah (laughs).
mokant.at: Do you have some kind of a ‘Guilty Pleasure Song’?
Paul Smith: Oh yeah, most of my record collection. I don’t see them as guilty pleasures. The other week, I posted a photograph of my DJ bags on twitter. One of them had a post-punk song in by a guy called James Chance, which is quite cool. And the other one that I had was an album from Hall & Oates, with a song called I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) in it. Which is a very good song. So I posted a picture saying something like ‘Cool DJ bag’ and ‘Not quite as cool DJ bag’. Because Hall & Oates is quite cheesy – they’ve got big 80’s hair and moustaches and their music is polished. But as long as it’s got something of quality, like a good melody, then I can like anything. I can go from listening to Earl Sweatshirt to listening to John Coltrane and it doesn’t bother me. Music is music.

mokant.at: Thank you very much for your time!
Paul Smith: No problem, thanks a lot!

Titelbild: (c) Christoph Schöch

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Rebecca Steinbichler ist Redakteurin und stellvertretende Ressorleiterin (Gesellschaft) bei mokant.at. Kontakt: rebecca.steinbichler[at]mokant.at

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