Exclusive Interview: The Maccabees – ‘You’ve Got To Try and Fight The Grain’

Give up! Surrender! Raise the white flag!

Rock music is dead, the charts have been annexed by a vicious, new age talent-show cloned army and all hope for our guitar-wielding heroes has disappeared forever. We should all know the story by now.

And yet there’s The Maccabees, currently enjoying their best ever year thank you very much. As contemporaries from the last decade flog their new albums from boxes on street corners, and dream-chasing upcoming bands look to fight off the Simon Cowell-led tyranny from the underground, The Maccabees quietly gave their third album ‘Given To The Wild’ up to that most unattainable of Holy Grails – critical acclaim and genuine commercial success. Maybe hope isn’t lost after all.

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The Maccabees at Webster Hall, NYC

This trend defying story for the band begins with an earnest desire for change, to explore a bolder, brighter sound and move away from the sharp, straight lines of their first two albums – 2007’s ‘Colour It In’ and 2009’s ‘Wall Of Arms’. “We have always written together, but we used to do it in a rehearsal room,” guitarist Felix White told Live4ever in an exclusive interview before their one-off headlining show at Webster Hall in New York City earlier this month.

“From when you first start a band you always save up all your money to rehearse for four hours on a Saturday, and you make it all up then and there and leave again ‘cos that’s the only time you’ve got. But we got a little bit claustrophobic of making music in those rooms, and we got better at logic, like music programmes, so it was a very conscious decision that we were going to think about nothing to do with how to make it live, we were just going to let everyone go their own way.  So that was the start of it, and it started sounding so different, and slowly we just started moulding it all together to be what it is.”

As the album which would eventually see The Maccabees come to reap the rewards of a guitar band confidently pursuing evolution began to take shape, the guitars themselves would be one of the first things to play a less prominent role in the new approach. “On the one side it was listening to a few records, but on the other side it was getting bored with just plugging the guitar in and realising what else can be done as a guitar player,” Felix White tells Live4ever of the reasons for their new vision.

“I went down Denmark Street, which is like a guitar heaven in London, and bought loads of vintage pedals, put them in a plastic bag, took them home and messed around with them. Because we did most of the production as we were going you could be quite ‘cartoony’ about it; so a guitar solo just kind of pops out of nowhere, you could layer it that way without being so specific about the two guitar parts that are working all the time.”

“It’s the first record that we really considered, ‘How is this going to sound in people’s bedrooms, and when they’re walking down the road with their iPod?’. It doesn’t relate in any way to a live record. We didn’t want to kid people that they would be able to visualise the drummer, the bass player, the two guitar players, the singer in a room. We wanted the album to belong in a different place than that. With ‘Wall Of Arms’ you can hear blokes going at it, which is a brilliant thing, but we just wanted this album to belong in a different place.”

As part of a new generation of bands which so embraced the benefits of the social network boom towards the end of the last decade, and in both witnessing and overcoming the new challenges which have been presented as the music world makes a seismic, seemingly permanent shift to the digital market, The Maccabees are perhaps more qualified than most to assess an industry which Garbage singer Shirley Manson recently described as being ‘a shell of what it once was’.

“When we started out we were part of that MySpace thing, we became known through the Internet. So we never experienced music before that, and I think change is a good thing about how people receive music,” White tells us. “You can’t help it, you can’t stop it, so people that were in before moaning about it isn’t going to solve anything. I find it difficult to listen to records the whole way through – I have to make a conscious effort to do it, and I love it when I do, but I do find it difficult. I think there is a much shorter attention span in people than there was, unfortunately.”

Noel Gallagher made a really good point: especially in England it’s so consumer demand-driven. So even radio and stuff is based on polls. They play like 30 seconds of a song to a hundred people and if they go, ‘I like it, it’s catchy’ it stays on the radio. That is not how good music gets made. Like his point was that the public didn’t ask for Jimi Hendrix or ‘Sgt. Peppers…’ – they get given it, and you come round to it or you don’t. But music isn’t allowed to do that anymore, by the powers that be or whatever, which is a really sad thing. But you’ve got to try and fight the grain, you’ve got to try and make really good music and hope it finds its way.”

“The thing English music is missing is Top Of The Pops – when I was growing up you’d watch it every week, and you’d be so aware of what was in the charts, and you’d really decide what music was for you and you’d root for it. And that direct consciousness towards music and how it defines you is lost at the moment without shows like that.”

And if the fast-food, bite-sized nature of the mainstream scene means new bands are struggling to hold court for long enough to get their message heard, then is the noisy intrusion of an endless string of high profile reunions adding their own voices to the argument also creating another obstacle to commercial breakthroughs? “It’s an interesting point,” Felix White says. “There’s very few young bands now that are becoming that big. I don’t know what the reason is for that, but you have the same bands headlining at every English festival, every year – Kasabian, Arctic Monkeys, Radiohead, Muse, Coldplay, and then you have The Cure coming back, or The Stone Roses, so it gets regurgitated.”

“I would’ve been perfectly content as a Stone Roses fan if they would never have come back, I didn’t need that to happen – I didn’t need to see it. If you’re in a venue though with 5,000 people and everyone’s singing ‘This Is The One’ or whatever, that would just be an incredible moment. I think that would be beautiful, and disregarding the fact of whether they’re doing it for money or whatever, I still think that would be an amazing thing just to be there and hear that. They’re one of the great British bands.”

So is there room in these nostalgia-driven times for even more high profile returns? “I don’t think we need any more bands to come back,” says White. “There’s always a lot of talk about The Smiths, I don’t need to see that.”

But what of an Oasis return in 2015? “I reckon that would definitely happen,” he continues. “They all need each other, whether they like to admit it or not, they need each other. I think at the moment Noel is just making his point. That would be the anniversary of ‘…Morning Glory’ – it’s the first album I ever bought. Especially now in hindsight, Oasis were such a powerful band to have existed when you were a kid, because they taught you that you don’t have to be super talented to achieve something, you just have to have drive, anyone could do it. I like more music than Oasis now, but as a way in it’s incredible.”

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The Maccabees at Webster Hall, NYC

It’s clear then, in the face of a generation devoted to disposable pop and reuniting legends, that the modern world isn’t the biggest ally of your emerging rock band. But the story of ’Given To The Wild’ should offer a bright light through the gloom, showing the one constant amongst many changes will always be quality rising to the top. “We just did Alexandra Palace in London which is 10,000 people, which is a big deal. So from our end it sounds like there’s still enough people that care,” White tells us.

‘Rock and roll will never die’, a wise man once sang. And if rock and roll continues to brim with confidence, persistence, energy and personality, those words will always remain true.

Just ask The Maccabees.

Summer Dates:

THU 28 JUN 2012 (BELGIUM) ROCK WERCHTER FESTIVAL
FRI 29 JUN 2012 ARRAS, FRANCE ARRAS FESTIVAL
SAT 30 JUN 2012 BORLANGE, SWEDEN PEACE & LOVE FESTIVAL
SAT 30 JUN 2012 BORLANGE PEACE AND LOVE FEST
THU 5 JUL 2012 GDYNIA HEINEKEN OPENER FESTIVAL
SAT 7 JUL 2012 BALADO (SCOTLAND) T IN THE PARK
THU 12 JUL 2012 SPAIN BILBAO BBK LIVE FESTIVAL
FRI 13 JUL 2012 (SPAIN) BENICASSIM (JULY 12-15)
SUN 15 JUL 2012 (PORTUGAL) OPTIMUS ALIVE
FRI 10 AUG 2012 HAMBURG (GERMANY) DOCKVILLE FESTIVAL (AUGUST 10 – 12)
THU 16 AUG 2012 ST.POELTEN FREQUENCY FESTIVAL
SAT 18 AUG 2012 FRANKFURT ZOOM
FRI 24 AUG 2012 READING READING FESTIVAL
SAT 25 AUG 2012 LEEDS (UK) LEEDS FESTIVAL
FRI 31 AUG 2012 STRADBALLY ELECTRIC PICNIC

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