Exposing the Contradictions

As Maximo Park approach their tenth anniversary celebrations Amy Forde talks to Paul Smith and learns that fronting one rock ‘n’ roll band is not enough for him

A ten year anniversary marks a good run for any rock ‘n’ roll band challenged with holding the attention of an internet generation, and the North East’s Maximo Park have decided to celebrate the landmark with a handful of dates this winter, in what lead singer Paul Smith describes as “special venues” across the UK

“Initially I had an idea of just having a party in Newcastle and just having our friends come to it, playing a little set of our first album for a laugh,” he tells Big Issue North. “Then I realised not all of our friends are here.”

After spreading the birthday party invitation list to London, Manchester and Glasgow, the shows quickly sold out, demonstrating the solid and loyal fan base the band have built over the last decade. Their popularity saw them pushed to include shows in the Midlands cities of Nottingham and Birmingham in December. “It was just a way of saying thanks for sticking with us,” Smith explains. “You know a lot of bands don’t make it.”

Smith’s native Newcastle, where he and guitarist Duncan Lloyd still live, is integral to the make-up of the band. The city is home to their own recording studio and Smith says this set of tour dates is particularly special as they will be playing the historic City Hall, which makes his “things to do before you die” list.

“I don’t want to mythologise a place – I just want to notice the small things in life and celebrate them.”

Although thematically the band have expanded throughout the years, taking inspiration from the works of Caribbean-American activist Audre Lorde and Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, for example, Newcastle is still very much central for Smith in his writing.

“I like to romanticise the place I live in because I think if I don’t do it, who will?” he says. “I listen to stuff from seventies New York and I think that sounds like a cool place and then I think, why can’t where you live be cool? I don’t want to mythologise a place – I just want to notice the small things in life and celebrate them.”

These romantic tendencies create passionately charged music that is full of emotion, the song itself being the most important part of the creative process, he explains. He describes how democratic Maximo Park are, humble in their consideration of what their fans like and expect. Smith recalls their DIY roots, creating their first seven-inch singles and giving them to record shops. They have always considered themselves music fans first. “Even before we were signed and before we put out our first record we would always ask, you know, is the song good? Does it make us feel alive?”

Given the democratic process Maximo Park abide by, it is not surprising that members might feel compelled to strike out alone. Alongside preparing for these upcoming tour dates and releasing their fifth album Too Much Information in early 2014, Smith has been working on his second solo project, Contradictions, which has taken a long four years to perfect. Unlike his previous effort Margins, this project was more of a collaborative effort with the band members who helped him on the first, which he coined The Intimations. Striving for a more upbeat vibe than his last work, he looked more outwardly in terms of his lyrics and was more ambitious musically.

The feel of the album, which Smith identifies as summery and romantic, is defined by its luminosity. It owes much to the influences of some of his favourite bands such as The Lemonheads and The Go-Betweens, both displaying that uneasy balance between light instrumentation and dark, grungy vocals. “That’s the beauty of working with the other guys. I would come up with stuff I wouldn’t have originally dreamed of. The bulk of it was still written in my bedroom, just me and a guitar, but then I’d just add as many layers as possible.”

The constraints of being in such a successful band for an artist such as Smith are clear – certain goals are established and certain limits are made clear. Although not resentful of this, he admits that his solo work is liberating. “With my own stuff it’s kind of undiluted. I can indulge myself while I’m creating the music, which is obviously quite a freeing aspect of it.”

It is clear Smith needs to express himself through his solo work – an underbelly of emotion absent within Maximo Park. “That’s one of the reasons why I called it Contradictions. Each record that I make solo tends to contradict one I make with the band.”

With this there grows a fear that the album will not be a success. Maximo Park have a strong following, they know their audience and they know that unless they drastically change or wane, these fans are going to like their work. But Smith tries to not let this faze him too much. “If you’re proud of something and think other people might like it, then that’s the key to it.”

Smith explains commercial success is not, to him, as important as his art. “I’m aware, as we all are, that you need money to live but with music, because it’s such a special thing, that comes first and it always has.”

Maximo Park play tenth anniversary shows on 18 Nov and 19 Dec, Albert Hall, Manchester. Paul Smith and The Intimations play 3 Sept, The Deaf Institute, Manchester and 5 Sept, Brudenell Social Club, Leeds. Paul Smith & The Intimations – Contradictions is out 21 Aug

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Exposing the Contradictions

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.