Maximo Park return next week with their fourth album, 'The National Health' (released June 11th). The record sees the band in typically charged form and is instantly recognisable to anybody who has danced to their indie disco classics in the last seven years. However, some of the songs are now laced with a social outlook, rallying against the state of Britain and switching matters of the heart for those affecting people on a different level.
We spoke to lead singer Paul Smith about his feelings on being in a band in Britian in 2012 and all the issues that have informed 'The National Health'.
How does it feel to be coming back with the fourth Maximo Park album?
Paul Smith: It feels good. A lot of bands don’t make it this far and we feel galvanised by making an album that we’re excited by. We took an extra year with this one and that album has benefited from it. You don’t want to feel like you’re going through the motions.
Is it harder to write a fourth album than it is to write your first one?
You can look at it two ways really. Having made three albums, in theory, you should be good at making albums. It’s harder for us to be in the same room these days though as Maximo Park have moved apart in terms of where we live. In the early days Tom (English, drums) and Duncan (Lloyd, guitar) lived together and I’d get the bus there to rehearse in a little room between the bathroom and the hallway. That has slowed us down a bit and put pressure on to perform when we’re together when it was not like that before. That extra effort has paid off though with that I think sounds like a fairly effortless album.
Would you describe ‘The National Health’ as a political album?
That’s a loaded question but I’d say there are definitely elements of the album that display my political leanings, however, a lot of the lyrics also deal with my own personal politics. How you treat someone in the street can often indicate which way you might vote and whether you call yourself a liberal character. A lot of the record is about taking control of your own life and saying 'let’s work together and pull through these troubled times'.
As an artist do you worry about the current government’s attitude towards creative industries?
You only have to look at the cabinet to see that. the language that comes from the government is very dangerous. Look at what David Cameron said about British film makers needing to make more commercially geared films in order to secure government funding. The thing is, film making is an art form, did nobody tell him that? Shouldn't that be obvious to an intelligent, educated man? I have nothing against the man's background but I find statements like that antithetical to my way of thinking.
You end up feeling marginalised. Obviously, a lot of arts stuff is not seen as important as getting the country back on track economically but if we live in a country without brave pop music and films then we'll be in a society that is poorer and squeezed in the most fundamental way. Without art I think society is impoverished.
With that in mind does it surprise you that more bands are not making their frustration known through their music?
Not really because the easiest thing is to say nothing. The guy in the corner looking cool in his shades is playing a good game really. Our music has always been emotionally driven, not in an emo way, but just being honest and quite funny. I think we’ve always felt that, if nothing else, we’ll always be honest and sing about the things that matter to us. If that doesn’t leave us in the cool bracket then fine, things like that always come in and out. A lot of people are just trying to sell records. We all want to survive but I feel some musicians take the lowest common denominator approach.
You would expect to hear more protest in alternative music at the moment though, wouldn’t you?
It’s very difficult to balance statements about the world with making good music. A lot of political music is plain boring, just too dry and statistical. Being told how to feel is the worst thing of all, everyone has their own mind to make up. ‘The National Health’ doesn’t do that, it asks a lot of questions and is a modern record that speaks of the time that we live in at the moment.
What does ‘The National Health’ say about Maximo Park as a band in 2012?
We made three records that were very much linked together and each with their own distinct flavour. Our first album (A Certain Trigger, 2005) was very spiky and pop whereas the second album (Our Earthly Pleasures, 2007) saw us extend ourselves and become heavier and then the third one (Quicken The Heart, 2009) was made quite quickly and stripped back with more of a groove to it. After making three records with three different producers we wanted a break and decide what to do next. One of the questions we asked ourselves was ‘What is it about Maximo Park that is different, why is it special when we’re together making music?’ and one of the things that came out is that we’re a pop band. We love hooks and always described our style as ‘popular music that isn’t popular yet’ so we wanted to make a sort of hyper version of what we’ve done before. It’s certainly our most diverse album to date but it has the emotional, melodic sensibility that is Maximo Park.
We love the obsessive fan that stars in the video for ‘Hips and Lips’ Can you tell us where the idea came from and if you have had any experience of that kind of thing in real life?
From day to day there are always strange elements to people adulation. We wanted to do something humorous because it seemed like a lot of our videos were more serious than we intended. It couldn’t be all out funny though as it’s quite a serious song. We heard that Thomas Turgoose from This Is England is a fan of our music and we approached him to make an appearance. He explained that he can’t dance but we explained that he is going to be a crazy fan and he was really up for it. It has a dark edge to it with an element of Alan Partridge in there too.
Yes, it reminded us of that great episode of Alan Partridge with his stalker Ged.
Haha, yes. “You’re scaring me now Ged.”
Alongside yourselves, 2012 will also see the return of Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads and more. Did you all meet up to arrange this or something?
Sadly no, I don’t have anyone else’s phone number. It’s nice but it’s pure coincidence unfortunately. I think all of those bands, and ourselves, could have released stuff last year but it shows our level of perfectionism that we’ve all kept at it and tried to make things as good as they can. We’ve all got a sense of purpose and determination.
Maximo Park's The National Health is released on June 11th.