David Renshaw

10:30 14th November 2006

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The Maccabees

There are two things you don’t want to hear when doing an interview. Number one is “Hello we’re Keane” the other was what Gigwise got when we went to interview The Maccabees. “How long is this going to take?” says their tour manager “About 20 minutes?” comes Gigwises reply “Can you make it 10 instead?” is what we get back. Pressed for time as the band are still to sound check we head backstage to conduct the interview. The dressing room that The Maccabees are sharing with The Dykeenies and The Horrors is sadly taken up by Faris Badwan of the latter band, so we’re forced into a room roughly the size of a cupboard with 4 Maccabees and 2 members of the Horrors who are busy straightening their hair. We’ll be honest, it’s all a bit bizarre but we crack on nonetheless.

The Maccabees are one quarter of yet another music weekly sponsored tour featuring the aforementioned Dykeenies and Horrors and headlined by the spectacularly awful Fratellis. If you believe the gossip then the tour has been riddled with inter band rivalries and ego’s the size of small countries in Africa. However, amidst all the hype surrounding the tour are The Maccabees, a band of five lads from Brighton who make wonky, literate pop music to warm your heart and have been winning over countless fans. Gigwise is squeezed into this small room with the brilliantly named Felix, Orlando and Rupert, quite frankly this hack feels ashamed by his dull name and briefly considers introducing himself as Tarquin but luckily thinks better of it.

The band are friendly and warm if slightly shy and not exactly forthcoming with lengthy answers but we enjoy a brief chat about Liverpool and debate whether Gigwise hates The Horrors (as both Coffin Joe and Joshua Von Grimm are convinced we do). We look at our watches and realise our 10 minutes is almost up and we haven’t even switched the tape recorder on - shit. Under the stressed glare of the tour manager we begin the interview.

Silence, not a peaceful silence but a fraught and tense silence. What could have caused this? An inappropriate question regarding The Maccabees mothers? No, we merely asked them to describe their band to the uninitiated. Lots of “umming” and “ahh-ing” later and we are still no closer to an answer, “How many times have we being asked this question? And we can never give an answer” says Felix “You’ve stumped us,” says Orlando, we had kind of guessed that much. As the band were unable to give an answer it’s up to us to briefly explain how The Maccabees sound- imagine a mixture of super fast, jerky riffs- a healthy dose of classic British sense of the eccentric and top it off with melancholic ‘sunshine and thunder’ vocals and you have something approaching the likes of ‘Latchmere’ and ‘First Love’. There you go boys, it’s easy.

So apart from a collection of names a school bully dreams of what made The Maccabees form their band? “ Just to have a bit of fun I think. We all knew each other and it just seemed like a good thing to do at the weekend. We started out as a folk band,” says Felix. Hugo disagrees: “We weren’t really a folk band we just used to play quiet music, I’d say what we play now is just louder music than what we were doing before”. Influences are hard to pin down when discussing The Maccabees so we asked what they listened to as youngsters- whose poster was on their bedroom wall. “The Clash” is Felix’s valid but perhaps obvious answer then Orlando pipes up with “When I was younger I really liked The Fugees, Tracy Chapman and The Cranberries. I still like The Cranberries”. Next time you are listening to a Maccabees track see if you can spot Wyclef Jeans influence.

The Maccabees

Hailing from Brighton, The Maccabees are joining the likes of Blood Red Shoes and The Kooks in putting the town on the map. Previously known for having a pier and being the home of Chris Eubank what is inspiring so many bands down on the south coats we wonder? “It’s quite a small town but there are two major universities there so there are loads of students down there and when they go out they go to see maybe 3 different bands who will all be different, people don’t seem to be interested in one strict form of music down there” is Felix’s answer.

“Your watch is massive” says Orlando in the middle of our chat about Brighton, regarding this writers time telling appendage, quite how to reply to such a line isn’t immediately obvious however we do insert that it is “a bit 50 Cent”. “And why does it have 3 little faces on it? Continues Orlando “Maybe when they all match up a portal opens and you can time travel”. This is all getting a bit weird but hey! At least they are talking now. “It could be like Bernard’s Watch” says Felix referencing an old kids TV show where Bernard had a watch that could pause time. This interview is beginning to feel like the old tour manager has been pressing buttons.

The Maccabees - First LoveAs much as we would like to talk about watches and kids TV we have questions about record labels and single releases to discuss, all seem pale in comparison but they are kind of important. So why did the band sign with Fiction (home to the likes of The Cure and Yeah Yeah Yeahs)? “We really liked the people at the label and they gave us the best offer too” says Felix. “We didn’t have many offers; we only really had two so we just went on instinct”. One of the perks of being signed is the ability to work with top class producers and The Maccabees will testify that. Having done their early work with Gil Norton (Pixies, Maximo Park) they have gone on to record their album with Stephen Street (Blur, The Smiths). We ask about Norton first, “He is just a lovely boy,” says Orlando “It was like the first time we ever did recording and he was so enthusiastic about us.” Felix elaborates a bit “His manager manages us as well so we got to work with him that way but I don’t think he would have done it if he didn’t want to”. So from one producer with his name etched on some of your favourite records to another, Stephen Street. “Again he was lovely and such a professional. We are so happy with what we came out of it with.”

One look at The Maccabees’ tour schedule looks like tour through Britain and Europe a town at a time - it’s relentless. We ask how the band enjoys playing live and how it shapes the bands sound, “It’s made us a lot tighter and we know our songs more now. We always rehearsed to play live; we never rehearsed with the intention of recording at the start. We believe that we as a band are as good as our gigs are.” When discussing a momentous occasion in the band’s short career, this year’s gig at Café de Paris in London is pretty much the unanimous choice. They sum up the fond memories: “It was all so unexpected. It was the biggest headline show we have ever done and we had been playing earlier that week to like thirty people around the country and then we went to London and there were a thousand kids waiting to see us. It seemed like we played to more people that night than we had done on every previous night of the tour put together” says Felix “and the best thing” Orlando says “was that Justin Timberlake was meant to be having a party there that night and he couldn’t get in. He tried to fight us with R’n’B but we said no, we’re not fighting - ‘cos you’re puny”

Whilst they do occasionally struggle for words, The Maccabees never come across as arrogant or as if they would rather be anywhere else. Freely handing out their rider, it seems a mixture of shyness and not wanting to come across wrongly is the reason for their short answers and monosyllabic approach to our chat. Ask them about watches or Justin Timberlake though and just try and shut them up. Later that evening they take to the stage and win over another town with their unique sound. It’s noticeable just how many people are buying Maccabees merchandise at the stand after the gig, they might be doing it quietly, but The Maccabees are taking over. 

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