This past Thursday, The Maccabees visited The Fine Line Cafe on a detour from their North American tour with Mumford and Sons. The first thing I noticed was their experience. This was a well-rounded and calculated band that knew what they were doing. Many of their songs began slower or softer but they always built upon themselves. We were never left in wait for too long, the culminating resolution always came at the right time. When the band would let loose we felt like we earned it, but we still didn’t have to sift through eight minutes of stagnant melody to get our fix. They set up songs like an artist starts a painting. They began by establishing the shapes and lines, but once they built to the climax they had splashed color across the canvas and completed their full idea. Their sound was foggy and it vibrated through the room, but it was never harsh on your ears. Often times there was a melancholy tone that made you want to reflect, but the show never dragged. The set was diverse and fun. Playing songs from all over their catalogue, we got to see all around The Maccabee’s world.
Onstage the group was light and fun with the intimate venue. There was a certain level of comfort between the band and crowd. About midway through the set lead singer Orlando Weeks gave a little bit of background into the bands newest album Marks To Prove It. He talked about the Faraday Memorial and how the band had never fully appreciated it until they really stopped and looked. Weeks then said “Pay attention to something that has been overlooked.” I don’t exactly know what that means to the band, but I think that it says a lot about the depth of the band. Like their music they are complex and human. They are relatable and aren’t trying to shove philosophies into our faces. They are a veteran band that has been around for nearly a decade and all they are asking is to pay attention to some of the smaller details that may have been missed. It’s not life changing advice, but they are just trying to remind us of the wonderful things hiding in places you wouldn’t expect.
The Maccabees just finished a seven city North American Tour with Mumford and Sons and will be starting up the UK leg of the trip in Glastonbury. Their newest and fourth studio album Marks To Prove It is out on July 31st.
What makes The Maccabees, The Maccabees?
Before the show I was able to sit down with guitarist and backing vocalist Felix White and have a brief chat.
How did the Maccabees start?
My brother is the guitar player, and I knew Lando the singer. I was very good friends with his brother at school, so I used to go around their house a lot. So we knew each other at a pretty young age. When you are that age you have about 40 friends who would get together to try and buy cider on Friday nights, we were all in that big gang of kids showing off to one another. Then we were about 16 and wanted to be in a band. We were all interested in guitar music and fell into it by default really. And here we are 15 years later.
It has been 7-8 years since your first album, how have you been able to survive this industry?
It’s a long time to do anything. Especially with 5 people. I don’t know, when we first came out people said “oh another guitar band”. It was perceived to be too many guitar bands and now there aren’t enough guitar bands and somehow we’ve kept our own path. So, I don’t know, it’s about caring isn’t it?
That’s interesting, it seems like there was an overreaction to guitar bands.
Especially in England, there are a lot of people obsessed with guitar bands. It’s an English tradition. So there is a lot of burden put on the bands. But the answer in short is that we’re brothers, we are like family and it has just become a way of life and we feel like we are still getting better.
How has your music grown since your first album?
A lot of it is unrecognizable to what we started out as. When we first started playing we didn’t even know you could have tuners. We knew nothing at all. But we learn as we go, we just developed and started understanding the music in our own way. Hugo mainly produced, but we all produced our last record and we do everything ourselves now. It’s just like learning anything, if you care enough about it you learn as you go and keep yourself interested.
Tell me about your newest album Marks To Prove It?
We commissioned a film based in Elephant and Castle. Which is where our studio is in South London. London at the moment is being regenerated and gentrified for the most part. You’ve got conservative government knocking down council flats where lots of people have lived for generations and building up expensive real estate people can’t afford to live in, so there’s a big change in time. Not that our film is politically based, but we got a filmmaker to film 6 different stories about Elephant and Castle. It’s us, the basketball team down the road, a guerrilla gardener who lives in the area and takes it upon himself to garden in public areas, the gospel pop-up church, the Charlie Chaplin impersonator because he’s from south London, so we’ve made this film, and haven’t really announced it yet, but it’s going to come out with the album and our music soundtracks it. It sums up a lot of what the record is about, it’s about locality, area, our own studio and making it ourselves, but its also got to do with notes and things that seem mundane, like the area we are from seems mundane and grey and boring. Actually when you get in the layers of it there are some really special things. Everyone takes things for granted if you are there everyday don’t you?
Do you have any special or personal songs to you on this new album?
A lot of them, because I’ve spent a lot of time on it, but the last song is special to me, it’s called Dawn Chorus. When we write, we all write to more or lesser degrees so there is a big queue of music to go through and it can squeeze the life out of it, but Dawn Chorus is something I was kind of holding back because I didn’t want it to get examined the same way through the ringer. Last minute I showed it and Lando said he had a song for it and it happened like that. It was a relief, especially since it’s the last one on the album.
How does the writing process work for the band?
It started where we would write all together in a room just bashing it out and seeing if anything sounded like music. As we’ve grown and grown, everyone writes more at home. I tend to write lots of instrumental music and live with it for a bit and if I don’t get bored of it I send it to the boys and see if someone says “I like that one” then it starts. It’s life in Maccabees world. Lando will sometimes have a song with a few chord progressions and we will add parts to it and play around with it and put it into this world. The songs come from different areas, which is why it takes so long because it’s not a set pattern, but its what makes the Maccabees, the Maccabees.
What has been you most significant interaction with a fan?
It’s hard to say, for example I just met a mother and daughter who have driven 5 hours to come and see us and gave us a box of presents. That still blows my mind, we’re not going to play to many people tonight, so it’s like starting again but someone would care enough about us on the other side of the planet. When someone has cared enough and made that connection to our music, that’s pretty significant isn’t it? I find it moving really.
After the interview I ran into the super fans (Julia and Ashley) that Felix mentioned and we had a quick conversation.
What was your first encounter with The Maccabees?
Ashley: I found out about them on Tumblr and saw them do “Pelican” on David Letterman.
Julia: She called me up and said, “you gotta see these guys!”
Ashley: Ever since then they have been my favorite band.
Where did you drive from?
Julia: Madison, we drove about 5 hours.
What is your favorite Maccabee’s Album?
Julia: Given To The Wild, Pelican is my favorite song.
Ashley: I would have to say Wall Of Arms.