In Conversation with Maxïmo Park

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Photograph: Steve Gullick

Maxïmo Park burst onto the scene in 2005 with their Mercury Prize nominated debut album A Certain Trigger. 2017 welcomes their sixth album, Risk to Exist, which sets their inimitable sound to more politically and socially aware words. Founding member, guitarist and composer Duncan Lloyd explained all about the new record, being on a new label and the vinyl resurgence.

Risk to Exist is out this Friday, what can fans expect from this?

Well it’s probably more of a spacious record than our previous records. It’s definitely got more of a laid back approach to some of the songs. We wanted to strip some of the music back so that it felt more minimal, rather than it being the whole band all of the time. There’s definitely more of a groove based feel, we wanted to make something people could dance to as well. It’s also more political, I guess from the last couple of years with the world heating up, that’s come into the lyrics more. It’s not preachy, just looking at people’s relationships and trying to relate that to what’s quite a mad time we’re living in, so it’s more of a snapshot of right now.

A lot of bands go out to write politically charged songs. Was that your intention?

There’s always been a little bit of a political element, even like ‘Our Velocity’ was written in a time where a lot was happening. There’s always been a bit of that in Maxïmo’s songs, but it’s probably come to the forefront now. We didn’t sit down and say “we’re going to write a political album”, we wanted to write something with some empathy in it, almost like an escape for people. Music offers that and I think we wanted people to put it on and feel that it’s somewhere they can go. It’s sort of occurred more naturally, as we were in Chicago recording during all of the Trump and Hillary debates and Brexit so it all kind of seeps into how you feel. It’s more like a cause and effect thing.

You said the album was recorded in Chicago, do you normally record Stateside or stick to Britain?

It depends because we look at people to work with. The previous album was recorded in Newcastle and Sunderland, so at home. But this time around we were on a new label and we spoke to a number of people interested in working with us. We actually tried to do an album in London, but we had a small window of time and a lot of people were booked up. It just so happened that we were really into the Parquet Courts album, like Wilco and Beck, and we heard about The Loft in Chicago. Tom Schick had done the Parquet Courts record, so we just got in touch. It’s like a private studio that belongs to Wilco and Jeff Tweedy, so they have to vet you first and they were like “yeah, you can come over” [laughs]. We didn’t have to bring any instruments, they had everything there so we just turned up. So things unfold and we see who’s around.

The new album is called Risk to Exist, what meaning does that have as a title?

Well it was originally when we wrote the song, I remember sending the music to Paul and a lot of stuff was happening, particularly with a lot of refugees trying to get to Europe across the Mediterranean, and children were in desperate situations and awful positions just because they’re trying to escape. So it’s about empathy, people are just trying to survive and have a better life.

You mentioned that the musical styles are more varied, such as The Hero having a disco vibe to it. Why is that?

With a few of them we just imagined trying to move to the songs, and the pace just becomes a bit disco-y. We listened to stuff like Prince, or less obvious stuff like the Fatback Band. Everyone’s kind of into that funk and soul side, when we’re travelling we’re listening to all kinds of stuff so that slips in. We’ve always wanted to have something with a little bit of that feel to it. I know Lukas [Wooller, keyboardist] was listening to Chaz Jankel, Ian Dury, the stuff you can move to and we wanted to incorporate that.

My personal favourite so far is What Equals Love? What is that song about?

It’s about questioning stuff still, but we wanted to put a song in that was less political and more about the myth that love is. You’d have to ask Paul about any deeper meaning, but it’s all about confusion when people get together. It’s quite a simple pop song and we wanted to try and write a very simple message. Some songs have more of a depth and the lyrics go a little bit further, and you can choose whether you want to think about that or not. With this and songs like ‘Going Missing’ there’s something more direct to leave it quite open for people to make what they want of it. It came along very naturally on the guitar. We didn’t want to overload it. We played a lot of the record live, so you can feel the band playing together and have it like the sound of the band.

What have you got lined up for your upcoming tour?

We’re playing the UK in May, and we’re going round loads of places. Going to go up to Scotland, like Aberdeen, and places we’ve never been to before like Bexhill and Falmouth. We’ll be in Manchester, it’s quite a big UK tour, then we’re starting to do festivals and maybe some shows in Europe.

Do you think that the vinyl resurgence is making it easier for bands to express themselves at the moment?

Yeah, I think the vinyl thing is genuine, the physical object and all that. Maybe it’s a nostalgia thing, but it’s almost like a piece of art in itself when you pull out the inner sleeve and you can have posters and prints, it makes it more of an artistic thing. I guess MP3s and streaming is very throwaway, it gets forgotten. When musicians put songs together you forget how long it takes, but a record is more of a solid thing. It does actually exist.

Are you a record collector yourself?

Yeah, funnily enough me and Tom used to live in a flat and above Lukas in Newcastle, and we used to go down to a little market to get cheap vinyl, then we’d sit and listen to records in the flat. It’s continued to be honest since then, and the vinyl boom has happened which has put the price up to be honest. You can’t get as many bargains now! When we started we could get Television for £3 and I think it’s really good, and I’ve got a fair few records, perhaps too many!

You’ve been consistently producing albums for over 10 years, can you explain how you’ve remained popular and relevant whilst other bands from your era fell by the wayside quite early?

It’s hard to answer “why do people like us?”, it’s a bit weird! [laughs] Maybe it is being quite independent and not pandering to the norm. People can usually see through it when things are just part of a scene, or trying to look and sound like another group. At least when you see our band, that’s who we are. We’re not trying to put anything on and I think people do like that. They can see that we’re generally into songwriting and that we do care about our music. We try to keep prices low and there’s still a DIY aspect to the way we write and there’s still that side where we look out for our fans. Just because we’ve become more well-known, it’s having that connection with fans that’s helped us last as a band.