The Maccabees, Posed. NME.

The Maccabees’ Orlando Weeks on suntans, South London and stripping things back

It’s been a monumental year for South London five-piece The Maccabees. Their fourth album – by far their most successful to date – has seen them garner widespread acclaim, culminating in a UK #1 and a debut slot at Glastonbury, to name but two of their recent accolades. I spoke to a contemplative Orlando Weeks (vocals, guitar) ahead of the band’s Australian shows (principally Falls Festival and Southbound Festival) in January. Their success, it seems, is no fluke. And they’ve the marks to prove it.

It was a long time coming, this album, but you’d have to agree that it was worth it, wouldn’t you?

Yeah, it was a long time coming, but not an awful lot longer than previous records of ours and I think, especially now that we’re getting to play to our own crowds, it feels like it was worth it.

Perhaps it felt like longer because there was more anticipation this time around.

I think there was a bit of that, and I think there was a bit of us being in our own place which meant that we didn’t break up the process. We kind of stuttered, to begin with; we did an awful lot of work which we then decided wasn’t right. We had to scrap a lot of stuff and just for morale that was kind of a kick in the teeth.

It must be very difficult to forge on with an album after having to scrap so much work. What do you think the problems were, initially?

We’d done an awful lot of touring and I think we felt like we were playing well, but I don’t think that necessarily translated into writing well. I also think that we weren’t making enough of a different-sounding record; we were just sort of repeating ourselves. We always try not to do that.

It’s interesting you say that, because obviously in Given to the Wild, there were so many layers to that album; it was so intricate and elegant. There are similarities in Marks to Prove It, but also stark contrasts. Was it your aim to move away from the atmosphere of Given to the Wild?

Yes. Of course, the point for us is always to realise what was successful about the last record and not make the mistakes that we could hear on it again. One of the things we were conscious of is that we found it really difficult to translate a lot of that record into a live scenario. In retrospect, it feels like we hid behind a lot of stuff on Given to the Wild, so we wanted to strip it back a little bit. Personally, I wanted to not sit in so much reverb, and not triple check and double check. That became a kind of general rule, for everyone to try and reign in the layering and be a bit more decisive and commit to sounds or melodies or whatever, so it could feel less lush.

Where exactly does the phrase ‘marks to prove it’ fit in?

It was a phrase that I’d written as part of a bunch of lyric ideas. I’d been walking through one of the parks on the way home from the studio. We have very few days where everyone feels like they’ve sacked work off and gone and sat in the park and tried to get a suntan, but it was one of those days, and just seeing how people were desperately trying to get a memento of that day. It made me think about how people used to treat tans as a kind of status symbol. I remember especially when I was at school, kids would come back and the fact that they had a watch strap tan mark was evidence of the glamour of their holiday. That [made me] think about all the other things that people do – that they wear – as a kind of status symbol, and then all the things that we do nowadays that are examples or proof of our lifestyle.

Can you tell me a bit more about Elephant & Castle, the suburb where your studio is located?

I think to a lot of people it does sound pretty exotic, and I think it’s probably far less exotic than the name suggests. It’s an odd place because it’s really central and is in the process of being made to feel like the rest of central London, but for a long time it escaped that fate. It’s holding on to a unique identity; it’s still got some pretty crummy shops and it’s got a market where you can get some pretty good fruit and veg, but they also do a good line in mobile phone chargers that definitely aren’t of any kind of authentic origin. It’s got a certain character that only comes with being a bit neglected.

In October you released ‘Elephant Days’, a feature-length documentary about Elephant & Castle. Was that an effort to encapsulate how you feel about its changing identity?

The film spans the entire time we were making the record, so it took almost three years for the guys that made it (filmmakers James Caddick and James Cronin) to finish it. It was a little about trying to capture an area that was going through change. I would add that not necessarily all of those changes are going to be bad; it’s probably wanted investment but maybe it’s not the investment that it needs.

Anyway, the film isn’t really about Elephant & Castle, particularly – and that’s true of the record as well. That was just where we were and the point that we were all trying to make to ourselves was that an area like Elephant & Castle, which doesn’t have a fantastic reputation, would have plenty of material and inspiration for whatever we needed. The film in the end is about people trying to make something that they’re proud of, whether that be boots, or how far they can progress in a tournament, or how they impact on their area. It could have been [set] anywhere that has one strapline description that undermines its complexity.

You can catch The Maccabees live at Falls or Southbound over New Year’s, or at these two sideshows:

Mon 4th Jan – Metro Theatre, Sydney

Wed 6th Jan – 170 Russell, Melbourne