Maximo Park are back with their fourth studio album The National Health. The lads have returned from a short hiatus and it is full steam ahead. They’ve since toured the US and have just wrapped up Europe, only to begin their completely sold-out UK tour before they touch down on Australian shores in time for the New Year. Lead singer Paul Smith had “Just come off stage an hour ago in Liverpool” when chatting about the band’s fifth visit to Australia.
MF: You’re quite regular visitors to Australia. What are you excited about this time?
PS: I’m looking forward to seeing Best Coast (at Falls Festival). The thing is, I never know when people are playing on the same day as us. I noticed that Sharon Van Etten is playing as well. I don’t know whether she is on the same day, but I’m a big fan of her latest record. Beach House as well; those kinds of American artists. I’m really into that sort of music, so it should be good.
We’ll be going to the beach! We’ll be putting our sunglasses on. Lukas went surfing last time we were here. It depends where we are and how close we are. Coming from the other side of the world, it would be a total novelty to be at the beach on New Year’s Day. You can count on us doing something like that: having a barbeque, getting a football out and playing with it on the beach.
MF: What do you love about the Australian audience?
PS: They do tend to go crazy! It never does you any harm as a performer… It takes you on another level. Our songs tend to have that reaction towards people. You definitely notice that the crowds are always up for a good time in Australia. We go around the world and play in a lot of different places. I’m glad to say the crowds are really good on a regular basis, as it’s an energetic style of music and the lyrics are about passionate things.
It is nice to come to a country where people know exactly what you are saying and speak the same language. The meanings of our songs are directly fed into the atmosphere of the shows. It is good for us just to be in Australia. It’s a cool place to be in and just hang out. It means that we are already having a good time before we even get to the venue. When the crowd turns up, it gets amped up a bit further.
MF: Tell us about returning for your fourth studio album The National Health after taking a short hiatus.
PS: We had a little bit of time off to recharge the batteries and to do other things as well. If you do the same thing over and over again, it’s only ever going to get tedious at some point. Rather than that happening and being a band that churns things out, it was always in our plans to fulfill our needs, whatever they might be. For me, it was putting out my own record and doing a slightly different style of music and playing the guitar, doing something a little different. It makes you eager to come back to the band, while again playing a different style of music and returning to upbeat positive pop music that we make. In a way it took some time to reconfigure ourselves and get back on the same wave length.
Once we did, we found that the music had spirit and energy, which you can hear on The National Health. It had a poppy element to it because we tried many different things and worked with different producers on the first three records. At the end of it all, we thought, “What unifies these things?”. I guess the thing that combines us all is all these catchy melodies with hooks and lyrics that people can empathize with. In many ways that guided us to the record we made. Those sorts of things come naturally to us.
This is our most diverse record yet. It flirts with different genres, but it still sounds very much like us, which is something that we really wanted to achieve. A lot of bands try to search for new sounds and it ends up sounding fake, but also a lot of bands stay the same because they are too scared to lose their audience, and they play it safe. We wanted to find a happy balance. I think The National Health has that balance that we were after. By calling it The National Health, it draws attention to people who are intrigued to find what it’s all about.
MF: How does a Maximo Park record compare with a solo record?
It was amazing just to be back on a stage with the rest of the lads. It was really nice to do something on my own and take things down a notch. Personally, I like lots of different styles of music… To sort of limit yourself to one style doesn’t make any sense to me. If you think you’ve got something to share with the world that you think is good, then you should put it out. I think that’s the overall impulse behind all of our releases, whether it is solo or a band. Do we think somebody else is going to like this? Is it self–indulgent or will it move people? It might have an impact on their day to day lives and their listening habits.
When we were on tour for our third album, I thought, “I have a few songs that I’d quite like to put out and it would be nice to focus on singing and do something quieter.” When I was out doing my solo album, I thought, “It would be quite nice to be back on stage with the lads and to be making this upbeat music while playing to big crowds and getting everyone excited.” In a way, I’ve had my cake and eaten it (laughs). It’s quite nice to have the option to do that because some bands break apart and they don’t fulfill all of their artistic requirements.
People have needs that get put aside and it ends with break-ups. It is a privilege to make records by myself and with the band. When you are doing something by yourself, there is a great freedom to it and when you collaborate there is something amazing about that…where you get stuff that you would never have thought of. Everybody in our band has an input, and that’s an amazing thing because you end up with this new thing that is like fresh air. You can hear that on The National Health and hear that we’re very excited to be in the same room making music together. For as long as that continues, we’ll keep making records.
MF: How did your first single Hips and Lips come about?
It is the song that has the most extreme electronic influence on it. We wanted to make a statement that this is a strong song and it is a bit different. After four records, it’s inevitable that people are going to say “I’ve heard a couple of their songs and I know what Maximo Park are all about.” I’d like to think that we’re always evolving and that there are more sides to the band that people don’t hear on a single or a YouTube clip.
It was a way of getting people’s attention and saying “Check this out!” It’s a new thing; it does not sound like anything we’ve done before and yet we have synthesizers on all of our records. It’s still me singing, but at the same time I’m stretching myself into a different register. We worked with a producer called Amir Amor, who is from Rudimental. They have just had a number one in the UK with a song called Feel the Love. It does feel like new territory, but at the same time it says Maximo Park are back and hopefully better than ever.
MF: The first song on the album When I Was Wild is quite a change of direction for Maximo Park. What made you come up with a ballad?
PS: We’ve never done anything like it before. We were in the studio with Gil Norton, who produced most of the record. He heard that song when it was a bit longer. He asked “Why don’t you just keep it pretty short and have it as an introduction?” The opening line is ‘Do I really need to give an introduction / Must the artist bleed over the new production’, so as soon as he suggested it, it seemed like the most obvious thing in the world. The lyrics were about an introduction to something and were self–referential about what you should do when you are writing a song and how people express themselves.
In the end it felt very natural when we were recording it. I thought that it was good and would hopefully stand out to people. The National Health explodes after that and becomes a call to arms, but hopefully people have had this moment of reflection before and will have a think what Maximo Park are all about. It’s a good way to start the album and grabs your attention.
MF: What inspired The National Health?
One of the things that is a key to our band is that we don’t just like one style of music. All five of us have strong ideas about how the music is going to sound. It leads to a lot of discussions and different things being thrown into the mix. When I listen to some songs from The National Health, Hüsker Dü and punk stuff that Dunc might listen to quite a lot of (come to mind). Bob Mould and Sugar, that kind of idea of writing a really catchy song with a hook and making it aggressive.
Having that punk influence and then something like Hips and Lips, it feels influenced by UK band Factory Floor. Robotic, slightly punk, but it is more dance music in house and techno. Again, Lukas listens to a lot of techno; he’s more of an active clubber and has been all of his life, probably more than we have in terms of going out and listening to dance music. On Unfamiliar Places, towards the end of the album, I can hear Felt and The Sundays, along with American bands influenced by them: laid back sort of stuff. Anything goes really, kind of like what becomes of the broken-hearted; this euro – synth in the chorus seems to work.
Our influences are far and wide. Songs like Banlieue, when I was doing a kind of rap for that. I like hip hop music and it’s nice to add certain things into the mix that people wouldn’t expect from Maximo Park. It still sounds like our traditional influences like Life Without Buildings, who we’ve always said that we’ve loved and still put them on every now and then and go crazy on the tour bus.
MF: What can we expect at your upcoming festival appearances and sideshows?
PS: With the festivals, you’ll be getting more of a best of Maximo Park. (It will be) a shorter set that is a big spread from all of our albums. But at the sideshows, we’re going to try and focus on The National Health. We’ll be playing longer shows so that we can slot in the old favourites. Because it’s our own show, we have the time to play those songs and throw in a B–side here and there that only the sort of hardcore fans will know. Hopefully other people will think “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!” People can expect the same energy that we always provide, the excitement and showmanship that we put on, but a blend of all four records with the focus being on The National Health.
The National Health is out now.
Maximo Park Australian Tour
Sunday, 30th December
Peats Ridge Festival, Glenworth Valley
Monday, 31st December
Pyramid Rock Festival, Phillip Island
Wednesday, 2nd January
Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Thursday, 3rd January
The Hi-Fi, Sydney
Saturday, 6th January
Southbound Festival, Busselton