Within thirty seconds of speaking to Maximo Park’s Paul Smith, I decide I like him. A lot. His voice, though tinged with the tiredness that comes from being at the tail-end of an exhausting European tour, is warm, rich and visceral; prompting me to pull out the porn voice I reserve for either respected musos or paying customers. Smith has come a long way from being discovered by Maximo Park drummer Tom English’s then girlfriend singing a reportedly fantastic version Stevie Wonder’s Superstition in a karaoke bar, but despite the legions of fans and multi-Platinum album sales Smith appears to be one of those gleaming examples of a rock star that has avoided disappearing irretrievably up his own hype, which makes my porn voice that much more genuine.
Catching Smith on his day off between tours, Music Feeds queries as to his physical wellbeing in light of their currently grueling schedule, “The first night of the tour you really realise what it’s like to be back on the stage,” Smith laughs, “so for the last four weeks it’s really been a constant work out. I feel like I need the days rest and then I’ll be back onto it.”
I suggest a few stretches may be in order to ensure the band’s continued limberness, Smith assures us that won’t be necessary. “We’re a very supple band,” he intones and I swoon.
It is this suppleness that has seen them expand their horizons creatively on their latest opus, Quicken The Heart. “It’s a very energetic, upbeat album so it seemed like the perfect title.” Smith reveals. “I don’t think people want to hear the same thing again. You can always listen to A Certain Trigger or Our Earthly Pleasures if you want that sort of atmosphere but each record should have its own and it’s still a pop record for me. We wanted to make three pop records that each showcased a different side of what we believe pop to be. There is a sonic experimentation on this record that came down to working with Nick Launay, it’s something we wanted to do and we knew that he was the man for the job.”
The choice to work with uber-producer Nick Launay has some local significance, namely Sydney Airport, as Smith explains, “We did a festival in Sydney of March last year and a few of us had bought the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album Dig, Lazarus Dig!!! at the airport and we thought, ‘Not only are the songs good and allowed to shine through but the sounds are so fresh and live.’ Our first album was recorded as live as we could but you end up in the studio being more of a perfectionist. We wanted to try and do something a bit different this time and harness that live energy of a band playing in a room and we heard it on the Nick Cave record and also on the Grinderman record, so we just let him [Launay] know that we were vibing in his direction and he got back to us ‘I really love your stuff, send me some demos’ and he loved the demos as well so we were just very excited.”
Despite the change in modus operandi one thing that remains is Smith’s direct lyrical honesty, which he reveals is unavoidable. “I can’t help but write lyrics from personal experiences because they are the ones that seem to be the most powerful to me and those are the things that come naturally. I’ve tried other ways of writing but they just didn’t seem very good or very pure.”
Nowhere is this honesty encapsulated more than in Maximo Park’s frenetic live shows, “When you are on stage it is all about the spectacle and entertaining people,” says Smith.”And you know sometimes you end up doing something where you think ‘Ah that must have looked really daft’ but that’s what you felt at the time so you’ve just got to go with it and say ‘This is who I am’ and I think people respect that and whenever we play shows people seem to respond to the energy. When the crowd are that into it you go up a notch yourself in the performance and you don’t even know about it – it’s a subconscious thing.”
“If you ever get too big for your boots the crowd will let you know about it,” he suggests playfully. “I think we celebrate the lives of people just like us. We put on a show and it’s bigger than our individual personalities offstage but it is still something that is rooted in the everyday and I think there is a real empathy with our crowd.” And will this empathy stretch as far as our wide brown shores? “We’ll definitely get there before we stop touring this album cos I just feel really proud about the songs. Hopefully people in Australia will want to hear it live as well. We are making a lot of plans at the moment just trying to find out when and how we can afford to come but it will definitely happen.” Why Mr Smith, my heart is racing already.