Image by Steve Gullick
It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that -to put it politely – the world is a bit of a mess right now, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s found themselves using music as a coping mechanism more than ever. Perfect timing, then, for Maxïmo Park to announce a tour and to release their new album, Risk To Exist – a direct reaction to recent political events, with the band’s usual hook-laden melodies this time accompanied by words of compassion and empathy.
“Obviously you can’t ignore what’s going on in the world,” says frontman Paul Smith. “You can either choose to escape from it in the music, which is a perfectly valid response, or you can choose to engage with it and write songs where people can connect with it on that sort of social level. It started to happen that way and we decided to just go with it. Sometimes you can just drift a bit so we tried to combat that by writing down exactly what we wanted from the record after we’d written a few songs. There were quite a few songs that were similar to other things that we’d done in the past – very upbeat, kind of quite punky, about matters of the heart – and yet we’d written these other songs that had more space in them, that were a bit groovier and some of the lyrics were a little bit more political and a bit more explicit.”
The band began writing the album in 2015 and then spent three weeks in 2016 in Chicago recording it in Wilco’s studio. Paul explains: “We’d rehearsed like mad in order to record live and just have the feel of our band captured on a record for the first time, because although we use live takes for the basis for all of our records, we’ve always spent a lot of time layering and trying to get something different to our live shows. So it was nice to go and do different things not just in the lyrics – to be a bit more explicit politically – but also the music as well.”
Despite being an angry response to the current state of world affairs, the album is also something of a rallying cry; a call for solidarity, empathy and – perhaps most importantly – hope? “Absolutely,” says Paul. “If you don’t have hope then what’s the point, you know? I think there’s always light at the end of the tunnel in our songs. A lot of them over the years have been melancholy in a way, but there is that hope. The music has always been ultra-positive in our band. We try and cram in as many hooks as we possibly can and that’s our trademark.
The album is about solidarity and empathy ultimately and I find that singing about these things is about connecting with other people
“The title track Risk To Exist talks about the fragility of life, it talks about how important it is to appreciate life. Life is short; life could stop tomorrow, so enjoy it but also help other people if they need it. It might be your young son or daughter or it might be a friend in need or, in the case of the song, it might be people who are drowning in the sea. We’re giving the profits from the single to MOAS, the charity that goes out into the Mediterranean to help people who are floating on these terrible, un-seaworthy crafts. Something like that is one thing that we can do to help as a band because it’s a very real problem that the world has to face up to, because it’s not going to stop.
“So it felt like something very pertinent to talk about. The song The Reason I Am Here is about staying where you are to help that place or that person and not running away from things when they’re bad. It starts with the line ‘We will have to make a journey through the eyes of idiots where every problem in the country is blamed upon the immigrants’. It says, look, we’re going to have to tolerate some of this crap but we can and we can get through it together, you know? The album is about solidarity and empathy ultimately and I find that singing about these things is about connecting with other people and not ignoring a problem and I think hopefully when we play the concerts people will have a dance and a think at the same time which has always been one of the aims of the band.”
Which brings us neatly back to where we started, as Paul agrees that listening to music can be vital to coping with hard times – both personal and political: “It makes me feel like there are people out there who understand,” he says, “and I think that’s what songs do. You listen to a band or a pop song and think ‘that’s about me’ or ‘I understand that’. If it’s good, something will come out and attach itself to your brain.
“And obviously, as you say, to make music in times of trouble is very positive, but I think from my own point of view just to be a good person is something that you don’t necessarily hear from people in rock and roll bands.” He laughs: “It’s not cool to be nice, you know, so I’m happy to be not cool! And to continue to try and do good things for people, to make great music that’s visceral and empathetic and exciting and melodic. That’s one of the things that marries us together – we love making pop songs in our band and we still feel like they have something to offer the world.”
Maxïmo Park release Risk To Exist on Friday 21st April and play Newcastle O2 Academy on Saturday 6th May.