INTERVIEW: Paul Smith & The Intimations | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s been a hectic couple of years for Paul Smith, to say the least. After undertaking a multitude of collaborative projects, engaging in numerous tours and planning a series of tenth anniversary shows for Maximo Park’s debut, it’s quite possible that he may claim the title of busiest songwriter in the North East. But life on the road certainly hasn’t held him back: much to the giddy anticipation of music fans everywhere, his solo sophomore effort, Contradictions, is set to be released later this month.

Whilst some may primarily recognise him as the epitome of energetic indie pop frontmen, Smith sees this new record as a chance to express his musical ponderings in an alternative, more individualistic way. “I wield a little bit more control,” he explains. “You end up having a lot of options when working with different people, but when you’re working by yourself, there’s so much to do. I always feel like I should be making three or four records at the same time, but it’s all elusive.”

Where the freedom of a solo project is artistically exhilarating for a full time band member, going it alone certainly has its share of problems. Utilising the example of similar issues shoegaze pioneers Slowdive faced during the conception of Souvlaki, Smith discusses the very real possibility of having far too much flexibility: “We finally finished recording, and were trying to mix it ourselves – that’s where we ran into some difficulties.” He jokes of the process. “When you’re working on something for a number of years, there’s just too much to cope with – you end up not being able to see the wood for the trees.”

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the record radiates a sense of modest self-confidence that very few musicians possess

Despite an arduous mixing process, the final product is nothing short of lyrically sublime and musically masterful. Lead single Coney Island (4th of July) is an instant mid-summer hit, combining lofty vocals, sharp percussion and dreamlike distortion to retain Smith’s zealous indie pop roots, as well as flaunting a tendency towards the experimental. As a whole, the record radiates a sense of modest self-confidence that very few musicians possess; each track differs greatly from the last, guiding the listener with ease through a satisfying diversity of sound, from harsh alternative riffs to stark glimmers of synth-pop. Those that stand out, such as thoughtful placeholder The Golden Glint and the gently dynamic Reintroducing the Red Kite, also prove to be some of the most prominent displays of Smith’s natural knack for vivid vocal imagery, in which he continues to shine as one of the contemporary greats.

Where it may be forgivable to assume that the vibrant nature of this record renders it less personal than his somewhat melancholic solo debut, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, it appears that he values his position as an emotive listener equally to that of his own musical authority. “It’s something quite personal, but also left open to interpretation. A lot of the songs have an ambiguous quality, where I can sing them about anything on any given night.” Sure enough, the ‘contradictory’ variation of lyrical influences laced throughout make it all the more complex and immersive: attentive listeners from the North East may recognise brief glimpses from an obscure plethora of lyrical scenery, while others may note that inspiration has been drawn directly from other musical sources. “I’m not musically trained in any way,” he admits. “I taught myself how to play the guitar, how to sing and write lyrics. So I’m always listening to new things, and trying to feel invigorated by music.”

In this case, being an avid listener has more than made up for a lack of classical training – after all, one of the most thrilling elements of this album is its utterly collaborative, home-grown nature. Written as both an individual and collective effort over the past four years, it comes as no surprise that the elusively named Intimations are in fact a vast group of accomplished artists, with Smith acting as a self-proclaimed “benevolent dictator” over the recording process. Although some contributions may only be brief, the staple members of the group keep a wonderful consistency: on drums is the incredibly precise Andrew Hodson of Warm Digits, while much of the bass comes from Claire Adams of gritty punk outfit Beards. Discussing the cooperative side of things, Smith explains a few of the links. “It’s a way of connecting with the lineage of North East music. I asked Wendy Smith to appear some of the record – the early Prefab Sprout stuff is something I still listen to on a regular basis, so for me to have her very distinct vocals on there is a good way of linking it to the past, and showing that these things are still relevant.” While it remains pretty clear that his own vocals, lyrics and guitar remain key focal points, contributions from the likes of Wendy Smith, Silver Fox’s Rachel Lancaster and Field Music’s Peter Brewis lend Contradictions an air of confident melodic diversity, rendering it exceedingly accessible.

This sundry combination of influences harnessed by Smith – be they from sessions with other musicians, personal experiences or simply found elsewhere – proves further that Contradictions is a record with the North East at its core, without explicitly being so. Admittedly, Coney Island on the 4th of July may seem far away from the streets of Newcastle, but the unquestionable feelings of deep nostalgia and musical certainty provoked by this album completely confirm its place among the select elite of truly authentic Northern records.

Paul Smith & The Intimations release Contradictions on 21st August. The band play The Cluny, Newcastle on Friday 4th September.

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