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

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Paul Smith’s new record, Diagrams, is what he considers to be the final part of a trilogy of “bedroom rock records” following on from 2010’s Margins and 2015’s Contradictions. For Paul, the process of making music has remained fairly consistent, and the new record once again sees him working with Warm Digits’ Andrew Hodgson. “Ultimately I just love classic indie pop and there is a lot of Australian stuff I’ve been listening to which really embodies the sweetness and melancholia which colours this record.” Paul observes that he’s unafraid to look back at classic records that have influenced him. “I suppose I’m doffing my hat to things like It’s A Shame About Ray by the Lemonheads in songs like Silver Rabbit and Hollywood Hills. In that respect I suppose my formative years of listening to music have really shaped this record sonically. For an album that lasts 28, 29 minutes there’s so much going on, and it’s this kind of light and shade that I want to emulate.”

Although the new record has commonality with its predecessors, thematically it’s taking a different route. “I think I’ve moved away from the confessional writing of the first record. I still think that kind of writing is valid; I look back at Margins and I thought what we were doing was something with the vocabulary of an indie record that isn’t an indie record – there’s a lot of melancholy and space on that record that you wouldn’t necessarily get on a Maximo Park album.”

Musically, Diagrams excels in its moments of plaintive splendour; The Beauty Contest with its gorgeous harmonies recalls Low; Lake Burley Griffin lumbers along with the beautiful inertia of post-rock groups like Mogwai and Red Sparowes; counterbalanced by upbeat indie pop tunes like Hollywood Hills, indebted to the likes of the Go-Betweens and The Triffids.

I like escapism and I’m interested in what’s going on in the world

“I think of the songs on this record as fragments of stories or chapters.” Paul says. “There’s a song on the record, Around And Around, which is really inspired by the American writer Denis Johnson – it’s Middle America, slice of life kind of stuff. A lot of people have asked if it’s about Brexit, but I really just wanted to transpose this kind of narrative thinking ‘What if this was set in Teesside!’. Some of the newer songs are about Brexit, but I’ve tried to make it a little more cryptic – especially as the last Maximo Park album was so unambiguous. Saying that, I don’t think we necessarily need ambiguity at the moment, especially as there’s so much of it in the world with the way things are being sold and reported, experts are being thrown out of the window. I like escapism and I’m interested in what’s going on in the world, I don’t think the two things are mutually exclusive.”

For all of the other things going on in and around it, like most of Paul’s work Diagrams is a deeply romantic record, and romance remains a source of inspiration for him. “Much like The Night I Lost My Head, Hollywood Hills is a silly song about making the wrong moves in life and I think that’s something I keep coming back to.” He also returns to his teenage record collection, which makes for rich inspiration. “Cat Power, Dirty Three, Papa M, Tortoise…the people who really inspired me to play guitar like Jim O’ Rourke, David Grubbs, Martin Carthy; there’s a lot on here which is a love letter to that.”

Paul Smith releases Diagrams via Billingham Records on 26th October. He plays The Waiting Room, Eaglescliffe on Sunday 28th October (returns only) and The Cluny, Newcastle on Saturday 24th November.



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