The Maccabees broke through in the wave of indie bands in the mid-noughties with their youthful debut, Colour It In, and its follow-up, Wall Of Arms. It was a moment in British music that has been chastised in recent years but remains a potent jumping-off point for some of the island’s richest veins of artistic creation, many of which are still being mined to this day. The two albums proved that alongside sharp pop sensibilities and a sense of reckless freedom that only youth can provide, The Maccabees were a band not to be lumped in as ‘landfill indie’. Success and plaudits arrived at their feet, but it was the group’s grandiose third album, Given To The Wild, released this week in 2012, that would raise the stakes further and catapult the group to the top of the pile.
It only feels like yesterday that The Maccabees were preening the record with the lead single, ‘Pelican’, which piqued interest and signalled a new intriguing direction for the group, one that included the mainstream of pop culture more than ever before. Before this record, the angular group were unfairly lumped in with the myriad of other outfits they shared the muddy festival stages with, artists like Good Shoes and Hot Club De Paris, who delighted dancefloors but rarely broached the space beyond pilled-up joy. Then Given To The Wild came along and spectacularly proved wrong those who dared to underestimate the band.
The album saw the band transcend into a new state of being, a new culture and a new perception. Of course, if it weren’t for their first two albums, then The Maccs would never have arrived at something as wildly ambitious as their 2012 effort, but there was something wholly different about Given to the Wild; it spoke of maturity and guile, consciousness and creation.
There’s a timeless appeal to Given To The Wild, and ten years on from its release, it sounds just as compelling as when we first pressed play a decade ago. The instrumental opening track blends seamlessly into the euphoric ‘Child’, carried by Rupert Shepherd’s driving bassline. From there, the group navigate the listener on a riveting journey into unexpectedly dark territory while maintaining a sense of intimacy throughout thanks to Orlando Weeks’ whispered vocal delivery.
Every track has ample time to breathe, allowing The Maccabees to create vast arrangements. ‘Forever I’ve Known’ and ‘Go’ are shining examples of their then new-found expressionism. The band were now truly painting their own masterpiece.
The sprawling closing track, ‘Grew Up At Midnight’, epitomises the reflective lyrical theme of the album as Weeks reminisces about the innocence of youth as he sings, “Sheltered in our own worlds, We’d watch the rain right through”. The song’s final minute is a fitting emotional goodbye to adolescence, which descends into utter pandemonium before coming to a soft close as The Maccabees landed at their zenith.
“I think it’s my favourite record, Maccs record,” singer Orlando Weeks exclusively tells Far Out. “I think it was the largest leap in terms of our own musicality. We were brave with it and went further than perhaps we thought we would be able because of the effort required to finishing it.
“Hugo (White), in particular, had to do a huge amount of work in sort of salvaging bits of the record that weren’t working. “It was stressful, but it felt warranted because what we were making was grander than what we’d made before.”
Guitarist Felix White tells Far Out he initially found stepping out of their comfort zone daunting, but he grew to adore the band’s self-produced experience. He recalls the project: “Given To The Wild was the first record that we didn’t put together piece by piece in a rehearsal room somewhere, with a gig being the main focus of the song. This terrified me at first, but when we started getting moving, I really enjoyed the patchwork nature of it all and being able to write music without the usual limitations of two guitars, bass and drums.
“I think it has stood up pretty well in time – in a strange place between the really atmospheric and the twitchy dynamics we had built into ourselves up until then. It was probably the perfect sweet spot and document of a band growing in confidence and deciding to record themselves, but without really having any idea how to do it. That’s usually when some good things happen.”
Likewise, the recording process at the legendary Rockfield Studios was also a joy for Weeks, who admits the setting made him realise what they were creating “was a big deal”, and the environment lent itself to their expansive sound. It was a room that allowed the group to grow more organically and far quicker than they had ever had the opportunity to do before.
Given To The Wild wasn’t The Maccabees trying to fit in with the indie-pop trends of the day, they were deliberately removing any pre-conception of what an ‘indie band’ could be. They were taking their art into a new world, a world which they desperately wanted to share. They chose to proudly operate on their own opulent wavelength rather than worry about chasing the applause of others.
When the band announced their split following their chart-topping fourth album, Marks To Prove It, they did so at the height of their commercial success. That left-field move alone symbolises The Maccabees’ unorthodox career and authentic artistry. This album and the band themselves should be rightly considered one of the most important albums of 21st century Britain.
The dust has now settled since Given To The Wild, and it’s unassailably a musical highlight of its era. While during their tenure, they did their best to unassumingly fly under the radar, it’s time to show them some deserved love and reminisce dotingly upon a true modern-day classic.
Return to Far Out later this week to read the full interview with Orlando Weeks ahead of his new album, Hop Up, out on January 14th.