It’s over 15 years since Maximo Park made their visceral arrival with the release of their debut record A Certain Trigger and, throughout this time, a lot has changed for the group. Only three members from the original five remain, and they are different souls to those who began all those years ago with family life now taking priority. This maturity reflects across all over their latest effort, Nature Always Wins, an album that has been four years in the making and has taken an arduous journey to completion.
The band from the north-east are preparing to release their upcoming seventh album on February 26th through Prolifica. On the record, Maximo Park succeeds in proving their doubters wrong and emphatically distil claims that the band are now part of the so-called ‘indie landfill’ days of the mid-noughties. In contrast, Maximo Park just happened to be a guitar band who were doing their own thing during a prolific indie period, soon finding themselves caught in the trappings of a scene. Only a handful of groups from that period are still operating now and, on Nature Always Wins, Maximo show us why they survived and continue to flourish.
On every record, Maximo Park has continued to provide an album that offers a progression from the last. Led by the effervescent Paul Smith who oozes energy and vigour, the album is full of introspective, featuring inward-looking lyrics about fatherhood and a smattering of killer choruses which solidifies the creativity of their work.
Due to the pandemic, plans to record the album in Atlanta were halted and, instead, each member recorded their version at home over Zoom with Grammy-winning producer Ben Allen. However, the band weren’t prepared to let a global pandemic get in the way of them cooking up the record and thought outside of the box to create Nature Always Wins.
“It was literally a couple of weeks before the travel ban, and the lockdowns came into play in our country and America,” singer Paul Smith explains over the phone whilst on a break from homeschooling. “We were just about to book our plane tickets to Atlanta, and we were gutted we couldn’t do that. Then we sort of said, ‘Can you do it at long range? Ben, is that okay?’ And he said, ‘Let’s do a couple of songs and see how we go, but, I don’t see why not.’ Sure enough, we did those two songs and they went well then we just kept going through the songs until the album was finished.
“Me and Duncan were both in our houses in Newcastle,” he explained. “Tom was in Liverpool, and he was doing it behind the behind the glass with an engineer in a studio. Then Ben was on an internet hookup in Atlanta.”
While many bands would have put off the recording of an album until they could do so in the same room, Smith didn’t feel like that would be possible anytime and, understanding that the chance to work with Allen was too good to pass up on, the recording for the album started in April. The project has, in truth, gifted Smith something to focus his time upon when the world around him was turning upside down — a factor which helped keep the musician remain sane among all the turmoil.
“I didn’t even think about it like that, but, your right,” he explains. “I didn’t really want to write songs; I couldn’t even read on a night when, when it first sort of started kicking off,” Smith admitted. “I was just obsessed with the news, and you know, things were moving so fast, and they still are, with things like vaccines and new variants. It’s fascinating on a scientific level, but, on a human level, it’s horrifying.
“Having the record there to focus on was something that probably helped me through the initial stages of have been in a lockdown and having life change a little bit. I think now I’m feeling more negative than ever because our album is coming out. Usually, we would be out there talking to people in person, doing these interviews and trying to do TV and radio sessions. Obviously, the gigs being the most important thing for a band like ourselves, who pride ourselves on putting on a great live show and it’s one of the ways of spreading the word by playing the new songs to people,” the singer says with a sense of anguish.
As Smith admits, live shows are Maximo Park’s bread and butter. He has grown and solidified a reputation for his energetic stage presence, one that can fill-up rooms and main-stages all over the world but, when he’ll be able to parade back into a sweaty venue once more is impossible to say. Smith is pessimistic about when it will be safe once more for Maximo to play a show, and he’s not prepared to get his hopes up only for them to be obliterated into a thousand pieces.
“It would take a kind of Herculean effort to make it happen,” he said in response to whether festivals will return this summer. “To not have outbreaks and even when everybody’s above a certain age has been vaccinated, the virus is still going to be in circulation. I think the Reading & Leeds boss said stuff about quick testing and putting people in areas where they’re away from other people wants to be tested. It seems very out of the ordinary, but then we’ve seen our entire economy go into sort of the furlough scheme, and planes have taken out of the sky. Everything can change quite quickly,” Smith added.
Whilst Maximo Park has managed to cope throughout this crisis and count themselves among the more fortunate ones in the industry, Smith is aware that not everyone will survive these past twelve months and the government’s lack of care towards the creative industries has been a source of dismay for many. “I don’t think the government are interested in the arts,” he reluctantly stated. “Their economic situation says business is king, and often at the expense of the human situation. That’s the conservative ethos, sort out the top and hope that everything else will trickle down and everybody will benefit in one way.”
He added: “You only need to look at the recent news about the visa for working musicians in the EU. In the negotiation they said, we’re quite happy for this to happen, with a 90 day period, and Britain wanted a 30 day period. That was that, and they weren’t willing to compromise,” he deflatingly said.
“We’ll have to make some difficult choices in terms of where we visit,” Smith admits. “Usually, we would visit places where we don’t play to loads of people, like 300-capacity venues or something. We might just have to fly into Germany where we play to 1000 or 1500 people and festivals.”
Establishing an audience in Europe is paramount to making a career in music viable. The idea of this opportunity dissipating from a whole generation of artists could have a detrimental impact that will be felt all across the industry. Smith, like many working within the arts, knows that this issue won’t be a priority for the government until it eventually affects the economy.
“I think it’ll put off a lot of smaller bands, they just won’t be able to do it,” he painstakingly says. “It’ll even be difficult for bigger bands, as they take their tour bus over to save money on hotels, then you’re going to have to make calls on that. Bigger bands than ourselves usually take lighting in, and all that kind of stuff and there are rules about how many times a truck can stop within seven days. All these things that people don’t necessarily think about, they’ll all come into play, and it’s going to be a challenge.
“It makes us poorer as a country, culturally speaking. We’re shutting it off to other people coming in and sharing their culture with us. I think that’s a key thing that was maybe overlooked when we’re talking about going over there. British bands can’t export this product, but again, it’s about sharing culture and allowing people to mix instead of being insular,” Smith passionately says.
“But, they weren’t willing to compromise on the amount of days yet because of this anti-immigrant rhetoric so that they can say, ‘We don’t allow people in, we’re tough on immigration, and we’re tough on people coming across our borders’. Which just plays to people’s worst fears, it’s a very regressive attitude, but, doesn’t surprise me at all,” Smith adds.
The Maximo Park leaders has a progressive outlook on the world, and this gleams through on Nature Always Wins. He’s a 41-year-old father, and his lyrics profoundly reflect that on tracks like ‘Child of the Flatlands and ‘Baby, Sleep’. “I don’t want to be trying to run after this kind of version of yourself to recapture your youth,” he says. “I think there’s a there’s a kind of energy to a great ballad and there’s an energy to something with just one instrument and vocals.
“Baby, Sleep’ just has this instant pop hook going on for you to whistle along to with some deeper things underneath it and a kind of sense of humour. I think it’s just being self-aware as you get older and not kind of taking yourself too seriously,” Smith says about the key to the band’s longevity.
Outside of Maximo Park, over the last four years, Smith has stepped out of his comfort zone by hosting the Penguin Books’ podcast and collaborated with artists like Field Music which is another reason why the band are still strong today. These risk-taking moves not only make him a more accomplished and worldly musician, but it means when he returns to the familiar territory of Maximo Park he is a different man to the one that recorded their last album.
“It’s good to follow you’re on your own path from time to time, the different records that I’ve made get me more confident at doing different things and that confidence ends up filtering into the band’s music. I think doing all those other things broadens your mind, stuff like the Penguin Podcast put me into a different mindset,” Smith adds.
The album showcases where Maximo Park are in 2021, Smith’s honest lyrics juxtaposed with a sound that has continued to divinely mature with each of the band’s records. They are a band that aren’t chiming for the past and are happier than ever living in the present. Most importantly, they feel more fulfilled creatively than ever before and feel comfortable enough to take risks rather than the easy route and on Nature Always Wins, they reap their rewards.