The Maccabees

Lazy entertainers are not something The Maccabees can be guilty of being slandered of – but fans of poi and juggling had better look away now…

In May this year, with the release of their second album, Wall of Arms, the Maccabees transcended their epithet of just a good-time band with jaunty guitar riffs and some nice songs. Working with producer Markus Dravs, who has helped steer the sound of acts like Bjork, Arcade Fire and Brian Eno, they made a much more melodic album, full of mellifluously epic songs suffused with emotion.

I met the south London five-piece in an east London pub and had a relaxed chat with them while most of the band air-drummed and air-riffed to the Strokes’ debut that was playing in the background on the jukebox.

John McDonnell: What did you listen to when you were growing up?
Orlando Weeks: I didn’t really listen to music when I was growing up. I first got into music when I was 18. The Fugees is the only CD I can remember buying growing up, really. Then I probably bought Pras because it followed on, it made chronological sense. The only Beatles I’d ever heard was one BBC recording tape that we had on long school journeys.

JM: Wow. So you’ve had to take in a lot in a very short time?
OW: It’s felt like I’ve been doing a course on it, a refresher course – but I didn’t know about it in the first place.

JM: There is quite a difference between the sound of your first and second album. Do you still enjoy playing the older stuff?
Felix White: We’re in a position now we’ve got new songs to play we can only really play a few songs off the first record that will still stand up, you know, and they still work within what we are doing now.

JM: What if you play a gig and you’ve got people shouting for songs off the first album?
FW: You’ve gotta force what you want to do upon it otherwise you’re doing it for completely the wrong reasons. If you’re not proud of what you’re doing and you don’t feel inside that you’re being the best you can be it’s not worth it because then it becomes the lowest form of entertainment – like juggling or whatever.
OW: I don’t think juggling’s the lowest form of entertainment. Either hacky sack or poi is the worst form of entertainment ever. Entire generations have been lost to fire poi.
Hugo White: I watched a guy doing poi at Kings of Leon at T in the Park, not even watching the band, just doing it the whole time.
OW: It’s one step away from setting yourself on fire.

JM: Do you think the influence of Arcade Fire on the second album has been overblown?
FW: It’s a compliment. It’s slightly lazy journalism but at the same time it’s not something we’re gonna get offended about.
OW: I think they’re one of the best bands in the world and they nail the whole idea of everything working for each other and not requiring there to be solos. The band is a unit and it sounds like a unit.

JM: Why is Mat Horne in the “No Kind Words” video? I’m presuming he’s a fan of the band?
OW: We’ve known him for three or four years. We met him the first time we played with Interpol and we’ve been mates ever since. We needed someone in the video who could have camera presence, and he’s definitely got that.

JM: Did he cut his fringe totally straight especially for the video?
OW: I think he had it done for Gavin & Stacey.

JM: I thought he’d done it especially to tie in with the symmetrical theme of the video.
Sam Doyle: Let’s say he did.
HW: The director in Gavin & Stacey was like, “Why have you got that haircut?” And he was like, “I’ve got to, man. It’s for the Maccabees.”

JM: I love the story about your great-grandparents on Seventeen Hands, Orlando. Is your family life and your past something you enjoy writing about?
OW: It’s something that I’m more informed on than anyone else. No one can call me out on it. Also, every family has good family stories, so why not tell mine? I had this Cornish guy, 200 years ago, who sold all his farming equipment and went to South Africa to mine for diamonds so that when he’d made enough money he could buy himself a merry-go-round and then bring it back and be part of a travelling circus. The day before he came back – I have the letter in my room – he started saying goodbye because he’s dying of malaria and he’s signing away the rights to the diamonds he’s collected. People have these stories in their lives and they never get used. They’re amazing things.

Photography: Ben Rayner
WORDS John McDonnell

A full version of this article first appeared in Wonderland #19, Sep/Oct 2009