It’s a bit early to start crowing about the best album of 2012.
But barely a week into the new year, The Maccabees have unveiled an album that will almost certainly dominate end-of-year polls in 11 months’ time. Not bad for a band who a few years ago were written off as indie also-rans.
Frontman Orlando Weeks is less surprised that five years after they released their first single, their latest album Given to the Wild has suddenly got the music press talking.
“We always joke that we start with a break,” he says of the creative process that has produced their third album. “Each rehearsal, we turn up, then have a cup of tea and a fag and a chat, and it’s an hour and a half before we do anything.
“Releasing the album just after the Christmas break is the same. We’ve shut down for a few weeks, now we’re about to get busier than ever.”
It was back in 2007 that the London five-piece released their debut album Colour It In – a spiky, angular set of songs, heavily influenced by the likes of XTC, Magazine and early Blur.
It was charming in its naivety – second single Latchmere was inspired by the wave machine at their local leisure centre – and perfectly enjoyable, but while many bands sound at their most exciting on their debut, The Maccabees seemed as if they were being held back.
The follow-up Wall Of Arms arrived two years later and delivered on so much of that early promise. It was produced by Markus Dravs, who had previously worked with Bjork, Coldplay and Arcade Fire, and was a real step up.
To thank fans who had stuck with them, the band gave away the first single, No Kind Words, as a free download. The move meant sacrificing a potentially lucrative chart position, but the band decided it was worth it. This time around there are no giveaways, but fans old and new who buy the album won’t be disappointed.
“With the new one, it definitely feels like we’ve achieved some of the things Wall Of Arms was pointing at. It’s to do with being more articulate,” says Weeks. “And we’re so much more confident now, we can get closer to the thing that we envisage.
“When we started, we’d say things like ‘We want it to sound watery, but with a bit more punch to it’, to a producer. Now, instead of saying that, we can ask for certain reverbs or delays, or accurately describe a mood. We’ve got our heads around production, basically, and have the confidence to finally sound how we want to.”
Given to the Wild was partly recorded in the band’s own studio, and partly at Rockfield, in Monmouth, the legendary venue where the likes of Oasis, Manic Street Preachers, The Stone Roses and Paul Weller made some of the Nineties’ best albums, and also where Queen recorded Bohemian Rhapsody.
“It’s not nearly as intimidating as I thought it would be,” says Weeks. “But it’s a very special place – incredible. The reverb chambers are amazing, some of the gear there was essential to this record. We didn’t want to go to a new sterile studio, and Rockfield isn’t like that at all. It’s a residential place, so naturally very homely and welcoming. We loved it there, exploring the old barns and stables and things.”
Weeks particularly enjoys the early stage of writing, with the band feeling their way around new ideas, changing things around and trying different methods. The Maccabees previously recruited Barnsley’s Dodworth Colliery Band for a full brass version of Can You Give It? and ever with an eye for detail, the new album took its time, with some recordings dating back two years. Weeks admits that for a long time it was a work in progress.
“We had this day in the studio when we were six demos into the record and people from the label came to see us who have stuck by us and seen us through from the beginning.
“Even they were scratching their heads and saying ‘Is this a concept record?’ We had to say they’d got the wrong end of the stick, but did agree the album had lost its way in stages, because we’d all been off on our own recording these quite worked-up demos and adding bits here and there separately.
“We all knew how we wanted the album to sound, but it meant after that realisation that the real job of making the record was piecing all these things together, and stealing bits from the demos that we couldn’t better. The trick is obviously not making it sound patchwork, even though it is.”
It’s a trick they seem to have mastered – one of Given to the Wild’s biggest strengths is its cohesion as an album.
Being so close to the album for so long meant a lack of perspective, however, and it wasn’t until the final version had been completed that The Maccabees could make any decisions about a title for the album and artwork.
Thankfully, a couple of weeks away late last year gave them the clarity they needed to plough on, and now Weeks couldn’t be happier.
“We’ll start rehearsing for the UK tour very soon. Some of the songs on Given to the Wild we haven’t worked out how to play yet. We didn’t want to concern ourselves with that when we were recording them.
“We’re going to be busy, but nice busy.
“We’ll get rehearsals done, finish the tour then go on to Australia, Europe and then play another set of dates in UK. After that, who knows?”
The Maccabees release their third album Given to the Wild on Monday, January 9 and they begin their UK tour at the Leadmill in Sheffield on January 21. For tickets call 0114 221 2828, www.leadmill.co.uk
The Maccabees’ story so far
The Maccabees are Orlando Weeks, Hugo White, Felix White, Rupert Jarvis and Sam Doyle and they all live in London.
Of the songs Weeks wrote for Given to the Wild, many were penned on a broken borrowed keyboard which could only play two notes at a time.
The band spent much of their time during recording eating Turkish food and watching cricket.
Although none of the band are religious, they came up with their name by flicking through the Bible. In history, the Maccabees were a Jewish rebel army who ruled Judea between 167 and 160BC.