The Maxïmo Park show last night—gig two of a two-city China tour—was a highlight of the weekend, despite the silly earliness of it all. (Friday’s 2 Many DJs show was a bust — good mixes, but no band and no dancing room does a sour Shanghaiist make — though the One Love party at LOgO salvaged the night.)
We loved: a passionate rendition of the addictively catchy “I Want You To Stay” and a supercharged “The Night I Lost My Head” (1:52 minute ballads rule). We mourned: the absence of “Acrobat”—while “Going Missing” is a fine tune indeed, we were crossing our fingers and toes for the A Certain Trigger closer. Ahh well, can’t win ‘em all.
The forthcoming second album from the Mercury nominees is slated for a March 2007 release and—before the big Warp PR beast kicks into gear—Shanghaiist is here for an exclusive glimpse into the sophomore effort of the Newcastle lads. Here are drummer Tom English, guitarist Duncan Lloyd and bassist Archis Tiku pre-show on the new album, stinky tofu and music marketing in the digital age.
So coming to China was a bit out of the blue for you guys, eh? You haven’t any touring activity in Asia, really, save the Bangkok 100 Rock Festival.
Tom: Yeah, it was. But we got asked by the promoter. It was their idea and, naturally, we were eager to do it. I guess they’re into our band. [Ed note – yeah, ya think? To bring the guys all the way over, we would sure think so.] They wanted to introduce the Chinese audience to what’s really going on in music rather than Westlife, I guess.
Wait, you mean Westlife isn’t the be-all and end-all of Western music?
Tom: [laughs] Yeah, uhm, sorry to disappoint, China, but I’m afraid not.
How did you guys enjoy Beijing? Tell us about the show.
Tom: Beijing was excellent, a very dry place, but it was a good show. And, obviously, a fairly hefty percentage of the audience was Westerners. I don’t know whether that was because of the ticket price or whether just the awareness of our name isn’t that widespread here, probably a bit of both. When we originally thought of coming over here, we thought it’d be great to play in a truly Chinese club. We know there are a lot of punk bands in Beijing, but not all the guys that go see punk bands necessarily want to see Maximo Park. Hopefully, because we’re here now and building our name, they will come when we come back. We just want to get a reputation for ourselves.
Does anything from the Beijing gig stand out? How was the vibe, the general atmosphere in comparison to, say, a Western show?
Tom: It was a funny atmosphere. The venue itself was really, really quiet. Not the sound system but the walls themselves were really soft, so they were soaking up a lot of the echo which gives a gig we normally play, perhaps in a bigger place, that real sense of volume, that real sense of size, I guess. So it was almost like playing at a TV studio It was really well lit as well, so it was quite an intense gig. Physically, we couldn’t just get our heads down and play. . [Ed note: It’s probably because China has yet to get right the live-music formula. In time, boys, in time…] We could see a lot and hear everything really clearly, so it made us sort of hyper-aware of what was going on. I could just be speaking for myself though, I don’t know.
Duncan: No, I agree. It just reminded me of early shows back in the UK. But that’s what happens when we play in new places. Because people are just getting to know the band, some people knew the words, some people were just listening, and some people were just plain bewildered at what was going on. But, by the end of the show, it was really good. A lot of the Chinese people came up to the front. And they were really cheering—that was really cool. They were enjoying it and seeing people smiling and having a good time. That’s what we wanted to see.
Did you guys get to poke around Beijing at all?
Archis: Oh yeah, we saw a lot! We went to the Great Wall. It was amazing. Really great. There’s a chairlift up to the top. So we saw the wall, walked around the wall, took a few photographs. We were quite silly that day.
Tom: It was a mixture of things—we were hungover and the high altitude…
Duncan: Yeah, it got messy, but we were just joking around.
Tom: We went a bit bonkers on the Wall.
Archis: And then we took the toboggan ride down.
There’s a toboggan ride down the Great Wall?
Tom: Oh yeah! Best. Thing. Ever.
Duncan: Yeah, it’s this little metal slide and you go all the way down.
Archis: Totally. It’s brilliant!
Duncan: You’ve got to do it!
Tom: You’ve got to lean into the corners, though, otherwise you just go up.
Nice. We’ll take the tip. And how’s Shanghai been treating you so far?
Archis: It’s been good. We haven’t had much time to go around yet, but hopefully we’ll get to do that tomorrow. We leave on Monday.
Duncan: Hopefully we’ll get to tour around tomorrow, see Shanghai.
Haven’t tried dog yet?
Tom: [laughs] No, not yet. And we’re not particularly keen to. We did smell some funny stuff today, though. It was called smelly tofu? Maybe sticky tofu?
Chou dofu? Stinky tofu?
Tom: Yeah, stinky tofu! [makes a face] That is one of the worst smells I’ve ever, ever come across.
Did you guys try it?
[An aghast] Archis: No! It smelled like horses’ breath!
[A pensive] Duncan: Probably tastes good though. What’s that fruit that smells bad?
Duncan: Yeah, that’s it. It stinks but it’s meant to taste quite good…
Tom: Yeah, I don’t know how anyone can make the leap of faith and bring themselves to eat it.
So the new album is coming out in March. Where are you guys in the process of that? You’re done recording, we assume.
Duncan: Yeah, it’s done. It’s just getting mastered right now in New York. So we should hopefully have it in our hands, finished, in December sometime.
Not a shabby Christmas present…
Tom: Yeah, to ourselves.
Duncan: And then it’ll come out in springtime. We’ll put a single or two out right before it.
Now, coming from Newcastle, you’ve said in the past that adversity and isolation, in relation to other bigger, more vibrant music scenes, served as stimuli to create. Those were driving forces behind A Certain Trigger. But now, it would appear that Maxïmo Park is no longer facing neither adversity nor isolation. You’re creating music under significantly different conditions now. How is this reflected in the new album? Can we expect a different sound?
Tom: Well, it’s all relative. Yes, that’s perhaps true in Britain. But there’s still a long way to go in Britain. And more so in America, in Canada, certainly middle America. I think a lot of people have maybe not forgotten about us, but put us in the back of their minds since two years ago when we first came out. So we want to come back and surprise them with what we’ve just recorded. And mainly with the live show—we’ve done so many gigs this year that we weren’t supposed to do—it’s made us come on a lot live as well. So we’ve got a few strings more to our bow now.
Duncan: We’re looking forward to taking [our music] round the world.
Was there a bit pressure going into the second record, since A Certain Trigger did so well critically and commercially (for an “indie” band)? Did you guys sit down and set a direction or a vision for this one?
Tom: Sonically, there was a lot of progress we wanted to make because since we have done so many gigs since we’d first recorded. There’s a new dimension to our sound that we didn’t have before, certainly in terms of heaviness and groove…there’s a bit more of a sense of groove. It’s really a more intense album. And it’s more varied.
Duncan: The thing on the first album was that we wanted to keep it really diverse, same again with this. There are some tunes that are rocky and punky, and there are some tunes that are a lot lighter, and have got a lot more intricate melodies in, different sort of beats and feel. We wanted it to be a bit of a journey, we didn’t want people to say “well, this album’s like this all the way through”, we wanted to keep twisting and turning to keep people’s ears going “we don’t know what’s going to happen next”. So we think we kind of did that again but, sonically, on a bigger scale.
How much of your success do you attribute to being a band of the digital generation? Maximo Park grew largely by word of mouth at first [“Apply Some Pressure” made it to the UK Top 20 with hardly any radio play], and gained popularity through MySpace, YouTube and the like. Today, you guys are still very tuned into that aspect of the industry, what with your member-contributed blogging, online diary, active web forum, and such.
Tom: Well, there’s a guy at the label that’s solely concerned with the Internet and our little bits on the Internet—MySpace and YouTube and everything—and it’s great stuff. I think that, together, the live scene and the Internet are the main thing these days. Whether people actually buy our records or not comes after that. It’s the impression you can make on the front line which, at the moment, is on the Net. There’s a huge and quite young audience that is growing now. It’s super exciting.
Duncan: Yeah, it’s a lot more open now with the Internet. I mean, if people just want to check you out, they can go on MySpace and listen to 4 songs. They don’t have to buy it, they don’t have to try and find it—because, I don’t know, but it’s probably quite difficult to get our record here—so it’s great for people that come tonight, like us, and want to tell their friends. I mean, when we first started, it was mainly about playing and doing lots and lots of shows, starting off small. But then, just as we were starting to get somewhere, the Internet suddenly became very important.
Tom: It was just really good timing for us. Live music just had such a great buzz just when we were starting to tour. So it couldn’t have happened at a better time.
[End of interview]
Such modesty. Good timing may help but, at the end of the day, it’s Maxïmo Park’s frenzied, energetic compositions and honest, compelling and just-vague-enough lyrics that won Shanghaiist over.
That, and the fact that Archis Tiku is just such a mumfert.