The band who dominated indie discos, scored almost every break up scene on TV and captured the zeitgeist of Generation Y better than any of their contemporaries has returned with an album that is more compelling than all their previous efforts combined.
Given to the Wild is the culmination of two years’ hard work from The Maccabees and a glowing example of what can be achieved when given the creative freedom to do so. This album, unlike the two previous releases, allowed each member the opportunity to write on their own and, after a period of creative solitude, saw the band reunite to carefully craft their third record.
Taking the time to explore individual talents, inspirations and styles has been a gift to the Maccabees. “I think by doing it that way, it allowed each person to slightly more realise their vision before it was torn apart,” explains guitarist Hugo White.
“Everyone came with complete tangents but that’s what’s great about being in a band; it’s no one’s solo venture,” says drummer Sam Doyle. “You have to be prepared to compromise but also to fight – no matter how big a tangent it is – to fight your corner.”
On the first listening of Given to the Wild it’s fair to rely on Orlando Weeks’ trademark vocals to steer your ear towards the familiar. ‘Feel to Follow’ and ‘Pelican’, which has already been doing the rounds on TV, radio and social networking sites, showcase the Maccabees’ typically well crafted guitar hooks and leave you reassured that this release isn’t completely alien.
However, it’s also fair to suggest that the intro, which plays with swirling distortion, haunting vocals and moments of quiet in a wholly unexpected way, has been designed to throw the listener on the first spin. It feels like the Maccabees want you to spend the first couple of minutes adjusting to the surprise that this isn’t another batch of songs just like the eternally popular ‘First Love’ or ‘Can You Give It’. And that’s no bad thing.
“We haven’t made a record that’s like ‘woah, it’s blowing my mind, man!” says Sam. “It still sounds like pop music; it’s just a bit more adventurous pop music.” That’s the thing with Given to the Wild; the more you listen to it, the more natural it sounds. If you live with the album for a few plays, aside from falling head over heels in love with it, the new, refined sound of the Maccabees will grow on you to the point where it feels that this is what the Maccabees should always have been doing.
“We never wanted to make the same record again as we did before,” confesses Hugo. “We feel that this one is a step on and we’ve found maybe what we want to do a bit clearer this time.”
The Maccabees avoided listening to anything similar to the songs on Given to the Wild in a conscious effort to limit external influence on their creative output. Guitarist Felix White insists he avoided the radio to such an extent that he’s never heard a Justin Bieber song. But brother Hugo and singer Orlando Weeks both have and aren’t above offering a rendition of ‘Baby’. Sitting in a recording space previously used by the Jesus and Mary Chain, with bassist Rupert Jarvis hard at work in the soundproofed room next door, listening to the man who made number 19 in NME’s cool list sing the chorus of a Justin Bieber song is surreal to say the least.
Despite being self-confessed Londoners, the Maccabees are constantly described as a Brighton band. It’s a label that Sam doesn’t mind. Being hailed a London band can be restrictive, he says. “Fe’s right in saying we are definitely more Londoners,” explains Sam, who replaced founding member Rob Thomas in 2008. “I don’t think we’re a London band as such because that has so many connotations that goes with it – and scenes or styles – and I think we’re open to a much broader range of music.”
When Orlando left London for Brighton University, his band mates weren’t far behind, and that seems to be where the label stems from. “We had to go to university really to be able to rehearse,” reveals Hugo. “We didn’t have the money to do that.” Each member registered as a student so they could afford to rehearse without having to get jobs.
Pursuing a career as a musician isn’t always what Felix wanted to do. “I wanted to be a racing car driver. I’m still a little bit bitter about having to settle with being in a band,” he laughs.
With Orlando studying illustration, Felix choosing sociology, Hugo opting for product design and Sam signing up for film and drama, it is no surprise that the guys found it hard to juggle studying with the steadily ascending popularity of the Maccabees. Inevitably they all dropped out except Orlando, who was the only one to graduate. “Sometimes my head tutor asks for his son to get guest list, but he hasn’t asked for a while. Maybe his son doesn’t like the new songs,” Orlando jokes.
The Maccabees admit that they didn’t test their recent songs much when they were writing them, but they don’t seem to have ever worried that their legions of fans might not like their latest offerings.
They don’t seem to concern themselves about what the critics might think either. “Especially with this record I think, as ‘Land says, we’ve been so critical with it ourselves that we know it’s the record that we wanted to make so I think we’ll be able to brush off criticism a little easier because we know that’s what we wanted to do,” says Felix.
Speaking with the confidence of a man who fiercely believes in his words, Hugo says they were never worried they could lose an audience. “I think it’s definitely the best music we’ve ever made so in that sense, that should find an audience,” adds Felix. “If you start concerning yourself with other things, you’re kind of starting to make music for different reasons.”
“We can’t really keep playing the old set to please the people that liked it; that’s not really the point of being in a band. We did that for years,” says Hugo.
It’s understandable if the Maccabees want to step away from the likes of ‘Toothpaste Kisses’; the track that has become the sound track to pretty much every break up scene on British TV. “The worst one for me was in Made in Chelsea,” reveals Sam. “That made my heart sink.”
“It makes you think ‘we’ve gone off course somewhere’,” Felix teases.
Despite the widespread popularity of their songs, and ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ in particular, the Maccabees aren’t often noticed when they’re doing their own thing. If anyone does come up to them, it’s so rare “that it could be a coincidence,” says Orlando as he jokes: “If you go to an indie club, you’re quids in!”
When they are spotted, not everyone has something nice to say to the guys. “Once we were in Eastbourne and we were walking down to the beach and someone shouted ‘The Maccabees are shit!’,” Orlando recalls. “They said that so – I mean, I believed him – he really meant that.”
It takes a brave man to insult a group who have known each other since teenagers. According to their anecdotes, the Maccabees formed when they were in their teens. Orlando had been writing and got the idea of getting a band together after watching Hugo play a gig.
“Shall I tell the story?” asks Felix cheekily. Laughing, the guitarist relays the legend. “Orlando phoned up and said ‘is your brother interested in being in a band? Does he play guitar?’ and I was like ‘yeah he plays guitar. He’s slightly worse than me…’ I think I might’ve known a chord more than Hugo at the time,” he says, almost in an attempt to justify his youthful cockiness, as he grins at his brother.
Currently the band are working out how to play their record live and they’re finding it difficult. Their earlier albums were written whilst touring so, as Felix explains, the songs belong in a gig environment. “This time we were quite adamant that it is a record, it belongs as a record – something you listen to outside of a gig experience – so it shouldn’t apply to any of those rules really,” he explains.
With a few dates coming up in January the pressure is certainly on for the Maccabees to deliver songs that are just as beguiling on stage as on their album.
If Given to the Wild isn’t nominated for a Mercury, I’ll eat the CD that I’ve been playing relentlessly for the past fortnight.
Words: Laura Nineham
Photo: Michael Robert Williams
Stylist: Stephen Kelly