As this week sees the release of his debut solo album and accompanying book, Orlando Weeks has spoken out about life after The Maccabees and what the future holds.
After the band played their final run of shows at London’s Alexandra Palace back in July, former Maccabees frontman Weeks recently published his debut hardback book ‘The Gritterman’ via Particular Books and Pengui – combining his three loves of music, story-telling and illustration.
“An ice-cream man in the summer months, The Gritterman’s true love is his other seasonal job: to secure the safety of treacherously icy roads at the height of winter,” reads a synopsis. “The turning point comes early in the narrative when the local council writes to tell The Gritterman that his services are no longer required. After this revelation we follow our hero on his final night of doing the job that he loves.”
The book comes accompanied by a soundtrack album recorded by Weeks and produced by Markus Dravs (Björk, Arcade Fire, Florence & The Machine), with the story narrated by legendary ‘The Fast Show’ comedian Paul Whitehouse.
You started writing and sketching again during the ‘Marks To Prove It’ tour. After such a difficult recording process with that album, did you feel like you needed something to reset yourself creatively?
Orlando: “I think by the time we got around to touring that record, I knew I needed something to make me feel like the chunks of time you spend on tour that I had wasted in the past – that I was using that time better. Writing on my phone or making sure I got myself into dressing rooms early enough that there weren’t 20 other people in there at the same time and just being a bit stricter and making sure I got some stuff done. By the time we got to the gig, I was feeling like everything wasn’t on the gig and I’d done some other stuff that was important.”
Where did the inspiration for the character of the Gritterman come from in the first place?
“I don’t know exactly where he came from, but I had a song about a seasonal hero and I wanted him to do a job that was unromantic and unremarkable. I thought the idea of road grits and hi-vis jackets felt very everyday, and that would help put the song in a better place. I just liked where that song ended up and I thought ‘I can do more in this voice’. Then when I started getting more into that, I started building a back story and thinking about what he looked like. I guess that was the beginning of it.”
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The unremarkable nature of his job is the exact opposite of yours as part of a beloved band. Was there a part of you that was craving that kind of life when you were writing?
“After writing or making things that don’t have a definitive yes or no, or a correct or incorrect, I’ve definitely spent time thinking it would be nice to do a job where there was a definitive, correct version of that. But at the same time I’d probably get very bored of that. It seems attractive when you’re stuck in your own brain trying to figure out if something’s good or bad. I don’t think it was to do with anonymity, I think it just made him a lot more likeable as a character than if he was seeking fame and fortune for his gritting. It adds to his character that he’s not seeking anything from it other than the purpose he gets from it and the comfort he gets from that purpose.”
How intertwined are music, storywriting and illustrating in your head? Do you see sketches or story arcs in your head when you’re writing music and vice versa?
“I worked with Marcus Dravs on the record. When Hugo [White, The Maccabees] was producing in the past, I would always end up trying to explain what I was after sonically by using very visual references. But then also I realised – someone said this to me in an interview the other day, whether I thought the drawing bit of my brain and the singing bit of my brain and the writing bit of my brain were three quite different aspects that I was using as different sounding boards to compensate for not having access to the collaborators. I think there definitely is something in that. When I got stuck or bored with a drawing, I would do some music for a bit, or if I was stuck with a music bit I could do some writing for a bit. Having those three things to keep me entertained and avoid getting stuck was a big part of making it.”
How much did you miss having bandmates around during the process?
“I think at that point it was nice to get to make decisions, mainly about how and when I worked – whether I worked really solidly for 10 hours and then didn’t do anything for a week. One of the things I realised with The Maccabees is that maybe where there’s the most give and take of working in a group is that everyone’s trying to work on each other’s schedules and timescales. That’s not necessarily the best way for you, but that’s what you’re doing. In The Maccabees, we ended up working 10am-7pm or whenever it was. It didn’t allow for a lot of movement. Partly because I’m a ‘fits and bursts’ writer and some of the other boys were much better at working for longer and constantly. So for this it was nice that I got to work at my tempo. I don’t think it was easier, it was just refreshing because I hadn’t done that before.”
There are some parallels between the Gritterman’s story and what was happening with The Maccabees, in terms of him doing his last night of gritting and you playing your last shows. Do you think there was a subconscious element of processing the end of the band in the story?
“It definitely wasn’t the motivation, and the thing that I think is relevant is that I’m very lucky that I know what I like doing and what gives me pleasure: to try and write things and make things. I love the kind of ‘something out of nothing’ thing that happens. Whilst the Gritterman character isn’t making things necessarily, he gets the same kind of comfort from his job that I do and he’s got purpose and that purpose is comforting. But I definitely wasn’t making something to mirror where I was at.”
Paul Whitehouse narrates the story on the album. How and why did you get him involved?
“I got an early draft of the book and a couple of songs sent to him through and friend of a friend. He was very sweet about them. We met up for a cup of coffee and talked through how he was picturing it. I felt very easy in his company and I feel very lucky that he wanted to do it. I definitely know him for being very funny and I expect people who know him will feel that that funniness is there somewhere, but it’s used differently. He manages to find a balance of tenderness and stoic charm that I was trying to find with the Gritterman.”
Have you got any plans to bring the project to life on stage?
“If it feels like there’s enough people that want to see it then we might well do, but there aren’t any concrete plans at the moment. We’ll see on that one.”
What else are you working on at the moment?
“Yeah, some other bits and pieces. I’ve got a new story that I’ve started and I’ve been doing some work on Young Colossus – it’s very early days on the second Young Colossus album.”
So you’ve been keeping pretty busy since the last Maccabees shows then?
“This took a huge amount of time just to get everything finished, but now that’s it beginning to take care of itself in a way. I can get cracking on some other projects and some new music and drawings other art projects.”
For more information on The Gritterman and Orlando Weeks, visit here.