Maxïmo Park’s Paul Smith: “It feels like nobody’s been held to account for the Grenfell Tower fire”

The frontman tells us about new album 'Nature Always Wins', fighting for justice, and his feelings on 'landfill indie'

Crumbling communities, burning tower blocks, manipulative phone screens; having railed against the horrors of Trump-era politics on 2017’s ‘Risk To Exist’, in 2020 Maximo Park have turned instead to the after-effects. “I’ve always wanted to reflect the time that each record is made in, and not hark back to anything,” singer Paul Smith tells NME of their new seventh album ‘Nature Always Wins’ – a record lyrically informed by Grenfell, the Bataclan and the effects of Tory austerity. Between personal dissections of love and parenthood are dotted snapshots of a country, and a species, in decay. Albeit speckled with glimmers of redemption.

“There are a couple of more nostalgic moments on this record, like ‘Child Of The Flatlands’,” Smith says. “Whilst it paints a bit of a sorry picture of Britain in terms of more obvious things in the lyrics like ‘the libraries are closing down‘ and ‘the island’s revolted‘, there is this yearning for a simpler time. Those places are still out there, you’re able to access them and you don’t necessarily need to be nostalgic. There’s enough hope all around us.”

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With keyboardist Lukas Wooller leaving the band to start a family in Australia and bassist Archis Tiku retiring in 2017, the band delayed work on the album until they could reconfigure as a three-piece (Smith, guitarist Duncan Lloyd and drummer Tom English) without compromising the poetic punch which has seen them hit the Top 20 with every album since 2005 debut ‘A Certain Trigger’. Originally planning to record in Atlanta, Georgia with Deerhunter, M.I.A. and Gnarls Barkley producer Ben Allen, lockdown forced them to put the album together remotely.

“Tom went into a little studio in Liverpool to do his drums and the engineer was behind the glass, as they say, and had to stay behind the glass this time,” Smith explains. “He was on a live link-up to Ben, so technology being what it is at the moment, a global pandemic maybe ten or fifteen years ago would’ve stopped us making this record in the way that we made it. It was a feat of technology and determination.”

It’s also a crisp, relevant and contemporary finger to those who’d blindly lob Maximo Park into the ‘indie landfill’: “I raised an eyebrow,” Smith says of Vice‘s recent list and the conversation around it, “I have to say…”

We caught up with Smith to talk about about new music and living in strange, strange times.

What did you want to say on this album?

Paul: “Last time we wanted to make more political music, but we also didn’t want to rely on the cliches of it being a punk record. We wanted to do something you could dance to but also think about what you’re dancing to, which is more of a post-punk or punk-funk sort of ideal. With this one, I’ve become a parent over the past four years and the other guys in the band have got kids as well and I didn’t want to ignore it but I also didn’t want it to be the central aspect of the record because I want the record to be open to all. It’s clearly about being a parent, songs like ‘I Don’t Know What I’m Doing’ for example, in many ways these are universal feelings of self-doubt that people have. I’ve tried to make it as personal and specific as I can without it losing that universal appeal, otherwise it feels too inward or self-obsessed.”

On ‘All Of Me’ you sing about “collecting perspectives” – have you been staying open-minded through these tumultuous times?

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“It’s human folly to want to try to understand everything and label things. Also it’s part of human nature to have your own little obsessions and not really look at the bigger picture and I’m as guilty of that as anybody. ‘All Of Me’ is almost like saying ‘Yes, if I have any advice to give to anybody else it’s trying to look at things from more than your own point of view’, which goes along with our key ethos of being empathetic and connecting with people… I’m an advocate of learning and constantly reassessing. I don’t want to coast along constantly, I want to challenge myself.”

How do you do that?

“I’m not constantly reading stuff and mining the earth for information, but even something like the Black Lives Matter movement that’s going on, you’ve got to consistently have a look at yourself and say ‘what’s my part in the world?’ Feminist outlooks, meeting my wife and spending years and years with somebody, it opens your eyes and you feel grateful that you meet lots of different people. Part of what this record is all about is saying ‘let’s keep moving on, let’s not stand still, let’s try and learn about ourselves’.”

Is ‘Why Must A Building Burn’ a Grenfell song?

“It is. It’s a strange song because it’s a hybrid of two things that I’d never really have thought to put in a song – but there’s a confluence between the two that just made it feel right. One of our merch guys over the years, Nick Alexander, was killed in the Bataclan attack. Pondering on those kind of things led me to think about the idea of what must it have felt like for people to switch on the TV and look at the grid of pictures of people who’d died in the Grenfell fire. Because when I saw his picture come up on Channel 4 news, it was really horrible and shocking.”

How did that make you feel?

“You feel angry and all sorts of different things. In some ways it’s a bridge from the last album, because the last album was about holding people in power to account for the things that they say and the things that they do, and it feels like nobody’s been held to account for the Grenfell fire. It’s a complex issue, but it does feel like it didn’t need to happen, and that’s a really horrible thing to say. It’s less about Nick but it’s about knowing that feeling of seeing somebody that you know on the news and just hoping that it’s not true, even though you’re looking at the truth before your eyes.”

Many fans were riled by Vice’s list of ‘landfill indie’ songs including Maximo Park. How did you feel about it?

“I felt like, as a band, we’ve tried to mark ourselves out from the crowd in our own way, even being on Warp records at the start and writing songs that have unusual words in them for pop songs or me reading a book onstage, which I’m sure wound up a lot of people the other way. You kind of think ‘OK, people are probably aware that we’re not part of this crowd’. We did release our records at the same time as this morass of indie guitar bands were around so there’s an inevitability around being herded in with that, but I was a little bit surprised. There’s bad music made all the time and there’s good music made all the time.

“I think the article itself was meant as a bit of fun so there’s not really any point in getting too angry about it. I think a lot of people who might have seen their favourite song on the list would’ve been infuriated because music is so personal and people fall in love to it, people grow up and live their lives according to the lyrics in a song and paste it on their folder at school. So I think what it did was probably tap into a lot of people’s youth and make people think about music that they hadn’t thought about for a while and had cherished. But it was just a bit daft really.”

‘Nature Always Wins’ in released on February 26. Maximo Park’s upcoming 2021 tour dates are below. Tickets are on sale from 9am on Friday October 23.

Tuesday June 8 – Bristol Trinity
Wednesday June 9 London EartH Theatre
Saturday June 12 – Manchester O2 Ritz
Sunday June 13 – Newcastle Boiler Shop
Tuesday June 15 – Sheffield Leadmill
Wednesday June 16 – Glasgow Saint Lukes
Thursday June 17 – Birmingham The Mill

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