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Paul Smith Interview PDF Print E-mail
Written by Floatation Suite   
01 09 2010
ImageThis year North East favourites Maximo Park are Saturday's headliners at Sunderland's Split Festival. However lead singer Paul Smith has Sunday duties too, performing with Me And The Twins. As you'll be able to tell from the next three thousand words or so, he's rather excited.

Floatation Suite caught up with the Billingham lad to talk about performing at Split Festival on Wearside, his new solo album and lots of other stuff including his eccentric dance moves. Here goes:

FS: Even though Maximo Park are not supposed to be doing that much this year, you are keeping yourself very busy with your solo stuff...

Well it's something that I've just doing in days off, and I didn't really know it was an album until half way through making it. I'd recorded six or seven songs and thought I might as well record the other ones that I've got and see what happens. At the end it felt like it was all coming together and had a similar sound to a lot of the songs, and it was certainly more leftfield and low key than Maximo Park's stuff. Nobody else had really played on it apart from myself and Andy Hodgson, who was in One Digits, who drums on it. I just used to go round to Andy's house and he would play the drums onto what I was doing and we'd record a song a day, even though it's taken four or five years to record it all, but it was probably only twenty four hours spent on each individual song. It got to a stage where I thought I had to get it out there and I didn't really know if it was any good or not, and I needed some bass putting on it so I asked David Brewis from Field Music if he wanted to do that because he's a pretty forthright guy and a great bassist. So I thought if he didn't like it then I've maybe got a problem, but he said he really wanted to do it. So, yeah, it ended up being finished [laughs].

FS: Instrument wise, who's doing what? Obviously David and Andy are doing bass and drums, but are you doing anything else with it?

Yeah, I play the guitar and a lot of the vocals have been looped. The guitars have also been put into Andy's computer and synthesized, and some of the songs have got a bit of a fuller flavour with different sounds that are going on that are quite unusual because we just made them up on the spot basically. It's quite stripped down, but it has an unusual atmospheric side to the Sonics.

FS: So how will that translate live? You've lined up quite a few nice little venues on your tour, so are you going to have more musicians for a live performance or will it just be the three of you?

Well David Brewis can't do it - I did ask - because he's busy with Field Music and he needs a bit of time off I think. So I've asked a lady called Claire Adams who is in a band called Beards, who are from Leeds, to play the bass and my friend Rachel [Lancaster] from Me & The Twins, my other instrumental band, is going to play the guitar because she plays a bit like me in the way that I play with my fingers and not with a plectrum, so it's a bit different. Even though the songs are a bit 'rocky' I still don't strum with a pick, I just fumble along and see what happens, and she has got a similar kind of self taught way of things. So she's going to play the guitar and I'm going to try and play the rhythm and guitar solos, because everyone likes guitar solo every now and then [laughs]. Then Andy, who played on it and produced it, is going to do the drums.

FS: Will you be on a different label to Maximo Park?

No, I'm releasing it myself, because I recorded it all myself. My brother does graphic design and he's helped me out with the layout and all the fine details; he's actually working extremely hard late at night. I spoke to him last night and he's just finishing off all the little things like the barcode and lining all sorts of stuff up on computer that I can't do, and my cousin took some of the press photos. So I've done it all myself and tried to do it on a budget, and I'm going to license it to a company called Cooperative and they put out Deli Union and Wichita Records and a lot of people who do things themselves Life and stuff and they distribute and they do the promo's and stuff like that.

FS: I suppose if you own the recordings you might as well do it like that?

Well, there's precious money around for anybody in the industry at the moment and it's a way of doing things where I don't feel like I owe anybody any money. On a technical level the tour is so small, there's only four of us and there's no guarantee anyone will actually turn up. [laughs]. I will need financial help with that, so if the record sells then if they put money into the touring then they will get their money back then it all balances out. It means I won't necessarily make any money out of it but at least I can put it out. Rather than a lot of the times its record companies taking a punt on it and it ends up different thing to what you imagined. Because Maximo Park are on Warp Records, up till now, it has been a very independent operation, I didn't want to mess around with anyone else I just wanted to do it myself and if anybody wanted to put it out then great, if not then I would start worrying about it later.

FS: When you are the singer in a band the size of Maximo Park how do you approach telling the other members of the band that you want to do a solo album?

Well, I think everybody in the band knew I was recording songs. I would say I recorded a song with Andy the other day and it sounded really good. I would play some of the songs to the band or put them on a little demo, some demos I had before I recorded with Andy. Which in my opinion were demos until I realised they sounded good enough to go out. But yeah, there were really early ones that I would play at that band and they would go I'm not sure whether this would fit on to one of our albums. For example, there's a song called While You're In The Bath, which is just me and a guitar really, that doesn't give anybody any room to do anything. I think in one way the band realised there was nothing for them to do on the songs. So it was pointless me presenting it to them as they would say well that would make us redundant.

I think it's better to do your own thing sometimes and just put it out and not make a big deal about it. In terms of it's a new way for me and announce it's a new way for me because I don't think that's the right way of doing things. I just like making music and I'm lucky enough that, because Maximo Park have done OK, people will be interested in the album on a small level. So that gives me a bit head start compared to what I would be if I had just made it myself without having any claim, or a record deal. I think everybody in the band realises that if we don't do things on our own sometimes whatever it is whether it be music or taking a holiday when you need to. Even though the rest of the band might be going we need to play here, we need to do this. There have been loads of little decisions along the way where we've all said you now if this is what you want to do then great we'll do that. Once I had the 12 or 13 tracks that I wanted to put on the record, last year I said we're not going to put out a record next year, I'm going to put out mine if that's alright and does it interfere with anybody's plans and everybody said just do what you have to do and it was cool.

FS: How do you pick up your lyrics, is there a situation when you're sitting in cafe and somebody says something random and you think I'll have that or do you sit down and write a song to a certain scenario and work phrases into it?

I think it's more reading stuff and nasal gazing [laughs]. I dwell on my own life far too much. I think for me everybody on earth has a rich and varied life if you look at it. Even if you go into work and doing the same thing every day in a job, your mind's all over the place, you know you have these emotions and dreams and interactions with other people and places. Some of our songs are literally just about that interaction with a place where you feel something and you want to describe that world you're in. I've tuned in to make things that I'm interested in into lyrics, so when I am in a cafe thinking about things Ill say oh that's a good phrase I'll put that in there. To be honest you I would probably have my headphones in so I probably wouldn't hear anybody else! I tend to block other people out a lot of the time [laughs] which is possibly not the right thing to do.

There's a new song on my new record called Our Lady of Lords, basically it's about things that I have seen and then wondering what else goes on behind closed doors. That's one way of doing things, but I tend to collect lots of different runs of things, there might be about four or five lines when I'm on a roll and then some songs have come pretty much in full which is odd for me because I tend to pick through my lyric books and find things that chime with each other and that have a relationship that I did not initially pick up on. For me it is a question of going through collaging things and a lot of the times you might be writing about two different people and you put it in the same song and the listener is none the wiser and in the end the songs becomes bigger than the two personal figures in it and it gels together. I suppose that's how I work.

FS: When you are writing with Maximo Park you play the guitar, but when not in Maximo Park how do you construct the song? Do other people have their parts and you just write the lyrics, or do you ever contribute musically to the songs too?

Yeah, well sometimes people in the band give me a song and I will take home a CD of it and hum along to it and see which words work with the music. I mean sometimes the things that I write in private are bit more developed and detailed and long winded, there not good lyrics even if I like a line it needs to fit in with the song, it needs to have some sort of rhyme or reason. Sometimes it is finding something that rhymes and you know that it is right. Even though it is a lot simpler than I initially did, I don't mind because the lyrics serve the song and then the song does what it does. Sometimes I turn up to practice with a song, I play the guitar and then show Dunc what the chords are and then from there it's down to the band. Something like Let's Get Clinical off our last album was completely transformed after I brought it into to the rest of the lads. Dunc did some unbelievable guitar stuff on it. It now sounds completely different to the thing that I brought in. I mean I just played it on an acoustic guitar and now we've got this weird robotic funk thing.

All sorts of things can have an influence on a song in the band, one of the things we've always been really strong is that everybody can speak up about a song and not feel it's just their song. I mean if Arch has got an idea about a vocal part I'm willing to listen, I'm not saying I always do mind [laughs]. I think everybody in the band is the same really, if you feel really strongly about something you end up getting your own way. That open forum for discussion is really important to help the songs develop. You have to respect everyone's opinion, I mean none of us are Prog Rock musicians, we're all limited [laughs]. I'm not singing like Mariah Carey yet, I'm working on my falsetto [laughs]. It's one of those things, I mean Tom who's an equal member of the band and doesn't really write many of the songs but if you suddenly have a rhythm track that goes somewhere different the song changes and we can all make suggestions because all it is listening. I mean I can't come up with something that it is orchestral or musically developed; you kind of develop in your own little way. So you end up thinking how can we do better, how can we make that more complicated, and then you go about it in a different way to somebody who'd go yeah I know this scale and this is the way we should go. You end up having something that is a bit different but also has that pop element that more untutored musicians have, you know you're just listening to the song and going what does it need there. Then you hum it and somebody else plays it on the bass and the keyboard and things develop in quite a nice way. But because there are five people it can also take quite a long time which is what we have found sometimes and it's frustrating but in the end you get something which is bigger than the lot of you.

FS: At the Split Festival you are playing with Maximo on Saturday as headliners and then on the Sunday you are playing with Me and the Twins - if it was a three day festival would you be doing your solo set?

[Laughs] If I was rehearsed enough. The funny thing is Andy from One Digits, who's playing at the Split Festival on the Sunday, is going to come up on the Monday and we're going to rehearse so there will be a private performance of Paul Smith solo, in our own mini Split Festival.

FS: Are you looking forward to the Split Festival?

Yes. We once played the Hi-Fi festival which was the only other North East festival that we've played outside of the Evolution Festival. It was a little further afield; it was a little bit of a weird festival. It was a rainy day, it was a bit weird overall, people didn't find their way on time and the times had changed and it seemed a bit chaotic. It never happened again so it's nice that the Spilt Festival is in its second year and it's a local thing and it should be about good music. So it's nice to have those two aspects combined, decent bands playing from a bit further afield to keep the quality high so that people don't go it's just a bunch of local bands I won't go along. Which is often the attitude when people haven't heard of a band, it's hard to reach that next level  and to play to new people. Hopefully some of the bigger names will get people along so they will see some of the smaller acts and it should be a good day out because it is a really cool place in my opinion.

FS: The Festival is under a Marquee. I quite like the atmosphere being inside a big tent - do you think it lends to a better atmosphere?

PS: There's no doubt about that. When we headlined the second stage at Leeds and Reading a few years back it was just an amazing atmosphere as good as any of our gigs have ever been. That's because everything is contained, and that electrical charge or whatever you are giving out just bounces of the walls.

FS: Talking of electrical charge and bouncing off the walls, you're obviously almost a deranged lunatic of boundless energy on stage. Do you ever have nights when you think I can't be bothered to jump around like an idiot?

Yes of course [laughs]. I am human. Yes it's one of those things, but as soon as you get on there, the songs are the driving force. I'm heavily involved in all of the songs, you know they are about my life and you want to convey that they could be about your life to the audience. You know those dual aspects will also drive me to give 100% even if you walk on to the stage and think we'll see how it goes tonight, I'm not sure if I can give it as much as last night by the second song it's too late the songs are there saying whatever, whichever emotion drives each specific song it just ends up being part of me. Then you also think, you want the people in front of you who have paid money to have a good time and connect with the songs. I don't mind if I look a bit daft sometimes [laughs] It's all part of the deal, you're seeing something spontaneous rather than seeing something that's been rehearsed. I will try and say stuff to the crowd using the microphone rather than saying next song, next song, let's get off stage as quick as we can and get off to the next town. I want to make each night as memorable as it possibly can be, I don't think that desire will ever leave me and if it does I think I will just walk off [laughs].

FS: You always look as though you're making an effort. You obviously put 100% effort when you're on stage and you always try to make people feel part of it.

Definitely, I mean when I go and watch a band that it what I want to see. I want to see somebody engaging with me or with the songs they are singing. That's what is paramount in my mind really.

FS: Cool, thanks for your time and we'll see you at Split.

I'm looking forward to it already!
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