The Maccabees guitarist Felix White chats to Greg Talbot about developments in the studio, the joys of travel and his own sartorial regrets.
The Maccabees have started the year on a high after their much awaited third album, Given to the Wild, has been well received and reviewed. The group, who are from the south London area, formed back in 2003 and have become one of the most successful acts to survive the dark days of landfill indie. In conversation with Otwo, guitarist and vocalist Felix White recalls how much the band has grown and developed from their initial beginnings, when they had nothing more than a “pipe dream of sorts,” to the current day, where the band is in the middle of their European tour, which began last month. Despite possessing great talent, Felix speaks with an air of humility and modesty when remembering the band’s younger years. “We always did work, and we are honest and very openly a bit naïve to things, but that’s what bands starting out are, and I wouldn’t change any of that to be honest, because that’s how we got this point.”
Released in early January, Given to the Wild is different in numerous ways from the band’s previous albums, Colour it in and Wall of Arms. “We knew from the very start before we worked with anyone that we wanted it to be a different record.” The process that the members engaged in was new territory, but this did not stop the Maccabees from producing an evidently outstanding album. “It’s totally different in the way it was constructed, because everything else that the Maccabees had done to that point was started in the rehearsal room and working it out together and playing it live, and very often what you heard was how we worked it out in that room, plus brass or whatever that was done in production at the last moment. This one is kind of worked out the total opposite way. We started things just with little loops and stuff on computers and sending back and forth to each other. It was done away from rehearsal room, so that is a totally different way for the Maccabees to make music.”
The album offers songs which are heavier emotionally in comparison to their previous endeavours. However, this new feel to their music did not occur by mistake. “We just realised that, maybe, some songs had been quite restrained, which is great, but we wanted to do something which had a bit more momentum.” White states on a few occasions how they strived to make a “different” record, and how they wanted it to “hold much more of an atmosphere to it than anything [they] worked on before, for it not to sound like a band that has two guitars, drums and a bass.” He elaborates that they “wanted it to have more mystique than that and for it just to have different eccentricities and things going on within in it.”
Given to the Wild had a team of three producers, but did this mean that The Maccabees suffered from creative constraints? “I think we were allowed to make the record sound how we wanted it to. Like, literally for the first time, we had that much hands-on, and that much ownership of it.” Aside from these factors, the group’s core methodology remained the same. “It’s more about when you write something, it kind of happens accidentally and the trick is to more realise when something is good and capture it and go with it.”
As talk turns to the band’s European tour, White explains what he will enjoy the most over the coming months. “I look forward to waking up in a different European city every morning and enjoying my job being in a band, that’s pretty cool.” Again, in the same vein as the record, the tour is going to offer something new to previous appearances. “Well, we’ve got three records to play from now,” White explains, so they’re different shows to what Maccabees shows would’ve been before.” In retrospective contemplation, the guitarist and vocalist highlights where he believes the band made their biggest mistakes in the past. “I think more than anything the first few Maccabee gigs had a few too many fashion faux-pas to be honest,” happy to single out his wish that he could advise his younger self to not wear a certain “green and yellow and black Jamaican peaked hat.”
The band plan on touring for most of the year, appearing at as many festivals as they can along the way, as well as returning to Ireland in early March. Notwithstanding all the hard work that they are committing themselves to, White maintains that the Maccabees have a lot to give in the future. “I’d just like to keep making a lot more music, and I think we’ve done well to this point and the best thing about it’s that there is still much more in us.”
The Maccabees play The Academy on March 3rd, tickets are priced at €25. Given to the Wild is out now.