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The Maccabees have been on a steep curve to success over the last couple of years.
Richard J.L. Hughes caught up with The Maccabees lead singer Orlando Weeks before their recent Cambridge Soul Tree gig.
So the bands name “The Maccabees”, where did it come from? Some Google searching brought up some interesting things, a Christian rock band for starters...
We asked them if we could use it and they were "yeah cool" so I guess their Christianity held up there!
Then a quick Amazon search brings up a harpist called just Maccabees.
Really? That's cool, there's also an opera as well which is pretty epic stuff. Then there's the football team and the beer. There was one shop in Brighton which sold this beer for £2.10 as it was a limited edition one and we bought ten in the end and gave them to the first ten people to our gig.
Nice, but not a cheap way to win the crowd over!
No, we had to give that up as we wouldn't have enough money to cover our cab home in the evening!
You know you've made it now; you've got a Wikipedia article?
Names are funny things, you know. With our name, we took it out of the bible without any connotations or relevance. The word Maccabees is a weird word, a nice sounding word, it's strange as some people know the religious thing, and some people think we're Scottish. We are aware of other things to do with the name, but for us it's just a cool sounding name. The Christian rock band, it obvious means something to them.
Moving to the internet and the Myspace phenomenon, do you think you're part of that wave or is it just an added bonus?
I think it's definitely helped, especially helps in that people turn up and know the words. All you did before was turn up and play the songs, it would be the first time the audience had heard them. Now they can get an idea of what you sound like, what you look like which is, like it or not, part of it. You know we try to keep as much of our artwork and videos in house as possible. It gives people the option to listen to stuff, try before they see.
Are you mp3'ed up?
No, I'm still using a Discman!
What about file-sharing?
I'm fairly techno phobic; I tend to avoid that kind of stuff. All I know is that listening to the songs, if people want to download them, they'll find a way. If people want to listen to the songs then that's what's important. A fair percentage of the songs on the album, people will have heard already before. People will buy the album if they want to show their faith in the artist.
I think there's still something nice about having the CD / Single to hold and to buy.
I think that's the thing. With our artwork, we want people to have something to hold and to keep as hard copies. As CD's will die out, supposedly, they can have something physical to hold onto. I don't think it'll happen though. I probably don't buy nearly enough singles, but with an album I buy because I want to keep it.
Even vinyl is making a comeback now.
Yeah, that's nice. It's good to have something physical and it's good that people have something to show for their money.
What was the last couple of records you bought?
I was bought the Paul Simon anthology record, which has pretty much every genre on it. I've mostly been listening to that. I've also got the new Jamie T album and Patrick Wolf's new album The Magic Position.
I'm a big fan of Patrick Wolf, I like that fact that he pretty much does what he likes.
Yeah, he's great. I was in the same class as him in school! Until we were about 7. I haven't seen him since. I think he's incredible. It's weird in music. Jack Penate used to be in a band with a couple of the guys here and we're hoping he'll come along and support us on our next tour!
The video for your new single is made by yourselves and you got a friend to edit it. Being a technophobe, how did you approach it?
I made the sets and the little finger puppets. Then we got a friend to edit it. I did over a couple of days when I had nothing to do and I wanted to do something in the kind of "Creature Comforts" style. It turned out really well, the band we happy with it and so were the label, so we went with it.
It looks fantastic.
Thanks. I did all the drawings for the single artwork as well. I also did the stuff that's up on our myspace site and website. I was doing Art in Brighton where we all met. The fact that we can do this ourselves just means there's one less thing to lose control over. I like doing the artwork and the process of it, and I can get involved. I think it's important.
It's not someone else's interpretation of The Maccabees?
Absolutely. It's a good opportunity for us to be independent.
You guys have been around since 2003, so was it really odd for the NME to vote you best new band when you'd been around for a while?
I think it relied on people seeing us and maybe growing to like us, I don't know. All those kind of things are very flattering, but you can't pay too much attention to it.
Is being popular something that’s important to you, that the single or album does well in the charts?
We want to play to people and have the opportunity to make a second album. That's what we're focusing on. I can't see how we can make people like us, I can think of people who won't like us.
So are you disappointed that you're not going to be able to play Top Of The Pops?
I don't know, I think it lost a lot of what it was about. It was a fairly undignified departure. I look forward to TOTP2 a lot more! That's much more fun for me. It was very rare that something was on TOTP that I really wanted to watch.
You've become a bit of a Cambridge resident recently, twice in the last 6 months - at the NME Rock N Roll Riot tour and supporting the Futureheads, which was an impressive gig.
The first thing is that we got to play with the Futureheads which was good because they'd been really good to us. We've been to Cambridge a few times now; the junction is a really good venue. The Futureheads are such an important band, of all the bands that are around at the moment, they were one of the first bands who were instrumental in developing a sound that we got... they had a big influence on our sound.
It feels and looks like that you’re constantly touring at the moment, is it something that you enjoy?
I like it, it's a blast. There are obvious ups and downs but at the end of the day, I get to see lots of the country and I'm a lucky boy! It's like the icing on the cake. We played these venues last year and played to maybe 20-30 people, but now we're returning and it's sold out. It feels like a reward.
And this is just off the back of a couple of singles, there's no album to promote.
Yeah, it's an amazing feeling. It feels like the hard work has paid off. Not really hard work, but the bothering to play to small crowds and play all these places.
Where did you find time to record the album?
We squeezed in recording a week here and a week there. But it's all down now and we're all really happy with it.
When's that scheduled for a release?
2nd of May.
Are you penciled in for any festivals this year?
We're definitely doing Bestival and then, as far I know Reading / Leeds and fingers crossed for Glastonbury. You know, for the festivals we're not playing at we'll probably be at anyway, so that's cool!
For those of us who have seen you before, will you be playing any new songs tonight?
Well we'll be playing one new song plus a b-side from one of our early singles and a really old song we don't play live much. It helps us to change the set list otherwise it becomes a bit routine and we don't want people to think we're not bothered. It's important to us that people think we appreciate people coming out and seeing us. We don't want them coming out and hearing it all before.
And with the constant touring you have to mix it up a bit.
For sure, we're touring now for a while and I think we've got a couple of weeks off in March when we're not doing much, filming a video or something I think.
Your songs all mean something, they have something to say, and there's a feeling now that there's a number of bands around like that. Was this a conscious effort on your behalf?
With us, we're getting better all the time. We're still learning, we're not really good musicians or song writers yet. We write what comes to us whether it is a bass line or whether I have a skeleton of a song in my head. What I find really hard is hard to write to spec. It sounds really crap, but it's a pretty natural thing. Our sound is a lot to do with all the different influences we had. The Futureheads, The Strokes, Oasis, Rupert likes Drum and Bass, Rob likes the Super Furries and slightly more psychedelic stuff. And then I listen to more folky stuff. The first double album I bought was the Bonzo Dog Band; it might have been a compilation or something, but the bravery they had to say the things they did, the stupidness of it. I remember liking it as a kid, their lyrics trigger stuff in me, and people like Billy Bragg. The lyrics come from a want to make people think and act. One of the songs is about a leisure center where we grew up; it was a good excuse to write about something that we knew and something that people can find out about. I think it's always best to write about stuff that you know and that why you can't get tripped up. I was there, I can prove it.
You were on the recent NME rock n roll riot tour due to a reputation for a great live act, but also, compared to the other bands on the line up, you wrote songs that actually mean something, other than just singing about having a good time.
It's true for us, but I don't think it needs to hold true for everyone. As long as you write a song about an experience that's worth telling, that's the main thing.
Richard J.L. Hughes