What became of the little band that couldn’t? Obscured from mainstream popularity for so many years due to the overwhelming excess of British indie guitar bands, The Maccabees seem to have finally found their spotlight. It has been seven years since the release of their debut single, yet for so long they were relegated to second-tier status, forever a bridesmaid to the wittier Arctic Monkeys, the edgier Bloc Party and the more bombastic Kaiser Chiefs.
But how things change, seven years later the media is proclaiming the death of British Indie, Alex Turner has traded in his Sheffield roots for Joshua Tree hallucinogens, Kele has gone dubstep and the Kaiser Chiefs have simply ran out of choruses; what a fantastic time for The Maccabees to release an album as good as Given To The Wild.
On the eve of their first ever Australian tour Tonedeaf chats to Felix White, interrupting his marathon of The Wire. As he enjoys a drink in his South London apartment, Felix admits, “This show is blowing my mind. I seriously think I am addicted.”
From magazine covers to BBC Radio 1 hype to selling out the O2 arena, Felix is candid in reflecting on how the band has finally broken through into popular consciousness. “It feels like we have slowly gotten both bigger and better. Not that I think any of our records are shit but I mean that we were never one of those bands that got huge from our first album. I honestly do think that this is our best album and I think we were fortunate that we were allowed to develop over 7-8 years instead of being overnight sensations and have all the expectation that comes with that.
“Over the years we have all become a lot more aware of the mechanics of production and I guess we were conscious of developing. All the great bands developed through their career, like Blur or The Smiths and if you don’t grow your sound that indie garage rock tag can follow you forever.”
Given To The Wild debuted at #4 on the U.K album chart, their highest chart position yet, quite an accomplishment considering they did it at a time when Adele had decided to set up camp at the top of the chart for a few years. Unlike the chav global superstar though, the fans of The Maccabees have come from relentless touring of their first album, Colour It In and their 2009 release Wall to Arms and for Felix it feels like it is all finally paying dividends in an overcrowded Britpop market. “I’ve noticed different people in the audience but I love that we are reaching out to new crowds, we’re now able to tour smaller cities as well, not just Manchester, Liverpool and London, so it is amazing to play gigs in towns that don’t have live music every weekend. Maybe they value it more.”
This recent exploration of grounds usually untouched by festival-headlining bands also influenced their decision to tour Australia on the regionally based Groovin’ In The Moo circuit and the excitement is in Felix’s voice when discussing the impending tour. “We have been so envious of other bands around us that have been able to tour Australia, they always come back with the best stories and memories and for awhile we really felt like we were missing out. So the opportunity is not lost on us. I’ve always wanted to visit Australia from watching the Aussie cricket team as a kid, so I don’t think any of us will be spending too much time in the hotel room when we get down there.”
Groovin’ In The Moo is only one festival in the schedule of the band in 2012 and a looming headline set on the second night of Reading & Leeds Festival this year is an obvious milestone. “My 15 year old self is still mind-blown that we will be headlining, you think of all the seminal performances that Reading and Leeds have staged like Nirvana and Rage Against The Machine, I still can’t believe it.”
A part of the band’s recent commercial and critical success can be attributed to the jump in complexity their songwriting has taken on their latest album. They have evolved from their 2 minute garage pop like ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ to the darker, more progressive ‘Forever I’ve Known’, a cut from their latest album that clocks in just less than five and a half minutes.
Felix is keen to attribute their growth to a change in the band’s approach to songwriting. “Writing has gone from us thrashing out songs to us allowing individuals to write separate from the band. This way we don’t compromise our ideas as much and it has given everyone a lot more freedom to explore sounds. It is has been empowering to create different atmospheres and bring together multiple ideas, something I thought we were able to do on ‘Pelican.’”
It’s interesting to wonder whether a band would still enjoy playing their older tracks or, as many do, find they’ve outgrown them. A track like ‘X-Ray’ seems to be vintage Britpop now. “I still love ‘X-Ray’, man, I think we’ve developed as lyric writers a lot since then, but I still love it, it has so much going on in 2 minutes, and that’s what teenage rock and roll is all about isn’t it? When we play sets, we are starting with a lot of new stuff, but by the time we play it, which is usually towards the end, the crowd really gets into it.”
The fact that the British band includes all three White brothers when touring will inevitably lead to that dreaded O word coming up in conversation. And the mere mention of Oasis leads to a nervous chuckle from The Maccabees guitarist. “It’s funny being in a band with your brother. It goes beyond beers and having a laugh, you know? I think sometimes we don’t need to say something for the other to understand it and then sometimes we don’t speak for a week. But Oasis? Oh, no, no, no,” he laughs, “I’m not going there, man. I love my brothers, and I’m sure the Gallaghers do too, but no