During the album sessions for ‘Colour It In’ with producer Ben Hillier, Miloco caught up with Orlando & Felix from The Maccabees around the pool table at Leroy Street, and discussed, variously: the sexuality of bus drivers; how to capture a superb sound in a huge room whilst simultaneously using the equipment as crash mats and bedding; relocating to sunny Brighton and The Smurfs.
You’re a Brighton band but all from London. What took you to the seaside?
Orlando: Well we’re originally all from Clapham but then I was down in Brighton doing a degree and having to come back up to London every weekend. So after a year I eventually said ‘can’t you start coming down here a bit cos I can’t afford it anymore?’
Felix: Then me and Hugo went down to Uni there as well so the band could stay together.
O: …and Rob pretty much had to come too.
And how’s life in Brighton?
F: I love it.
O: It’s starting to feel like home. To start off with you love it but don’t think of it as home, but now when I look forward to getting home it’s there that I think about.
F: Yeah, definitely. It’s such an easy place to live.
O: You can just exist and no one cares. And you don’t have to look busy.
F: No one in Brighton does anything!
O: I love that shops don’t even open till 10.30 – that’s how it should be. Who wants to know they can go shopping at 9.00am? That just can’t be healthy… Credit’s got to be better in somewhere like Brighton because people can’t go shopping at 8.30 in the morning…
(At this point a silence descends while we all politely mull over this brave economic theory. One or two eyebrows start to rise and then Orlando retracts his statement…)
O: …No that’s a heinous lie. I take it back!
F: I know it can’t be the case, but after a while you’re just convinced that everyone in Brighton’s just lounging around!
Like when The West Pier burnt down a few years ago and thousands and thousands of people suddenly appeared on the seafront to witness it? That many people were able to drop what they were (or weren’t) doing and descend on the seafront at a moment’s notice. At 10.30 on a Thursday morning…
O: Exactly – how are these people earning a living!
F: Were people from hospitals there too? Maybe they brought their patients along as well? ‘Come on, we’ll fix y’leg by the sea today’…
O: …Dragging their drips along behind them!
Felix then drags us back to matters of music…
F: But as a band Brighton’s been great as well. We were able to play places like The Freebutt every two weeks and people just start to find out about it. D’y’know what I mean? It’s a place where everyone’s interested in coming to see bands.
O: I think it’s because there are a lot of students and that many of them are in the same places, so it always feels like there’s lots of people going out and seeing things. And some of them might be a bit a snooty about what they do and what they don’t like, but it’s all good. They’re listening to what they want because they want to, not because they’ve been told to or they’ve read it somewhere.
F: Yeah there is a sense of community with that. All these people who are interested in new bands.
O: And you recognise the same people around town at different gigs cos it’s small enough for everyone to get around to the same places. In London, it’s way too big and so very strange if you ever recognise anyone.
So do you think you’ll stay down in Brighton for the foreseeable future?
O: Oh yeah, definitely. Spending this summer here was just great.
F: But then we are London boys at heart, so there’s always that thought that we’ll go back at some point…
O: Yeah, it’s a strange thing. Like when I have kids, I don’t want them to have to grow up in London. But then I think that they probably should…
F: The rough and tumble of school and all those experiences you go through…other kids trying to take your lunch money… But it’s not that we’ve run away to Brighton or anything!
So do you all live in one big house like The Monkees?
F: I couldn’t live with them, man! We’re just dotted around town with various other friends.
O: We spend far too much time together as it is.
So after Uni you all made the decision to treat the band as a fulltime job?
F: Yeah, we got a long-term hire at Brighton Electric for 7 or 8 months. We decided that we liked what we were doing and that if we were gonna get better we needed to practice every day.
O: It’s shit and I hate it…
F: Yeah it is, but it needs to be done. Playing each song over and over again…
O: It starts doing your head in, man. In the gaps Rupert’d just start going Poooiiiinnnnggg! Poooiiiinnnnggg! And then Rob would sit there hitting stuff and trying to make the loudest noise possible…
F: It was like some weird sort of Death Jazz non-music between every song. And Hugo refuses to play the same thing twice and we’re always begging him to play the same thing as last time so we can all learn what’s going on! But it was worth it.
And I heard a story about being accused of stealing a bus…?
F: Oh no, that’s not what really happened. I think it was just Hugh and Rob and they were having a water fight or something really harmless and then this driver appeared and started shouting and everything. I think it’s just because that studio’s next to the bus station so there’s this tension. It’s like a turf war between the grumpy drivers and musicians!
O: But the good thing about Brighton buses is that all the drivers are either old men, or hardcore lesbians. And that’s quite nice, I think. They’re two kinds of people I can trust…
And after that delightful insight into the mind of a young songwriter, and with the ice heartily broken, we turned our attention to their time in the studio.
So how have you found our new room, The Pool?
F: Oh it’s great in there, man. It’s superb.
O: It’s really amazing.
F: I mean obviously the drums sound amazing in there, but it’s also good because it doesn’t feel like a normal studio. You don’t have to go into different rooms to talk to people – everyone’s just there. And you can just spread out and make it your own. It’s such an easy place to be in.
O: Yeah, there’s no glass and you can put your feet up on stuff. You can eat your lunch in there! Usually you’re climbing the walls wanting to get out of these places but in there you can just chill out. It’s big enough to find yourself a corner and have a lie down, or play with some bit of kit or chuck a ball against a wall. Ben [Hillier] was just throwing a ball around – all amongst all his expensive stuff! You should get some monkey bars in there, turn it into a big playpen!
F: In fact we were wondering how many of those big grey foam sound proof things you’d need to pile on the floor in order to make it safe to jump from the top…
Well you’d need to make sure the pile was quite wide as well as deep. You wouldn’t want to land safely and then be bounced off the side…
O: I think you’d need quite a lot of layers…
F: And the other good thing about those foam things is that they double up as beds. If Rupert wants a nap, he just crashes out on some of those for a couple of hours.
O: But the room does work. You get really good separation. I couldn’t really work out how that’d happen, but with all the moveable screens and amp boxes and foam it all works brilliantly. And it means you can play all the main stuff totally live and how you would do normally and then treat it if you want afterwards. I think it’s the best way we’ve recorded so far. Because lots of times before you think, Well, I won’t play on this bit cos we’re gonna use that amp then, or that whatever. But I think we’ve realised now that the most important thing is the feel of the thing and how you play it.
F: And it means it’s closer to how you play it live – the dynamics work.
O: Yeah, so it does slow down and speed up a bit in places. I’m not sure the A&R guys’ll be too happy…
F: But it sounds good to us.
O: And it feels right, you know. The whole thing. And so much of it is about feel. This studio’s only ten minutes from where we lived in London and where a lot of the songs were written or are about…and there’s a Searles Road round the corner and our lawyer’s called Henry Searle…and we’re recording in The Pool and one of the songs is about a swimming pool – it all feels right.
F: He’s trying quite hard to tell himself everything’s perfect…
O: And I saw a bird fly across the sky! And I saw an eagle that was eating a snake that was eating itself! And it killed a cow, and the omens were all colliding, and the innards of that cow told me…
…that there’s a huge big arrow hovering over this place?
O: Exactly. Just that.
So how’s the material sounding compared to previous things you’ve done?
O: I think the thing is that it sounds like a really good live take.
O: And being able to do the vocals in the same room and at the same time as everything is else is also brilliant. That’s one thing I’ve always felt before – when you’re trapped in a little separate glass booth – that the vocals feel stuck on and separate. But it’s not like that this time.
F: And there’s lots of general room mics around the place and up in the ceiling, so we can record that and then add things like backing vocals over while it’s all played back through the big speakers. It just all makes for a bigger, better sound.
O: It sounds so good. Like there’s this bit where there’s just Felix’s voice, and it’s quite quiet but they’ve recorded it loud and then turned it right down so it sounds like 30 Russian children or something!
F: Erm, why Russian?
O: I dunno, something like that. Maybe Eastern European…
And is that what you were hoping for, Felix – ‘Also specialises in juvenile Albanian crowd scenes’?
F: Not really, no. But it’s something else for the CV…
And what were the first records you can remember buying?
F: Well Rob’s first record was Kriss-Kross – ‘Jump’. And mine was Eternal – ‘Power of a Woman’, I think.
O: The Smurfs album was good…
F: But when we first got together as a band the first thing we all agreed on was The Clash. Not just the music but their look and intensity – the whole thing. Since then I suppose like a lot of people we got into things like Arcade Fire, Interpol…
O: I’ve been listening to a lot of Martha Wainwright and Sufjan Stevens. And things like Talking Heads – the old stuff on The Old Grey Whistle Test – really quirky, spiky stuff. Intellectual in a way, but just people having fun…
The Maccabees were talking to Miloco in the Autumn of 2006