Paul Smith – Interview

Der Himmel über Köln ist dunkelgrau und in regelmäßigen abständen wandelt sich der Nieselregen zu wahren Sturzbächen. Auch als ich am Gebäude 9 ankomme, hat sich daran nichts geändert und ich versuche zu kalkulieren, wie sehr ich wohl einem nassen Hund ähneln werde, sollte ich mich gegen den Regenschirm entscheiden. Die Überlegung scheint ein paar Wolken gnädig zu stimmen, denn kaum gedacht, zieht sich der letzte Sturzbach zurück und der Nieselregen drängt sich freundlicherweise in den Vordergrund. Ohne Regenschirm mache ich mich auf zum Eingang, werde jedoch jäh von verschlossenen Türen gestoppt. Nun gut. Wozu hat man schließlich die Handynummer des Tourmanagers, denke ich. Kurz untergestellt, angerufen und erstmal mit der Mailbox konfrontiert worden. Während der wind anfängt wieder heftiger um das G9 pfeifen, starte ich einen erneuten versuch. Wenn alles klappt, sollte sich nun jemand namens Tim Boardman melden – oder zumindest „Hello“ sagen. Das sagt auch jemand, die stimme kommt mir aber gleich äußerst bekannt vor und schnell wird klar: da spricht nicht Tim, sondern Mr Smith selber. Er sei noch in einem anderen Interview, aber ich würde gleich reingeholt werden, dann müsste ich nicht im regen stehen. Super. Da denkt jemand mit! Keine 2 Minuten später geht die Backstagetür auf und ich darf in das ausnahmsweise wohltemperierte g9 eintreten. In den knappen 10 Minuten, die ich noch warten muss, lausche ich dem neuen Gorillaz Album, was mir zu diesem Zeitpunkt noch recht gut gefällt.

Als mir schließlich Grünes Licht gegeben wird und ich durch die Türen nach vorne in den Barbereich des Clubs trete, erwartet mich dort neben einem hell erleuchteten raum ein nicht minder strahlender junger Brite, der mich sogleich herzlich in die arme schließt. Unter ein wenig Smalltalk machen wir es uns auf den für meinen Geschmack ein wenig nah aneinander stehenden Barhockern an der Theke gemütlich. Nach gefühlten weiteren 10 Minuten habe ich das Gefühl, wir könnten ja auch einfach mal mit dem interview beginnen, anstatt über Freizeitaktivitäten auf tour und kaputte hotelduschen zu reden. Bei einem glas wasser und blitzenden Augen stelle ich also die erste von zahlreichen (jedoch in Anbetracht der momentanen interviewdichte, schon stark reduzierten) fragen, die, sollte diese Redseligkeit anhalten, wohl kaum alle gehör finden würden:

You just released your album about a month ago. You had the songs, and I guess a lot more even, lying about for a whole while. When you decided you would make an album of them and release it under your own name, how did that moment, this realization, feel?

Uhm, it wasn’t just one moment I suppose. That was the key thing, it just sort of build up over time. It was like in a dream and you kind of think “well, it would be nice to do that” and then you think “well, I haven’t finished. They’re not songs for an album” so you forget about it for a while. When you’re in a band it’s very easy to forget about the songs you recorded a few weeks ago… when you’re in the middle of a tour and writing songs with other people, so there wasn’t really one moment but I suppose it became quite real when I sat down with everybody when we’d finished touring last year in November and I said “I think it’s time to put my own songs out”. They knew I had been recording with my friends and because I’m also really good friends with everyone in Maximo Park they knew I had been wanting to play the guitar and express myself in a different way because they all know I like really quiet songs and quite different music to the music that we make in Maximo Park, obviously I love that music as well, but, you know, there’s not so many alternative bands or indie rock bands or whatever you wanna call it, there’s so many of that bands that I like. I feel everything is right in our band to make that kind of music because it doesn’t come into a category to me sometimes, we’re aggressive and punky and sometimes it’s sensitive but always with an edge to it. They knew I inevitably wanted to sing quieter songs so I think they weren’t so surprised, really. It just became something that was about to happen. I started getting quite scared and excited earlier this year when I knew I was sort of trying to get somebody to release it using my own record label, which is just under my own name, really. So it wasn’t just one big moment… to answer your question.

The songs on Margins come across a lot more personal than those you write and release in Maximo Park, even though the songwriting isn’t all that different – which I’d say is also due the somewhat rough and simple production; whereas Maximo Park records always sound very clean. Was this intentional or did it just sort of happen?

As you’re saying it’s not an intentional album in general, really. I mean with Maximo Park we’ve gone into a studio for four weeks and hammered the songs and we’ve tried to work with one producer. With this record it’s just accidental in the way that it sounds. I got to work with the same guy over the last 5 years pretty much. He helped me get the drums on it and helped me with the sounds. It’s a collaboration, really, on the actual sound of the record. I don’t know, to me, the lyrics always are very personal. I know that the fact that the music is taken down a notch equals that people hear the words more. Personally I love listening to music where the words tell a story or take you somewhere, not necessarily in a narrative way, just… you get a start and a finish and you enjoyed it. And I don’t care how long they are or how many instruments are on it, you know it just can be a guitar and the vocal, as long as the words are good and the melody is strong enough to carry them. Whereas with Maximo Park we always try to throw as many hooks at things as possible. Maybe less on our last album actually where we were more about getting in a whole group, you know, finding a really good bit and in some ways the words would carry it, again, through the force of the music. You try something different on each record and with this record I tried to make the quiet stuff atmospheric, “Alone I Would’ve Dropped” could have worked exactly the same way as “While You’re In The Bath” but I’d already done that, so you know, I had already made the decision I didn’t want any more instruments on it, reverb or anything, so once I had done that, I was like “what can I do on this one to make it different on this”. And, again, “Improvement/Denouement” which was recorded on just one night. Me singing at the same time as the drums and Andy was like “we gotta change those drums. They sound just rubbish”. But I said I wanted them on the album, to me this is like on my favourite records. Like Neil Young record or a Elliott Smith record. You know, you just hear a guy in a room, in a moment, and was there and it’s gone. If press “record” you get the song and I like that way of working, whereas, you know, I think I’ve been known in the past, with the three albums that we’ve done with the band, to be part of a band that loves production values and loves trying make the songs sound really polished but still keep that emotion. Whereas these ones are a lot more raw and that, to me, is as equally as valid – neither better nor worse, just a different way of working that I like.

Correct me if I’m wrong, the three main topics are Love, Lust and Depression. The depression-bit kinda caught me off guard. Simple lines like “if I was alone, I would have dropped. Your mere presence held me up” – “I want to drown but I dare not dive [which my mind always changes to “dare not die” terrible. But I know why it keeps doing this] anyway, and, kinda, the whole of North Antlantic Drift – no one should ever have to face such emptiness. How difficult was it for you phrasing these without giving away too much of yourself?

I’m aware that some of the lines in the songs are very personal. The people who the songs are written about probably know exactly who and what I’m talking about. I only ever try to be honest in the songs but, whoever I am as person is not for public consumption, BUT, I think it’s up to a, I don’t wanna say the word artist, but ..a songwriter, to give something of themselves to the listener while it’s gonna be pretty difficult to empathize with the material and for me…I felt comfortable singing them, you know. It’s only I a few moments that I’m like “what if my mother hears that” or “what if this person hears it”. In the end I just thought “who cares?”, it feels like a good artistic statement. I look at my favourite songwriters like that and people, like Joni Mitchell, didn’t mind. You know, my friends might be able to connect what’s in the songs with the things that happened to me. But for everybody else it’s just a song. And it’s a song that means something, hopefully. It’s theirs after I gave it away.

In Maximo Park I’m sure you learnt a lot about how the music industry rolls. Was there something you wanted to do essentially different with Margins?

I’ve kind of learnt what I wanna do and what I don’t wanna do. Some of the things you do, you don’t wanna do but you don’t realize. When it’s over you think “maybe I shouldn’t have done that” but rather than regret it you gotta learn and get on with it and say “I know the reasons why I did that so it’s ok”. Even on this record I feel, slightly…you know, I’ve licensed my album to Cooperative. But I wasn’t happy about the price of the album, I wasn’t happy about the price vinyl or the Polaroid book that I’ve done but it’s too late now. You know next time, I’ll have it written into a contract..things like that, you just think “it’s business”. You know, I’m not a business man at all. I just wanted to do something and I’m glad to say it paid for all the production and stuff. I tried to keep the costs down and everything. I said I don’t want a gatefold booklet for the vinyl, I don’t want this or that. I don’t make any money from the book. I just wanted it to exist. It’s funny, even now when I have more control than ever, I still feel like there are too many little mistakes. Like, certain companies you deal with, like T-Shirt companies, sending you the wrong fabric and just certain things, that I guess the big rock stars don’t even think about, mind even care about, don’t know about..I’m trying to know as much I can about such things without making me into an obsessive. You just get distracted from what you should be doing and that’s writing good songs and living your own life, but sometimes you just end up on the phone with people about deliveries and all the boring things David Bowie wouldn’t do. We’ve always worked with independent companies and independent people generally. There’s the fact that you need money to get a tour together and record an album and put it out and you just sort of say “ok, that’s what everybody does” and it’s not really sinful, like, you know, promoting a computer game, we’ve actually done that. And at that time I thought this is fine but when you get there you’re like “agh, we have to do THIS?” and they say “ well, you said you would” all you’re thinking is “did we?” . If you say you’re gonna do something then you do it. You know that things like that help you pay off your debts in months nobody buys our records, it’s a very complicated business. The money from the records you sell comes back into the record company and they use the money to promote it. This is just the way it is. The only way we can make money is play live and sell T-Shirts and then when somebody offers you to promote “Rock Band” or whatever it is then you’re like “yeah, that sounds like fun” instead of being like the serious man you can be. If somebody comes up to you and it sounds like it’s gonna be fun and they’re paying you for it…I don’t do stuff like that normally, but you just think “who cares”.

“A Certain Trigger” was released 5 years ago. I remember the gigs you played in Germany in 2005 and your stage persona has changed so much since then. How does it feel performing your very own songs live now, cause you’re pretty much in the same situation again as you were when MP started.

It feels good. It does feel very much like at the start with Maximo Park again and that’s exciting. You know, coming in and talking with people about something that’s totally different when they don’t really know what to expect. You got the feeling that at the end of our last album people were like “you know, Maximo Park…” and people were treating what I felt was a really good record like just another record by another band. It’s inevitable. I’m not stupid, I know that people are being paid to talk to me and that they’re not necessarily doing it for the love of it. You put a lot of effort into something and to find it insulted in a way. I didn’t do this record to get that feeling back, but I have. It’s really good. It’s nice to work hard every day..I wake up, I get ready and out to talk about my record, I do the sound check and try to make everything sound good. I play the shows with as much energy and love as the songs are requiring and make sure people are getting an impression of my record. After three records and having played to lots of people you sometimes get the feeling that people see you as a part of the machine and I don’t see Maximo Park as a machine, it’s on the margins, hence the title of this record. It’s a marginal thing in my discography but it means as much to me as the other three records. Maybe because I’m the lyricist I get a lot out of our records. To me it’s exciting to be back in small rooms but I love to be playing a big stage as well, so it’s nice to have the option for both. Obviously I’m the lucky one, being able to play the small shows and be able to crank it up again and play a big show..perform to excite and be excited. People don’t accept change sometimes but if I don’t change then where does this lead me?

Speaking of you playing live: Andy has produced your album, you’re playing in MeandthetwinS with Rachel and Peter Brewis from Field Music played base guitar on Margins…Several interviews are stating Duncan offered to help out as well (like Tom did the drums on his album and he and Archis were in his live band) but you turned him down…

I’ve read that as well but I have no idea where this is coming from. Things often get lost in translation I think.

So it’s not even true?

Nah, that would be weird. He never offered his help. I mean, I rely on the whole time, they’re my friends and collaborators, you know, for me, it wouldn’t have been such a chance to take if I would have asked for everybody’s help. I could have asked other people to play live with me as well or record the songs. I spent most of my working days with the rest of the lads and I spent years on tour with them and, hopefully, will again. But it’s nice to have a break and I think it’s the same for them. They’re probably like “I’m glad Paul’s doing his own thing, that’s giving me time to do my own thing”. It’s funny when things like the above get written.

How did you choose your live band and how did it feel to play the songs with them for the first time?

Well, as you’ve said, Andy was easy. Rachel plays like me because we’ve grown up together in sense of the guitar playing. She plays like me, we make the same mistakes, you know, we have weird way of telepathic playing in MeandthetwinS. We never really discuss, we just do it. I play all the guitars on the album and I needed somebody to play like me instead of somebody who was too slick. And Claire was a recommendation by a guy called Marc who was gonna play the bass, he knows Andy and played with The Week That Was. He said “ if I can’t do it, at least my friend Claire from Leeds who’s in a band called Beards can do it”. I asked her if she wants to do it and I went on their Myspace and Beards were really good. So it’s kind of a friendly thing, you know, I don’t wanna play music with people I don’t know. Having friends is really important with this kind of music. But it depends. In the future I would like to experiment more with different sounds, strings for example, you don’t get that when playing with friends. But you get really specialized people. It’s just nice doing things with different people and in sound checks we play and Claire’s got two bass lines and I’m playing along on my guitar and at the end of it we might have an idea for a record. That’s just the beauty of music. Playing with people and seeing what happens.

The sound on Margins is very dreamy in a way. You just mentioned strings. I love the cello on Pinball..

Me too! I love the sound of the Cello and I love stuff like Arthur Russell. When Andy suggested putting on the Cello…he’d put like, trumpet on it as well and make it a really big production. And I don’t like that, I said “I think we should just leave the Cello on it and that’s it”. He wasn’t so sure about that but he did it and it sounds good. And that’s the way we work. We suggest things to each other and often I think it’s not gonna work and he’s right or the other way around but in the end it’s all good.

Tonight is the last night of your German tour. How were the gigs? Almost your entire Hamburg gig is up on Youtube and I couldn’t resist watching. Seemed like the audience responded well to the songs!

They’ve all been really good. Well, Berlin was slightly different because we’ve been supporting Phoenix so obviously the crowd was gonna be totally different. It was also a free show I think, people won the tickets to it. You know I went on and played While You’re In The Bath as the first song and some people were like “what are doing? What are you doing? This is a big mistake”. But I live and die my these songs, these are my songs and if I went on and played like, all the louder ones, it would have felt like I was betraying the record. And I wanted to play The Heat as well which is also not what Phoenix fans wanna hear or the Ting Tings fans but I don’t care really. I’m not there to please people except there are people who wanna be pleased, who support the shows and wanna be excited. That’s been the case with all the other shows though cause they’ve been my shows. You can hear a pin drop during all of them which was a revelation to me cause I was quite worried about whether people would give the new songs a chance even if songs like North Atlantic Drift and Our Lady Of Lourdes aren’t so far away from the songs with my other band. But yeah, people are inviting me back on stage for an encore each night and I’m not taking that for granted because if people not gonna walk and but stay and are waiting for more it’s always a good sign. All of these shows have really been a revelation to me, you know. I just wanna have fun it’’s been good.

Das interview wurde freundlicherweise erst nach ein wenig mehr als der doppelten angesetzten dauer unterbrochen. Das Essen wartete. Da will man niemanden aufhalten. Während Paul mich ganz Gentleman aus dem g9 geleitete, nutze ich die Chance um noch eine weitere frage loszuwerden. Nämlich die, ob das Publikum am Abend in den Genuss seiner Bass-Version von Arthur Russel’s A Little Lost kommen würde (er hatte dies einen Abend zuvor in Heidelberg gespielt) und wie die Chancen auf das bisher noch kaum bekannte stück „syrian plains“ seien. Was folgte war eine weitere kleine Ewigkeit in der er über Atmosphäre bei Konzerten, platten, einzelner Songs, Arthur Russell, die Herangehensweise zu dem Song live (Bandkollegin Rachel an zweiter Stimme, die er laut eigener aussage gerne öfter live in Anspruch nehmen würde. Rachel sei auch auf dem Album mit eingeplant gewesen, hatte jedoch trotz auch solo Erfahrung auf der bühne leider abgelehnt, da sie sich dies nicht zutraue) und philosophierte. Syrian plains, so Paul, sei so eine Sache, es passe leider schwer in die Stimmung des Albums und so würde es stark von den Akzeptanz des Publikums abhängen, ob der Song an diesem Abend gespielt würde. Die Tür schloss sich erst nach einer weiteren, mittlerweile dritten, Umarmung und während er wohl in Richtung essen schlenderte, breitete sich in meinem herzen das wissen aus, dass dies wohl das offenste und herzlichste interview war, das ich eh geführt habe und wohl je führen werde.

Fotos: Ariane WhiteTapes vom , mehr vom Abend hier


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