The Maccabees third album ‘Given To The Wild’ is the culmination of two years of writing and recording. Having followed ‘Wall of Arms’ – 2009’s critically-lauded second release – with main stage slots at Reading and Leeds Festivals, and two sell- out shows at Brixton Academy, the London five piece (singer Orlando Weeks, bassist Rupert Jarvis, guitarists Felix and Hugo White and drummer Sam Doyle) began work on its follow-up by dismantling their most creative of songwriting units. For several months The Maccabees went their separate ways, individually sketching out the tracks that would make up their latest studio album.“We wanted everyone in the band to feel freedom while making this record,” says Felix White. “So individually we would work on ideas and bring them to the rest of the band.”
The fruits of this labour became the epic and beguiling ‘Given To The Wild’, a sprawling masterpiece of distorted pop, psychedelia and soulful guitar wig outs. It is the band’s most adventurous work to date.
Work on ‘Given To The Wild’ first began in January 2011 when the band returned from headlining the NME Awards tour. Armed with a handful of ideas – sketches for songs and lyrical snapshots – they avoided the rehearsal room and opted instead to retreat to their respective homes in South London to develop ideas individually. Fractured chord progressions, hooks and drum loops were sent back and forth between them and months spent writing in twos or threes saw the band begin to touch upon what the benchmark sounds would be. “We wanted to allow ourselves the space to realise ideas without getting in the way of each other too much,” Orlando elaborates.
“It became exciting because we were making music in a way we’d never done before,” continues Felix. “Before ‘Given To The Wild’, we wrote as a collective. For the first album (‘Colour It In’, 2007) we used to work out guitar parts on the spot and arrange the music around the spine of a song that Orlando had written. We’d mess around basically. For ‘Wall Of Arms’ it was slightly different - we would bring things in individually and work on it until it came together as a group. It was part of slowly becoming more assured.”
Whilst the songs continued to take shape, the band stumbled across a ready-made rehearsal space and recording studio near them. “It was derelict, covered in dust and torn up old carpet but totally soundproofed and set up as a recording studio. We got some friends down, put new carpets in, painted it and made it ours”. They would later learn that the studio had been previously christened ‘The Drugstore’ by its former owners Jesus and Mary Chain, who used it to make ‘Honey’s Dead’ and ‘Stoned and Dethroned’.
By then the songs had developed beyond their sketched ideas and the band took them into their new home to evolve them further through playing them together. The result is a place where fleeting Television and Thin Lizzy-inspired guitar hooks pop out of washed-out soundscapes (‘Child’, ‘Feel to Follow’), where programmed loops and phrases are blended against the band backdrop (‘Ayla’, ‘Go’, ‘Grew Up At Midnight’), and where they write their most complete pop music yet (‘Pelican’, ‘Went Away’). “It’s the first time we’ve really had the confidence to make something that is
purely our own so we wanted to be brave with it,” Felix asserts.
The band’s wider scope on the record is an indication of their individually evolving musical influences. “We’d listened to a lot of Stone Roses, Talk Talk, Bowie’s ‘Low’, Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds Of Love,” says Felix. “Orlando was playing things like How To Dress Well and Grizzly Bear. Hugo was listening to Leonard Cohen’s entire back catalogue and discovering how powerful a song can be when delivered in its most direct form. A lot of that has been infused into this record.”
Tim Goldsworthy (LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture, DFA, Unkle) and Bruno Ellingham were brought in to record the first part of the record, in keeping with the band’s desire to explore new territory. The session was recorded at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, Wales. They spent a month there before enlisting friend and songwriter Jag Jago from Ghost of a Thousand to engineer the songs back in their own studio. Final touches were made including placing some guitars and programming from the first demos back in. “It’s nice that parts that were recorded quickly in our bedrooms have made the record alongside the stuff that was recorded ‘properly,” Hugo says.
The Maccabees have always enjoyed a very hands-on approach to the creative aspects of their campaigns. For ‘Wall Of Arms’, the band were painted by revered artist Boo Ritson and then photographed for the sleeve. Keen to continue their collaborations with British artists they chose the work of Andy Goldsworthy, a sculptor and photographer they have admired for some time, to grace the cover of ‘Given To The Wild’.
“I see this as the best record we’ve ever made” Felix reflects. “There are surprises in there. It’s a captivating album with more than one trick up its sleeve. We’ve grown up as people and changed as a band. We’ve learned for the first time what we really wanted The Maccabees to sound like on record. It’s taken us three albums but we finally achieved that. We’ve discovered what we’re truly capable of and that feels really exciting.”