December 11th 2009
You might not even expect to see Roots Manuva and The Maccabees on the same bill, let alone the same track, so on the face of it this unlikely collaboration in the November release of ‘Empty Vessels’ may have sounded incongruous. But both artists have a history of making things happen, and always on their own terms, so in reality it sounds anything but. In fact, it sounds like it was always intended: Orlando and Rodney coming on like slightly messed up messiahs over a tune that already had a driving hip-hop drum beat.
Clearly they’re not afraid of trying new things and their second record, Wall of Arms, is further testament to this. Although it has the same spirit – that same sense of abandon - as their first album, Wall of Arms is much more atmospheric. The same peaks, the same driving beats; there’s something new there as well. ‘We sort of felt we’d done a lot of that jaggedy, thin sounding music and we made a conscious effort to embed stuff more and have a bit more depth to everything.’
Some of this depth comes courtesy of the Markus Dravs production. He’s performed the same trick for Bjork, the latest Coldplay album and that master piece of the soaring song, Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible. If that difficult second album is sink or swim then Markus Dravs is the ever attendant lifeguard by the side of the pool. ‘Markus was pretty amazing at helping, it was his call to get the brass section in and things like that really worked out.’
They’ve gone further for sure but they haven’t lost the essential essence of the Maccabees; it’s just as sensitive, just as profound and has all the same urgency. A lot was expected of this album and that hasn’t been lost on them, something which is obvious from the attitude they took to the making of it. ‘We wanted to sort of disappear a bit and not see anyone we knew so we got a house in Paris and did it in a small studio, which was amazing.’
Whilst they clearly took the task in hand very seriously, they appear undaunted by any weight of expectation. Rather, it seems they enjoy the challenge and this is probably because everything they do is their own; they’re doing it as much for themselves as for anyone else. They don’t just write the songs, they design the covers and shoot the videos - manage the whole aesthetic - so the experience can’t help but feel personal. “In some respects, it’s just as important as the music. If you’re doing the music then it’s important that you represent it; we’ve always thought it was important to keep it coming from within the band rather than just handing it over to an outside person and saying, ‘do the artwork.’ It’s just, really, making sure that it’s our thing.”
All this independence necessarily breeds originality and whether that manifests itself in music videos which double as a documentary on cheese rolling or a doubtful but delightful duet with Roots Manuva, you know that not only can they give it, they’re always giving it their all…