[NWNA] Maxïmo Park – Nature Always Wins

Taking the words of Duncan Lloyd, 'Nature Always Wins?' Definitely.

Photo/Art by Em Cole
Maximo Park Interview New Week New Album

We have to ‘Apply Some Pressure‘ to the keyboard as we kick off this week with Maxïmo Park and their latest album of originals, twenty-one years after their founding. We know they are not aspiring new artists in the indie industry, but this is one of those cases where we owe it to our youth to write about them (and with them). More mature, in full lockdown, and with a breeze of hope on the horizon, will Nature Always Wins? We took this cue and, in this piece, we speak to Duncan Lloyd, guitarist and one of the strong pillars for the creation of the band. 

Talking about Maxïmo Park is talking a bit about my life (Tomás). They appeared suddenly, through the soundtrack of a video game, when I was 11 or 12 years old. We were around the time of the first record, A Certain Trigger. But out of nowhere, there was Out Earthly Pleasures and the single Girls Who Play Guitars. Fast-forwarding to Quicken The Heart and the hit The Kids Are Sick Again, we needed help and turned to The National Health and one more bubble-gum track like Write This Down. Maybe this is all Too Much Information, and the Risk To Exist is serious. Make no mistake. The musical nature remains in the band, and the band, that is, remains with us. For anyone who didn’t get the joke, we just mentioned all of Maxïmo Park’s studio albums.  

They grew up with me – and in the middle of 2012, they came to Portugal for the last time. That was the time of The National Health. And it was with this tour that I had the golden opportunity to attend a concert of theirs, in Lisbon. I carried a small poster with a big challenge: ‘Paul Smith, give me your hat‘. Paul didn’t give me his hat, but the poster was blown up to the sound of Our Velocity. And it was just so good live: the emotion, the rhythm, the dynamics. Maxïmo Park stands out for that – their energy is unique in the music scene. They started off boisterous, then they calmed down. Pulled out their lyrical talent, and, suddenly, two decades have passed since the foundation of this English band and here we are. The sixth album of originals: Nature Always Wins. We went through the record from end to end. And here we go on this journey: 

Nature Always Wins

Nature Always Wins’ cover

The singles Child of The Flatlands and Baby, Sleep propose this vision to the reader: maturity, well-seasoned lyrics, instruments placed at the right moment. At the end of the day, Maxïmo Park rise to a pedestal that is difficult to attain: there are few bands that reunite virtually the entire initial line-up year after year and a pandemic after. The recording period was certainly not easy, even though they started it before the lockdown. 

The album is divided into twelve beautifully pleasing dissertations, separated by forty-one minutes. 

It kicks off with Partly of My Making, with a tempestuous entrance that will certainly make the biggest pillars of international music blush. It’s rockin’, with Paul Smith’s voice connecting the instruments and the touching feelings going through our heads. Versions Of You approaches the reinvigorated version of the band we already recognize, with that steady beat that so well characterizes Maxïmo Park. 

We move on to Baby, Sleep, single from the album and third song on the list – and it’s at this point that there’s the right break with the past, glimpsing a more adult present from the band: the experience leads them into a mood that plays for the right and, let’s confess, they’re on the right track.  

Placeholder kicks off with beats reminiscent of The Rolling Stones mixed with The Smiths, a true hymn to British culture; and All of Me, the fifth performance on the album, clearly comes down to the beginning of the chorus:

‘This song is where you belong
This is all of me’ 

Halfway through the album – and with the collaboration of Pauline Murray, a legend of the Punk world, we have a bolder version of the band – where they certainly deliver the ‘punchline’ successfully. It’s called Ardour. As Paul Smith relates in an interview with HMV Store, ‘The song, Ardour, is about the harder aspects of being a parent and Pauline knows all about it, with two kids of her own!‘ 

Next, Meeting Up proceed to a more electronic version of the set – and one that keeps swirling in our ears for almost four minutes. Soon we get to Why Must a Building Burn?, a song with a tragic context and that tries, in a way, to pay homage to the tragic incidents that occurred in the Grenfell Tower fire and the Bataclan massacre, where Nick Alexander, a band’s friend, and merchandising salesman, tragically passed away. More than words, it is a way for us to get inside the heads of the band’s mentors and understand how these events shaped them, in such sad situations of today’s humanity (retarding this we recommend the feature on BBC). 

I Don’t Know What I’m Doing and The Acid Remark hit us by storm with a tremendous artistic and instrumental volte-face, which guides us through an average of three minutes per song. On the way to the end, we still have time for two more surprises. Feelings I’m Supposed to Feel, where the panoply of instruments is definitely left to the background and Paul Smith’s voice guides us for four minutes and thirty seconds. A ballad of well-saying we may say. And closing with a golden key: Child Of The Flatlands. In this, we can easily synthesize (and feel) all the choice sonorities composed up to this point. The band has grown to a point that is a pleasure to see, and we believe it will please everyone, both the die-hard fans and those who know less about the band. 

About the Album – Interview with Duncan Lloyd

To tell us a bit about the record, we put some questions to Duncan Lloyd, one of the mentors behind the band: 

Duncan Lloyd. Photo by Freya Frenesi for SongWritingMagazine

[WtMM] This is your seventh studio album. What has changed, almost twenty years after the first album, ‘A Certain Trigger’?  
There have been many changes over the years, some more seismic than others. Original member Archis Tiku left a while ago now and recently our keyboard player Lukas Wooller got married and moved to Australia.  On one hand, we were seeing a friend and fellow musician leave but on the other hand, we had to look at the positives, the space that it opened up, the way that we could utilize that and go about things in a new manner. To some degree that space has become key to the way, we have been able to progress. The logistical challenges were initially a little daunting but have ended up broadening our scope.  

‘Nature Always Wins’ is released at a rather peculiar time where most countries in the world are in lockdown. How has lockdown influenced your creation and what can we expect from this version of Maxïmo Park?  
We started working on the album towards the end of 2019 but the virus & lockdown hit just as preparations to record in Atlanta with producer Ben Allen were being made.  We then had a rethink about how we might make the record and if it was possible to do things remotely. Ben still wanted to be on board so we thought, why not, let’s give this a go.  

In some ways, it was challenging, mainly because we couldn’t play in the same space. But in other ways, it’s been eye-opening knowing that it is possible to make a record under these circumstances & the result still feels like a strong & cohesive record. 

Personally speaking, the flexibility of being able to work from home at any time of day or night meant there was more room for musical experimentation. In contrast to being in a studio where time can be restrictive. It also allowed me time to keep the keyboard elements of our sound intact for example.  

I think it’s been made more special this time purely from the reaction we’ve had from the first singles & being told it has raised spirits and hopefully helped people who enjoy our music through a, particularly tough time. 

From the singles that have been coming out, I feel like the record presents a more mature version of the band. Do you feel the same refinement?  
Definitely, I think we have had to mature as part of our survival as a group. Being in a band is rewarding but can also be pretty intense, you have to remain open-minded and respectful to the other members yet also know when to put your foot down or go with something that isn’t necessarily comfortable at first. Saying this, having the freedom to move between the band setting and other projects has certainly benefited all of us. Coming back to Maximo Park this time felt like a fresh opportunity, we go again, but this time with a little more experience in tow. 

What are Maxïmo Park’s biggest influences?  
Well that’s a tough question because the list would be very long, sometimes influences appear more obvious than others, some tend to be mysteries from the subconscious. 

We all like to read but Paul is an avid reader and you only have to have a conversation with him to find out which books he is currently reading. Here are some that he read whilst making this record: “Normal People” by Irish writer Sally Rooney, “Territory of Light” by Yuko Tsushima, “A Philosophy of Walking” by Frédéric Gros.

Bands that we all agree on and like are Life Without Buildings, The Go-Betweens, Sonic Youth, ESG, Neil Young, The Fall, and many more. 

If you had to bet on an artist/band for the future, who would it be and why?  
I can see The Weather Station growing in popularity, Tamara Lindeman is a really interesting songwriter, I’m sure Phoebe Bridgers will go from strength to strength too, but there will be new names & projects in many genres that will happen to keep us all excited for sure. 

Do you feel that Nature Always Wins?  

A word of thanks to Duncan Lloyd, Kate Whitby and Jay Taylor for making this session possible.

Nature Always Wins is proof that you need to grow and know how to evolve with the moment. And the truth is that Maxïmo Park are better than ever. With a unique sound that has always been synonymous with the band. Taking the words of Duncan Lloyd, ‘Nature Always Wins?’ Definitely.

Listen to the full Album:

More on Maximo Park: https://www.maximopark.com/