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The Friction of Molecules: Max´mo Park's Paul Smith Talks 'As Long As We Keep Moving'

Tuesday, 19 February 2019 Written by Huw Baines

Time is constant, but it rarely seems to be on our side. That’s particularly the case for a lot of bands, who are under pressure to maintain standards as their careers progress and, from certain quarters, to keep doing the same thing in perpetuity. Maxïmo Park’s ‘As Long As We Keep Moving’ is an attempt to reckon with that.

A live album and film recorded at Vada Studios, a 13th century chapel turned recording facility close to the border between Worcestershire and Warwickshire, the project doubles as a monument to this iteration of the group and a parting shot from Lukas Wooller, who is leaving after almost two decades behind the keyboard.

“We’re probably the best we ever have been in terms of being a live band,” frontman Paul Smith says. “There are lots of bits of footage out there that are pretty good, or reasonable, but we didn’t feel like anything necessarily captured what we felt or what people who come to our shows feel, or tell us what they feel when they come and see the energy and the dynamism.”

This version of Maxïmo Park has been in place since bassist Paul Rafferty took over live duties from Archis Tiku in 2012, while it’s now almost 14 years since the arrival of the group’s Mercury-nominated debut ‘A Certain Trigger’. The tracklist on ‘As Long As We Keep Moving’ attempts to reflect the shifting sands of the band’s discography, conjuring the post-punk grit of their early work alongside some of the synth-pop flourishes that have been stitched throughout later releases.

“These are tried and tested songs for us,” Smith says. “It was important to pick songs from all six of our records and to throw in a b-side curveball. They’re not necessarily the obvious tracks that people would pick. It’s not a greatest hits but it is something that represents us as we play live at this point in time. I think all albums should be a document of whatever time they’re made in.”

There is a curious edge to ‘As Long As We Keep Moving’ stemming from its circumstances as a live album tracked entirely in-studio. Smith sees it as both an insight into their normal recording process and an attempt to recreate the temperamental atmosphere of playing a show. Aside from one conspicuously out of tune bass on an otherwise perfect rendition, overdubs have been eschewed in favour of the unblemished truth.

“We tried to use the first take wherever possible,” Smith says. “There are a few moments on there where I’m a little bit out of tune, or there’s a note that’s not as it would be on a record, and I think that’s important. When you’re playing live you realise that things go wrong, there are nerves at play, you might be outside at a festival and the sound might be weird, there are all sorts of different variables.

“You have more control in the studio, and yet when you’re doing a take on a studio record you might do it 20 times or two or three times, as was the case with our last record. But each time you have to give it 100%, especially me as the vocalist. I’m trying to get emotions across.”

The visual counterpart, directed by filmmaker Mark James, is a borderline psychedelic piece that utilises the band’s proximity to one another, facing across the room in a circle, and natural light streaming through archways to create a type of latticing effect. Without an audience in place it was up to them to generate the desired energy while tethered to monitors and headphones, and hemmed in by the tight confines of the room.

“It’s a bit straighter than what we originally imagined—I think we were hoping to do something even more conceptual than what it is,” Smith says. “That’s one of the things where you go, ‘Right, that’s not going to work in this tight space’. It may even be better because it has the tension of constraint, the friction of molecules bouncing around inside a room. It’s quite an ornate place, and there are lots of things that are contradictory, perhaps like the band.”

Smith isn’t particularly concerned with questions of legacy at this stage, but they are naturally raised by a release like this. Maxïmo Park are an interesting case study in this sense: a band who broke through at the height of landfill indie but had enough class and creative guile to outgrow the scene they were lumped into. They will soon bring up 20 years in the game, but the impetus behind ‘As Long As We Keep Moving’ appears to be the ongoing desire to wave goodbye to one period of their tenure in order to start on the next.

“The music is primarily emotionally driven,” Smith says. “You don’t want to be too bothered about how you look or how you’re perceived, because it will intrude on that other thing you want to have. The band’s really important to me, and it’s been a massive part of my life for 15 years or so. But it’s just music. Music is really important to me, so I wouldn’t necessarily say that, but there are bigger things in the world.

“I think when people talk about legacy it’s sometimes a bit embarrassing, really. You can’t control any of those things. If I had my way we’d be number one and critically acclaimed, but it’s out of my hands. You just have to keep doing things you believe in and are happy with. Things that you believe are good. And that’s what we’ve continued to do. Even this—really it’s a minor release in our catalogue because it’s not new music. But I think that it’s great in its own way and it’s important to us as a band. You’ve just got to stay excited about things and not worry too much about the legacy word.”

‘As Long As We Keep Moving’ is out on March 1 through Cooking Vinyl.

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