British indie rockers The Maccabees could be forgiven for basking in the attention they’ve been receiving as of late, after their third album Given To The Wild has achieved chart heights previously unclimbed by the humble quintet. But, akin to the nature of most enduring rock bands, commercial success seems to be a little-relevant consequence of creating music that they’re proud of. For the first time since their debut album Colour It In launched their career in 2007, The Maccabees are finally heading to Australia. Having played alongside the likes of Digitalism and Public Enemy at this year’s Groovin the Moo festival, the band will also perform a handful of sideshows in the larger cities. Since touring for the most part of the year, guitarist Felix White was enjoying a brief break at home in London and had a few moments to call in to discuss Australia, the new album and Mel Gibson.
Felix White didn’t try his hand at the guitar until he was about 17, which he assures me is “quite old” in the scheme of things. Half a year later, getting together with his brother Hugo and three other wannabe-musicians from his London college, the group quickly relocated to Brighton to see how far their six months of musical experimentation could get them. “[At that time] we literally didn’t have much idea what we were doing to be perfectly honest,” White admits. He fondly remembers playing hundreds of gigs in London and Brighton’s dingiest venues to non-existent crowds while holding down minimum-wage day jobs, attempting to find their direction as a group. Due to the nature of the music industry today, he now sees the slow toiling, night after night, in back street pubs as a somewhat dated route to recognition. “I suppose in hindsight now, the way we did it was quite old fashioned; slowly getting a small amount of people coming to your gigs, and getting them interested very slowly. And now we’re going to Australia!” White concludes brightly.
Of course, the intervening years between then and now and are a bit more detailed. Colour It In reached #24 in the UK Top 40 chart with a few singles from the album receiving airtime on mainstream radio. Their sophomore album Wall Of Arms saw further successes: higher chart placing, more radio time and critical praise from career-making music giant NME. This slow but steady rise to Britpop stardom had fans and critics alike gagging to see what The Maccabees would do next. Enter the 22 month wait for their third make-or-break album.
Given To The Wild is a hugely different sound to their two previous releases, with a lot more substance and successful experimentation. The sound is still that of The Maccabees, but it has matured and expanded to a completely different place. White attributes that change to more freedom and a completely different recording approach. “The core of the other albums were made sat together in a house from the start to finish of each song. We’d spend every day in there working it out with our guitars,” he explains. “With Given To The Wild, we had a lot more time where we were working on tiny bits; sending little loops to each other. It slowly came together that way, so in that sense it had much more purpose in the production. We had much more ownership over that side of it too.”
Basing sole judgment on the extremely biblical name, it is understandable that The Maccabees are often assumed to be a Christian band. Rumour has it that they opened a dictionary and pointed blindly at the word and that was it – but the name has certainly caused a liberal amount of misunderstanding since the days of pubescent anonymity. “It’s an accidental and sometimes an unfortunate [name], but when we were young we thought it was a good name for a band. And it still is!” White defends, “But obviously it has other connotations which we just didn’t know anything about.”
And lately, upon googling The Maccabees, not only will you find biblical stories of old, but there’ll also be a tonne of hits for Mel Gibson and his infamous potty-mouth – something to do with a movie script and more secretly recorded hate-rants. White laughs, “In an ideal world, we wouldn’t be associated with that. But actually, for early gigs, we used to make our own flyers and hand them out. When Mel Gibson started making The Maccabees film about ten years ago, it was in the newspaper. We cut out ‘Now Mel Wants to Be a Maccabee’ and did it as if Mel Gibson was advertising the gig”. So perhaps the association was helpful once.
Although they are officially on their Given To The Wild tour, White assures me as it’s the first time down under, their Australian set list will include a “bit of everything”. The band are excited about their first trip here, and White gushes about playing alongside Public Enemy who he touts as “one of the greatest groups of all time”. An avid cricket fan, he is also anxious to do a tour of the MCG while he’s in town. White even ends the interview with a perhaps farfetched plea: “You know, if I could get any one of the Australian cricket team down to a gig, then that’d be awesome.” And obviously, he’d love for you to come too.
BY KATE McCARTEN
THE MACCABEES are playing at The HiFi on Wednesday May 16. Given To The Wild is out now.