I wake up to the sound of Mick Jagger singing something about it being The Last Time. I hit my alarm off and look at the time. 10:04 a.m. Why invent the snooze button? My eyes widen. I shoot out of bed and flap about my room, trying to find the badly hand written questions I’m supposed to be asking Paul Smith about his debut solo album. That’s the lead singer of Maximo Park for you no brainers, not the British Fashion Designer. I find the questions, jump back into bed, grab my phone and dial the digits. Anticipation getting the better of me. I begin to fidget and feel like a small child dizzy on lemonade and minstrels. I can’t remember the last time I felt so nervous by a phone conversation. Then it comes to me. Lucy Mekins, my first girlfriend. I was 8, she was 9. A conversation that lasted all of three minutes and was mostly filled with awkward silences and pretend coughing to fill any more of the already awkward silence which we were both experiencing. I was hoping this conversation wouldn’t go the same way. I take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Paul comes to the phone and his Geordie accent makes everything alright. Let the interview commence, start, begin. Did you feel a lot ‘freer’, when you wrote the tracks for Margins? I did yeah, freer would be a good way to describe the process because being in a band, it’s a five way thing, and it’s a very democratic process which we go through, and with Margins I was literally going round the corner to my mate’s house and saying, “Here’s a song, can you record it ?” Then he would play the drums on it and before I knew it I was making an album. (Sips on brew) There is a weird sort of subconscious thing that happens when I’m writing for Maximo Park where you know four other people have got to hear this and before you even start singing in the practice room you’ve probably already thought a little more about the singing without realizing. On hindsight there seems to be a lot of intimate issues in this record, although all the lyrics in Maximo Park are very personal and that fuels our live shows and there’s a strong emotional pull to them, these songs just feel a little bit more, well, just me, and I think that almost goes without saying, but I suppose when I think about how the lead singer writes most of the songs but in our band that’s not the case, so I think it’s quite different from the stuff from the band even though it’s me singing, you end up thinking “Oh that’s what he brings to Maximo Park.”
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The songs on Margins aren’t necessarily structured; you don’t follow the strict template of intro, verse, chorus, verse, second chorus, break down, solo, chorus, end. Was this an intended effect? I hadn’t really spoken to anyone else about the tracks before putting the record out, it was just me indulging my own way if you like. With this record I just felt free to role and I didn’t really think, I’ll go into record with a grand master plan, I kind of just let things happen as I would wish. The boundaries are quite blurred on this record in the sense of what happens where, I just allowed myself to be led by my instincts and we’ve always tried to get instinctual things into Maximo Park but it’s a completely different process, so it was here that I thought the song could start in one place, go through all sorts of different permutations and then end up back in that same place like 'Strange Fiction' for instance, it comes back down to the original riff even though it’s had about ten different sections. It was all a fun experience though. A pretty bog standard generic question, but who were your main influences on this record? Well the album was written over the course of 4-5 years, so there must be 100’s and 100’s of things I’ve listened to that have filtered their way onto the record. I think if I’m to look at the people who were an example to me of how to do things and how to write things and how to record, one of the main influences would be Arthur Russell who used so many different types of genres, like lots of disco stuff in the late 70’s and then he did loads of cello and vocals and echoes and chambers and did all sorts of things, and the one thing that remains true to all of his work is that he uses the everyday aspect in his lyrics, something like holding someone’s hand or seeing someone across the street, they’re all quite spiritual things, which do guide me in a sense, as I write most of my things about everyday scenarios, there’s a track on Margins called 'While You’re In The Bath' for God’s sake, you know, it’s verging on being heavily mundane but it speaks so much of the relationships we have, so in answer to your question, people like Arthur Russell, the guitar sounds of the Cocteau Twins, which I’ve grown up and then there’s Jodie Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. So do you think you’ll release another solo album in your career, or do you feel that everything you wanted to record is here on this album? I would like to think that there’s more, I’ve really enjoyed the process of having something outside of Maximo Park. I think it’s important to have other concerns in your life, being held down to one thing scares the hell out of me really, it would feel too confining. I write a lot of songs which can’t go in the Maximo Park repertoire, and the rest of the lads probably wouldn’t want the other stuff that I’m into to go onto a Maximo Park record, so I do have a few other songs written for the next stage of my solo career, yes. Have you had an exhilarating moment in your career, where you’ve had to step back and think Wow? Not really. If you put something at the top of the mountain everything else is down at the bottom, there are plenty of highlights, but the next highlight could just be round the corner, Do you have any guilty pleasures, with regards to music? No because I don’t feel guilty. I love some stuff which the lads in the band find really over produced and kind of too 80’s, but I think if you like a piece of music, you shouldn’t be ashamed of it, I wouldn’t say flaunt it but if you’re shedding a tear over Susan Boyle then you’re well within your rights to do that. And for the last question, can you sum up Margins in five words? Melodic, personal, intimate, loose and... (PAUSES) marginal.
You can visit Paul Smith by heading to http://www.myspace.com/paulsmithmusic Margine is out now on Billingham Records