The Maccabees may be overly concerned about thermals but, as Jimi Famurewa learns, 2012’s breakout band are dreaming big.
Think of the quintessential British rock star and a swaggering egomaniac in Ray-Bans, spray-on trousers and a fluttering silk scarf springs to mind. Not for Orlando Weeks, lead singer and guitarist of The Maccabees, who still struggles with simply getting his picture taken.
“I’ve just never been very comfortable in photographs,” he laughs. “Whether it’s family ones, school ones or whatever.” But this unfortunate fear only underlines his band’s mild-mannered rise. We catch up with Weeks and bandmate Felix White (guitar and backing vocals) as they’re about to embark on a bumper European tour, having seen their third album Given To The Wild hit the pop-dominated chart at a not-too-shabby No4. Sounds like he might have to get used to those pesky flashbulbs...
It’s really taken off for you this year. Are you taking this call from a gold-plated tour bus with an assistant feeding you grapes?
Orlando Weeks: [Laughs] Not quite. The bus has actually already broken down twice on this tour, so that goes to show how much it has changed.
Is life on tour as full of raucous partying as some people would have you believe?
OW: It’s up and down. You go through days where you really want to make the most of going to new places. And then sometimes you don’t leave the bus or the venue for days and get cabin fever.
Felix White: The main thing on this tour has just been trying to escape the Arctic conditions around Europe.
OW: Yeah, I’ve never heard quite so much talk about long johns. We’re like gold rush-era prospectors at the moment [laughs]. They don’t make those ones that button up at the back any more, but we might as well be wearing them.
So is your rider quite sensible?
FW: Well, there’s a cream cheese and horseradish mix on today’s rider, which is pretty amazing.
How do you stave off tour bus boredom?
FW: In Italy, our tour manager took me to the San Siro for Inter Milan vs Novara, which was great. But he and our merchandise guy had decided that they wanted to be in the hardcore end. My doubts about it were confirmed when some skinhead dude started saying something aggressive in Italian. We got the hint and moved 10 metres to our left, then 20 minutes later it was all f*cking flares and flags and sh*t. Our tour manager did his best to blend in with a shiny leather jacket and shades, but my long hair drew a few weird looks. I don’t think I’ll be invited to join the Ultras at Inter Milan any time soon.
There’s been a lot in the press about rock music’s dwindling sales figures. What’s your take on it?
OW: It would be beneficial if there was more alternative music in the mainstream charts. This is the first time we’ve been involved at that end of the charts, so it’s the only time I’ve ever listened to what else was in them.
It became obvious that we weren’t [the norm]. There’s so much great alternative music being made, and it brings the best out of pop music, and vice versa, when it’s at the top end of the charts.
Your name is taken from a Jewish rebel army in the Bible. Did you get a lot of confused offers to play Bar Mitzvahs early on?
OW: No, but back then we probably would have taken those gigs and been quite happy about it [laughs].
What have been the strangest things you’ve seen in the crowd during a gig?
OW: When we played Reading there was an odd crowd-surfing trend. It was one of those things where one person did it and then everyone was trying it. Basically, people would get loads of mates to hold their feet so they were standing above the crowd. It was a bit like Iggy Pop climbing over the crowd. For some reason, all the lights went on during the last song, and that really burned my retinas, so for the next 20 minutes I could see silhouettes of all these people standing above the crowd. It was kind of alien.
And have you had any bizarre things thrown at the stage?
OW: For a while we’d get the odd shoe.
FW: Oh yeah! I got hit in the back of the head by a shoe once. Just a single shoe.
What are some of the odder gig venues you’ve performed at over the years?
OW: Playing on a beach in Malawi was pretty weird. It was at something called the Lake Of Stars Festival, and it was quite the eye-opener, just seeing a place that’s totally foreign to you.
Modern bands are reluctant to make Oasis-style boasts about their greatness. Do you not think about playing stadiums and hitting No1?
OW: It’s not the motivation for getting up in the morning. I just want to make stuff I’m proud of, whatever comes along with it comes with it. I don’t think ambition is a dirty word, but you need to be ambitious for the right thing.
FW: That’s definitely it, and I like the idea of being able to choose what you do. When we first started as a band we did a few things that I don’t think we’d have done if we had more power.
Have you become used to the idea of being in a successful band, or do you still linger around record shops to see if your CDs are in there?
OW: I was walking around London with Hugo [White, guitarist in the band] recently, and we walked past HMV and went, “Oh look.” They had this big display stand and our album was on it. As we stood there, a guy walked up to it, picked it up, put it back down and walked on into the shop [laughs].
Weren’t you tempted to grab him and make him give it another look?
OW: No. I still felt weirdly proud at that moment. It had done its job for him. He liked the cover and that was enough.
You’ve been compared to Coldplay recently. Would you ever play The X Factor like they did?
FW: It’s not something that we’re necessarily hoping will happen.
So you wouldn’t be interested in your own clothing line, then?
OW: I’m wearing an India One Day cricket shirt, so you probably shouldn’t ask me about a fashion line...
FW: We’ve been going on about thermals, maybe we could do our own long johns? [Laughs]
Single Feel To Follow is released on 12 March; themaccabees.co.uk
(Images: Getty, Rex Features)