Football, Farage and other things bothering Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith

Maximo Park. Pic: Steve Gullick.
Maximo Park. Pic: Steve Gullick.

Paul Smith, the frontman with North East indie-rock band Maximo Park, comes across on stage as an effervescent ball of energy, full of life, vitality and charm.

So it's good to know that one of the things he has on his mind is probably the same as half the region's menfolk; namely which division his football team is going to be playing in next season.

North East indie-rock band Maximo Park. Pic: Steve Gullick.

North East indie-rock band Maximo Park. Pic: Steve Gullick.

The Billingham-born singer is a lifelong Middlesbrough fan, and likes nothing better than going to the match with his mates, and enjoying a couple of drinks and a Parmo in a bun.

But his beloved Boro, like Sunderland, are embroiled in a relegation battle, and it's not one he's convinced they'll get out of.

"It's on a knife edge at the moment whether either of us survive. The problem is that other teams are getting results every now and again, and we're not.

"I have a lot of friends who are Sunderland fans, and they go from being depressed to just laughing at the situation, otherwise they will cry.

Maximo Park. Pic: Steve Gullick

Maximo Park. Pic: Steve Gullick

"Newcastle fans are quite happy at the moment, but so were Boro fans at this time last season. Look where we are now."

In the scheme of things, the fortunes of his football team is a minor concern, however. The state of a Britain on the verge of Brexit is much bigger , and it's resulted in possibly his group's most political album yet.

Risk To Exist, their sixth studio offering, is due out on April 21, followed by a UK tour which includes a date at the O2 Academy in Newcastle on May 6.

Co-produced by Tom Schick (Wilco, Beck, White Denim), it was written in their native North-East, and recorded at Wilco’s studio, The Loft, in Chicago, in autumn 2016.

Recorded completely live, the album represents another bold stylistic step for the band after 2014’s Top 10 Too Much Information.

They have also enlisted Mimi Parker from acclaimed US band Low for the record, whose voice lends its inimitable warmth to five album tracks, including the title track, which was the lead single.

With 1.5million album sales and four UK Top 10 albums under their belt, Smith and bandmates Duncan Lloyd (guitar), Lukas Wooller (keyboards) and Tom English (drums) have shifted gear once again.

The record finds Smith raging against the dire state of world affairs and crumbling political systems.

"The album is, ultimately, about empathy," he says. "Some songs are simple messages of solidarity and others are fuelled by anger at the elitist, established order of British society.

"There's a questioning of power throughout and a feeling that there must be a different way of structuring our society in order to alleviate inequality.

"Mainstream commentating is slowly becoming more right-wing. There are more fringe elements in society than ever before getting a voice ... people like Nigel Farage who doesn’t even have a job as an MP but is given a platform to say what he wants to say."

The record also touches on the way society as a whole is changing, especially since the nation decided last year that it no longer wanted to be part of the European Union, and changing attitudes towards different members of society.

"It is a political record, but they said that about (2012 album The National Health). It's always been there under the surface, and sometimes on it. This time round we made a concerted decision to express our minds about things that are bothering us.

"For instance, our language is becoming quite aggressive. Take the word 'benefit' and some people immediately add the word cheats. Yes, being on benefits is given a bad name by a minority of people, but many more people want to be independent and are quite embarrassed about being on benefits.

"I'm from a working class background, even though I have a lifestyle now which some people might regard as middle class. Football is like life. You yearn for something more and hope to progress, but sometimes it's a fight to keep your head above water."

Music also provides an escape from the pressures of life, and Smith is proud to provide people with that opportunity.

"The new record is quite funky, quite rhythmic, and just as going to watch your team can be an escape, hopefully so can we. We want people to sing, dance and forget their worries."

One member who will be conspicuous by his absence on the forthcoming tour is bass player Archis Tiku, who was a founding member of Maximo Park back in 2001.

"A few years ago, when we were touring The National Health, Archis said he didn't want to be on the road any more. Paul Rafferty from Hot Club De Paris filled in for him on live dates, and we kept in touch.

"When we started work on the new record we realised it was quite funky, and that suited Paul's style, so he joined us in the studio too. He's not a full-time member, as he's also in a Liverpool punk band called Bad Meds, and has commitments with them.

"He's a very different bass player to Archis, who's more melodic, but there's been no big falling out. Archis has decided he has other things to do now, but he still lives round the corner, we still see each other, and he knows he's invited to any of our shows."

You can't imagine Paul Smith falling out with anyone, to be fair. As he says: "We're just trying to make music and be nice people."