Quiet guys start to make some noise

With their third album, The Maccabees have moved into epic territory, the south London quintet tell Elisa Bray

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The Independent Online

The Maccabees should be celebrating. When we meet, on the threshold of their biggest tour to date, the south London five-piece have just heard that they're at No 1 in the midweek chart, while they are currently gracing the cover of the NME, hailed "the best guitar band in Britain". Not that they are in mid-celebration.

"Midweek," stresses their overly cautious singer and lyricist Orlando Weeks. "This is the thing... it can all change very dramatically." Somewhat more encouraged is the five-piece's guitarist, Felix White. "Just the fact that is it is even for a second is..." he pauses, lost for words. "I hadn't even entertained the thought that it would be, so that's amazing. I'm ready to celebrate that, even if it ends up at 25."

It did drop a few places, but only to No 4, landing them their first Top 5 album, at a time when guitar music is supposedly in trouble and out of favour. The success led them to announce a date, this June, at Alexandra Palace, the 10,000-capacity venue where bands including Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros and Interpol before them have cemented their status. It's clear The Maccabees' time is now.

Perhaps their reluctance to shout about it is to do with the fact that their success has been a long time in the making. Since the close-knit group of friends, including White's younger brother Hugo on guitar and Rupert Jarvis on bass (drummer Sam Doyle joined after the debut album), formed in 2004 as a more productive alternative to spending the whole of the summer sitting on Clapham Common doing "absolutely nothing" ("We had to start doing something, just to spend time doing more productively and then also to maintain that togetherness," recalls Weeks), The Maccabees have been quietly toiling away on the guitar-band circuit. They have slowly built success, from their single "Toothpaste Kisses", which found its home on a Samsung advert, to the higher chart placing (No 13) of their second album Wall of Arms in 2009, which led to sell-out performances at Brixton Academy.

"The way it's gone for us is that we have just slowly, slowly crept up the table," says Weeks. They don't regret the slow ascent; they wouldn't have had it any other way. "It's definitely very positive for us," says White. "If the first record had happened to be a big record, it would have been difficult to keep us all together because we weren't sure what we were doing. We're still not, now, but you need to have space in order to work it out. I'm glad it's happened how it's happened. We still don't feel like a big band."

The new album, Given to the Wild, is their most ambitious to date, leaving behind the angular indie of their beginnings to take on a thoughtful and dreamy mood, drawing in cyclical riffs, subtle layers of guitar, and even prog-rock. They put their sound development down to their new method of songwriting. While both their debut and sophomore albums were created as a collective with the skeleton of Weeks's songs as a starting point, for Given to the Wild there was a democratic decision to each go their own ways, to their respective south London homes, to work on their ideas.

"Up to that point we'd only written in rented rehearsal rooms that you have for a day," explains White. "By the time we'd finished our second record it just felt limiting and we were bored of that process, so it made sense, with people having bigger ideas." It was a way of allowing all the band members a part in the songwriting process, "keeping everyone happy and it still being The Maccabees and it not falling apart... In the writing it feels there's an easiness," adds Weeks. "The change – and taking some of that pressure away from the claustrophobic room environment – I think that definitely made a huge difference."

With the space afforded them – the album was written over a luxuriously-paced two years – lyricist Weeks had plenty of time to ponder the themes for the album, which include growing up and mortality.

The news that they ended up higher in the chart than Beyoncé that week came as welcome relief. "I got a phone call from my landlord saying that my rent had bounced," says White. "That sums it up, really."


'Given to the Wild' is out now. The Maccabees are on tour in March