Mazes Interview

Mazes are a Mancunian four piece formed in 2009 and have just finished touring the UK with their debut album A Thousand Heys. Soundbite Culture grabbed some time with frontman Jack Cooper before their last London gig to talk about life on the road, his song writing craft and bowie knives…

Soundbite Culture: Hello there Jack, what are you hoping to achieve with this gig?

Jack Cooper: When we play tonight? Just to play well, make our friends like us more and our enemies not hate us. I don’t know, we’ve played a lot and a certain crowd of people come to see us. Hopefully, because The Lexington is a little bit bigger, we might get some new people come and see us. But I don’t ever set out to achieve anything through one gig.

SC: How does what you want to do when you play live differ from what you want to do when you’re recording?

JC: Well, there’s a lot less pressure playing live because it’s not being recorded. It’s not going down for posterity or anything. So I suppose it’s more about having fun, although that’s not always possible. I don’t know what it’s going to be like tonight, the sound on stage is really weird, so I don’t know. Just get through it and go home.

SC: I read that the 7” split you’ve put out with Eagulls grew from an aborted gig. With these issues with the sound tonight, do you find ideas come out of the unpredictable things that happen when you’re on tour?

JC: Not really, touring is really mundane. It’s hard to be creative at all when you’re on tour. I can’t be, I just try and get through the day without getting depressed.

SC: So by the end of the tour there’s an exhaustion and so sick of your old material that you want to move on?

JC: Yeah, very much so. It’s weird, we’re a band who started out recording things and the first few recordings we did with Jay, who used to play drums, the actual takes that we got off those recordings were like the first or second time he’d ever played the song. But these songs, even the new ones that aren’t on our album and stuff, we played them like twenty times. So it’s hard to get excited about them.

SC: Do you find yourself improvising little things to alter them on the night then?

JC: Yeah. The rhythm section [drummer Neil Robinson and bassist Conan Roberts] come from a punk background I suppose, and maybe me and Jarin [Tabata, guitarist] are a bit more into sixties music and improvisation. So there’s kind of a conflict you know. It’s difficult when your songs are short pop songs to improvise or to do anything different. I mean, I mess about and play dumb solos and stuff, but it really is hard to remain excited about them.

SC: So if Mazes have these two different backgrounds and influences within the band, what happens when somebody has an idea that belongs to them? I read Bowie Knives was inspired upon inheriting said items from your Granddad, how did this personal song change once you opened it up to the group?

JC: Well, I pretty much recorded the first version of that on my own. Then when we actually recorded the album, we redid Bowie Knives and everyone brought something else to it. It’s kind of hard, once you’ve already sung it, because those lyrics are pretty personal to me. But my Granddad died six or seven years ago and I wrote it because he was a big person in my life. Now I sing that song and don’t think about him, which is sad, you know. But I think once you’ve played a song so many times, it ceases to have any personal meaning to you.

SC: When you play live you do you at least get to see how it has meaning for other people?

JC: Yeah, sure. That’s great and exciting, to see and hear people singing it back. If it means something to them, then that’s really cool. That’s the great thing about playing live. You know with a record you never get to see that kind of reaction, unless you have CCTV in people’s bedrooms. Which I’m pretty sure is illegal.

SC: Are you excited about Mazes upcoming tour of America then?

JC: Well, yeah I think we’ve got some more new songs we want to play. Playing in America is great, the main difference being that the drives are a lot longer because it’s much bigger. You drive for two hours in England and you think it’s a long drive. When we last toured America, we did a couple of ten hour drives in a day and it’s exhausting. I know people don’t want to hear about that in interviews, that touring and being in a band sometimes isn’t that great. But it’s not all thrills.

SC: You’ve been playing every day for the last couple of weeks, so do you think Mazes will a little energy back with the last couple of gigs?

JC: Yeah. Everyone else in the band is more into touring, but I’m more into spontaneity. And there’s nothing spontaneous about going on the road. So the first few days I’m like “this sucks”, and then I really get into it. For the last few days I’m like, “I can’t wait for this to be over”, but playing in London is always good because we live here.

SC: Are you looking forward to working on any lingering ideas you’ve for new songs?

JC: I’m looking forward to having lingering ideas.

SC: Does that happen for you in the spaces between touring?

JC: It happens when I’ve got time on my hands, when I’ve got nothing to do. I don’t know if that’s personal to me, I imagine a lot of people are like that, that they need space and time to think and kind of ponder over ideas. I don’t think many bands write on the road.

SC: Do your songs come to you, rather than you consciously looking around and observing things?

JC: Yeah, definitely. I did this project where I wrote like 35 songs for people in three weeks and that was an effort; to learn how to make myself write songs, if that makes sense? It kind of worked, but not all of them were good.

SC: Is that a method you’re going to explore further with Mazes?

JC: Yeah probably. I hope so. We’re gonna have to.

SC: You said that you’re into some sixties bands, are you listening to anything at the moment that’s particularly good?

JC: Well I mean, the sixties and seventies is like my go to era; but it’s a hugely wide variety of music from that period. At the moment, I really like a record by my friend Black Mass, that’s really good. It’s kind of a minimalist record that sounds like Vangelis. Or, I think he has a touch of Terry Riley and things like that, so I’m into that. I listen to Terry Riley a lot.

Conan Roberts puts out a lot of good stuff on his label. He has a record label called Italian Beach Babes and he’s doing some really good things. There’s kind of like a new bunch of bands in london that have a similar sound to us maybe, like bands that maybe came about a couple of years ago, like Male Bonding.

SC: I read a review of A Thousand Heys where the review asked “how can you distinguish yourself whilst still maintaining the spirit of your predecessors?”. Is this something that concerns you?

JC: Well, I don’t understand why it matters. I think nowadays everyone is so concerned with things being new. You know, it’s like the only things that have real credibility are new things. But that’s one writer.

I don’t actually think it matters. It’s great that some people are pushing the envelope, but I think Mazes just do what we do and we have our own slant on it that hasn’t been done before. I don’t think we set out to do anything groundbreaking though.

It’s like the four personalities that are in Mazes kind of make it unique. And that’s always the case with any sort of art. You know I may be like other people, but I’m also unique. Everyone who’s in a band, who makes art, is. And I suppose that’s the slant.

SC: Do you think there’s too much preoccupation with that in music at the moment, that people are constantly setting out to find something utterly new?

JC: Yeah I think there’s a preoccupation in music journalism that music has to be groundbreaking. You wouldn’t go to a football match and say, “I’ve seen 22 people kick a football around before, I’m not going to enjoy this”.

A Thousand Heys is available now.

James Munroe

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Dates ‘n stuff

October 2011