Orlando Weeks’ sparkling career is now nearing two decades, which is unsurprising considering his cosmic talent and charisma. The former The Maccabees frontman has creativity coursing through his veins and is revered for his ability to transfer his innermost feelings onto the page, record, and stage.
In the five years since The Maccabees’ dissolution, Weeks has more than proved his mettle as a soloist. The London-born creator began his solo career writing and illustrating sensational book ‘The Gritterman’, and an eponymous album bursting with heart to match. Since then, he’s also composed a soundtrack for the national theatre and is developing an animation project for the Hepworth Wakefield Gallery. When he’s not donning guitar or pencil, Weeks can be found revelling in the delights of fatherhood – an experience so sweeping, he’s recorded a couple of phenomenal albums about it.
His latest, ‘Hop Up’ is best described as the ultimate delight – a playful, sunnier companion than his previous release ‘A Quickening’ but equally as earnest. With ‘Hop Up’ Weeks utilises gorgeous spacey synths and soft lyricism for an emotional journey dedicated to his son. This record is showing the world that love letters don’t always need to be romantic.
Clash spoke to Orlando Weeks about ‘Hop Up’ and his experience of making the project.
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Congratulations on such a wonderful body of work! I must say I was surprised by its effervescence; the blue of the album cover had me expecting some sad tunes.
That’s really interesting. I find it really uplifting, that colour. When you make [the sunprint] yourself, you have the act of leaving the paper in sunshine and seeing how it develops in bright light. I think you can do it with fake daylight, but really what you want is beautiful, burning sunshine, and that exposes the paper. The act of it is one of lightness, so even in the process I feel like it’s got an aspect of that. I suppose blue is synonymous with more sombre emotions, but maybe the surprise is better.
Was the joyful tone always the intention?
Yeah. I think pretty early on I was aware that I wanted it to be… not an antidote to ‘A Quickening’, but a companion to that record and to have a buoyancy and a lightness of touch that maybe didn’t exist on [‘The Quickening’]. As quickly as that manifesto was set, I forgot about it and was just enjoying trying to make every decision to push things in a joyful direction. I found it really such a pleasure to do, such a pleasure to go through the painstaking stages of over-listening, mixing, mastering… all of that was much easier for some reason. Trying to make it have that lightness was a big part of that.
Does it make the process of recording easier if the material has that lightness and optimism?
The way I set about recording ‘Hop Up’ and making the demos really helped. I would wait until my parental duties were done, then I’d go off to a friend’s space down South and stay up late and make lots of noise in this empty building. I would just sing melody after melody on top of drums that I’d build, and then build the other melodics information around that. I hadn’t really written songs that way properly before and so there was a kind of freedom to that as well.
Sometimes I can find songwriting a bit painstaking if it’s not coming, but the tendency to get stuck seemed to happen less with this [method]. It was euphoric, and freeing…. and novel. In the past I always felt like I needed to be loyal (I don’t know if that’s the right word) to acoustic instruments. I always felt a little intimidated by synthetic instruments and this time I didn’t at all. I opened myself up to a lot of stuff in the past I would’ve decided was off bounds. That then leant itself to the way Nathan Jenkins worked – who’s brilliant and produced the record.
The synthy direction certainly paid off; ‘Silver’ is outstanding. Did you have any particular synth-pop artistic inspirations in mind for ‘Hop Up’?
Nathan has this great record collection, and our crossover is so minimal that he would play me things and I would be like “how have I never heard this?” Things like ‘It Takes a Muscle to Fall in Love’ by Spectral Display, Linda Thompson, other production styles that moved us in a certain way… some Wings or some Paul McCartney solo stuff. Oh, and I remember this John Cale song called… hang on I’ve got the record downstairs, I don’t want to get the title wrong.
Anyway, so we’d listen to things and that would help us move on. A lot of that era seemed comfortable with being like, “how do we make this just feel good, and feel satisfying?” Maybe that’s what pop music is: just an attempt to achieve that satisfaction.
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That feel-good aspect comes across, especially in ‘Big Skies, Silly Faces’. What drove the decision to use this as the first single?
My choice was ‘Bigger’, that’s what I thought was the best way of introducing the record. And maybe sonically it is, but… a friend told me he thought the record sounded like cloud 9 music, and of the songs on the record maybe ‘Big Skies’ has that, above anything else. Katy [J Pearson] who’s singing on it has something in her voice which is all pleasure.
In the end, [choosing ‘Big Skies’] was definitely not my call. I listened to my A&R guy, Russell, who encouraged me to believe him on this one, and I’m glad I did… I’m trying to rifle through my records here, I’m not finding the one I want. It’s worrying, where’s it gone? […] The other thing was that the record came around so quick. I made it quicker than anything I’ve ever made, so I suppose I didn’t have the same amount of headspace I might’ve had, or maybe hindsight. So, it was good to go with the advice.
I found the record!
Amazing! What’s it called?
‘John Cale Comes Alive’ is the record, and ‘Never Give Up On You’ is the song. It’s just a great pop record. I’m thrilled I didn’t lose the record.
That’s going straight on my lunchtime walk playlist.
You’ll have a good time!
What was it about the project that made it such a quick process?
For me the thing I love most is the writing – the initial thing of having nothing, and out of somewhere comes something. I got quite quickly back into that mode, especially when everything was locked down. It’s a self-indulgent thing to make records and write songs, and to recognise how lucky you are to be doing it – going to a space at the end of the day and working into the night. To luxuriate in that seemed to be productive for me. Nathan works very quickly. We had a lot to work with and we clicked very quickly in the way we made the record. At no point did it feel laboured.
Obviously, all music is personal, but working on such a personal project must’ve helped.
I think making ‘A Quickening’ was quite intense, being the first record after ‘The Gritterman’ and [The Maccabees]. I was trying to assert a new identity of some sort in terms of the musical choices I would make. The subject matter felt closer to home – fresher, or rawer. Here was this tiny, very beautiful innocent thing and I was trying to recollect the anticipation of his arrival.
I put probably too much pressure on myself not to get it wrong. Whereas with [‘Hop Up’] I just enjoyed and believed that I would get it right, and that’s just confidence – enjoying the process and not being too hard on yourself. I’m sure at varying degrees of [my son’s] life he’ll find it mortifying, but at times sweet and a bit quaint that his dad did it. But I’m sure there’ll also be bits where it feels like the most embarrassing thing anyone can do.
People have photo albums and ways of preserving memories, and ‘Hop Up’ feels like sort of an archive.
We’re all doing it, right? As a society we’re all much more tuned in to the concept of documenting our lives, and maybe that’s part of it. For me, especially with ‘A Quickening’ and therefore as a response to ‘A Quickening’, to not make documents in the way I make a document would be odd. I would find it weird not to. Especially with ‘A Quickening’, it was all I could think about. I didn’t have bandwidth to think outside of that.
The way you preserve part of yourself in music… does this happen in a similar way in your physical art?
You’ve asked a big question, so I’ll try and do a big answer: I’m better practised at expressions of self in the music I make than I am in the visual art I make at this point. I think that’s because with these things, it’s a muscle. I don’t exercise the visual muscle nearly enough and partly because I don’t have time. I look forward to there being a moment where I feel like “I don’t wanna make music at the moment” and I’ll put all my energies into either writing or into more visual stuff. I can sort of feel that coming – I’d really like to make another record quite quick, and then after that I think I’ll have earnt a bit of drawing time.
Did the recording process reveal anything about parenthood for you, upon meditation?
I’m prone to being extremely anxious so I was worried that would be my experience but actually I haven’t felt that, and that it is a relief. It must be a very clever part of our primitive brain where you don’t think about the stresses and the exhaustion of [raising a child], you think about the tiny moments that are so uplifting that pulls you through everything else. There’s a song on the record called ‘High Kicking’ which Willie J Healey sings with me… and it’s odd how tiny little moments in your life, snippets of experience stick with you and inform huge sways of your comprehension of everything.
I remember reading at university Touching From A Distance by Deborah Curtis, written on Ian Curtis, her husband, and what it was like to live with him. She talks about his fear of holding their child, based in the fact that he was afraid of having fits and that he would drop the kid. For some reason the visual of dropping your baby stuck with me for ages. My experience was not that. I wasn’t afraid. You’re relieved somehow.
In [‘High Kicking’] it says, “when I hold you, I let go”. I liked the contradiction of that, but also there’s truth in it; when I’m in your company, I can’t think about all the other stuff. I’m just in your company. It’s special.
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How are you building these little moments sonically?
‘Silver’ started out as me and an organ sound on a synth, and I tried to build a whole song around that. The guitar that starts the song – the big, strummed guitar – we’d just tuned every string to the same note for something else, and whilst Nathan was tidying up, I was just playing along. The happenstance of those things was just playing and that’s what I think it should be, not always about finesse. The later stages of making a record you’re just desperately trying not to entirely strangle the songs out of all the life they might have had once.
How do you know when a song is done, to avoid this strangulation?
Just because a version [of the song] goes on the record and is the final version, doesn’t mean there won’t be so many other iterations of it. Me as the person that probably minds most about that, I’m probably going to spend the least time re-listening to that song ever again. I’m gonna spend more time listening when we’re playing live, and that’s a different version than the record version. I don’t feel like I need to get too hung up on that being the final one, I’m going to spend much more time on how I reinterpret it for people that come to concerts.
Especially since every person has their own experience of a song – the subjectivity of music is what makes it special.
I agree with that as well. Even if today, you stand in the sun and listen to something and you listen to it again in the shade, that’s a different experience. It’s impossible to really gauge that stuff and it’s nice to feel less pressure, which is good if you’re trying to avoid feeling bound to any one thing.
From the Barbican to Concorde 2, you’re playing some iconic venues this year. Is there any aspect of tour you’re looking forward to in particular?
I didn’t get to play any shows after ‘A Quickening’ came out, so I’ve never really had the chance to showcase those. To do that and get the double bubble of playing a lot of ‘Hop Up’ in there too, I can’t wait for that. And you’re right, for me at university in Brighton, Concorde 2 is a huge venue in my education of music. I saw some of my favourite ever gigs there, and Barbican, again holds prestige for me as I grew up in London. They’re the two places I know best, and two venues I hold very dear.
I’m very lucky my booking agents at 13 Artists are brilliant and they’re very conscientious about what they choose. I can’t wait to be playing with the musicians that I’m lucky enough to play with, and to see the support we’re (hopefully) bringing with us every night.
I’m sure playing both albums in the same show will complement each other, considering their different emotional experiences and tones.
I’ve thought about that a lot, actually. The way I’ve currently decided on it working is to almost play it chronologically. It’ll start in the ‘A Quickening’ world, and it’ll shift through those gears into the bright lights of the ‘Hop Up’ realm. In my head that’s how it’s gonna work, but I think I just have to wait. Part of the great thing about working with brilliant musicians, I want to bend to their prowess rather than the other way round.
I almost feel like ‘Hop Up’ is the relief to the anticipation of ‘A Quickening’. If I’m at a concert and it starts with anticipation and suspense and ends with relief and pleasure, I go home with relief and pleasure. I’m not against leaving with anticipation and suspense, but maybe relief is better for the walk home.
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‘Hop Up’ is out on January 14th.
Words: Gem Stokes
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