Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
“It's something that comes with either age or the arrogance of youth” : Best Fit speaks to Mazes

“It's something that comes with either age or the arrogance of youth” : Best Fit speaks to Mazes

12 February 2013, 15:00
Words by Ryan Thomas

In life, there’s always a starting point, an ending point, and in between are all sorts of twists, turns, false endings, and frustrated eraser marks.

But it’s only by facing such blind uncertainty head-on that the elation of accomplishment can be achieved. The same can be said of Mazes. That is, the band Mazes – and more specifically, founder and principal songwriter Jack Cooper. In a Best Fit interview, Cooper talks about what went into the making of the London via Manchester bands’ latest release, second album Ores and Minerals, as well as what went into the making of Mazes, and how sometimes more is more.

You used a lot of looping on Ores and Minerals. Did that make the songwriting flow more easily? How does that translate on stage – do you program the loops or play them outright?

Hmmm, well I got bored writing the way I was writing. It felt a little bit one-dimensional, writing verse-chorus-verse-chorus, and I’d got in a bit of a rut. The songs that we were working on before Jarin left the band were very much in the vein of the first album and it had become very boring. Certainly not his fault but when I’d come up with a melody while out and about, it’d be to a certain formula… usually slightly swung and vertical melodically. It was a trick I’d kicked the back out of, writing melodic ‘catchy’ things. I started making loops from found sounds or very repetitive guitar lines and then forming songs around them. The slightly haphazard and amateurish way I was approaching it sparked off something interesting and more individual. Or at least to my ears.

Live, out of circumstance and financial reasons, it’s just Conan on bass, Neil on drums and me on guitar. We have a very basic sampler that Conan programmed with very brief loops… not a backing track as such, more of a percussive thing. But we decided before playing any of the new songs live that we wouldn’t really try to recreate the recorded version… it’d be more of an approximation and thanks to the poor standard of live sound nowadays and the venues we play, there’ll always be the ‘walls’ like you describe.

There’s a lot of psychedelic guitar work going on, for example, some Velvet Underground rhythms, Tom Verlaine-esque single-note layering and straight-into-the-mixer playing, assorted other garage rock-terpreted Middle Eastern licks and riffs; were you guys listening to those kind of bands while material for this album was coming about?

The first record came from a pretty shallow influence pool… I think it came out sounding as it did because we were a two-guitar band and the idea was not to overthink anything. The thought with this one was that we would let ourselves overthink and we wouldn’t limit ourselves. Like most normal people, our influences are far and wide. To me, the first album sounds like a period drama and this one is something totally different… more over-arching. But yeah, the Velvet Underground and Television have always been there. I’m from the north of England so I’m not always comfortable talking about influences, but Europe in general was something I had in mind constantly when we were making this record. We wanted to sound like the Europeans that we are… to steer clear of any 12-bar cliches.

If you type ‘Mazes’ into Google, what comes up – beside images of labyrinthine children’s puzzles – is a band out of the U.S. (Chicago) called Mazes who claim you guys ‘stole their name’. Their website actually appears one entry above yours; have you heard of them? Clearly the name is a good one, for two bands to vie for it anyway, and straightforward enough to be thought of at least twice, so why Mazes?

Ha. Well, I don’t really know how to answer this like a diplomat, which is something I’m trying to be, but we didn’t become aware of the other Mazes until we had a 7″ out on Sex Is Disgusting and by then it seemed like it was too late. They tried to engineer some weird beef a year back and called us ‘wankers’ on their website. I suppose they thought that was cute. I don’t really care. I think you’d have to be particularly useless at the Internet to accidentally buy a record by the wrong Mazes. Maybe it’s more of an issue for them because we’re on a more established label and have more fans… that’s as Liam Gallaghery as I’m going to be. Jarin came up with the name… we just liked the sound of it. It looked good in capitals or lower case.

How did you guys form?

It’s always been me, and at first, Jarin and Jay. Jay left. Neil joined. Conan joined. Jarin left. Neil left. Neil rejoined. But Conan, Neil and I have been together for the best part of 4 years and it feels good.

Is the songwriting a mostly collaborative effort?

It’s mostly me, but Conan and Neil are the main influences.

In an interview, you said the album is a representation of things that inspired all of you, rather than just some of you. What does inspire you? Are you guys coming from different directions musically/personality-wise?

I’m not sure what I meant when I said that, but I think what I meant was that the first album was very much songs I wrote and the others would interpret them. With this one, we’ve played with each other enough for me to have Neil and Conan down, so although I wrote the body of the songs, I wrote them with them and their strengths in mind. We’re all very, very different people… there’s a camaraderie and affection but we all drive each other mad at times. Well, Conan doesn’t me, but I think he probably gets frustrated with Neil and I. We rehearsed yesterday. Neil had a mental block, I broke a string, had no replacement and Conan must’ve been thinking we were f**king idiots. He’s the guy that organises us and drives the thing to an extent.

There’s quite a bit of dirt on this album. The production work is bright and clean, and there are loads of polished guitar lines, but there’s also an element of sandpaper: guitars heavy on the gain, bent notes, ‘Leominster’ is played on a very Tin Pan Alley-esque piano. How important is contrast?

Very. Sonically, the first record feels lacking in dynamics. It’s flat to me, but that’s what happens when you have two guitars blasting away without much consideration. There’s a charm to that and it can have force, but contrast is far more interesting.

This album is very much a guitar album, which makes ‘Leominster’ stand out, as this lone pretty, yet up in the years, piano riff. Where did you find that piano, and can we expect more piano-playing on material to come?

My girlfriend and I were housesitting for her uncle in Leominster, which is near Hereford. They have a very out-of-tune piano and the song came about because that was the only octave in tune with itself… vaguely. I’d like to write more stuff on piano and I have before, it’s just a case of not having one and being too poor or lazy to buy one.

You self-produced this album. Do you find more merit in trusting your own instincts rather than those of a producer?

We recorded the first album in a studio that’s become really popular now, called Lightship95 on the River Thames. The whole experience was great but the time restrictions that come with recording in an actual studio didn’t fit in with the idea of this record. Ben, who recorded the last one, was very knowledgable, but you’re right about trusting one’s own instincts. It’s something that comes with either age or the arrogance of youth. Thinking about it logically though, getting someone to produce your record is the same as a film director employing another director to direct their movie and then trying not to get frustrated at its dilution. It’s fine, but I don’t think it’s for us anymore. I don’t need anything enabling my inbuilt laziness, either. Conan has firm ideas and so do I.

Do you feel yourselves growing as a band? What do you find inspires growth?

Of course we feel like we’re growing, but my only perspective on what’s inspiring it is experience. We toured the US with Sebadoh. We were travelling in a van with a tour manager, and they were driving themselves around in a people carrier, selling their own merch and doing their own sound. Now we do the same… everything ourselves and we’re much happier for it.

Ores and Minerals will be released through Fat Cat Records on 18 February, and the band will be performing at the following live dates:

19 – Manchester, Soup Kitchen
20 – York, Stereo
21 – Glasgow, Broadcast
22 – Liverpool, Camp and Furnace
23 – Dublin, Workmans Club
24 – Leeds, Brudenell Social Club
25 – Birmingham, Hare & Hounds
26 – Bristol, Louisiana
27 – Brighton, Prince Albert
28 – London, Birthdays

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