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“It was inevitable” – Paul Smith on Peter Brewis collaboration, Frozen By Sight

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Paul Smith

Maximo Park’s Paul Smith and Field Music’s Peter Brewis have come together to produce Frozen By Sight, a relaxing and poetic album consisting of Paul’s descriptive travel writing and Peter’s chamber-band arrangements. From the grey streets of Sunderland to the vibrant landscapes of Santa Monica, Frozen By Sight takes you on a musical journey all over the world. The album will be toured this December and the duo will perform at The Sage, Gateshead just before Christmas. Last week, I caught up with Paul to find out a bit more about his latest creative endeavour.

Hi Paul, how’re you doing? You’ve recently released an album with Peter Brewis, Frozen By Sight. How did that come about?

I’m good thank you! We actually shared a drummer. Tom from Maximo Park was in Field Music for a little while before both of our bands put the first records out so we knew of each other’s bands. I remember going to watch Field Music before they were called Field Music and Peter coming up to me in places like the Head of Steam in Newcastle and just talking about music, and that’s continued over the years really. In some ways it was kind of inevitable that we would do something together because we share lots of similar tastes. But at the same time, we’re quite busy. Both of us have full time bands so I didn’t really know when it was going to happen.

There was a thing called the Festival of the North East which happened last year and I was one of the artistic directors of that and we were commissioned to write some new music for a performance at The Sage, which we did, and both of us wanted to kind of get away from our rock background and do something with strings. I knew Peter was a good arranger of strings from the stuff he’d done with Field Music but I was wondering whether he might want to take it somewhere different. I had a lot of words that I’d written when I was travelling that described places and that I thought would be nice to do something with musically but I didn’t really know where they’d fit into Maximo Park. This was a good opportunity for both of us to move outside our comfort zones.

How did this album differ when you were writing and recording it? Obviously it’s a lot different to your records with Maximo Park…

Yeah, I was actually really pleased with the way it came out in terms of the recordings because I didn’t really know what it would sound like. The composition of it all was quite simple really because we’d set ourselves quite simple guidelines. We knew we were going to use a string quartet and we knew that the words weren’t going to change – that was one of the things that we said to each other from the beginning. There are times when you’re writing a pop song or a song that’s driven by a more traditional structure, which I enjoy doing by the way – it’s what I do most of the time, but often you’re kind of bending the words to the tune and sometimes you bend the tune to the words and it’s very much a kind of push and pull thing. Whereas with this we said, “look, let’s just let the words take over and see where that drives the songs”, and so the structures on this record are quite different.

We wanted to make something that was very pleasant to people’s ears but also that defied some of the little rules we usually have when we’re making songs. And so we’d made this piece of music, these twelve songs all inspired by different places, and when we played them live at The Sage at this one-off gig, nobody had ever heard the songs before. It was like the olden days where composers would just turn up and play their new work and nobody knows what it’s going to sound like whereas these days before you go to a concert, it’s “let’s stream the album first and see if we like it”. So it was quite a challenge for people but we had a lot of faith that people would like it anyway.

Dave Brewis deserves a lot of credit because he did a lot of the engineering for the record and I think to me it sounds very much like the sound I had in my head. Sometimes when you’re working with people who’ve got a very distinctive sound like Field Music, you hope it doesn’t just sound like a Field Music record because although that’s a brilliant sound, it wouldn’t really represent what we’re doing on this record. It just showed how flexible Dave is as an engineer and Peter and David as producers really. They nailed all the sounds. It’s a very satisfying process and sometimes when you’re making a record it’s a bit more difficult but it was quite smooth, this one.

Frozen By Sight

You’ve worked on quite a few different projects, with Maximo Park, this new collaboration and you had a solo album as well. Is there any particular song or project you’re most proud of?

It’s a difficult question. They’re all close to me in some way and if I think of any particular record, I’m very fond of it and have my own memories attached to it. I was very proud to put out my own record just because I didn’t know whether I could before I’d done it. It felt like a real achievement to have made a record and played the guitar on it and went out and toured it and people kind of accepted it. They weren’t booing me off at the end! People enjoyed that tour, so that was nice from a personal point of view.

Frozen By Sight, as well, I feel very proud of. You always feel very proud of your most recent release, so that’s not unusual, but I feel like it takes me in a different direction from where I was going and opens up lots of possibilities for the future as well as being a record that in itself I think sounds good. It’s a challenge contextually but on another level it’s just a very pleasing and relaxed record.

I like so many different types of music that I wouldn’t want to just make one type of music for the rest of my life so maybe one of the things that I’m most proud of is being able to make records that are a bit different, and also go back to Maximo Park and play a rock and roll song or make something up with a synthesiser that sounds totally different from something else I’m working on.

Do you think you’ll be doing more work with Peter in the future or is Frozen By Sight more of a one-off thing?

I hope we work together in the future. Once again, when we go back to our day jobs it’ll end up being a case of when can we fit it in and what exactly will we do. When you make another record with somebody, whether it’s a band or whether it’s your own record or collaborating with somebody else, you want to move on and evolve. I don’t really know where the next step for this record would be but I can think of a few different directions.

When you’re collaborating with somebody, you’ve got to find that common ground. But I think myself and Peter like so many similar types of music, it might even be more of a band next time, you know. You never know what’ll come out of it but if we get the time, I hope it’s soon. But if I make another record with Maximo Park that’ll take another year or so or if I do another solo record that’ll be two years. But hopefully in the fairly near future we’ll do something again.

Paul Smith and Peter Brewis play The Sage, Gateshead on December 20 2014. 8.00pm. Tickets from £12.50

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