2012 has been a productive year for The Maccabees’ Orlando Weeks. On top of the release of the third record Given to the Wild and a busy touring schedule he has still found time for a side project: Young Colossus. The 24-page graphic novel illustrated by Rob Hunter features 6 tracks which were written and performed by Orlando himself and produced by Nic Nell. Additional vocals from Alessi Laurent-Marke of Alessi’s Ark add indisputable charm to the songs.|
The book was released in a very limited edition of 1500 copies and the band recently gave their fans a special opportunity to see their live performance in Corsica Studios in London’s Elephant & Castle. The concert, which took place on the 5th of September, proved to be a great success as the venue holding a mere 300 people got packed within minutes. First we were treated to a short Sami El-Ehany’s performance. La Shark’s keyboardist, responsible for remixing Young Colossus’ Impressionist, hypnotised the audience with his 10-minute improvisation. Shortly after, the four members of Young Colossus, joined by La Shark’s bassist Louis and Felix White of The Maccabees, crammed onto the stage to give a concert in a friendly, almost family-like atmosphere. Bearing in mind that the 6 track EP is only 19 minutes long, the musicians played some songs in extended arrangements. They also performed Hope, which had not been released previously. The beautifully mesmerising songs were sublimated by the energy of the musicians in such a unique and intimate atmosphere.
The audience were invited to stay for an after-party at which the band members enjoyed a casual drink and chat with them. The rest of The Maccabees (with the exception of the bassist Rupert Jarvis) came to see the performance and without the slightest objection smiled at dozens of pictures taken by their fans. As the cherry on top, every ticket came with a large-format print of one of the illustrations taken from the book.
Nic Nell, the producer of Young Colossus, found some time before the gig to chat with us. We met in Electric Elephant, a lovely South London caffee, and talked about the project, his plans for the future and artists he’s into at the moment.
Musicis: How did you come up with the idea for the project? Did you all know each other?
Nic Nell: I’ve known Orlando for a while. We did our foundation year some time ago and we both have been doing music for a while. He had these musical sketches he’d done while he was away on tour with The Maccabees. They were really rough garage band recordings, completely different to what he was doing with the band at the time. I think he was up for giving it a go, seeing if we could turn them into something .
Musicis: First came the music and then the book, didn’t it?
Nic: Yeah. The plan was always to have a visual element of it but we weren’t sure if it was gonna be a book or an animated film or something like that. Orlando has studied art and illustration at school so it’s a big part of what he does. We had so many different ideas so I’d let him have his and I’d just focus on the music. But I kind of imagined it as doing a musical sort of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ and figured that images will work itself out.
You were all involved in different projects as well. How did you find time for Young Colossus? Did it take long to release?
Nic: It took a while to release but that was more trying to fit it in around other projects. Also, we did it and then sort of put it in a box and didn’t think about it for a while. That was before we worked out the visual bit of it and got Alessi from Alessi’s Ark involved. So the whole record existed but without her voice on it. Everytime we were playing it to people we almost felt like we might need to make some kind of excuse: ‘Don’t worry about this weird voice, we’ll sort it out’. There was sometihing missing. And then I think Orlando just had a gap between The Maccabees so he was like ‘Screw it, let’s get this thing finished’.
It was The Maccabees’ manager who suggested Alessi, wasn’t it?
Nic: I think their tour manager had tour managed Alessi at some point and recommended her. I don’t think even for this project in particular. We just listened to her stuff and that was it. It was amazing. We were just like ‘That’s absolutely perfect. It sounds like Young Colossus’.
Were there any books in particular that inspired Young Colossus? I’ve heard something about Peter Pan…
Nic: Orlando loves kids’ books and everything from Quentin Blake to ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ so I think it was that sort of stuff. I guess the story worked itself out. I heard quite a lot of different versions of it whilst we were making it. I was just like ‘OK, look, you work on the story, I’ll work on making sure it sounds great’. Or at least trying.
You definitely managed to. The illustrations go really well with the music. Was it difficult to achieve? Or did it come naturally?
Nic: Again, it was sort of a happy accident. Orlando didn’t want to illustrate it himself. He really liked the idea of it being a group project and getting more creative people involved. I think he just came across Rob Hunter’s work in…
… New Ghost?
Nic: Exactly. He found it in an illustrator shop and got his e-mail address or his phone number, called him up and just said ‘Look, I would love you to do this thing’ and Rob was up for it. He makes music and plays in bands as well so he was into the idea of it being a music and visual thing.
What do you think is the key to the successful collaboration? It seems that you work really well together.
Nic: I think the difficult thing with collaboration is that you never know how well you’re gonna work with people, even if you really like the work that they do. The key to succesful collaboration is probably finding people you work well with and some sort of luck. You’ve got to respect and be excited about what each other does. Orlando did some sketches of his ideas about the book and gave it to Rob and I think it pretty much just did the whole thing. So question of that is probably making sure you give people enough space to do what they’re good at.The risk is always if one tries to micromanage each and every thing no one ends up doing their best work.
You released only 1500 copies of Young Colossus. Are you planning a new edition? I’d really want a book and I can’t find it anywhere!
Nic: Do you not have one? Sorry! Hmm… Maybe. I don’t know. The book was limited edition at the time but there seems to be people who’d like to have one. Doing this concert is like another step in seeing what happens with this project so who knows. Maybe it goes well…
Fingers crossed. You seem to be getting on really well with La Shark. Louis is playing bass with you tomorrow and Sami is the supporting act as well…
Nic: La Shark are really good friends with The Maccabees…
That’s what I thought. I’ve seen Hugo wearing their T-shirt quite a lot.
Nic: Yeah, they only come in XXL or something… I’ve only got to know them more recently. Maybe some of the Maccabees went to school with them. They’ve know each other for a while, they’re lovely boys. Sami had a side project called Corpse Lights and they did a really great EP. There’s an amazing song called Yuplayaarp, check it out.
Nic: We asked Sami if he’d be up for doing a remix for us and I think it’s the first one he’d actually done. Whenever you ask for remixes you never know what you’ll get and he did something really good. So we asked him whether he might be up for being the support act . It’s gonna be a 10-15 minutes long improvisation which works well with the idea of the project. And Louis is a really fantastic bassist. He plays with New Young Pony Club and La Shark and another couple of bands so he knows what he’s doing.
When did you realise music was the thing you wanted to do?
Nic: I was in bands when I was at school and I really enjoyed it but I didn’t really consider that would be what I wanted to do with my life. Then I studied Art and Maths at university. They’re completely different stuff. Pretty much as soon as I stopped being in a band I was like ‘Right, I have to keep doing this’. ‘So what am I doing now?’ ‘Do something sensible, just so you’ve got it in the bank in case this music thing doesn’t work out ‘. The production side of it came a bit later. I’m really enjoying making a record, making it sound well.
What was your last musical discovery?
Nic: I just got sent this track this morning but I don’t know if it’s even out yet. A friend I know from America has got a project called Gambles. They’re really good. I also listen to loads of hip-hop. I enjoy Kendrick Lamar, people like that. A lot of armchair dance music too. God, that sounds awful! You know, music you can’t really dance to.
Have you got any new projects in the pipeline? Are you working on anything else apart from Young Colossus?
Nic: I have a solo project I’ve just finished but I haven’t announced it yet. Me and Orlando are doing some bits as well. I’ve also done some stuff on Alessi’s new album which should be out in the new year, I think. She’s written some really beautiful songs and we might have an EP we’ve done together coming too.
So Young Colossus isn’t just one-off then? You’re going to work together more?
Nic: I think so. I only met Alessi through Young Colossus and we got on really well and we thought ‘Should we try doing some stuff together?’. She had some songs, we just gave it a go and it went really well so I’ll definitely be working with Alessi more in the future.
Just one more question. What are your favourite places in London?
Nic: It’s a tough question, London’s a big place. I really like the South side of London: Peckham, places that people don’t normally go to. There’s some really nice places opening up. Also, all the parks in London are pretty great. I quite enjoy just biking around. If you had some time and you felt game enough just rent a bike and give it a go. I’ve finally invested in a pair of waterproof trousers and my quality of life has genuinely improved. Suddenly there’s rain and you’re like ‘Great, I’m literally about to be entirely soaked’. Instead it’s not the end of the world. You still basically bike around in a bin bag but it feels slightly better.