To Maccabee or Not To Maccabee


How does a band react when its album is leaked online? Hugo White of the Maccabees tells Alison Lee

Asked about the Maccabees’ current headlining slot on the NME tour, guitarist Hugo White replies modestly. “The reason behind it, I don’t know! But it’s a nice thing to be asked to do.” He describes the line-up – which also includes Bombay Bicycle Club, The Big Pink and The Drums – as “quite an eclectic bill.”

Although commonly described as an indie rock band, the Maccabees have embarked on a different musical route lately, collaborating with rapper Roots Manuva to rerecord a hiphop version of their track ‘No Kind Words’. “We thought the track lended itself to hip hop,” explains White. “We had never really done anything like that before but you don’t always have to keep things in the same bracket.”

The band kept to their usual guitar, bass and drums line-up, “making odd noises and finding weird sounds and using them as texture.” The resulting slick hip-hop track is a far cry from their usual brand of energetic alternative rock.

The group came together in London, but spent their early years in the seaside town of Brighton. Although the resort has a reputation for being bohemian and artsy, the Maccabees moved there for more pragmatic reasons. “Orlando [vocalist and guitarist] started university there and we wanted to make sure the band stayed together. It was a really cool place to be. It’s the sort of place where it doesn’t seem like anyone has a job. People are just hanging around all day every day!”

It hasn’t always been plain sailing for the Maccabees however – their album Colour It In was leaked before its release. “Forty to fifty thousand copies were downloaded – it didn’t sell anywhere near as many copies as it would have,” says White, sounding genuinely agitated, and who could blame him. “It’s a shame to think when you put so much effort into something, people can just take it.”

But then he laughs, saying, “I feel bad moaning about it! Maybe people that wouldn’t have bought the record downloaded it, and then they come to a show… that’s how it works.”

The band experienced another serious blow when original drummer Robert Dylan Thomas split in 2008 for a spell in rehab. The band’s initial reluctance to see him leave soon gave way to pragmatism: “We wouldn’t have been a band anymore. That’s how we saw it, but it was impossible to carry on without sorting things out.”

Despite these setbacks, the Maccabees have carried on to receive international recognition, and deservedly so. Keep an ear out when the NME Tour hits the Academy on the 21st February.