The guitarist recalls creating a song that helped his Newcastle-based band reboot the UK indie-rock scene in the post-Britpop years
At a time when The Strokes and The White Stripes were exploding, the UK indie-rock scene of the early 00s was lying more or less dormant. Along with the likes of The Arctic Monkeys and The Futureheads, Newcastle-based Maxïmo Park helped to revitalise the genre by offering a welcome tonic for the post-Britpop hangover.
Though frontman Paul Smith has come to be the group’s iconic figurehead, it was actually founding member and guitarist Duncan Lloyd who wrote many of their early songs, and laid the foundations for A Certain Trigger to become one of the finest debut albums of the decade. Now, 12 years and five more albums later, Lloyd talks us through the creation of one of those iconic early songs, Graffiti.
“I first wrote the song when I was living in Derby. I’m originally from there and I had been living in Newcastle before as an art student, but I had to move back into my parents’ place. I was in a lot of debt and I was spending a lot of time working as a pot-washer and waiter. I spent my spare time with my four-track trying to write songs.
“I had been writing psychedelic, muso-type stuff, and although I enjoyed it I started writing to beats and getting the rhythm a lot tighter. I remember thinking that the music scene in Britain at that time felt a bit boring, it was a lot of big indie ballads and that wasn’t what I was feeling. I wanted to write something more upbeat and energetic. I was anxious and angry and stuck with debt and worrying about everything.
“It started on an acoustic guitar and it was a bit of a train-of-thought thing. The song is about when I was at art college. My teacher had a daughter who was about the same age as me, and she came in one day when I was painting the walls in this art space. We hung out for a while and we just started messing about and writing on the walls. It was just a bit of that small town thing, having a conversation about wanting to escape.
“I remember there was a bunch of CDs and one was a soundtrack to a French film. So we were joking around and painting and there was this music and I remember writing it based on that. It started off quite mellow, with a strummed acoustic thing and the lyrics, ‘I’ll do graffiti if you sing to me in French.’
“It was more a meeting of minds rather than a romantic thing. I played the song to Tom [English, the Maximo Park drummer] in Newcastle, and he was like, ‘You’ve got to come back to Newcastle and give the band another go’. Paul was his friend and I gave him the CD and said, ‘There are lyrics on it but you can do whatever feels right.’ And so he added the line, ‘What are we doing here if romance isn’t dead?’
“He saw the romance in this meeting and he related to that feeling of angst and wanting to get out. Paul kept a lot of the words but, for him, he visualised the Paris riots and so he added a few more lines and improved my grammar a bit. It was just great that he took it to heart. It was a nice combination of ideas and it was our first collaboration.
“The riff itself is in E, which is one of the easiest keys to jam in. I just find riffs in E are very easy to write. That whole riff was very instinctive and reactionary. I don’t really know where the angular thing came from, I just remember going, ‘This needs to be urgent,’ and I felt like I wanted it to hit people in the face with it.
“At that time Maximo Park hadn’t got going, and I’d moved away and it felt like maybe it was ending. I was at the end of my tether and didn’t know what I was going to do. It was an escapist song, that whole feeling of angst and being a bit left behind.
“I think a lot of people could relate to it and they were getting excited about guitar music again. People our age were making vibrant music. I love the track even though I’ve played it thousands of times. There’s something primitive and very instinctive about it, and it remains fresh.
“You realise how much that song means to our fans when people sing it back to us, and as soon as we start it up at gigs the whole atmosphere can change. It still means a lot, and it’s an important song for our band so we have to doff our cap to it.”