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If there’s one band likely to raise a smile it’s Screaming Maldini. The Sheffield six-piece mix musical virtuosity and pop sensibilities into an uncategorisable brew of epic lushness, guaranteed to raise the spirits of all but the clinically dead.
I caught up with singer and guitarist Nick, and trumpeter and synthman Ben, on their return from their debut UK tour, and while preparing for their homecoming album launch at The Harley.
The band mix trained musicianship with a magpie-like attraction to all genres (everything from classical to Calvin Harris is discussed in the space of the interview), producing unusual composition with a keen ear for pop.
“You could say the songwriting is getting the melody and the lyrics and there’s your song,” says Nick. “I think a huge part of what we do is the arrangement of the song, as well. You add your strings, add your trumpets, add your percussion, add all your vocals.”
But despite a penchant for classical stylings and unusual time signatures (“Time signatures are cool. There’s not enough songs in seven or five!,” Nick admits), the band aren’t keen on music that’s too clever for its own good.
“I think music’s more about people remembering it,” says Nick, “and it’s a tune they love. Even if it’s Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or The Beatles. It’s all about the ability to memorise it instantly, and sing it back, and sing it with your friends.”
“It’s a tune that sticks in people’s minds, definitely,” says Ben. “It goes a lot further.”
Screaming Maldini formed around three and a half years ago, with several personnel changes leading to the current lineup about 18 months ago. Nick and Ben (the newest member of the group) are joined by singer, percussionist and synth player Gina, bassist and backing singer Annie, keyboardist Jonny, and drummer Tim. Nick explains that finding the band was not a great challenge.
“I think it just goes back to Sheffield being a lovely place full of lovely people, and you just get to know like-minded people. And when it came to putting the band together, and having to find new members, that were the right fit for the band, it was a fairly easy job, because it’s such a lovely place full of talented people.”
Causing a stir locally with a series of EPs and a string of well-received live shows, it was 2012’s single ‘Summer Somewhere’ which gave them a bit of a more national buzz. A truly epic song, sung sublimely by Gina, and accompanied by a video showing the majesty of the Peak District, it’s a remarkable and uplifting track. But it took a while to come together in its current form.
“The album sessions we originally did in a studio in Liverpool, and I originally sang that song,” explains Nick. “Then we got the mixes back and it wasn’t working, so we got the drums, and tracked everything in my bedroom, and changed the key, and got Gina to sing it. And then for about four months when anyone came round, I was ‘ah you’ve got to come and sing on the end of this song’. It’s just a big group vocal. So everytime someone came round I got them into my bedroom to sing.”
This organic arrangement, tinkering with tracks until they’re just right, goes some way to explaining why the band’s self-titled debut album took a full two years to be written and released.
“I kind of see it as a cup of tea extended for miles,” says Nick. “So the initial idea’s like a tea bag, you put it into water, and you’ve got to let it brew.” He pauses to get control of the metaphor running away with him. “Basically if you leave it in too long the song’s ruined, but if take it out too soon the song’s not good enough… no that’s not right!
“It just takes a long time to write them, because you’ve got to fit it in around work, and we start playing them together and they develop further, and we record them. And then we have to mix them, and things change in the mix and structures change. It just takes ages! And it’s because we’re not just straightforward guitar, drums, vocals, there’s a lot going on.”
Despite the optimistic nature of the music, Nick and Ben insist there are still darker facets to the band.
“There’s a song on the album called ‘Four Hours From Now’,” says Nick, “which is about different bits of weather. It’s about changing from summer to autumn, then autumn to winter, and it’s just a really poorly put-together metaphor about how relationships disintegrate, and get really dark, and horrible, and cold… That’s pretty dark!
“Summer Somewhere [is] kind of dark, although it’s hopeful. It’s about being just bored of life, and wanting to escape. It’s born out of darkness.”
And there’s one more surprise about the song, that crops up while discussing unlikely influences.
“The influence for Summer Somewhere was that track by that idiot, Chris Brown,” says Nick. “He had an awesome track called Beautiful People, which is amazing. And Summer Somewhere doesn’t really sound anything like it, but I remember that being a real influence on it. I love that track! Just the sound of it, and the way it built, and that riff… it’s great.”
The band’s varied tastes also manifests in some recent collaborations. Summer Somewhere was mixed by both Johnny Foreigner and comedian and musician Matt Berry, who the band are big fans of after his role as evil zookeeper Dixon Bainbridge in The Mighty Boosh (“I just imagined him with his moustache, twiddling on Cubase,” says Nick). As well as this, a memorable Christmas gig saw them perform with Sheffield’s Albion Choir at the Upper Chapel.
“I really like choirs”, explains Nick. “Gina really likes choirs. There’s something about choral music that’s really good, it’s a really primal thing – getting together and singing in harmony. And it touches you in a different way to just hearing a piano, or hearing some drum and bass. And there’s quite a lot of choral touches on the album.”
Maldini first worked with the choir when they joined them for a filmed Flashmob version of Summer Somewhere, surprising shoppers in a busy Sheffield clothes store with an impromptu, acapella performance. Bringing it together successfully in a single gig was in some ways unlikely (“It was quite a weird juxtaposition,” admits Ben), but the pairing conspired to produce a truly memorable festive occasion, with the two sounds melding seamlessly, largely due to the choral influences already present in the band.
I end the interview asking Nick and Ben if there’s any genre that would never sneak its way into a Screaming Maldini track, and none’s forthcoming. The Maldini ethos seems to be good music is good music.
“As long as it’s good. As long as you don’t wear your influences on your sleeve, you don’t want to sound like other people, as long as what you make is a genre unto itself. Be influenced by whatever.
“Throw everything you can at it, and then take stuff away until it works. That’s the key!”