Orlando Weeks on ‘Hop Up’: “I wanted that cloud nine feeling with every song”
As the former Maccabees frontman releases his second solo album ‘Hop Up’, Orlando Weeks has spoken to NME about the making of the joyful new record.
The album follows 2020’s ‘A Quickening’, and aims to fill in the gaps left by its predecessor. Both records detail Weeks’ experience of becoming a father, with ‘A Quickening’ documenting the anticipation, expectancy and insecurities he felt ahead of the arrival of his son. ‘Hop Up’, on the other hand, revels in the happiness, lightness and all-encompassing love after the baby’s birth.
“I didn’t want [‘A Quickening’] to be the only scrapbooking of that experience,” Weeks told NME from his home in London. “It just didn’t feel complete.” With no touring able to take place because of COVID-19 lockdowns, the musician started work on filling in the rest of his musical scrapbook, aided in his direction by a new “manifesto”. “I wanted that kind of cloud nine feeling with every song – that’s the job I gave myself and Nathan [Jenkins, aka Bullion, the album’s producer],” he continued. “It was to achieve a lightness or a buoyancy. It’s less document and more atmosphere [this time].”
Writing in a more optimistic, cheerful framework surprised the singer-songwriter, not least because the majority of his years writing songs had been spent focusing on the other side of life’s emotional spectrum. “In my really early days of writing songs I didn’t feel bound by anything, but as soon as The Maccabees got signed, the indulgence of being a songwriter or a professional musician felt like the only way I could justify doing it was to concentrate on difficult and heavy stuff,” he explained. “That legitimised it somehow. I don’t know what drunken conversation made me think that made sense but I stuck to it for years.
“There are songs that I must have cast aside that maybe had something really fun and beautiful about them, but because they didn’t feel like I could anchor them to some sort of disaster, I was like, ‘Oh no, I can’t do that, that’s not for me’.”
In the past, Weeks said he also used the excuse that you shouldn’t question life’s joys as a way to avoid writing happier songs. “That’s just lazy, though,” he said. By allowing himself to now do just that and delve deeper into joyful experiences, he added he had learned that they are just as complicated as darker emotions. “And you don’t tarnish the joy by thinking about the joy – you just balloon it up. It’s given me an appreciation and love for music that I think I’d always known was great, but I just felt was outside of my jurisdiction.”
Parenthood has altered the way Weeks works, largely out of necessity now that other responsibilities – which he characterised as both “very serious” and “ridiculous” at the same time – take up a big chunk of his time. “You have less time, you’re more tired so how do you work smarter rather than longer,” he explained. At this point in his career – and in light of the impact of the pandemic on the music industry – he’s also begun to see his job as less of an indulgence and more of a “treat”.
Since emerging with The Maccabees in 2004, the musician has released seven albums – four with the Brighton band, an original score for his book The Gritterman, and now, two solo records. ‘Hop Up’, he said, was the most fun experience he had had of making an album yet.
“It was quick, which often it isn’t,” he reasoned. “I didn’t feel stuck at any point or on the lyrics or any song sections. Also, I wasn’t doing it in my flat where small people and partners are trying to sleep in another room. I was going to a friend’s empty workspace and making loud noises, drinking beer, shouting and playing the trumpet badly.”
Working with Bullion, too, added to the experience and gave Weeks a close new collaborator to help guide his late-night experiments. “We achieved that kind of musical language of what one person means when they’re trying to say something but they don’t have the proper musical terminology – usually me – really quickly,” he said. “For the purposes of this record, I felt like the music that Nathan introduced me to was suddenly my new favourite record or new favourite song.”
Among the tracks that the producer introduced – or reintroduced – Weeks to were John Cale’s ‘Never Give Up’, Prefab Sprout’s ‘When Love Breaks Down’ and Wings’ ‘Arrow Through Me’. “That’s an unbelievable song,” he said of the latter, “and felt like how I wanted the record to feel.”
Other artists that appear on the record include Heavenly Recordings signee Katy J Pearson, Willie J Healey and Frank Ocean collaborator Ben Reed. Working with other musicians allowed Weeks to hear what he’d been working on with fresh ears. “If someone else is doing it with you, it’s a lot easier to draw a veil over my insecurities,” he explained.
Pearson is a musician that he has had a connection with for years, having written with her and her brother when they were in the band Ardyn. “Watching her rebuild everything out of the ashes of that project was amazing,” he said. “I think that’s a testament to her ability as a musician, but also this buoyant personality that she has.”
With a series of instore gigs on the immediate horizon and a full UK tour coming up in March, Weeks is now facing the new challenge of bringing the worlds of ‘A Quickening’ and ‘Hop Up’ together in one show. With lockdowns cutting short his live plans for the first album, these gigs will also mark his first chance to perform both records to an audience that is familiar with the music.
“Part of the task is making the set work and how to mix the two worlds,” he said. “That’s something we’ll figure out together in the room. But ‘A Quickening’ was a very introspective, quite insular and very still record. When I played the shows before the record came out [in 2020], they were amazing audiences – extremely quiet, extremely respectful.” With ‘Hop Up’ in his arsenal, though, he’s hoping the mood of his shows will now shift.
“I don’t want that to be the only atmosphere at these shows. So my responsibility to the songs and to the people that have bought tickets is that I want them to go beyond that. It’s not easy to take people with you through a few gears, but that’s the job.”
Depending on how the pandemic continues to affect touring and live music, a third album could be with us sooner rather than later. Weeks has already been working on new material, with the aim of “refining” what he’s tapped into on ‘Hop Up’. “I couldn’t tell you what that is in a succinct way yet, but there’s something there that I want to spend a bit more time with,” he said. “I want to develop on that without being bound by any themes and just let it push and pull me around a bit.”
Longer-term, the musician is hoping to hit a milestone when his output is in double digits. “My favourite Bowie record is ‘Low’, which is his 11th record, I think ‘Pet Sounds’ is Beach Boys’ 11th record. So 11 seems to be the magic number. I’ve got to get to 11.”
That’s the album that will be the Orlando Weeks classic? “Yeah, just four stinkers and then one opus,” he laughed.
Orlando Weeks’ ‘Hop Up’ is out now via PIAS. Weeks will tour the UK in March – you can find dates and tickets on his official website.