The Maccabees' Hugo White: the 10 records that changed my life
On a suitably icy and toe-numbing January evening, we were lucky enough to catch the final date of The Maccabees’ UK tour, their third successive night at Brixton Academy.
The guys delivered a powerful, euphoric, hit-laden set that had the crowd jumping, hollering and singing along to almost every word.
When we spoke to Maccabees guitarist Hugo White a few days before the gig, he was certainly chuffed to bits with how the songs from last year’s UK #1 album Marks To Prove It had been syncing with material from the band’s previous three longplayers.
“The new songs tend to translate really direct live,” explained Hugo, who also produced Marks To Prove It. “There’s one called Kamakora, which has been really great, and WWI Portraits and Marks To Prove it and Spit It Out have all worked so well live.
"With any band making a record, I think the best thing that you can hope for is that - when you start touring - the songs from the latest record are the most important and kind of replace old songs in importance in the set. I think this record has done that, and it feels like people really want to hear the new tracks.”
The Maccabees take a bow at their final night in Brixton (Phil Sharp)
Hugo and his brother Felix, who also plays guitar, have also been debuting shiny new TheGigRig pedalboards during the Marks To Prove It tour. These new gadgets have made onstage effects dynamics that much easier for the pair.
“These areGigRig G2s,” said Hugo. “We’d been using the previous GigRigs for a while too. Now there’s a lot going on with the guitars effects-wise, and that’s a big part of the dynamic of the gigs.
“Those switching systems make things possible that aren’t possible without them. There’s so much detail in them, and being able to pre-program switches is so great. You know, with one switch, you’re able to flick between five pedals to two pedals on different presets.
“They’re definitely helping us translate what we did on the record to a live set with ease. These pedalboards were built over time, while we gradually refined what works best for us and narrowed things down to get them right. Switching between effects is now such a seamless process.”
Read on, as Hugo reveals the 10 records that changed his life…
1. Bob Dylan - Oh Mercy (1989)
“It’s hard to choose a Dylan album because we [ie, Hugo and brother Felix, who also plays guitar in The Maccabees] grew up listening to Bob Dylan and we’re really excessive fans! I’ve probably seen him live over 10 times now and know every record. I’d quite happily get involved in hour-long conversations about Dylan. Me and Felix are both the same in that way.
"The reason I chose Oh Mercy is because it’s an interesting record for him. He made it with Daniel Lanois, the producer, who kind of completely twisted what you’d expect from Dylan and created this really dense atmosphere and emotion. It basically sits in this night-time atmosphere. The whole thing was recorded at night-time and you feel that when you listen to it.
"Lyrically, there’s a song called Most Of The Time, which has some of the best lyrics I’ve heard, and there’s a bassline on that track that’s just unforgettable and I can’t really get past! I think it’s been inspiring because the first time I heard that I was probably 15.
"There’s a calm drama to it and some of it’s quite sinister as well so it really evokes a huge amount of emotion. The sound of the record takes it into another dimension.”
2. The Beatles - The Beatles (1968)
“My second choice has to be The Beatles’ ‘White Album’. There’s no rules on the record and, in terms of what it encompasses song-wise, it’s like just hundreds of sketches.
"There are songs that feel unfinished but they’re included and there are songs that feel like they’re four songs put together that don’t make sense in a traditional way… but that’s why they’re amazing. It just shows the strength of the ideas that each of them had and those ideas didn’t need to be refined a lot of the time.
"On this record, everyone is singing and everyone has got songs on there. Happiness Is A Warm Gun is another league of song, as is Paul McCartney’s I Will.
"I’ve started recently getting into learning about theory, which is something I’ve never had any grounding in musically, and I’ve been looking at Beatles songs and how interesting a lot of the things they were doing were. The actual chord structure of things is just way beyond traditional songwriting and feels beyond what you hear now.
"Pop music now is so dumbed down in comparison to what they were doing. And, if I can’t sleep, I still listen to Goodnight, the last song on here which Ringo sings. It’s probably the most comforting night-time song.”
3. Leonard Cohen - Songs Of Leonard Cohen (1967)
“I think it’s almost poetry more than it is music at times and it kind of stands alone on that. It’s beautifully framed as well… the marriage of the way Leonard Cohen delivers, the way he’s fingerpicking with soft nylon strings with this really honest voice, bearing all, and then the way that’s framed by the female backing singers.
"It’s always moving for me and I think, in some ways, it’s music in its simplest, most beautiful form.”
4. The Strokes - Room On Fire (2003)
“This came out at the same time me and Felix were both getting into playing guitar. I remember on XFM, John Kennedy did his Album Playback thing and we sat in Felix’s room and recorded the whole album on tape off the radio. We spent so much time listening to it.
"These were the early days of starting the band when we were 15/16. As a record, I love the way it’s so seamlessly arranged and the way the parts of it are so simple but so well-structured. It had this kind of lo-fi achievable thing to it. Nothing was too complicated.
"Maybe it started off sounding unattainable but – as we were learning guitar at the time – we’d work out one of the guitar riffs and realise that it’s just two notes playing over and over and you then realise how it’s possible to create something like that. It wasn’t unachievable.
"We thought The Strokes were just such a cool band. The whole aesthetic of it was right. I think they’ve definitely remained a part of us.”
5. Joni Mitchell - Blue (1971)
“There’s a few records that I can, on any occasion, put on and feel good listening to them and this is one of those.
"It would have probably been one of the records that we had on tape and listened to on car journeys so I was really, really young. I was maybe even 12 or something and I probably knew all the words. God knows how many times I’ve listened to it but there’s something just really open and warming about it. It feels like quite a rare thing.
"There’s the song A Case Of You and she did a record called Both Sides Now , on which she did a version of A Case Of You as well. Listening to those two versions is really the best framing of a song, with it being sung 30 years on. There’s a framing of going from being young to being old and the kind of wisdom that the older voice carries. There’s just something amazing about it.”
6. The Clash - London Calling (1979)
“I think this was pretty influential on why we were so hell-bent on getting this band together and focusing everything on that. London Calling also felt local because all of our first shows were in Brixton and those kind of areas and The Clash had a thing going there, too.
"We spent a lot of time watching Clash documentaries. The Clash were a real example of a group of passionate people putting everything into the band and creating something. Also, I think London Calling was just so open in terms of the genres of music it covered. It was so expansive and it showed that you don’t have to limit yourself and that you can do anything. A lot of it doesn’t feel like a punk record.
"And, having the Paul Simonon song, The Guns of Brixton, on there emphasised even more that thing of a group pulling together.”
7. Van Morrison - The Best Of (1990)
“We had this on tape and so - from the age of probably six - we were listening to it in the car. It is a ‘best of’, but every track on it is unbelievable.
"Van Morrison influenced us in the way we thought about music but in a different way to how The Clash influenced us. Van Morrison’s music was - and still is - unattainable. A lot of the playing on those records is so great. There’s so much feel to everything and it’s really hard to find records that have so much spirit and so much natural performance in them. These Van Morrison songs really are just huge steps ahead of everything and it’s still a record that I listen to.”
8. Paul Buchanan - Mid Air (2012)
“Paul Buchanan was the singer of The Blue Nile. Again, this record’s almost like sketches of songs and all the songs are two minutes long. They’re the most minimal things you’ll hear. It’s just the piano and vocal and almost everything on here is slightly incomplete.
"We did Jools Holland that year, when we were touring our last record Given To The Wild, and Paul Buchanan was there as well and he played one of the songs from this on the show. I hadn’t even heard of The Blue Nile but I heard him play this song and then went out and bought this and everything that The Blue Nile ever did. I love all of it.
"I think it’s actually quite rare to have a new record that’s a life-changing record but, for me, it is, because - when we traditionally worked on music as a band - everything was always so dense and there was a lot going on with everything kind of counteracting everything else with a huge amount of detail… but this record was so minimal and so peaceful and so calming but had everything emotionally put into it.
"I think the simplicity of that resonated. It’s one of those records that, when you listen to it, makes you think and gives you time to think within the songs. It’s an album that I think will always remain in my top records.”
9. Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights (2002)
“I’ve chosen this because it was an ‘early stage of the band’ thing. I think this was maybe a bit later than the other stuff I’ve mentioned but Interpol are a band that had a big influence on us.
"Like The Strokes, it was through the arrangements and the craft of the songs. Through putting lots of simple things together, you realised you could create something that was bigger than the sum of its parts. There are songs where the guitar parts are one note over and over but that one note becomes so important in the context of the whole thing.
"That was really important to us as a band and also, with Interpol’s music, there were never guitar solos and no instrument was more important than the others, including the vocal. Every part that anyone was playing had the same importance as the other parts because they worked together and I think that had a big influence on us.
"Also, their aesthetic as a band… they had this intimidating, unreachable presence. We went to see them a lot of times around that record and they were very cool live, and that was something that we really loved. I guess that record still reminds me of that time.”
10. Traveling Wilburys - Traveling Wilburys Vol.1 (1988)
“Supergroup territory! Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, George Harrison is a pretty ridiculous group of people!
"Again, this is a record I’ve listened to since I was really young. I think that - just the fact that it even exists - is kind of a reminder that music doesn’t have to be so serious all the time and it can be fun. Part of it is about bringing people together and enjoying yourselves.
"In this record, you can really hear that. In a good way, there’s a lack of taking yourself too seriously, especially for those who were involved in really serious music at the time. It’s just enjoyable and not too serious.”