I hate to open this with some rampant objectification but Orlando Weeks from The Maccabees is really fit. Men with earnest haircuts, open khaki shirts and English countryside names aren't my usual type, but I've lowkey harbored a crush on Orlando since I was a teenager, so when an email arrived in my inbox asking if I'd like to go on a 'first date' with him I said yes, why not, for old time's sake. And because I like to constantly use my job in order to live out my dreams IRL, I suggested that we spend our date eating fuckloads of vegan fried chicken at my favorite restaurant in Hackney. Double whammy.
If you weren't the kind of person who spent the 2000s buying the NME, polishing your winklepickers and typing "how to shrink my jeans" into Ask Jeeves, here are some facts about Orlando that you may find useful before reading this: He fronted The Maccabees for over a decade and they released four albums which were very successful. Even as indie stopped being cool, they somehow managed to outgrow and outlive many of their contemporaries, becoming a 'proper adult band' rather than just five dudes with guitars that your boyfriend who wore a cross-shoulder satchel bag over his Che Guevara t shirt was into. Their music is catchy and emotive and Orlando has a really distinctive voice that sounds like he's always on the brink of tears.
At the end of last year, the Maccabees disbanded in order to pursue their own solo creative projects, which is how I ended up here, in Temple of Seitan with the former singer, who is now releasing a book of watercolor illustrations called The Gritterman alongside an album of the same name. Before we meet, I read the book and listen to the music (simultaneously, which is how I assume they are supposed to be consumed), and can tell you that I enjoyed it more than expected. The Gritterman is about an old man who likes shovelling snow, and it reminds me of those classic books you find super comforting as a child, but seem kind of sad or sinister when you view them through adult eyes. The soundtrack is full of glimmering, atmospheric instrumentals with narrations from Paul Whitehouse, and Orlando's voice sounds beautiful spread over a piano. Obviously, it's the sort of thing you might listen to before bed rather than something you might blast out your tinny iPhone speakers in London Fields with your mates.
In person, Orlando is ludicrously warm and polite, to the point that me and the photographer kept shooting each other glances as if to say how is this man real? He greeted me with a firm handshake and a friendly smile before telling me that he'd always wanted to try vegan fried chicken so he was extremely grateful I'd asked him here. I resisted the urge to scream and covered my chips in condiments instead.
Noisey: Oh my god, these chicken wings are delicious.
Orlando Weeks: Yeah it feels like that bit in Transparent when she's trying to have an important conversation with the kids and they've all got chilli sauce on their face and they're not listening.
It's quite hard to talk, isn't it? Let's just jump straight in... if a crystal ball could tell you anything about your future, what would you ask it?
The pressure of the question would be too much! I'd sooner not know than get the question wrong. In New York, they have loads of palm readers and mediums and I always consider seeing them but then I don't because it feels like when you approach something like that you are bound to it and that's stressful.
I kind of understand what you mean. Do you have any strange hobbies that nobody knows about?
I just like making stuff. I've started buying postcards from wherever I go and then making collages from the postcards. Is that a hobby? I like to collage—I really do—I'm not ashamed.
Collages are sick; there's no shame in them. So what's the worst date you've been on?
My first date with my partner… I spilt most of the Guinness on myself just as she was walking into the pub. She was very gracious and later spilt most of her wine on herself, which I think was on purpose so there was balance. I've always thought that was one of these sweetest things she's ever done.
Haha! What's your favorite film of all time?
I just went and watched Dunkirk for the second time and… aw, man. I just think it's such a beautiful film. My girlfriend isn't one for nostalgia, but there are plenty of things she loved about it too. The sound is amazing and there are colors that feel specific to that era, and you recognize the landscape because that period is so artistically documented.
What about albums? What ones were you obsessed with as a teenager?
I didn't really get into music until I was around 19. I only really started listening to music when I thought about making it. This was partly because everyone at school liked garage and I tried really hard to get into it but I couldn't, so I thought 'oh, maybe this isn't for me'. But I did have a double tape of the Beatles on the BBC that we'd have on in the car and I loved The Fugees' The Score.
That's so strange! The fact you weren't into music as a teenager, but ended up spending most of your adult life (so far) in a band…
I think trying to make music, or what makes a song good, kept it so fun for me. I was also incredibly lucky to be in a band with the guys I ended up with, who are all so well-versed in specific eras in music that I had no idea about. I mean… I think it's quite weird too!
So what were you into?
I don't think I was really 'into' anything, but I watched TV with a dedication. I liked TV that felt like it was knowingly trashy, like the golden age of Saturday morning TV; things like CDUK and the beginnings of T4. And then I liked the TV that was unifying, like any sporting event was the only time we'd watch TV with our parents so I loved that. If you'd told my 15-year-old self that one day I wouldn't own a TV, I think he would have spat at me.
What were you like back then?
I think I was confused and pretty useless. Partly because I felt like everyone was finding their thing and if I'd have told them TV was my thing they wouldn't have taken me seriously.
So you were like 'I'm going to have to join a band then'...
That was part of it. I just felt like I had to do some other stuff. I'd just started at art school in Camberwell when I realised I could write songs. Then I found people to do it with me because I was so useless at it... and that was the beginning of The Maccabees. I only became the singer because no one else wanted to be. Rob was definitely not going to sing and neither were Hugo, Fe or Ru, so I thought, 'well someone has to sing.'
I've always found the concept of fronting a band quite terrifying… did it not scare you?
I remember just thinking it doesn't matter. For The Gritterman I'm going to have to do some readings, and I find that far scarier. With music, you can hide behind it to a certain extent. But this is a new discipline and I'm very conscious that I'm a slow learner, so it will take me a while to figure this out. If it's really awkward and a train-wreck, I won't be asked to do it again.
Let's chat about The Gritterman. Was the main character based on someone you know?
My granddad was a repair traction engineer and this character wasn't based on him at all but my dad says he looks a bit like him and I think there's something in his physique. Something to do with how when strong men get old there's a frailty to it, but enough posture to cover it up. My granddad was like that.
Are you happy with how it turned out?
Yeah, as with all stuff, I'm very proud but I can see what could be better. And now that I'm having to talk about it, I can see that it could feasibly and understandably fall between the cracks. But I would like to think that there's something in it for everybody. I really enjoyed making it, and in terms of using this year I've had in a productive way that felt good for my brain, I think I've made good decisions.
I guess you've had such huge success with your band that you now have the room to focus on passion projects. I feel like the Maccabees really outgrew and outlived the "indie" scene they emerged from in the 00s. How did you do it?
I have no idea. I don't want to say it was luck because that would take away from the effort that went into it. But we stood our ground at the right moment and went with the flow at the right moment and we really cared about what we were making. It kept surprising us that it kept taking another step and another step.
Do you think you'll ever get back with the Maccabees?
I think we feel really resolute in our decision and we feel good about it and everyone's doing great. I had a beer with Felix yesterday and he was presenting some stuff on Radio X and he had to get out of work and then go back and I was like "I'm visiting Fe at one of his many works." Everyone's busy and it feels good and I'm looking forward to what everyone's going to make next.
Nice one. Thanks Orlando!
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