Interview: Duncan Lloyd

duncan lloyd maximo park

Duncan Lloyd is best known as the guitarist and driving force behind Mercury Music Prize nominated Maximo Park.

But outside of the Tyneside fourpiece, he’s a frenetic creator whose eclectic side projects take in Decade In Exile, Nano Kino and two solo albums under his own name.

His latest, I O U O M E, which dropped late May, showcases Duncan’s well-earned songwriting stripes and carries lo-fi indie flavours reminiscent of early Yo La Tengo, The Breeders and Teenage Fanclub. Veering from intimate outpourings to bigger picture ideals, the record is rich with melody, melancholy and wit.

We recently caught up with him to learn more about its origins, how his music has evolved over the years and what’s on his stereo at the moment…

What’s the thinking behind your new solo record?
It was written while I was travelling a lot. Often the best time to write is late at night, when you’ve just got time to yourself. I didn’t have a grand scheme, it unfolded quite naturally; the songs just seemed to follow another.

How is the writing process different when you’re writing for yourself rather than the band?
With Maximo Park, I often think of Paul, the singer. Also, when I get into writing for the band, I start really thinking about the space in the songs for the other players. Whereas, on my own, if I just pick up a guitar or work on something on a piano, it’s a deeper thing, because I’m in a lyrical frame of mind.

How did Nicole from Eternal Summers come to be on the new record?
Well, Maximo Park toured with Eternal Summers in the States a few years back and we became really good friends. I had this EP that I did, under the name Decade in Exile, which is probably more experimental stuff. It was on our merch stand and they picked it up. She was really into it so we decided we should maybe try and do something together. I sent her a couple of tracks over. She heard Heart in Delay and wanted to sing over it.

Where and when did the record take shape?
Most of it was recorded in Newcastle. We’ve got a rehearsal space up there with some basic recording gear. I just recorded it myself up there. I tend to record all the demos for Maxïmo through there. It’s a desk we got off Gil Norton, he’s the Pixies’ producer. Apparently, the Pixies have used that same desk for demos and stuff…

Wow, cool.
Yeh! We got it for something ridiculous like £300. When he saw me again, he said, ‘I can’t believe I sold you that desk!’ It’s quite basic thing, but it’s great. Most of the album was recorded there.

How do you feel about it now it’s all done?
It’s a relief, in a way, because when I finished it, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it – either I send it round to loads of labels, or maybe I play it live a bit first? Then I thought, ‘I’m just going to do it, and I’m going to get it pressed on vinyl’.

I think once the actual, physical record came back, I was like, ‘Oh, right, I’ve made this thing. I’ve done it.’ It’s a bit different when you’re in a band because you’re part of what feels like a bigger thing, and it feels very normal to do a record and get pressed.

It’s cool. It’s exciting. I feel I’m at point probably in my life where it makes the most sense. I guess I’m a bit older…

When did you figure out you could write songs?
It probably goes back to when I first started playing guitar, aged about 14 or 15. I just love melody, so the first thing I did was try to write something, even if it was just a line or two. I knew that there was something there. It was a bit hard to put my finger on it, but I knew songwriting was definitely something I had to explore. It made sense to me.

How do you think your songwriting has changed since you first started out?
I’d say initially it was very instinctive. Particularly when Maximo first got started. Me and Tom shared a flat. We would go out a lot, and then the next morning, we’d go into this tiny room we had with a washing machine in it and egg boxes on the wall. We’d rattle through some new sounds and write chords – everything was 100 miles an hour. And then Paul joined, and we felt a real momentum.

We were writing about the nights out we were having – we wanted our music to be urgent. I think at that point, there was still a lot of acoustic ballady stuff on the radio, and it didn’t really reflect how we were thinking or feeling.

There was a bit of desperation in there too! We were all in dead-end jobs and we felt we wanted to at least give this a go. It was very much an instinctive thing.

These days I make decisions. I think about the sound more, and about the song having a depth to it. I guess as you go on as a writer, it’s more about developing that, and also knowing when to leave space. We tended to fill up all the space we could with noise, whereas as now we feel the space is as good as the actual music itself…

You suddenly realise there are many ways to write a song. The more music you listen to the more you learn… I’m always on the lookout for something new, just to see how things can be done differently.

Is there anyone you’re really into at the moment?
I’ve been listening to quite a lot of US stuff, like Pinegrove and Hop Along. Robyn Hitchcock as well. And I’m a big fan of Bill Callahan. I’ve also been getting back into earlier PJ Harvey stuff. I love the raw way she recorded Rid of Me and Dry.

I also listen to a lot of soul. There are more obvious things like Aretha Franklin. Every time I put her on, it just blows my mind. I’ve been listening to Ambient Works by Aphex Twin recently too. It’s an album I always go back to. So yeh, bit of a mixed bag, I guess!

Is there anyone else that you’d really like to work with?

That’s funny because we toured with PINS and they’re a really great band – really cool. You just think, ‘Ah, it’d be cool if we had the time to do something together’. I’ve not even mentioned that to them though…

What’s next for you?
I think later on this year, I’ll probably do a full band tour of my record. I think Tom’s going to play, and Paul Rafferty from Hot Club de Paris, he’s going to be playing bass, if we can make it work out. We might do some gigs with his band, and there’s some other people we know.

We might go out with a bunch of groups, maybe even play in each other’s bands, more of a community thing. Hopefully I’ll some actual proper dates organised after summer.

Read our recent interview with Maximo Park’s Paul Smith.