Mazes have never been ones for hanging around. When they have songs, they get them out there. If they should find themselves snowed in and unable to get to the studio, they’d grab a shovel and dig a pathway through. It’s precisely what the trio had to do during a recent trip to upstate New York for the creation of Wooden Aquarium, the band’s latest album.
“The studio was completely isolated; an idyllic place to make a record. Green, remote, backwatery, fewer distractions… but things turned for the worst the night we arrived,” remembers singer and guitarist Jack Cooper. “Our van was broken into and gear stolen within an hour of being in New York. Then around three feet of snow fell over night. We had to shovel our way to the studio every morning. It was interesting being snowed in - you get busy and knuckle down.”
Completed in just two weeks Wooden Aquarium marks the apex at which Mazes’ music to date meets. Whilst debut album A Thousand Heys was recorded on a boat and recent album Ores and Minerals was recorded across numerous takes in the back room of Dalston’s Shacklewell Arms, Wooden Aquarium has brought Cooper, drummer Neil Robinson and bassist Conan Roberts together in a studio setting for the very first time. Laid down entirely onto beautifully thick two-inch tape, recalling the band’s early cassette tape recordings, the trio also had company in enlisting the skills of Parquet Courts’ producer Jonathan Schenke. “If it wasn’t for Jonny, things would’ve got a little bleak,” admits Cooper. “The dynamics of our band is very English so can be quite tense and focused. I think that comes across in the music, but Jonny kept everything light and breezy.”
Whether drawing upon the band’s vast influences (the mysterious ‘Explode Into Color’ nods to their appreciation for the same-named group whilst ‘Vapour Trails’ revisits Cooper’s childhood memory of Victor Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer’s 1940s song ‘I Remember You’) or introducing new friends (‘Salford’ and the featherweight groove of ‘Ripp’ both feature vocals of a friend they met in an NYC karaoke bar), each track on the album is like a vivid flashback to a particular moment in time. “With this record a lot more care has been taken over the lyrics and themes,” Cooper reveals. “I’ve always looked back on my late teens as being idyllic so that nostalgic hazy image of riding my bike around in the sun as a teenager, coupled with a new sense of optimism mostly colours the record, but there’s still stuff on there I don’t have a clue about.”
That sense of nostalgia is never clearer than on ‘Universal Me’, capturing Wooden Aquarium’s theme of finding yourself caught between two places. Akin to Field Music’s articulate songwriting prowess and the punky guitar rhythms of Pavement or Television, ‘Letters Between U&V’ is about unfinished moments, half notes or things left unsaid, whilst personal ailments (‘Astigmatism’) and see-sawing between extreme confidence and self doubt (‘Salford’) are explored through hypnotic lo-fi pop melodies of motorik rhythms bolstered by spiky hooks and Cooper’s distinctively carefree vocals.
“This album and going to America to record it represents a roll of the dice. Its primary influence is how the three of us play. We’re not trying to do anything unnatural. It’s the culmination of what we were trying to do with Ores & Minerals… the actual ‘sound’ of us is evolving and getting more idiosyncratic.”
Whilst everyone else is chasing trends, Mazes are doing their own thing regardless and growing whilst they’re at it. Despite endless touring commitments including recent shows supporting Franz Ferdinand at The Roundhouse and this years’ Great Escape, not to mention running their own record labels, it’s through ‘Wooden Aquarium’ that Mazes have truly found their way.