Interview: The Twilight Sad

The Twilight Sad are in the midst of a UK tour at present, which ends in Stirling on November 25th. The band’s third album No One Can Ever Know is due out in February 2012. Newly appointed Podcart member Steve McGillivary was lucky enough to be able to get together with James Graham, the energetic front man, after their recent gig at the Bongo Club in Edinburgh. They talked about the new album, PCP smoking kids, Aidan Moffat, BBC Introducing and Aberdeen FC amongst other things.

SM: How would you describe the new album?

JG: We’ve tried some new stuff out on it. The big guitar wall of noise is not there anymore, basically just because we’ve done that and there’s no point repeating ourselves. I think if we repeated ourselves, we’d probably have called it a day. There’s no point being in a band if you’re going to do the same thing over and over again. It’s still a Twilight Sad album. The people that I know that I’ve given it too, have said it’s darker than the second one, which I really didn’t think could happen. There’s some synthesisers in there, there’s some programmed drums. It’s still very tense and still in your face. It feels like a natural progression.

SM: I was going to ask if you feel it’s a natural evolution of your sound?

JG: I do. It’s not something we’ve thought about too much. We didn’t sit down and say “We’ve got to change”, we just played with sounds that interested us. We’ve never tried to sound like anyone else, we just played about with stuff that interested us and make us want to be in a band. The minute we stop doing that we’ll probably call it a day if I’m being honest.

SM: How did Andy Weatherall’s involvement come about?

JG: Alex from Fat Cat (founder of the label) is good friends with Andrew Weatherall. We were all discussing producers at one point and we were all thinking at the start of the album before we recorded it that we could get a producer in. We spoke to Andrew and he was loving the demos and was really into it and we went down to London. Andrew is credited on the album as an Anti-Producer, which is his term and not ours.

SM: What is an “Anti-producer” exactly?

JG: Basically we went down with the album and it was pretty developed by the time we got down there and Andrew came into the recording session and said “You’re already doing everything I would have told you to do”. In the end he was there as a reference point and somebody we really trusted because we were quite nervous about trying out some new stuff. He was the guy we could go to and say “What do you think of this?” and he would make sure we were on the right track. He’s going to do some remixes as he wants to do some work outside of the album as there are some songs he said he definitely wants to get his hands on. To be involved with a guy like that is pretty cool. He’s a really nice guy and there’s no ego there at all.

SM: Do you still get as much of a kick playing live now as you did when you first started out?

JG: Probably more so now actually. When you introduce new songs into a set, you’re obviously nervous about playing the new songs. I’ve been nervous on every date on this tour because playing new songs you always are. You’re also excited to play it at the same time. After you play the new songs, then play older songs, new life is then breathed into the older songs. It reminds you of the reason you first wrote the song as well. I used to hate touring and hate playing. I’m not a natural front man and I don’t have banter with the crowd or anything like that , it’s just not me and I wouldn’t pretend it was me either. I would rather just play the music and say thank you, because we always appreciate anybody that comes to see us. At the same time I’ve learned to get more comfortable being the singer in a band. I was an electrician and I never thought I’d be in a band touring about the world. It’s not like I was in a stage school. I’m just a normal guy that’s happened to write some songs with his pals.The more I do it, the more I enjoy it.

SM: I know as an audience member, hearing the music live gives you a new appreciation of the recorded work.

JG: Definitely. We try not to replicate what we do on an album when we play live because if we did the exact same thing there you’d just be as well staying in the house listening to the album instead of buying a £10 ticket to come out and see a band playing. It’s not fair on the person buying the ticket. Nothing’s ever perfect when you’re playing live and especially with us. We’re a noisy band and it’s not about a crisp, clean performance that you see. It’s more about what we put into it and we do put everything into it and we try that every night. Don’t get me wrong, when you’re on an eight week tour of America, to put everything into it every night is pretty difficult. We try our best but like every job, you have your good days and your bad days. It’s much harder that I thought it would be, but I wouldn’t change it. It’s the best job in the world.

SM: What would you say your most memorable gigs and venues have been?

JG: There have been loads. When you tour that much you do experience the shit of the shit and the best of the best. Our first tour ever was in America. We went over and mixed our first album and did some shows to get our name out. The first place was in Wayne’s World. (shouts to the rest of the band “What was that place we played in America that was in Wayne’s World? The shit town that started with W?” “Wilmington, Delaware comes the answer.) Wilmington, Delaware. We played there and there were ten people at the gig and half of them were young kids that had just smoked PCP outside and they were break dancing to us. At one point one of them went up to Andy and stood next to him and just stared him in the face.

SM: That was brave.

JG: Aye, well Andy looked like Beck at that point. This was the early days. He didnae look like Bronson then. Nobody knew us there at all. That was probably one of the worst.

SM: What do you think of the Scottish music scene at the moment? I get the feeling that yourselves, Frightened Rabbit, Aidan Moffat etc all get on pretty well.

JG: I’ve been best pals with the Rabbits for a long while, even before they released their first album. Fat Cat introduced us because we both sent demos down. I’m still pals with them to this day and they comes to gigs. Grant from the Rabbits was at the Dundee show with us last Sunday. Aidan is the guy – I started writing music because of that guy. He was the biggest influence on me ever and he one of my best pals, which was kind of strange to begin with. I wasn’t sure of he liked the band but he came to a few gigs and I thought he must and now we go to gigs together, we go to the cinema, went to see Batman Live and all that kinda stuff, even though it was shite. He’s a big Batman fan. Hs recent album is one of the best things he’s ever done. Monday Night at the Hug and the Pint is one of my favourite albums of all time and he’s come close to that with his new one, but I also think Malcolm came close with Into the Woods and A Brighter Beat. Malcolm’s a good pal as well. Supporting Mogwai and being pals with Mogwai was mind blowing. Three tours we’ve done with them. They’re good pals now which is also a bit of a head fuck.

SM: Are there any other bands that are up and coming or bands that you think are worth listening to?

JG: To be honest most of the bands in Scotland that I know are already on their way there like Errors. I’ve heard their new song but apparently their new album is the best thing they’ve done. Remember Remember on Rock Action – I think their album is great. I like a band called Moon Unit. I don’t know if they’ll ever record an album but they are an instrumental band, but not post-rock. I can’t really think how to describe it but it’s really good. There’s also The Phantom Band. In a way once you know one guy in a band you know them all.

SM: What do you think of the threat to BBC Introducing in Scotland?

JG: If I’m being honest I don’t listen to radio that much, but it’s a great platform for lots of bands. Johnny (Twilight Sad member) is in Take A Work For A Walk Week and they had, I think, the best Scottish album of the last five years and Ally (McRae – host of BBC Introducing) has done live sessions with them and promoted them. Ally has also helped us as well and I just think it would be stupid if we lose that kind of thing. For a band like us it’s quite hard to comment on because we’re trying to do our own thing and we don’t pay attention to whether or not people are playing us or not. I do see Ally is helping us though and promoting a lot of Scottish bands so it can only be a good thing. Hopefully there’s band that people tuning into Ally’s show have never heard before. People need a platform these days. Ally is a nice guy and care’s about what he’s doing and if we start getting rid of people like that how else are people going to hear new bands that are independent. Of course everybody is going to hear the shit through Radio 1 with their major label bands, but how else are the random average joe’s looking for new music going to find them. Vic Galloway is the same and he promotes a lot of Scottish band and without those two on BBC you don’t have anyone.

SM: What sort of things outwith music do you like?

JG: Football.

SM: What team do you support? I know one of the band has Rangers, Celtic, Aberdeen and Clyde fans. Which one are you?

JG: I’m scared to tell people. I’m an Aberdeen fan. I’m actually a shareholder as well. My Mum’s from Aberdeen, so I wasn’t allowed to support Rangers or Celtic when I was younger because my Dad’s a Catholic and he didn’t really support anybody, but the school he went to if you didn’t support Celtic you would have got a doing and he didn’t want me to be either or so I thought I’d support Aberdeen and it’s one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made in my life (laughs). I buy the strips every year. I also play fives Wednesday and Sunday with Doc (keyboard player) when we’re not touring. I love football to bits. I’m a big comic book fan as well. I’ve got a Cineworld card so go to the cinema and it doesn’t matter if it’s a good or bad film – I’ll go and see it. And I love the pub as well. (laughs)

Massive thanks to James for taking the time to talk to Steve after a very energetic gig.

Steve McGillivray

For all things Twilight Sad please visit: Fat Cat Records

Their new single ‘Sick’ is out NOW.

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