The Twilight Sad have furrowed some cult career path between both their native Britain and the US through their desolate, dry and despairing rock regalia but are they about to put down the guitar for synth pop warmth? Asks Chris Swindells.
A friend warns VF about approaching a Scottish man before midday with a xenophobic taunt: “you best hope he’s had his oats”. James Graham, lead singer with Glasgow-based The Twilight Sad, seems to have had more than his share of Quakers as he recovers from a week in Texas for SXSW.
“It was good, that’s our second time going. I don’t know if there was much point in us going because we don’t have much new out at this moment but the gigs we played were great.” Recommending Thee Oh Sees and Football from SXSW for his money, James preaches the merits of not following the crowd and hype. “It’s pretty good just to see your friends play in Texas, which you don’t get to do everyday!” he says.
It’s this intrinsic optimism in James that seems so disconcerting from a singer of a band once described by a fellow critic as “perennially unhappy”. Either way this mood of melancholy in his lyrics has at least grabbed the Celtic hearts of our Atlantic allies by their fast-food-infested arteries. “They do seem to react really well. I think a lot of people come up to you after the show and go ‘I’m Scottish’ and you’re like ‘you’re not’! They say they’ve traced their family back and all that kind of stuff and I don’t know, maybe they just really like the film Braveheart, which is a really shit film to be honest.”
Fame is not a fairytale all of their own but one they share with another glowing light in the emerging Glasgow scene, Frightened Rabbit, with both once on record label Fat Cat. Asked if they’ve got a bit of a band bromance going on James is defensive: “I think they’re fucking arseholes.” Oh.
“Nah they’re really good friends,” he admits jokily, “Fat Cat introduced us to them, we sent a record down and they said we got a demo a week before you from a band called Frightened Rabbit, have you heard of them? We said no, so we went and checked out one of their gigs, and ended up speaking to them afterwards and from there on we were just good friends.”
James speared his personal resistance and rhetoric in the band’s 2007 debut ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’ with a lyrical outpouring carrying the weight of tragedy that hangs with the potency of your Nan’s finest cologne.
“We never speak about it really, I never really tell the rest of the band what the lyrics are about. They just say if they’re shite or not.” It’s not always that easy live in front of family and friends. “Family-wise sometimes it has been a wee bit weird. I never really tell anyone what the lyrics are about, unless I’m drunk, you get it all out of me.”
After the initial worry of mortally offending a Scottish man by mispronouncing his place of birth, Kilsyth, it’s clear for James it was a bittersweet relationship with the town that gave birth to Curling as he grew up. “There’s nothing. It’s like a small town outside Glasgow. There’s no music scene, everyone listens to Oasis and Kasabian and stuff like that. So getting that chucked in your face all day you desperately try to find something else to focus on. We were always different from everyone at school, we always got on with everybody but we were into different things and watching different films. I suppose it was a sense of escapism.
“It’s great coming back, not a lot of people understand what we’re doing but they see that we’re doing well. If we didn’t stay where we stayed we wouldn’t sound the way we do. If we came from Edinburgh we’d be rubbish.”
If you haven’t heard The Twilight Sad live you’ve missed out. If you have then you’re almost certainly missing some of your eardrum. Reportedly the loudest loud band on the scene, it’s a joke title that James doesn’t try to shake: “When we started out that was part of the fun of it, being as loud as possible.”
This year the band are booked to play Live At Leeds 2011 and Greetings From Beacons Festivals 2011 but when we speak little else. “I think festivals try to avoid us to be honest.” James says full of a mocking-contempt. “As the record will be finished getting mixed this week we’re out to do as many gigs as we can and that is how we make a living so if you’re organising any festivals give us a shout and we’ll come down and break people’s ears.”
The new record is clearly a big step forward for the band who split with founding bassist Craig Orzel last February. It’s the first they’ve recorded outside of their native country and from first impressions this gut decision was the only thing they could follow: “It was one of the easiest things I’ve ever recorded. We recorded it down in London in a place called The Pool and we had a lot of pre-production to take down to the studio.”
“Those first two records we’ve done we’re extremely proud of but it’s time for a change because if we’d try to do something that was quite similar to either two of those records we’d probably have got fed up and split up. There’s only so long you can keep doing the same thing.”
So is it now time for something completely different? “There’s not a lot of the big guitars at all to be honest. I struggle to remember what song has the big guitars, it’s definitely a lot more electronic based. We’ve brought in a lot more synth on this record.
“A lot of other bands have used synths recently and I feel they’ve kind of saturated it a bit and been a bit more commercial than being true to the records that inspired that whole sound such as early New Order.”
The Twilight Sad play Live At Leeds 2011 with Villagers, Anna Calvi, Trophy Wive and more.
Click here to buy Live At Leeds tickets.
Find out where else the band are playing this summer here.