Interview: The Twilight Sad
Published on November 3rd, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
In 2005, Kilsyth shoegaze-rockers The Twilight Sad won Planet Sound‘s Demo of the Year award for their first song, “That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy”.
Yours truly just so happened at the time to be an avid reader of Planet Sound – the music section of the sadly now-defunct Teletext (aka “the ghetto internet”), in case you were wondering – and I do indeed remember the great John Earls’ four-and-a-half-stars-out-of-five review, which came not long after his championing of a Hope of the States demo had helped that particular group to ‘go overground’, as it were.
(I myself was once awarded a five-star demo review by the esteemed Mr Earls on those very hallowed pages, although I’d hasten to add that my perfect score was attributable mostly to the fact that my submission took the form of a Planet Sound-themed concept album. Still, it all goes on the ol’ permanent record.)
Anyway, The Twilight Sad were soon picked up by Fat Cat Records (home to Sigur Rós, Animal Collective and No Age amongst others) and have since gone on to build a solid following and garner much critical acclaim for their Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters and Forget the Night Ahead long-players, not to mention three EP releases.
They have also bagged support slots with such luminaries as The Smashing Pumpkins, Snow Patrol, Idlewild, Battles, Beirut and Mogwai, the latter of whom took them on tour with them and became good buddies.
Their third album No One Can Ever Know is penned in for a February release and looks set to be something of a radical departure from the Arab-Strap-welded-to-The-Jesus-and-Mary-Chain (if those aren’t too obvious a pair of reference points) quality of its predecessors.
Rocksucker fired some questions over to front man James Graham and found it illuminating to learn, amongst other things, that the legendary likes of Andrew Weatherall and Ben Hillier contributed to this reinvention-of-sorts…
I was a reader of Planet Sound for years and I actually do remember reading John Earls’ review of your demo on those hallowed pages. Do you still keep in touch with John? If so, what does he do now?
I only really spoke to John when he was interviewing me on the phone. I’ve never met him in person but he seemed like a really nice guy. That was our first ever review so it was nice for it to be a good one and for it to be from someone well respected. I don’t know what he’s up to but I’m sure he’ll be writing about and listening to music somewhere. It would be good to see who he is writing for because I respect his opinion.
If “Kill It In The Morning” is anything to go by, No One Can Ever Know is a bit of a departure from your prior sound. What if anything inspired this new approach?
We have introduced some new elements into the band’s sound but ultimately No One Can Ever Know still sounds like The Twilight Sad. My approach wasn’t any different to the last two records when it came to my melodies and lyrics. I found what I wanted to write about and focused in on that. When it came to the music, we wanted a much harsher, colder, motorik, slightly militant feel. We thought it would be best to get outside our comfort zone to help us not to fall back into repeating what we’ve done previously and be a lot more spontaneous, so that’s why we moved to London for a month. We recorded in a studio called the Pool and got Andrew Weatherall on board to bounce ideas off and to basically reassure us of the direction we were progressing in. We borrowed vintage, analogue synths from both Tape Studio in Edinburgh and Ben Hillier, which became the core sounds on the album after endless experimenting. The drums were also recorded separately, which allowed us to easily manipulate, sample etc. The guitars are also much more reminiscent of maybe John McGeogh or Keith Levene, instead of the ‘wall of sound’ noise from the first records.
I had a think about how to describe “Kill it in the Morning” and the best I could come up with was ‘an electro-grime reimaging of “Children” by Robert Miles, sung by a Scottish Morrissey’. How does that make you feel?
The Scottish Morrissey thing I get a lot. Mogwai call me Jozza. He’s one of my favourite songwriters so that is a compliment, I think. Although he’s been acting a bit like a dick recently, I suppose people who know me will say I’ve been acting like a dick for a while now, so I suppose we’ve got that in common. The Robert Miles thing I don’t get so much but hey each to their own. Maybe if he makes a comeback I can guest on a track of his. I need the money!
What can we expect from the album as a whole? Is it still on course for a February release? How frustrating is it to have to sit on a record for this long?
Yeah it’s out in February. I think it’s the most varied album we’ve done but, again, as a collection of songs they work really well together. We’re not a singles band – every album we have done is supposed to be listened to as a whole. With No One Can Ever Know, each track is like a different chapter in the overall theme of the album. For me there aren’t any songs on the album that sound like each other but they all flow really well together. I also think “Kill It InThe Morning” is the perfect way to finish this record.
I think it’s quite hard to tell what the album’s like with the two songs we’ve released but it definitely helps point out where we’re going with it. I really can’t wait for people to hear the whole album as I’m very proud of it. I know I’ve said that we’re not a singles band but the single after “Sick” is probably the closest thing to a proper single we have or will ever have. It’s been really frustrating sitting on the record for so long, I think I’ve slowly lost my mind.
What was it like going on tour with Mogwai? I’m sure at least one of them was a Planet Sound reader back in the day (Stuart?). I remember him writing in to the letters page to have a go at some guy who called himself Mogwai Fan for making disparaging marks about heavy metal, pointing out that Mogwai had been inspired in part by metal music. Mogwai Fan then saw his arse and changed his name to Sigur Ros Fan. (Apologies if this is excessively geeky for your tastes.)
The three tours we’ve done with Mogwai were everything I wanted them to be. I got to see one of my favourite bands every night. We’re really good friends with the guys and the way they have embraced our band is amazing. Being on those tours made us want to work as hard as they have to get to that level. I think we gained a good amount of fans each night, which was great as well. I wouldn’t slag off heavy metal – sounds like the guy deserved it!
How did SXSW and Pitchfork Festival go? Seems you have a bit of a fan base over in America.
We’ve played SXSW twice now and we’ve had a great time each time we’ve been there. Pitchfork Festival was great as well but that was a while ago, maybe in 2007. I remember our dressing room was right next to Yoko Ono’s dressing room, which was pretty weird. We haven’t done a proper headline tour in America for a while so I’m looking forward to getting back over there for a big tour to see how things are going over there. We’ve toured over there about seven times and the audiences over there are really good to us. People travel for hours to come see us which baffles me but is very much appreciated.
I couldn’t help but notice that Pitchfork compared you to U2 in their review of Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters. How did that sit with you guys? The reason I ask is because of your answer to the Joy Division question in this interview.
People have compared us to that many bands that I’ve lost count. I don’t really care what people say anymore – if they like our music then great and if they don’t then that’s cool as well. Different horses for different courses and all that. Bono does come across as a bit of a wanker though but, at the same time, so do I. Maybe that’s what they meant in that review.
Do you have any international fan bases that took you by surprise? Maybe you’re worshipped in Estonia, or something like that…
People have got in contact with us from places that I never would have thought our music would ever reach. There’s been a lot of people from Israel that have travelled to different countries to see us play. People have got in contact over the internet from places like Estonia, Ukraine, Serbia, Indonesia to name a few. I love the thought of our music connecting with people from different cultures – it’s pretty mind blowing.
Are there any other bands that people sometimes mistake you for?
Wow, there’s a blast from the past. Are there any journalistic clichés or buzzwords that you’re sick of hearing/reading in reference to your work?
“Groundskeeper Willy on Lead Vocals”. “Scottish Brogue”.
Are you football fans? If so, which teams do you each support?
We all like football. I’m an Aberdeen fan for my sins. There’s a Celtic supporter, two Clyde supporters and one Rangers supporter in the band so we cover all the bases I think.
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming artists you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
I’m looking forward to the new Errors record. I like the new RM Hubbert album. Adam Stafford is supporting us on our upcoming tour so check him out. Everyone should own at least one copy of Bill Wellls and Aidan Moffat’s album called Everything’s Getting Older! There’s a a new band on FatCat called Breton that are pretty exciting.
Could you name – as of this very moment, just off the top of your head – your top three albums of all time?
I’ll give you five: The Microphones – The Glow part 2, Arab Strap – Monday Night At The Hug And Pint, Mogwai – Young Team, Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible, The Smiths – Meat Is Murder.
Rate this interview out of ten:
I would have deducted at least a point for the Pitchfork Festival oversight myself – but, then, that’s tempered somewhat by the correct guessing of Estonia. The Twilight Sad, thank you!
No One Can Ever Know will be released on February 12th through Fat Cat Records. The album will be preceded by the single “Sick” on November 14th. For more information and a list of live dates, please visit twilightsad.com