As the gap between what many of us term as indie music and electronica becomes ever-more blurred it seems that many bands you would never have previously expected to are dabbling with synths and the like in an attempt to bolster and improve their sound. This of course is done with varying degrees of success and there are times when it feels both unnecessary and contrived.
Thinking back to when I first heard The Twilight Sad‘s debut LP Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, I would never have thought that their wall-of-sound guitars would one day give way to dance(ish) grooves and synth workouts but that’s exactly what they’ve done on their forthcoming, third LP, No One Can Ever Know. It’s not a complete departure from their previous sound however, the electronics provide more of a backdrop or carpet layer for the songs to sit on and be built upon.
It was something of a risk for the Scottish outfit to head down the route that they have, but it’s one that has paid off spectacularly. No One Can Ever Know is simply brilliant; bold, dark, heart-racing and head-rushingly brilliant.
GoldFlakePaint caught up with chief song-writer James Graham (and guitarist Andy, briefly) at the back end of 2011 for an extensive chat about their hopes for 2012, what went into the new record and what it means to them to still be making music as The Twilight Sad…
Good day sir, how is life treating you at present? Did the tour go well?
I’m alright, I’m still trying to get rid of my post-tour cold/flu that I picked up. It happens every time we come off tour, I get home and I get ill. I think it’s my body getting even with me for treating it like shite for filling it full of booze and service station food.
I think the tour went really well. I try to avoid any reviews about our gigs as I like to remember them for what they were in my head (if that makes any sense) or gauge if the gig was good or not by the audience reaction. As some people know I run the bands twitter account and the reaction on there was amazing, people seemed to be leaving the shows with their ears ringing and enjoying the new songs and the set as a whole.
We didn’t really play any major cities in England apart from London and the venues we played in Scotland were smaller than we usually play. It was a good opportunity for us to try out the new songs before the album comes out. It was great to go to some places in England we’ve never played before and we were really surprised at the amount of people that turned up to those shows and how passionate they were about our band. It was a great way to start off what we hope to be a long and successful album campaign.
Have you been pleased with the reaction to the couple of songs that have been released so far from No One Can Ever Know? Do you try and monitor what people are saying about it?
“No One Can Ever Know” has been finished for a while now and for a long time it was our album and for our ears only and I kind of liked that in some weird way. At the same time I was eager to find out what people I trust/respect as in friends/family/our peers were going to make of it. Saying that though, ultimately I don’t really listen to other people when it comes to what they think about our music. In a selfish kind of way we make the music for ourselves and if we can come away from making an album and listen back to it and be excited/happy/proud of what we’ve produced then thats all that matters to begin with. That’s what we’ve done with every album we’ve produced and it’s got us this far.
Don’t get me wrong though, I do realise that in the long run it does matter what people say or think about the album if it’s going to be a success, but I’ve made a deal with myself that I’m going to try and avoid all that as much as I can so I can focus in on playing live and enjoy being in the band as much as I can because you never know how long the band will last. As I said in the last question I run the bands twitter so I get first hand reactions from actual fans of the band and everyone’s been embracing these new songs and I’m really happy people are moving forward with us.
How are you feeling about the album release at this stage? Nerves/excitement…bit of both…?
Definitely both. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, I’ve been nervous before every album release. I want this band to be successful, we’ve put so much into it up until this point and it’s everything to me. With every album we release I just want to the band to take that step up on the ladder that is this fickle business that we call the music industry. Since we released our first album we’ve seen so many bands come and go. With our band there’s no bullshit, it’s not about how we look/the clothes we wear/who we’re shaggin/what TV programme we’re on… We’re just friends who happen to enjoy writing and playing music together and hopefully that comes across.
I think we’ve got this far because we’re honest and not trying to be anything we’re not and the only thing that matters is the music we make and that it’s connects with people who actually like music and not if a bands in fashion or not. So yeah nervous, excited, happy, proud, shitting myself, confident are some of the words I’d use when thinking about releasing our 3rd album.
What can people expect from the album and would you say that ‘Sick’ is representative of the sound of the new record?
I would say yes and no. The album is ment to be listened to as a whole and “Sick” is just one moment in the album that has a lot of different twists and turns (hope that doesn’t sound wanky!). I kind of look at the album as a story with 9 chapters and to really understand it you have to listen to it from start to finish and multiple times. I’m really proud of “Sick” and it’s one of my favourite songs I’ve ever written. It has everything within it that reminds me what I like about our band, whilst adding some new elements to our sound.
How much synth/electronica is on the album? Has it been a natural progression to bring that side of things in or is it something you always wanted to do at some point? Do you/the band listen to much electronic music?
Andy: I do listen to a lot of electronic music, but there was never a concious effort to make a “synth/electronica” record. In fact I don’t really see the new album as having that kind of sound. The songs we were writing had a much more sparse, bleak feel to them, so it definitely suited to have less on there, instead of layering up tons of guitars, synths etc like we have done in the past.
How do you feel it compares to the first two LP’s as they both felt quite different in their sound/tone etc…
Andy: I think it fits in well with the first 2 LP’s, it shows the development in our sound/song writing and is a good step forward. We’ve never wanted to be one of those bands that churn out the same album over and over again, we’ll always push ourselves to move on and try new ideas.
Twilight Sad Music Video – Directed by Adam Stafford.
You’re lyrics have always been very vague to us outsiders, does the new album follow that path? Were there any specific themes that you wanted to investigate?
I felt I spoke to much about the lyrics on the last album and gave too much away. This time I’m keeping my cards close to my chest. The lyrics, as always, are about people I know and things that have happened to me, my friends, my family and where we live. I think the lyrics and themes become a little clearer when you consider the title of the album and the song titles. But like the album title says “no one can ever know” (said like Vincent Price a la’ Thriller)
Do you have a personal favourite song on the album?
My favourite song changes all the time on the record depending what mood I’m in – usually a different version of miserable in one way or another! – but if your putting me on the spot it’s either ‘Nil‘ or ‘Sick’. Both these songs have everything within them that I love about our band. I don’t like singling out songs because as I’d said previously the album is meant to be listened to as a whole, but as soon as I’d finished writing ‘Nil’ it felt really special to me and I can’t wait to play it live.
I was sitting watching television with my Dad one day and he said to me, “You know that lyric in Nil, is that you son?” and I said why of course I wrote it (sarcasm). Then he said “Do you remember where you got it from?” and I said I didn’t. Then he reminded me that I used to go to someone’s house – who will remain nameless – and that’s what they said when I opened the door to their house. This person is someone who meant the world to me and who I miss every single day, but I had no idea that was where that line came from. The song isn’t about that but that line is going to pretty much kill me every time I sing it. It reminds me of when I discovered what ‘Cold Days From The Birdhouse’ was about (mid-way through a tour on stage one night) and how special that song then became to me. It’s weird, it seems as though I write things subconsciously sometimes.
How did the writing/recording process go for the new record and did the process differ greatly from your previous work?
From my point of view, no not really. Andy sent me over pieces of music and I’d write my melodies and lyrics to that music. Like all our songs we just built up the production and layers of the song after we had made sure we had what we thought to be a strong song. Andy and Mark might have approached things a little differently but we dont really speak about things like that, we just get on with it and if it’s sounding good we just move forward and work away on the songs.
As far as the recording process we were in London and out of our comfort zone so that was a different situation to what we were used to as we’d always recorded back home in Scotland. We had done a lot of pre-production before we got to London. All my parts we’re written before we got down to London, so when I wasn’t recording my parts I was in the lounge drinking and watching shite TV leaving everybody else to get on with the serious work and not having me around putting them off by talking a pile of pish.
The ‘Third Album’ is seen as something as a marker point for bands. How does it feel to get there and have you been pleased with your progress as a band so far? Did you expect to make it to this point?
I’m happy and proud of every single album/EP/single we’ve released. As far as other things outside of the music – e.g. touring, playing live, things I’ve said and done – then i’m not going to lie, we’ve made mistakes. But I’d like to think we’ve learned from them. I mean you have to make mistakes to progress and become a better band.
I hoped we’d get this far. We started this band as good friends and remarkably we are all still good friends. I mean don’t get me wrong sometimes we hate each other and fall out over stupid things but again we’ve learned how to do deal with that and in the end when we’re all back from tour we meet up and get pished together and laugh about things.
I think as a band we’ve got a lot more to give and a lot more we want to do. Everything we’ve had control over we’ve done in our own way and haven’t followed trends or got involved in any scenes. I still don’t know where we fit in or if we’ll ever fit in with the music industry, that’s not up to us but if those people don’t take interest in us then fine. I’m 100% happy with fitting in with the people who actually like music (the music/gig ticket buying public) and I consider myself one of those people as well.
You’ve just finished a short tour, how did the new songs go down live? Were there any difficulties in transferring them to the live stage?
They went down really well I think. It’s the first time we used our new equipment and it was always going to take some time to get comfortable using it and playing these new songs onstage but I think we’ve learned really quickly. These new songs have improved our live set by 100% in my eyes and my totally fucked/big ears. We may have been guilty in the past of being full-on all the way through our sets but now, whilst theres still those full on moments, there’s a bit more breathing space within the set. With the new songs, people still haven’t heard the record yet and have only heard bits and pieces from it. It’s going to take them some time to become familiar with them, so I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction to them on the Febuary tour.
You’ve played a few acoustic gigs this year, and the acoustic session you filmed for us has probably had a bigger response than anything else on the site. Is there any thoughts of going down that route for an album/EP/side project? Is it something you enjoy doing?
Wow! Really? That’s cool as fuck! We’re probably going to do lots of acoustic sessions on tour for radio or in-stores etc because there’s 4 or 5 songs on the album that work really well stripped back. I don’t think we’ll officially release anything like that again though and if we do we’ll probably give it away for free. I really enjoy the stripped back sessions/gigs, as it gives me the opportunity to show people I can actually sing instead of screaming like a demented maniac on stage. It’s also more nerve racking because theres nothing to hide behind. I’m pretty sure Andy and Devine hate acoustic gigs cause they like to think we’re a punk band or Guns & Roses and wouldn’t piss on a folk musician if they were on fire (joke).
How are your Christmas and New Years plans shaping up?
Same old, same old for me. Christmas at home with the family. I’ll eat too much, I’ll drink too much, I’ll fall out with people, I’ll say something I shouldn’t, I’ll get a pair of shite new socks, I’ll hopefully get X-Men First Class and Captain America on blu ray, get some comics, eat yellow snow, tan a snow ball of a NEDS face, watch Home Alone 1 & 2, have awkward conversations with my relatives about how the band is doing well and not a total waste of my time and then they’ll ask me if I like Kasabian and I’ll have to akwardly tell them “fuck no, they’re shite” without coming across like a stuck up music snob so they don’t bitch about me to my mum and dad.
Also people we used to go to school with will ask, “When you going to get a real job?” and “James! You still a sheep shagger?”. Apart from that not much else. We do have one band tradition though, we all go to my local pub The Swan Inn (the best pub in the world) on Christmas eve with all our friends. Big Orzel who used to play bass with us comes aswell and we all get Into the christmas spirit. Or ‘pished’ as we say.
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No One Can Ever Know is released on February 6th via FatCat Records.