We launched a new feature today, in the form of Paint It Back; an on-going series where some of our writers and friends will take a look back at some of their favourite records from the past. We kicked things off with a look at The Twilight Sad’s stunning 2007 debut, Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters (see here, if you missed it). To sit alongside the piece we arranged a short Q&A session, regarding the album, with frontman James Graham. That ‘short Q&A’ quickly turned into a full-blown interview and we thought it silly to trim it down into a more cohesive chat just for aesthetic reasons. So here it is in its entirety. Hope you enjoy…
It’s been over six years since Fourteen Autumn & Fifteen Winters was released. Does it seem that long ago to you? Did you expect to still be putting records out this far down the line?
Yes and no I suppose. So much has happened to our band in that six years and if I think of it in that way then, yes, it does feel like a long time. I mean, there’s been good and bad things that’s happened to the band. The line up has changed over the years with Craig leaving & Johnny now playing bass with us. Dok played his last gig with the band this summer and now our friend Brendan will be playing keys with us. The good thing about the line up changes is that we all remain friends with each other and when someone has left it’s been for a good reason and the right choice for them. We’ve lucked out with Johnny and Brendan who are maniacs in the best possible way, but they are also brilliant musicians as were Dok and Craig and they all put the likes of me to shame. We’ve now released 3 albums/3 EP’s and a number of covers and B-sides. We’ve toured America & Europe many times, I think our next American tour will be our 12th or 13th. We’ve met and played with so many of our favourite bands. We’ve made friends and a few enemies across the world. All of this wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t written & recorded “fourteen autumns & fifteen winters“. We’ve all changed as people and got older/uglier, I definitely don’t feel like that fresh faced young boy excited to be releasing his debut album and naive to the friendly faces with put on smiles that the music buisness throws your way. Saying that though sometimes it does feel like only yesterday that I got my first copy of “fourteen autumns & fifteen winters” in my hands and opened it up to smell the booklet.
I’d hoped we’d be still writing and recording music together. The 9 songs on that album were the first I’d ever written and after writing and recording that album I suppose I became addicted to writing music and I just wanted to write more and more and try new things. I think we all knew that we weren’t going to be just a one album band and we all hoped that we could achieve any kind of success that would allow us to make another album. We’ve been lucky that the people who do like our band have moved with us and appreciated that we’ve tried to push ourselves musically whilst still staying true and honest to the people who wrote that first album. These days it’s hard to make any kind of living being in an indie band and each new album could be your last I think, that’s how cut-throat this industry is. But I think if your good enough and if you consistently release good honest music then you’ll breakthrough someday. That’s kind of been my philosophy I’ve been going by. To me, making music isn’t about making money (and believe me if it had been I’d have been out of this game a long time ago), it’s been about making enough money so I can make more music and we’ve just been lucky that we have been supported by a lot of great people back home, who know who they are. I love writing music and being in this band. I just hope we can keep on doing so. I’m just as excited about our band as that fresh faced boy in 2006/7 and I always saw our debut album “fourteen autumns & fifteen winters” as the beginning and the first of many miserable albums.
Which memories stand-out the most from that time, during the recording and releasing of the record?
There were lots of amazing memories. I think it’s important to note that we hadn’t really had any experience in the music industry before releasing our debut album. We played 2 gigs in 2 years then did some demos and sent them to our favourite labels, then Fatcat signed us. Everyday something new & exciting came along. It all kind of snowballed. We signed to Fatcat then we were told “you’re touring the east coast of America but before that your going to record your debut album, you can go to chem 19 studios and record with Paul Savage” and we said yes please! “Whilst your on tour in America you can mix your record with Peter Katiss” and we said yes please. One of my favourite albums at that point, and it still is, was “Turn on the bright lights” by Interpol, so to be working with the guy who produced that was pretty mind blowing to me. At that time I had the slowest dial up Internet as I stay out of the city in the countryside, so I didn’t really use the Internet for anything more than the occasional email. I found out about music by going to the local record store (Avalanche Records, Monorail records) or by word of mouth from my friends. So blogs, music websites etc were pretty alien to me, so when people would say your song is on this website or blog I’d be like “Is this a good thing?”as it didn’t really mean anything to me. People wanted to interview us which was weird, people asked questions about our music and my lyrics which was weird, we played a festival and Yoko Ono was in the dressing room next to us which was very weird. We were very young and naive I think, but we were very focused on what our album and our music was about. We knew what we wanted to achieve within the music/album and even though all this madness was going on, and we didn’t really know how to react to it, we did know we’d made a debut album we could be proud of.
Are you pleased with how it all turned out now you can look back at it and put it all in context?
The way “Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters” was released was a bit crazy but I wouldn’t have it any other way. No one in Scotland knew who we were, I mean no one! We played about four gigs in Scotland before it was released, we’d played about 30 in America though. I think things started to filter back to Scotland after a while. I think people were saying “there’s a band from Scotland touring America and getting some press attention from some pretty big places, where the fuck did they come from? ……..Kilsyth?!!!!!!!! ” It was a pretty mental time as we didn’t know what releasing an album entailed.
I haven’t listened to it since the day it came out. I don’t like to look back, I’d rather focus on what’s next while I still can. Mabye one day when I’m old and grey I’ll sit down and have a listen to all our albums. We never release anything unless we’re happy with it and achieved what we wanted to within the album. So yes, I’m happy with the way it turned out. I really hope it’s an album that stands the test of time. I would love to think that if a 21 year-old or a 65 year-old picked it up and listened to it today they would like it and get it.
Do you have a personal favourite track on it, and has that changed over time?
Probably the title track “Fourteen autumns & Fifteen winters“, because it’s an instrumental track and I’m not moaning all over the top of it. I jest of course, I don’t have a favourite track on the album. I like different tracks for different reasons. “That summer at home I had become the invisible boy” was the first song I ever wrote so it will always be special to me because of that. “Cold days from the birdhouse” has taken on a life of its own and people have really connected with that song, I think it’s the first song of ours that a crowd sang back at us. “And she would darken the memory” has some of my favourite lyrics that I’ve written. Those three songs are always in our live set and always will be I think. I’ve always said that our albums are supposed to be listened to in full so I think of the album as a story with each song being a different chapter, so every song is important to listen to and tell that story, instead of collection of singles thrown together.
The whole album, from the titles to the lyrics, remains incredibly ambiguous. Do you think that mysticism adds to the records appeal? Do you still get asked about the lyrics etc a lot?
I get asked “What the fuck are you saying? I can’t understand a word of it! I like it but I can’t make it out because of your accent“. A lot of people get the lyrics wrong. There is a website on the Internet that has tried to decipher the lyrics to the first album and it’s nowhere near close to the actual lyrics, but I do think it’s very cool that someone has tried to do that. People ask about the lyrics on every album but they get the same answer which is; “Come to your own conclusion“. There’s not much mystery in the world of music these days, with the likes of social media and, don’t get me wrong, we’re a band that’s embraced that (just look at my shite patter on twitter every so often) . I suppose by not giving away what my lyrics are about we’ve clung on to a wee bit of mystery with that, although if I meet you when we’re on tour and you’ve bought me enough drinks it will all come out.
Finally, what does the album mean to you on a personal level?
Each album of ours represents a certain time in my life. Our debut album makes me think of friends recording an album for each other and no one else and I try to think that way before writing and recording any of our albums. Without “Fourteen Autumn & Fifteen Winters” there would have been no “Forget the Night Ahead” or “No One Can Ever Know” or “The Wrong Car” or any American/European Tours. I wouldn’t have met some of my now best friends. It’s an album that’s given me so much. It was the beginning for us as a band. It might not have been a commercial success, it might not have been nominated for any awards but it struck a note with certain people and it really meant something to them and thats enough for me. Will it go down as one of the Greatest Debut Albums ever? No it won’t, but in my eyes it’s a special album and I’m very proud of our first album; I’m very proud of all of our albums; we wouldn’t have put them out otherwise. You only get one shot at a debut album and I think its a great opening statement. Someone said to me at the time when we were recording it, “You know people won’t actually appreciate this album until years and years down the line“. At that point I didn’t really know if anyone would like it and I said to myself “It doesn’t matter, we made the debut album we wanted to make“. Looking at it now he was probably right, to the people that did embrace it I am forever grateful and I just hope that everyone else catches on at some point.
Interview by Tom Johnson