A couple of weeks after their Aberdeen show at The Warehouse Flares n Seagulls managed to have a word with The Twilight Sad vocalist James Graham and covered everything from quadraphonic sound to charity releases.
So James… want to give me five words that you believe captures the essence of The Twilight Sad?
noisy, Scottish, male, drunk, music
What’s the name about?
I would like to say it had some profound meaning, but like most bands one of us thought of it and we stuck with it ’cause we couldn’t think of anything better. I think it was Mark our drummer who came up with it, he read it in some Wilfred Owen poem (not that we read much poetry, I think he read it in school).
You’ve just completed a series of headline dates around the UK. How did that wee jaunt go? Bigger venues? New faces?
It went really well. Yeah bigger venues, the Glasgow gig was our biggest headline gig to date and 1300 people came and sold it out. It was amazing to think that many people in Glasgow even know who we are. There probably were new faces but I was pished for most of it so I cant remember.
You finished up those dates playing Glasgow’s ABC in “quadraphonic” sound which involves a P.A system being in place at the back of the venue as well as at the front. I heard someone favourably say it was like being in a tornado of sound. Was it any different for you guys on stage?
No not really, it was weird at soundcheck but it just sounded normal onstage to me. Our stage sound is ridiculously loud, so thats probably why I didn’t notice.
Is this something you will be looking to do on a regular basis?
As a band we would always look to do things differently and try new things but its pretty expensive to do and we couldn’t really afford to do it most places. Mabye one day we can do it everywhere with a Pink Floyd light show as well.
Five minutes home and you’re about to head out on more dates around the UK before heading across to the States again. Is this punishing schedule by design or just the way things worked out?
It’s just the way things have worked out. I like it this way because I get cabin fever if I stay at home too much. We had four months off before the last tour and that was probably the longest we have had off since we started touring. I was itching to get back on the road, but it was good because we got a lot of the next album written and got some older songs recorded for a release in the Summer.
The upcoming UK dates are supporting Biffy Clyro on their tour. You must be over the moon with this?
Yeah we are looking forward to it. We haven’t met them before but they are fans of the band and really wanted us on the tour which is cool. I’m really looking forward to playing some really big venues. They have worked really hard to get where they are, proabably one of the biggest bands in the UK now, so it shows that hard work in this industry really pays off instead of being a flash in the pan or a one hit wonder.
What about the US? How do your American audiences compare to home?
They’re not too different. American audiences are really enthusiastic and always show their appreciation for the band making the trip over there by buying us beers and getting us shit faced before and after the gigs. The only problem is that the food on tour in America is not that healthy on the highway, I can honestly say I am not a fan of Craker Barrel or Waffle House. Saying that I have had some of the best food I have ever had in America, you can’t beat pizza from New York.
Your live show is fantastic. Having seen you live a couple of times now, I noticed that a lot of the inticracies of the recordings are replaced with sheer sound; a good thing don’t get me wrong. Is the live show something that you really put emphasis on?
It was important to us to sound different live to on record. I have went to see a lot of bands and thought that I could have just stayed in the house and saved money because they sound exactly the same as their records, so we didnt want to be like that. I think our live show is a lot more intense than the records and pretty loud, not that our records aren’t, its just more so live.
You’re nae very chatty when you play out. Why is this? Prefer to let the music do the talking?
Well, as you can probably already tell by this interview so far, my chat is pretty shite. People dont buy tickets to our gig to hear how my day was or what I’ve been up to recently, so we just fit extra songs in instead of stage banter.
In the past I’ve heard you compared (lazily IMO) to Joy Division although I really don’t see it myself. What do you make of this? Are they an influence at all?
I suppose its a compliment. We all like Joy Division and even covered them at one point, I suppose its better than getting compared to U2. We don’t really think about covers too much, we usually just pick a song that we like and quickly put it together. We’ve only ever covered bands we like or were influenced by.
Have you considered any other Daniel Johnston covers after doing ‘Some Things Last a Long Time’, i.e. ‘True Love Will Find You in the End’..hint…I’d quite like to hear what you would do with that!
“True love will find you in the end” is a good song, the Beck version is really good. Maybe in the future.
Do you have a preference between live and studio work?
Not really, they’re both enjoyable in different ways. Being in the studio can be pretty mind-numbing, especially mixing, but its always a great feeling when you can start to hear things coming together. Playing live is a different feeling and if you play well and the crowd reacts well it can be the best feeling in the world.
You are signed to Fat Cat Records, home of other Scottish bands such as Frightened Rabbit and We Were Promised Jetpacks. How did that come about?
Well back in 2003, we made a demo and sent it down to them as they had alot of bands/artists that we listened to at that time i.e Mum, Animal Collective ect. We started talking to them about doing an album then they told us to go and see a band they were also talking to called “Frightened Rabbit”, so we did and became good friends with them. We recorded and released our first album then the Rabbits signed with them after that and released their first. I don’t really know the story behind what happened with the Jetpacks, I only met them once they released there first album last year, I think it was something to do with the Rabbits.
There seems to be a quite a buzz around the emerging talent in Scotland at the moment. Is it something you’re conscious of? Any tips for the future?
It’s not something I am conscious of because I am stuck in my own wee world and dont really read music magazines or websites. There is a band on Mogwai’s label Rock Action called Errors. They just released their second album called “Come Down With Me”. They’re really good and we are good friends with them and going on tour with them in Europe in the Fall. I also really like Remember Remember who are also on Rock Action and The Phantom Band who are on Chemikal Underground records.
Did you find writing the second album daunting due to the warmth that ‘Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters’ received? Was it the “difficult second album”?
The only reason that it was going to be a “difficult second album” was due to the lyrics and what the album was about. I went through a tough few months and lost someone dear to me and decided to write about the situations I found myself in and the mistakes I made at that time. We knew before even writing the second album there was going to be people saying that it wasn’t as good as the first but we didn’t care. “Forget the Night Ahead” is a dark album and one you have to listen to more than once or twice to get. It’s exactly the album we wanted to make and I am extremely proud of it. We wanted to move on from “Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters” and now we will move on from “Forget the Night Ahead” and record a different sounding album to both of them.
Your songs are often stirring while hinting at dark themes. Are you as sombre as you sound?
Everybody goes through their good times and bad times and I just decide to write about the darker things in life because I find them more interesting and you can learn more from them. We are all pretty outgoing guys and enjoy being in the band and having a good time. I think people always think we will be difficult but then they meet us and realise we are pretty easy going and it’s just when we are playing live that we are scary.
What were the inspirations behind the songs on ‘Forget The Night Ahead’?
A two month period where I lost someone close to me and did some things that I was none too proud of and never got the chance to say goodbye. Pretty heavy really.
What do you all do outside of the band, or is it all-consuming?
This is our full time job, but when we are not doing band related stuff you’ll find us in the pub or at a gig or in the cinema.
Who does your artwork? It’s very distinctive. You can look at a CD cover and know it’s one of yours. Is that a deliberate ploy on your part – Twilight Sad “branding”?
Yeah we wanted the artwork to be eye catching and to relate to the music and lyrics. We also wanted to carry out those themes throughout the singles and EPs etc. We work with a guy called Dave Thomas and he and Andy work on the styles and themes and will continue to do so through the bands career.
How’s the new bass player fitting in? Was Craig’s departure a surprise?
Johnny’s great, he’s far too over qualified for the job. In my opinion we have never sounded better. He’s given the band a new lease of life and everybody is excited about the future of the band. Yeah I got a call from Andy when I was in the pub saying that we were having a band meeting the next day, we never have band meetings so I knew something was up. He just wanted to try something new and was fed up with the touring life and he was frustrated at not having any creative input into the band as its me and Andy who write the songs and Mark helps arrange them. It was all on good terms and we’ve seen each other since.
Final stretch now. What’s next for the Twilight Sad?
Well we start touring next week for seven weeks and then back home to finish writing the 3rd album and we will get that recorded this year as well. We have a new release coming out this year called “The Wrong Car” which is a 12inch single with two new songs including the title track and remixes by Mogwai and Errors. That should be out at the end of the summer I think. We will be trying to tour as much as possible as well and hopefully some festivals. I’ve worked on some songs for a Scottish mental health charity album as well which will be out this year, it will feature collaborations with Scott from Frightened Rabbit, Emma Pollock of the late Delgados, James Yorkston, Karine Polwart, Rod Jones of Idlewild and a few more people.
Give us your five desert island discs.
Arab Strap – Monday Night at the Hug and the Pint
Mogwai – Happy Songs for Happy People
Portishead – Third
Radiohead – Kid A
The Smiths – Meat is Murder
And finally, what’s your favourite flavour of crisps?
SALT AND VINEGAR FOR THE WIN!!!!!!!
Thanks for your time James, and hopefully we’ll see you in Aberdeen again very soon! Flares n Seagulls.
The Twilight Sad Official Website
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