Twilight Sad: Interview by Steve Mcgillivray
With The Twilight Sad about to release their new album Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave in the UK next Monday we thought it’d be a great time to catch up with the band by way of a mailer between our Steve McGillivray and the band’s James Graham.
Louder Than War: How did Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave develop and take form?
James Graham: We finished touring No One Can Ever Know and things weren’t going so well for the band. We were still full of ideas and had loads of things we wanted to do but it felt like certain people working with us had lost interest and that started to really effect us. I’d say confidence was at an all time low if I’m honest. At that point we found ourselves with a bit of time on our hands and back at home where we’d grown up. Over the past seven years we haven’t been able to spend any long period of time back home due to touring and recording commitments. In that time back home I had the chance to hang out with friends and family and get back to some sort of normality. I think that time at home gave me a chance to reflect on what we had achieved as a band and what we hadn’t.
Andy and I started writing in that period and I think I had a point to prove to people that we still had a lot to say. I wanted to prove to them why we still existed and that what we had to say within our music really means something. That thought didn’t inspire the songs it just inspired me to put absolutely everything into my song writing and not settle for anything until the song felt special. Over the period in which we were writing the new record we did a couple of small tours and gigs. Those gigs ranged from stripped back three piece performances, five piece full band shows and playing with an eighty piece orchestra. I think playing those different kinds of gigs really helped with the song writing on the new record. It showed us where our strengths were within our song writing, be it a full on noisy song to a really stripped back song with just one instrument and a vocal. As we continued to write the new record I think we got our confidence back as well.
A lot of that was down to the people who like our music and come to our gigs. Winning the public vote for the SAY Award showed me that people really gave a fuck and playing our debut album in full and really showed me that our music really means something to people. I went into the studio with that confidence and I still had that determination to prove people wrong.
What’s the writing process within the band as a whole when you’re working on new material?
Andy will write some music and then send it over to me. I’ll write my melodies and a rough set of lyrics. I’ll roughly record them then send them over to Andy. We’ll work on a song structure then Andy builds the song up with other instruments and production ideas. Then he’ll make a demo. It’s been that way from the start of the band. We’ll work on the songs in the rehearsal room with the full band and change some things or tighten the song up before we head into the studio as well. By the time we are about to go into record we know exactly what we’re doing. We always leave a bit of time to experiment with things to see if anything special comes out that you weren’t expecting.
How would you describe the sound of the new album?
I think it has everything that I like about our band within this record. It’s the most dynamic album we’ve written and recorded. There are big songs like In Nowheres and then there are really simple songs like Sometimes I Wish I Could Fall Asleep; well, musically that song is simple, lyrically not so much. We introduced a lot more electronic elements and synths to our sound on our last record, they are still there but they aren’t as prominent. Guitars are more prominent on this record. I think we’ve learned what our strengths are over the past seven years and we’ve taken that into the sound of this new record whilst still moving our sound forward.
People say you should write what you know. Is this true of your music?
I believe so. That’s all that I do. I only ever write about personal things that have affected me in one way or another. I write about where I am from, things that have happened to either my friends, family or myself. These things are aren’t too nice as you can tell by our songs. I wouldn’t ever write about something I didn’t know. For music to affect me it has to be genuine and honest if I’m going to invest and believe in it.
How does it feel to be on the eve of releasing your fourth studio album? Is this something you envisaged when the band formed?
I’m going through a mixture of emotions to be honest. I’m excited, terrified and anxious. This is when all the reviews and reactions about the record start to come in. I try to stay away from reviews but its pretty hard to with the internet and the many different mediums of communication. I love this record but you can’t please everyone and there are so many places in which your record is reviewed these days, everyone has a voice these days and they don’t mind telling you if they love or they hate something; everyone’s a critic. I love all of our records, they document a certain time in our lives. This record is really important to the future of the band. I’m incredibly proud of this record and everybody involved with making it. I’m also really proud of us that we got this far and have given ourselves the opportunity to make this kind of record. When we started this band I always thought that if it was going to take time and a lot of hard work. We’ve seen so many bands come and go over the years, bands that have had far more opportunities than we have. Don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining, we needed the time to develop to become the band we are today. We’re really lucky that we have the support back home from people that believe in what we do. We always hoped we’d get this far and I think between that and the support from people that care about our music, people that come to our gigs and that we’re doing something we love, that’s why we have got this far.
Having just completed a mini-tour and with a UK & North American tour coming around the album release, how important are the live shows to the band?
Now that the record is done and nearly out, the live shows are what it’s all about. I was pretty nervous about the couple of gigs we just did because we introduced six new songs into the set. All went well though and people reacted well to the new stuff live before they have even heard it on record yet. Writing songs and playing live are my favourite things to do with the band. I’m excited to play these new songs for people. I think our live show is only going to get better and better the more we introduce the new songs into the set. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of playing in front of a crowd that is really up for it. I also love the opportunity of playing in front of a crowd that’s not yours and you feel you have to win them over.
What would you say the best and worst aspects of touring are?
I love meeting new people from different backgrounds and different walks of life. Its always really interesting to see the kind of music that connect people from different races and religions and them coming together to enjoy something that they have in common. Going to places that we’d never dream of seeing never mind playing our music in is mind blowing. The opportunity to play our music every night is a pleasure and privilege, its something that I never take for granted. As for the worst, I don’t want to complain about it because I genuinely love touring now. Travelling is hard, being away from home, friends and family is never easy, your diet gets worse as sometimes on the road all you’ve got is service station food.
If you could only play one venue, which venue would it be?
The Barrowlands in Glasgow
You’re very active on social media as a band, rather leave it all to the label or PR. Is this another important aspect of the band for you?
It is for me. I see social media as an opportunity to talk to the people that like our music. As I said in a previous answer, they are one of the reasons why we’ve got this far and I am forever grateful to them for that. Any medium or opportunity I have to talk to people or share things about the band I take. I try to answer every question that people ask, if its a question about our music I’ll answer as best as I can and I try to help people out with tickets if they can’t find any. I enjoy doing it. I don’t look down upon bands who don’t use social media in this kind of way or get someone else to do it for them. I do it because this is who I am and I’m not afraid to publicly be like that. I’m nice to people who like our music and I’m a complete dickhead to people that don’t.
Has there been much trolling or negative interactions on social media?
People are really nice to us on our social media pages. I think they see that it’s me that’s doing it and that helps. If someone steps out of line and starts acting like a cunt I’m not afraid to call them out on it. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, its a place for people to air their views and you’ve got to respect that. I think its really cool to be able to talk to someone across the other side of the world that likes your music.
If so, how did you respond?
If someone’s trolling us I’ll do the exact same back to them. I like to have a laugh with it.
What are your views on the current Scottish music scene?
Aye, I think its pretty good. I’ve not been as on it with knowing new bands as I’ve been in recent years because I’ve been concentrating on our new record. The past couple of years have been really successful; Mogwai getting in the top 10 with their new record and their soundtrack to The Returned was amazing; Chvrches making really creative and credible pop music whilst playing to thousands of people around the world; Frightened Rabbit becoming one of the world’s favourite indie bands. Then you’ve got Hudson Mohawke working with the worlds biggest hip hop star; Young Fathers making an amazing album and up for the Mercury Prize. I think there’s a wee gap for a new band to come out of nowhere and surprise us all, I love it when that happens.
Do you find there’s a lot of encouragement, knowledge sharing etc within the Scottish music scene?
Aye, I definitely do, you can see that on social media and if you’re at a gig in Glasgow there’s usually five or six members of the Glasgow Music Scene illuminati. I think everybody tries to support each other as much as they can. I think there’s always that wee bit of healthy competition as well which keeps you on your toes. There’s definitely encouragement and support if you’re any good. If you’re shite we avoid you like the plague.
What are the band’s aspirations beyond the fourth album?
We will always want to make music together and tour the way we’ve been able to over the years. Things need to take a step up for us to be able to carry on doing so. This album’s success will determine the band’s future. I love doing this and I’m not ready to give it up. I just hope everyone feels the way I do about this new record.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why?
Zach from Beirut talked about working with us a few years ago. I love his music, I’d like to write and record with him one day.
What are you all listening to/reading/watching just now?
Music – Angel Olsen, Perfume Genius, Aphex Twin, The Antlers, Caribou, Lykke Li, Sharon Van Etten
TV – Utopia, The Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, Game Of Thrones.
Movies – Guardians Of The Galaxy, Under The Skin, Captain America 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Edge Of Tomorrow, Grand Budapest Hotel, Lego Movie, Dallas Buyers Club, Inside Llewyn Davis, Wolf Of Wall Street, 12 Years A Slave, All Is Lost, American Hustle. Going to see Gone Girl this weekend, I’m a big David Fincher fan.
Reading – Old X-Men comics, Morrisey’s Autobiography.
How excited is James about the new Star Wars movies?
I am excited. I like JJ Abrahms and I like the cast. If they keep George Lucas as far away from it as possible then I think it has a chance of being a good film. fingers crossed.
All words by Steve Mcgillvray. More of Steve’s writing for Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.