Scotland Week: The Twilight Sad
"The [Scottish Independence] debate has got very ugly over the past few months and I've seen good friends fall out over it." - James Graham
Sep 06, 2014
We have a special theme on Under the Radar's website this week which we're simply calling Scotland Week. All throughout the week we will be posting interviews, reviews, lists, and blog posts relating to Scotland and in particular Scottish music. For some of the Scotland Week Q&As we emailed out the same set of Scottish related questions to various different musicians from the country.
For this interview we talk to James Graham, vocalist for Scottish trio The Twilight Sad. The band formed in Kilsyth in 2003 after its members (Graham, guitarist Andy MacFarlane, and drummer Mark Devine) met in and around high school. Their debut album, Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, was released in 2007 by FatCat. The band embraced an indie rock sound combined with shoegazing textures and a noise rock energy and had such long and descriptive song titles as "That Summer, at Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy." The album was critically acclaimed and soon the band was touring with such compatriots and countrymen as Mogwai and Frightened Rabbit, as well as the likes of The Smashing Pumpkins and Beirut. The Twilight Sad's fourth full-length, Nobody Wants to Be Here, Nobody Wants to Leave, is due out on October 28 via FatCat.
Read on as Graham discusses his favorite Scottish albums, bands, comic book writers, and films, as well as why he doesn't want to give his thoughts on the Scottish Independence Referendum, in which in a few weeks the people of Scotland get to vote on whether or not to secede from the United Kingdom and have Scotland become its own country.
What are your thoughts on the Scottish Independence referendum? Are you for or against independence? Could you explain why?
James Graham: Politics was always a very private thing in my household when I was growing up and that's something that I've taken on board as I've got older. So I've decided to stay out of the independence debate, I just feel that I am a singer in a band and I wouldn't want to use any platform I have to try and influence anyone else's decision. As it is such an important decision for our country, I feel there are people who are a lot more knowledgeable about the subject than I am and they are who people should actually listen to. I have a lot of friends that are in bands that are very vocal about Independence and I respect and admire their views and passion about the subject. I love my country and I love being Scottish, it's a major part of who I am. The debate has got very ugly over the past few months and I've seen good friends fall out over it; I just want to get it over with at this point to be honest. A good friend said something that really hit home with me, he said, "No matter what the outcome of the referendum is in September be it a 'Yes' or a 'No' vote, we need to accept the decision move forward together and do the everything we can to make Scotland the best it can be."
How do you think Scottish Independence might affect the arts and the Scottish music scene?
Scottish musicians have to travel down to London for a meeting at the U.S. embassy to get their U.S. visa so they can tour North America. Getting a visa is a very lengthy and expensive process, especially for a band like ourselves. It means the five of us have to travel to London and get accommodation then travel back for what might be a two hour meeting which usually starts at 8 a.m. If we did get independence it would be nice to have a U.S. Embassy in Scotland so we didn't have to travel down south. The Scottish Arts Council have been great to us over the years and have helped us out on numerous occasions, I'd like to think they'd be able to continue their good work and possibly get more help to help out up and coming bands release/promote their music. There's a great community spirit within the Scottish music scene and that will continue no matter what happens.
What is your favorite album by another Scottish artist and why?
I honestly couldn't just pick one. My favorite Mogwai album changes all the time, but I'll go for Come On Die Young as I just got the new reissue of that record and I was lucky enough to get one of the box-sets. Mogwai have been one of my favorite bands for a long time and we've toured with them three times. Getting to watch them play every night on tour was a privilege and a pleasure. The other record I'd choose would be Monday at the Hug & Pint by Arab Strap. Arab Strap were the band that made me realize that I wanted to write lyrics and what I wanted to write lyrics about. They also were the band that made me realize that if I'm singing the songs about where I am from and things that have happened to me then I should sing in my local dialect.
Which Scottish musician/band most inspired you to start playing music?
I kind of answered this question in my last answer to be honest. Both Mogwai and Arab Strap were a major influence on me and the way I write music. Also the label Chemikal Underground had a big influence on me as they released some of my favorite albums. Not only did they release Mogwai/Arab Strap, they released music by Aerogramme and The Delgados who actually own the label. Chemikal Underground are still releasing important music by new artists like RM Hubbert, The Phantom Band, and Holy Mountain, so they are just as important now as they were when I was growing up. I'd also say that Mogwai's own label Rock Action have been very important to the Scottish Music scene and continue to be, not only do Mogwai now put their records out on the label but they have been releasing music by some of my favorite Scottish bands such as Errors and Remember Remember.
Who is the most underrated or underappreciated Scottish musician or band?
I think Errors should be a lot bigger than they are. They are critically acclaimed and they do well, plus people in bands really like them. I've always thought they were a lot better than some of the electronic artists and bands out there who are playing in front of thousands of people each night.
Who is your favorite new Scottish band or solo artist?
They are not that new any more but CHRVCHES were my favorite new Scottish band of recent years. They are pretty massive now and they deserve it. I think writing credible intelligent pop music is one of the hardest things to do and they have perfected it. They are a really important Scottish band and I think they are only going to go from strength to strength.
What is your favorite film that takes place in Scotland?
Again I couldn't just pick one, so I will pick three. First up is a film called Gregory's Girl. It's a film set in the '80s and was filmed close to where we live in a place called Cumbernauld. It's about a teenage guy who likes a girl and his attempts to win her over. It's very Scottish. Next I'd go for Trainspotting. I don't really know what to say about this film that hasn't been said before. It's just a brilliant film and has a brilliant soundtrack to go along with it. One of my favorite films this year was Under the Skin, like Trainspotting it also had an amazing soundtrack. Although it was a very different soundtrack and it was by Mica Levi. I think it was a film you either loved or hated and I loved it. Some of it was actually filmed where we live in a village called Kilsyth. Most of the cast were played by non actors who didn't know they were being filmed. The scenes where Scarlett Johansson went up to guys around Glasgow asking them directions and if they wanted a lift were amazing. I think Scotland was the only place in the world that would have found those scenes funny as the guys' reactions were hilarious to us in an overall very creepy and scary film. I thought the film looked beautiful as well. I actually couldn't stop thinking about it for months after seeing it, it really creeped me out but I was fascinated by it.
Who is your favorite Scottish author and what's your favorite book by them?
I'm a big comic book fan. I love Marvel Comics in particular. There are a lot of great writers and artists in Glasgow. My favorite writer is Grant Morrison, I was given The New X-Men, which he wrote, for my birthday by my good friend Aidan Moffat of Arab Strap (he and Stuart from Mogwai recommend comics to me quite a lot which is nice) recently and I began reading that this week. It's great. I know that Grant Morrison is more known for his work with DC Comics and Batman and I love his work on them as well.
Can you explain the Scottish aesthetic and how the Scottish music scene is different from others around the world?
We live in a pretty small country so its feels like a pretty small community of musicians. Once you know one person in the Scottish music industry are kind of introduced to everyone in at one point or other, it's a bit of a snowball effect. The good thing is that we all like to support each other and encourage each other's fan bases to listen to the Scottish bands we like. Unless the band's shite and we tell them to avoid them like the plague. If you go to Nice N Sleazy in Glasgow one night you're bound to bump into one person from a Scottish indie band.
What do you most love about Scotland and being Scottish and what do you most hate about Scotland and being Scottish?
Weirdly I love the weather. My favorite season is autumn and although it's usually pretty rainy that time of year I still love it. If you get a nice clear crisp day when the sun is out a little in Scotland it's pretty much perfect to me. We have a great sense of humor as well I think and we don't take ourselves too seriously (that coming from a guy in The Twilight Sad sounds a bit strange I know, but if you meet us before or after a gig you'll know what I mean). I also love Irn-Bru, which is our national soft drink and a great hangover cure. I don't hate anything about being Scottish. "If it's not Scottish it's crap." I'd hate not to be Scottish.
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