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The Twilight Sad on “It Won/t Be Like This All the Time” - The Full Interview

Battle Tested

Jan 18, 2019 Web Exclusive
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At the root of fandom is a desire to connect. We go to shows because we want it to be a two-way channel, reciprocation of the vital shot to our unexpecting states from records that have served as faithful companions, and catalysts. At times, these documents provide the one surface to lean on that has any hold. So we gravitate to the music come alive, responding to the salve on our universal predicaments that feel too sharply unique. Then it’s personal.

Battling through the past decade-plus with a fiery brand of noise rock that has transitioned into bracing synth-laced guitar power, The Twilight Sad has cultivated such magnetism. The course has been challenging, but the Glasgow stalwarts have maintained footing and now stand triumphant with a new album, It Won/t Be Like This All the Time, their latest proffering of carnal expression. During the band’s four-year hiatus, its members have matured and progressed and now return with arguably their best and most focused statement, one that pays homage to late-twentieth century influences with ferocious integrity. Frontman James Graham, composer and guitarist Andy MacFarlane, bassist Johnny Docherty, and keyboardist Brendan Smith have welcomed in new drummer Sebastien Schultz with open arms and the new team of old souls is back to reclaim their title as merchants of relentless thrill. Get ready.

Anyone who has spent time in Scotland will attest to its dark, enchanting environment having a profound effect on the music it generates. The Twilight Sad conjure the singular Scottish atmosphere in the way that their longtime friends and now “big brother” label heads, Mogwai do. But where you feel the mountains and winds and gurgling brooks in Mogwai’s music, you get more of the urban din and the reserved angst of tangled lives with The Twilight Sad. You picture bus and train stations at night and the shops you run out to on drizzling mornings. The neds who approach you for a fight, and the companions whose warm kisses turn to cold shoulders. Theirs is the soundtrack to the woebegone textures broken through with combative defiance. In Graham’s transcendent vocals and MacFarlane’s sorcerous compositions, that defiance is what translates.

For me, and I suspect for many others, The Twilight Sad’s music strikes like a bath of sun through an ephemeral break in the clouds and this is the energy that fueled my anticipation during a cross-borough commute to go see them in Brooklyn this past November. One of the city’s newer venues, Elsewhere is fittingly named, sitting along the edges of the factories that churned in Bushwick long before the influx of youthful populations animated the scene. Here is where a group that has made perhaps the most forceful impact on my will, next to fellow Scots Mogwai, would play. And I’d be there, welcoming the sublime rush of blood let flow, beating my fucking chest in celebration. After all, this is survival music, on both ends of the transfer.

Before all of that though, a nice long chat was in order. On the third week of their U.S. tour to test the legs of the new music, The Twilight Sad had landed back in New York for the first time since 2016, when playing with The Cure on a six-month world tour brought them through Madison Square Garden and Bowery Ballroom. Sitting back behind the stage on the outdoor patio, Graham was happy to oblige my simmering curiosity, and the others followed, joining in on what turned into a lively conversation about the group’s return. There was much to catch up on after four years, with topics spanning their exuberant fanbase grown larger from The Cure tour, the creation of their emphatically brilliant new record, and what it is that makes heavy Scottish music so special. Grab a dram, why don’t you, and dive in.

Charles Steinberg (Under the Radar): I see you’ve got your tea there.

James Graham: Got my throat coat. ‘Cuz this is the first tour back and I’m older and can’t do what I used to do before I couldn’t do what I used to do. So I have to be a bit more sensible than the young James, let’s just say. But I’m doin’ alright man. It’s just a precaution.

Well, that’s the thing right? You have to be careful with your voice on a tour.

James: Yeah, I think it was the first two nights and I went to the merch area after the show and was speaking with people and they bought me some drinks, some tequila, and I drank a lot of it. By the second show, after that happened again, I was like fuck…my voice.

Alcohol does that huh?

James: Yeah, it really just dries it up. I’m not a whiskey drinker but I’ve been drinking whiskey on this tour because that’s the only one that kinda numbs things. It’s not really a Scottish thing to not be a whiskey drinker…I am now! It’s American whiskey I’ve been drinking.

I’m more of a scotch person.

James: Somebody did buy us a bottle of Balvenie.

I saw that on your Instagram post. I love that whiskey.

James: Yeah, it was really nice. We made short work of that.

Haha!. It’s funny…I lived in Scotland for a little while.

James: Alright, whereabouts?


James: Booo…

[Mutual laughter] That’s always the response I get! So, the only whiskey I knew of back then was Jack Daniels, so that’s all I drank.

James: Did you think you were Slash from Guns n’ Roses?

I felt like him sometimes. So anytime I went out to a show or on the town, I would pregame with Jack. But I’ve come to appreciate scotch.

James: Yeah, I think most people have to develop the pallet as they get older, and then it’s like, “Oh, a grown-ups drink.” And it’s a different kind of drunk as well.

Very different

James: So yeah, I’m on the throat coat. I’ve got a fuckin’ steamer. I’m lookin’ at myself goin’ “What the fuck has happened to you?” And it’s just age. And we’ve not toured for so long as well so.

Okay, so that’s part of what I wanted to ask you. By the way, I’ve met you before on tour. You’re not going to remember.

James: Was I drunk?

Well, I was.

James: Whereabouts?

It was at Bowery Ballroom in New York. You were on tour with The Cure and had just played Madison Square Garden for three nights.

James: Yeah, yeah. We did those three nights and did The Bowery at the end of it. Did I meet you down at the bottom of the stairs?

Yeah! Maybe a faint foggy memory of it?

James: There’s a faint foggy memory from yesterday. [Laughs] So, looking back two years? Fuck.

Well, you were very kind and really cool to talk to and I asked about an interview and you told me you were cool with it but to ask Andy. But by that point, I was too split to put words together and he was looking at me sideways.

James: No, he was looking goin’ “Well if he can’t put words together, I definitely cannae put words together.” Same language.

I was like “...never mind.”

James: Well, we’re here, we’ve got it!

Yes! But speaking of the tour, can you tell me what it’s been like to go on a major tour again as a headliner compared to touring with The Cure? Any lasting stories so far?

James: To begin with, it’s a completely different experience as far as traveling, where you’re staying, the venue sizes [smile], the amount of people coming to see you. We travel on a bus with The Cure and we’d wake up in the cities every day, whereas every day you get up now, you can be traveling six to eight hours a day to get to the venue. You don’t get to see as much of where you are. Though sometimes on the Cure tour we’d be outside the town in a big amphitheater so you didn’t get to see much anyway. But it’s all just a massive difference. And [with them] we were playing 45 minutes a night and our job was done by nine o’ clock. And then we would go and be stupid for the rest of the night…well we’d get to watch The Cure for three hours, which was fuckin’ amazing.

Never gets tiring.

James: No never did, not at all. Aye, it was different every night. It was mind-blowing. But we’re playing for about an hour and twenty minutes now before our record’s out. And the people have bought tickets to see us. It’s not like we’re goin’ to try and win anybody over. You’re playing to your audience, so it’s a completely different experience and both are really enjoyable in their own kind of way. I think we said most of the time on that Cure tour, “Don’t get used to this.”

Any shows or venues that have stuck out, in particular, on this turn?

James: It feels cliché to say all the gigs have been great but they have been. Seattle is always a great place.

I was going to ask you about that! The Crocodile right? That room is really cool.

James: Well, we played there in 2007 when our debut album came out and they’ve changed it a little bit since then. It’s nice to have gone full circle and started this album campaign where we started back then. Kinda the same with San Francisco and The Independent. We first played there back in ‘07 as well. Portland is always a great place. The Doug Fir is just an amazing venue. I love goin’ there.

Basically the Pacific Northwest.

James: I do but I love coming to New York and Chicago and that. There’s something very similar to Glasgow about these places. I think New York’s grid system is based on Glasgow’s grid system back home.

Is that right? That’s fascinating. Makes sense.

James: Before you put that in, fact check. [Mutual laughter] Where else have we been? Fuck… We played a place called Tustin, which was maybe the weirdest of them all. It’s just outside LA in the Orange County area. We played a bar called Marty’s. Kinda random yeah. That was fun.

Was there a nice turn out there?

James: Yeah, aye! There were people there and we were like, “Holy shit…big in Tustin.” [Mutual laughter] But I can’t believe it’s been three weeks into this. It’s flown past, which is a good sign. If it drags there’s a problem.

How much longer is it?

James: We’ve got Philly tomorrow…

Oh, I might even go to that show. I love going to Philly. What venue?

James: Boot and Saddle. It sold out ages ago. That’s gonna be a good night. Then DC, and then Andy and I leave to do some press in Amsterdam and my wife and my wee boy are going to come out with us because I don’t get to see them. He’s only six months so…

Oh wow! Congratulations.

James: I’m like, “Fuck, I want to see him,” so we’re going to spend some days in Amsterdam and Paris whilst Andy and I play some acoustic sets and then a 10-day EU tour, just major places because the album isn’t out yet and then we tour with Mogwai for five dates in the UK…. Then we’ve got a gig in Glasgow which is a tribute for our friend Scott [Hutchison] with Frightened Rabbit. That’s us until album time. But hopefully, we’ll be back here in the second half of the year…depending on if anyone likes the record.

Well, you got one right here. So, people seem to be jumping on the chance to see you again. You’ve felt that right?

James: Oh yeah.

Is that surprising to you after being away? Is it in a way a validation? I remember when I spoke with you at Bowery, it wasn’t totally clear what the future would hold. Is the response to your return after a break a validation of sorts that you still have a really strong following.

James: I think we’ll always make music for ourselves. That will happen for the rest of our lives. It’s whether the world lets us put as much time and effort into that and the only way that happens is if people come to see us and like what we do. After the last record and with The Cure tours, we did take a long break but I could tell, as soon as we announced some dates and stuff, something’s different here. There were a lot more people. That will come from supporting The Cure and getting the seal of approval from Robert [Smith]. But the first gigs back it was like, “Oh, alright. Something’s happening here.” Then coming to play these shows and the same people turning up every night, bringing gifts, shouting and screaming. Especially for the new songs! We were talking about this the other night in the van that the new songs seem to be going down better than the old songs, which is a good sign. You’re definitely worried when you take this amount of time off and you hope people don’t forget you. But I think there’s something about our band where people can see that we’re not just a fad or following a trend. We’re a band that believe in what we do and stay true to ourselves and it’s very honest. People can see that and I think that’s why they stick with us because they can tell that we’re doin’ it for a reason. It’s not to be popular. We’re doing it because we have to. People connect with that, and then the subject matter is pretty personal. When somebody connects with that…I know what it’s like when I find that with a band, I don’t forget about them. I’m with them ‘til the end. A few people have messaged me saying, “Your band’s important to me. I need you to know that.” You can have your down days on tour, or any day, but when you get a message like that it’s like, “Right, we’re doing it. There’s more to this than meets the eye.”...Wait, is that Transformers? [Mutual laughter, including the keyboard player Brendan Smith who has joined the table.] Michael Bay is doing our next video, and he’s going to ruin it! But no, something has changed in a really positive way.

Is it fair to say, and I’m just throwing this out there, but is it fair to say that Robert Smith has given you more gumption as a band?

James: Knowing that somebody like that believes in you so much…I think that we were already confident about the new songs to begin with but aye, knowing someone like that is behind you when there are so many bands out there in the world that Robert can give these opportunities to and be there for…. He’s chosen us and he must have chosen us for a reason. We’re obviously friends and get on now but he’s invested so much time and effort into making sure people know about our band and I think that gave us belief that, d’you know what, we’re doing this because there’s something to be said. And there was definitely something to be said with the new music.

Had you tested out some of the new songs on tour with them?

James: No, none of it has been road tested but it was the first time as a band that we did pre-production and locked ourselves in a room up near a loch in the middle of nowhere and bashed out the songs constantly to make sure it was right. We wanted the record to sound like a live band was playing it. That was the first time we’ve done that.

Can I ask where that was?

James: Loch Fyne.

Where is that near?

James: Brendan?... It’s near Brendan.

Brendan Smith: It’s directly on the west coast of Scotland, so if you just drive out towards Loch Lomond…

Ok, so like mid-highlands?

Brendan: It’s actually technically slightly lower than Glasgow, I think. When you drive directly west you hit this coastline of all mountains and lochs. It’s very remote. The only way to get down to that area is to either get a ferry because it’s on a separate peninsula, or you drive down this one road, so if there’s an accident or snow [you’re fucked].

I think I’ve been on that road, actually.

Brendan: There’s a famous stop on that road called Rest and be Thankful. It’s a glen where you can get seafood.

James: When did you live in Edinburgh?

Let’s see… around 2005.

James: Did you ever hear of Connect Festival?

No, but I left at the end of 2006.

James: Ah, you would have missed it then. It was a wee festival out there. But yeah we were right next to this loch and the only thing that could annoy us or get in our way was a peacock.

Brendan: The peacock would come right up to the room.

It liked the music!

James: Nah it was like, “Shite!”

Brendan: More like, “Shut up! I’m trying to peacock over here.” [Mutual laughter] Actually, the cool thing about that place was that it belonged to this guy who was just a musician part-time and had a house and a little cottage. It wasn’t a particularly flashy studio or anything. Just a little cottage with some bedrooms upstairs and a little fireplace. So it was quite nice to just be out there. We disciplined ourselves to not…

James: After the first night…

Brendan: After the first night, yeah. We weren’t like drinking all day or whatever.

James: Apart from the first night. [Mutual laughter]

Brendan: Yeah the first night we loaded in and took ages to do anything and then we just got really drunk. But then we did start playing over some tunes until like five. But it wasn’t until the second to last day that we were like, “Shit, we should probably record what we are doing because we’re not remembering anything!”

James: I had recorded it on my phone and I was like, “Nah, that’s not good enough. All you hear are cymbals.” [Mutual laughter]

This all reminds me of Mogwai’s recording upstate [NY] for their last album.

James: Ahhh with Dave Fridmann.

Yeah. I had interviewed Barry [Burns of Mogwai] and he told me some stories about that place. Again, it was like that isolated, cabin existence.

James: I saw the pictures. The pictures that came with that [special vinyl box set] are beautiful.

I have that! My mother gave it to me for Christmas!

James: Ahhh nice. They’re beautiful pictures.

Yes, they are gorgeous. Well, you always hear about this kind of isolation and how it feeds into the concentration and solidarity amongst everyone there.

James: When we went to record this, it was down in a place called Devon, down by the Buckfast Abbey. Do you know Buckfast? It’s the tonic wine made by monks that neds [non-educated delinquents] back in Scotland drink and it’s very popular. It’s got 12 cans of coke worth of caffeine in one bottle.


James: Yeah, it’s liquid cocaine…and it’s legal. But yeah we were near there in a studio called Middle Farm and it was very isolated. Nothing much to do around. So we basically used the same kind of premise as what you’re talking about. There was fuck all to do besides really focus on what we were doing. For the first time it did feel like that camaraderie and like, “Right, we’re doing this here. We’ve got to make sure we’re focused.” We had a good time and stuff but I think that was the most focused and dedicated that I have ever seen all of us in a studio before. There was something really nice about that. I’d walk by Brendan, Johnny, and Andy in the adjoining room working on their parts before recording. Everybody was so focused and I think that comes across as well. It’s a pretty focused record.

Brendan: Aye, the weird thing also with what you’re describing is how easy it was to do that, and you know when something feels easy, something’s working. It didn’t feel like there were any barriers or like we were going out of our way. When something feels that easy then it can yield good results.

Was there a kind of finding your footing again in the recording studio?

James: We were so well rehearsed going in to be honest, that it wasget in and do the job. There was no fucking about, to be honest. We knew what we had to record. We had the parts and we all knew the sounds we were looking for. I knew exactly how I was wanting to sing and tell these stories. All that we left was maybe three or four days at the end so we could fuck around a bit, experiment and see what kind of weird thing can come from messing around you know?

Was there anything, in particular, you found from that?

James: There was a good thing in “VTr.” We were drunk and the engineer, well he’d probably kill me for saying this, but there was a mistake and we listened to it back and were like, “Oh, what’s that? That’s really fucking good! Yeah, let’s keep that in.”

Brendan: He chopped up a section of the tune meaning to add it on and accidentally chopped it back in but it went back a whole rep. That ended up staying in. I was away at that point and came back and was like, “Oh we’ve changed the tune?” We got drunk and something mental happened.

James: And with the vocal take on “Sunday Day13,” which has the [repeating] lyric with the album title in it [“It won’t be like this all the time”] I did that in one take. There were one or two overdubs of the higher stuff but with the actual main take, Andy and the engineer were like, “You’re not doing that again, that’s it.”

That’s the mostly synth one right? That might be my favorite tune on the record.

James: Oh, nice man. I’m really really proud of that one.

I’m all over the spectrum with you guys with the big stuff and the quieter stuff. Òran Mór Session might be one of my favorite records ever.

James: Oh, thank you, man. Nah I think it’s really special that we have that ability. We can showcase our songs in many different ways. It can be massive, it can be big but you can also strip everything away and there’s a song there. It’s nice to have that within the record as well. It’s a big sounding record but [“Sunday Day13”] is a moment it needed to come down to then go back up.

Yeah, it’s like taking a breath.

James: Yeah, and it was important to not have that at the end of the record because it feels like a song you could put at the end, but it was like, “No, this needs to come here.”

It breaks the sequence up quite well.

Brendan: And it’s kind of weird that that lyric wound up being the title of the album because James was just throwing lyrical ideas around for the title of the record and that one stood time.

James: The more we think about it as well, the relevance it has to so many things after the recording and our lives in general. It just keeps on fitting into place with us. We didn’t go into the studio knowing that that was going to be the title but when we came out, that line just sounded and felt really good. And the fact it can be both a positive and a negative saying. For example, saying it won’t be like this all the time, so enjoy this moment, life’s short. Or it can mean it won’t be like this all the time, things are going to get better. So there’s the light and dark shades to the title as well.

I also came across you saying that it’s okay to have repeating lines in songs.

James: Because the repeating line one minute means one thing [and then can mean another]. Like with this album title, it can mean two things. Just because I’m repeating it doesn’t mean I’ve just went, “I can’t think of a better lyric.” It’s like, “No, this is coming from another point of view now.”

I didn’t even think about that. I was just thinking that I’ve always wanted to be able to sing along with your songs and there’s something that’s actually really great about that, when you can repeat a line while singing along.

James: Yeah…Once you work out what the fuck I’m saying. [Laughs]

But yeah it’s important for the listener too, to be able to latch onto something and be able to sing along. And that comes across in a few instances on this record.

James: On this record especially, yes. And also it’s a way of getting into your head that I mean this. This line isn’t just a fucking line. I’m telling you this, and I’m telling you this again because it means something.

Did you first get that notion from Funeral?

James: Arcade Fire? Yeah. The first record we did [Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters], song progression wise was for me heavily influenced by them. I saw that you didn’t have to go verse-chorus-verse-chorus. You could build a song and layer up the stories and repeat a line again as the song is developing and you’re developing the story that you’re telling.

Maybe that’s why it’s so resonant.

James: It just influenced me a lot. The two records I was listening to at that point when I was writing, and still to this day influence a lot of what I do, were Funeral and [Interpol’s] Turn On the Bright Lights.

You’re talking about two of my favorite albums ever.

James: [The Cure’s] Disintegration as well, those kinds of records. I will always listen to them for inspiration. And Mogwai are a massive one for that. I probably write more music listening to Mogwai than I write towards anything else, because most of their music doesn’t have words, so I can picture things and words come into my head when I listen to them. Their music especially influences my lyrics more than anybody, which is very strange because they’re not a band that you think of in that way.

But when Stuart [Braithwaite of Mogwai] does sing, and also Aidan Moffat [Arab Strap], you said that they gave you the idea that you could comfortably sing in your own accent.

James: When somebody tells stories about where they’re from and honest stories sung in their original dialect, those songs only make sense with them telling it like who they are. So I was like, “That’s how I have to be. I can’t try to be anything else.”

Other than Aidan. I hadn’t heard another Scottish singer sing in such a natural accent. It had always been masked prior to that. Why is that do you think?

James: From a selling point, not everybody likes the Scottish accent and people don’t understand what we’re saying. And people get told, “If you’re going to succeed in this business, try and sound like this or that.” I think people can see through that really quickly. People have. I say that if we’re going to be honest and tell our stories about where we’re from and me about myself, there’s only one way I can tell that story, and that’s in my stupid accent.

It really works with the music so well. That’s something that really stood out to me the first time I heard you, and the first time I heard you was when I was in Scotland, so it was really nice and then I became more familiar with the dialect myself.

James: Well, I’ll use a lot of local sayings that not everybody understands. That’s what I’ll hear walking about the streets, so I’ll go, “Oh, right.” Like things my dad would say to me when I was younger. Wee little sayings and they are within the songs. My dad will say to me, “I know where you got that from. Your grandma used to say that to me,” and I’d be like, “Oh fuck, that’s where it came from!”

I love hearing that your parents go to your shows.

James: Yeah, they were at the west coast shows. It’s a big part of their life now. It’s a big part of their life watching my misery. [Laughs]

How did you find [new drummer] Sebastien and how has he fit into the chemistry. This was the first time you recorded with him, right?

James: It wasn’t actually Sebastien who recorded. It was our friend Jonny [Scott].

Brendan: He’s a session guy. He does The Kills and CHVRCHES and stuff.

James: We knew we had to get somebody after the recording and basically we met Sebastien through Frightened Rabbit. It was Scott who introduced us. There’s something about that, the way the world is and the way that things are working out right now, the fact that Sebastien is our drummer is a pretty beautiful thing. Because it’s just so easy. He’s just fitted in. It’s the closest this band has ever been…ever been.

Brendan: Yeah.

James: If I turn around on stage and I look at everybody and I can see how much it means to everybody. There’s something about that that gives you more fucking energy. When you see people caring about what they’re doing. Sebastien’s first gig with us was at Primavera [Sound Festival]. We were using new gear, we didn’t have a soundcheck, we played a new song…

Brendan: We hadn’t played in a year and a half…

James: We played a Frightened Rabbit song at the end…

Which one?

James: “Keep Yourself Warm.” We play that all the time. And it was like, “Is there anything else we can add to this situation to make Sebastien freak out more?” But he was brilliant. It’s been brilliant, but Jonny, who played the record did an amazing job as well. A fuckin’ brilliant job actually.

Brendan: He’s proper pro show, and a nice guy as well.

James: He took us to another level. So yeah, it was quite nice to have that position where we recorded with Jonny, but now Sebastien is our drummer [going forward].

As far as your lyrics on this album, you have mentioned that you were opening up more and showing yourself more on this turn. Speaking from a more vulnerable place, rather than storytelling.

James: I think so. All the albums are basically a reflection of who I am and what’s happening at that point in my life, so it’s always been very personal but I’ve maybe used metaphor [more before], I wasn’t hiding behind it, but that’s how I wanted to present myself. Whereas on this record, what was coming out, the metaphors weren’t there anymore. Things like, “What are you doing?” “Why are you doing this to yourself?” Things I would think about when I was having some bad days. I think it’s a question that a lot of people ask themselves and if that’s happening with me, I’m sure it is with other people as well. I just felt that the subject matter was intense and raw and I couldn’t hide behind anything anymore. Not that I was really hiding. But I needed to progress as a lyricist as well, so what can I do [to do that]? Well, let’s tear away that layer and try to be even more honest if you know what I mean.

Did that come naturally to you?

James: Yeah, because it was what I was feeling and it just came out. I didn’t go through the lyrics and go, “Let’s maybe make this more vague.” No, and if people can relate to that, great. If not, at least I got it off my chest. People still have to make their own minds up on what things are about but I think there are some lines that people might be able to connect with because I think the way I was feeling is no different from the way anybody else feels on a daily basis. Because I’m in a band and I’m able to say things down on record, it’s like a therapy in a way.

When I lived in Scotland I was known as an overly sharing, transparent person and that didn’t go over too well.

James: Yeah, we like to keep our cards close to our chest. It’s a tough nut to crack. And that’s what’s different about me because I’m like, “Whaaaaaaa!” [Makes a mocking moan]

Right, you’re not the traditional Scot in that way.

James: Not in my music. And I like to think I’m open with people. We all have things that we prefer to keep to ourselves, but I’m quite open if I’m not happy, or if I am happy. I am probably the most emo person in Glasgow. [Mutual laughter]

Have you been told?

James: Oh yeah. Mogwai called me McMorrissey. That was before he started acting like a dickhead…or maybe after. [Smile] I did a record with Kathryn Joseph called Outlines that Rock Action released and she’s very emotive as well. Stuart [Braithwaite] came to one of our gigs and he was like, “Fuckin’ hell, the two most emotional people in Glasgow on stage together.”

[Meanwhile, Sebastien starts to climb up a sketchy looking ladder to the roof above the outdoor backstage area where we’re sitting.]

“Be careful! We don’t want to look for another drummer. You’re really good!” But yeah, I’m very lucky that I’ve got this outlet. Some people aren’t so lucky and keep it all bottled in and that’s not good, so this is my way of getting it out. Whether it’s a good idea or not to do it in front of loads of people every night, I don’t know but it’s the only outlet that I’ve got and I’m glad I’ve got it. It helps me through. I’m really lucky that I’ve got a great family back home and brilliant friends but so do a lot of other people and they don’t have this outlet. Even though our music can be quite dark, I like to think there’s a lot of hope in it because I’m always striving to find hope in things. Without my family and music, things could be a lot different. So I feel very grateful, to even be sitting here talking to you, d’you know man? About something that I love doing. I love doing it but it’s also really important that I do it. That’s also a very scary thing because you know what bands are like. They don’t last forever and financially it’s not easy but we make things work. It’s hard but I love doing it. So without this, I’d be fucked, is what I’m trying to say. That’s why it’s nice to see that other people care so much about it, you know?

Absolutely. I’ve seen you guys perform a few times and something I always loved and was fascinated by and responded to was this kind of visible purging that happens with you. Like when there’s a swelling build or wall of sound, it’s as if you’re possessed.

James: Yeah, it’s weird. It’s weird for me as well man. I look at pictures of myself, and I don’t like pictures of myself but when people send them to me, or videos, I’m like, “Who the fuck is that guy?!”

You feel transformed in that moment? Like you’re feeding off the energy. I’ve always wondered about what’s happening to you.

James: I would love to be a singer like Jim Reid in The Jesus and Mary Chain and look cool as fuck. I just don’t have that in me. I get really kind of erratic and just feel kind of…I feel…I just feel it. And it comes out in weird fucking moves. I can’t really explain it. It’s happened since day one. I get kind of tired at the end of the day. Maybe it’s just within me goin’ “I need to show these people what this means to me.” It just fuckin’ comes out that way. You can see right now, I don’t think I’m that weird. I think I’m quite a normal guy, but then I see that and I’m like…fuck.

I don’t think it’s weird. You’re talking about showing people you’re into it. No one likes to go to a show and see apathy and people going through the motions. When people see this thing happening with you, it really communicates to the crowd that you’re really into this and it means everything to you. It takes over and I think that’s what people respond to in an artist.

James: That makes me happy. I’m very anxious about that stuff. And maybe that’s part of it. Anxiety is something that I definitely struggle with. It’s one of those things when I go to the gigs…I enjoy the gigs don’t get me wrong. It’s such a cathartic experience. It takes a lot out every night as well, it’s pretty knackerin’ but there’s nothing I can do about it. But I get anxiety thinking what people are thinking of me there.

I think it’s better than…

James: Than too cool for school? Yeah, it’s like, “He’s making a fool out of himself, but he cares!”

Do you sing alone? Do you walk around singing sometimes or is that all saved for the band?

James: No, it’s weird, I don’t. I don’t sing in the shower. I don’t sing about the house…I’m fucking great at karaoke but apart from that, I’m not a big [mocking someone singing] “Doo da dooo” person.

It just seems like it means so much to you that I was wondering if singing helps you through times.

James: Writing is the main thing.

Right. So about the album itself, If Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave was a merging point between the palette and style of your first record and the mixture of British synth pop, ‘80s industrial, and the Manchester scene style you’ve adapted, to me this new album curves back a bit more to No One Can Ever Know, yet it’s a more diverse arrangement.

James: I get that. I think there’s more hope within this record.

No One Can Ever Know was more monochromatic in a sense.

James: Yes. It feels like we’ve opened that out more and there’s more of a live band element to this new record. I think it’s more melodic as well. There are warmer sounds as well. No One Can Ever Know was very cold sounding, and it was very important for us to do that at that point. Working with that type of instrumentation and technology was definitely something we’ve always been interested in, [getting at] some of our favorite bands like Nine Inch Nails and New Order, we were excited about working with that style again but this feels like it’s got more of a live band element to it. It’s not lighter in any way, but I do feel like it’s opened up more. As much as I love No One Can Ever Know, I feel this is a bigger record. Melodically, it’s a step forward for us. We’ve definitely tried new things on this that we haven’t done before, with song structures, and there’s a lot more drive and energy.

Yeah, the pace has picked up.

James: There’s a lot more energy in this record than in any of the ones before. And I think that was there within the writing as well. When you play on tour with The Cure for six months, you see the energy within their songs. Not that we try to emulate that, but it was in our minds for six months of our life, and we’ve obviously listened to The Cure a lot, but when you’re there for three hours a night watching them, if something doesn’t sink in, there’s something wrong there. We’ve obviously taken inspiration from those tours and seen what connects and how we can use that energy within our music. Like most things with us, our surroundings and experiences influence our music and that’s one of the biggest experiences we’ve ever had in our lives. So, that had to filter through into our music somehow.

I felt The Cure in that beginning guitar line on “Videograms”.

James: Aye. It’s very ‘80s sounding. That’s probably our most melodic song on the album. With that we were like, “That works.” If it works it goes in. It’s not like, “Oh, does that sound a bit ‘80s?” We thought it was fucking cool. That excited us. But as far as all the music for the album, Andy wrote it and then scrapped it all.

[James calls over to guitarist and composer Andy MacFarlane who had emerged and was standing near by.]

“Andy!”...[to me] This guy can talk about the music better than me. Andy, I was telling him about how you wrote the music and then scrapped all of it.

Andy MacFarlane: Yeah….I felt it sounded a bit too much like the previous stuff and we wanted to try doing something we enjoyed playing. So I just kept all the vocals and deleted all the music. It’s just one of those things when you get to a point of wanting to try a new method.

James: Like with my lyrics, it was time to move forward. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel or anything but we were wanting to progress and move forward with who we are. Musically and lyrically that happened. With Johnny playing bass live in the room with a drummer, it just added so much more energy.

Andy: It sounds like an obvious thing, saying we want to play things that we like to play but you kind of get into a routine through three or four albums and it’s like, “Right, we’ve already tried that.” This time it was like, “Forget all that.” As a new band…because it feels like a completely new thing altogether. Just a completely different setup and a different way of playing off each other as well, d’you know? Whereas before it was like, “Write the tunes, don’t even rehearse them, get in and just put them down and see what happens. Hopefully, someone will fix it later on.” [Mutual laughter] This time it was like, “Just fix it in the room.”

I interviewed Dan Boeckner from the Canadian band Wolf Parade…

James and Andy: Aye, I know Wolf Parade.

...and he put it well saying that there will always be these successive waves of nostalgia in new music and that it’s how you go about it so that it’s not simply derivative and not like you’re just taking from someone else’s sound. So I was saying to James how with your current music, you pick up on ‘80s synth pop with industrial and the Manchester sound and as you were saying, Nine Inch Nails. I get that you’re feeding from that era but it’s very much your own.

Andy: If you take things that you like and put your own spin on it, it kind of gives you goal posts. So if you say, “I like that element of that song and let’s mix it with an element of this other genre…” It’s about mashing it all together [to see what sounds good].

James: You can tell what bands we like when you listen to our music but I like that you said it’s always your own spin. That also comes down to my noneducation in music. I’m not thinking about making something sound like someone else. What comes out, comes out, and Andy just molds it all. But I think through every record you can tell what we like and what we listen to. Do I say, we wear our influences on our sleeves.

Andy: But research is important. It’s a huge part of it. If you don’t do that you’re going to get lost and lying on your ass at some point. You need to keep your eye on everything as it’s going. And you need to be able to adapt. If you can’t adapt, that’s that. It’s such a short shelf life.

Yeah, you have adapted well. But I, for one, really responded to the first record Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters. That gritty folk feel with the escalations into big bursting climaxes and walls of distortion. Is there any chance you will revisit that in the future in an updated way or is that pretty much just for the stage now?

Andy: Maybe there will be elements at some point. I suppose with this record the idea was just to keep it coherent, so it doesn’t sound all over the place, d’you know? There will be elements at points where more acoustic stuff will come back in. But that’s the other part of referencing so many things is that you [still] need to keep that coherent strength running through it so it doesn’t sound disjointed.

James: I think we have some weird, fucked up records in us. We all love this new record but where we go next could be weird, which is exciting as well.

Andy: This record has given us a platform to go out farther and do something different.

It’s like a bridge to who knows where.

Andy: Yeah, definitely.

James: Making this record has been a brilliant experience but it has now just fueled the fire to go even further.

Brendan: And I don’t think any of us has ever had as much fun with the recording process or the touring before. This is the first touring that we’ve done in two years and the past few weeks have been the most fun and the easiest time that we’ve had.

James: And I was telling Charles that Johnny had said that the new songs seem to be going down better than the old ones.

Everyone: Yeah! [Laughter]

James: Which is a pretty good feeling when you’re out here [touring] like, “It’s going to be okay then.”

Switching to Scottish music on the whole. I have always noticed this particular sound to Scottish rock. Mogwai is my favorite band and there’s this distinct sound of the guitar, of the bass. This dark rumble that fits the environment and the geography almost.

Andy: Yeah, your environment is a huge element of it. Massive.

It really does bleed into the sound and the mood. Was that ever something you recognized or thought about much?

Andy: I mean it’s not a deliberate thing. It just happens but you can tell. It’s the same with bands that are from California or Australia or Europe somewhere. There’s something similar kind of tying them all together. It’s kind of unexplained. Or maybe it’s because we all [in Scotland] use the same people to work with. [Mutual laughter]

Brendan: And we all breed together so…[more laughter]. Actually, the thing that I notice in particular around this time of year is that when the clocks go back it’s a pretty depressing time.

I know, I’ve lived it. We’re talking like 3 p.m. it starts getting dark.

Brendan: Oh right, of course, you lived in Edinburgh. It’s like somebody pulls the curtains over, so you know that feeling. And I think there’s a lot to be said for that and its influence on the music. Because that goes on until March and so you create that sort of insular feeling….

Johnny Docherty: You can hear that massively in Icelandic music as well. The isolation.

Brendan: They’re even more extreme in that regard.

Canadian stuff too. It’s so cold that they’re always inside.

Andy: That was always the thing with all the Manchester bands always pushed in. It was like, “Well, we need to do something.” Take drugs and make music…And [in a lower voice] that’s what we do as well. But really, you need to do something. You see the mood change when you go out into the sunshine as well. Like we’re all happy as fuck.

James: Aye, what the fuck happened?! [Looking up at the overcast sky] There was sunshine earlier and you guys start talking about our music and now look at it! [Mutual laughter]

But also I should say, there’s something really consoling and comforting about the low Scottish music, especially in that environment and light. There’s something calming about it.

James: I’m not gonna lie. I prefer the autumn [for that].

Johnny: Me too. I like dark skies and clouds.

James: And a wee dram…and a shawl. [Mutual laughter]

Johnny: Down by the fire.

James: With a peacock. [Mutual laughter]

Just continuing on the Scottish sound and Scottish bands. Is there a fraternity amongst you all?

James: Aye. Zeta, Beta…Braveheart.

Andy: I think it’s more like, who can take as much of a slagging and if you can survive that then you’re still goin’.

James: I think there’s a good community though. We’re obviously good friends with Mogwai, we’re good friends with Frightened Rabbit. We are good friends with a lot of people and I think it’s because we’re similar types and you want to help each other and tell other people about one another’s music. But also, if you’re shite, we’re not gonna just like you [just because you’re one of us]. It can also be quite cliquey.

Brendan: It’s so small.

James: Yeah, Glasgow is so small but I think there is a good community that is looking to give people a leg up. If you see someone out there doing itbecause it’s hard to do itif you see something in them, we’re very quick to help. Unlike maybe in London or something.

Andy: Aye, there’s none of that community there.

James: [In Glasgow] if somebody needs something, there’s going to be someone else in another band that can hook you up. Not drugs…maybe drugs [smile]. But no, like gear, or a gig. Or if you release something, we’ll be the first to be like, “Hey, our friend’s album is out this week, please go and check it.” I think that’s a really good thing.

Johnny: There’s also a ton of different wee circles. There’s the whole art scene where everyone looks out for one another. So there will be shows with a hardcore band and then a spoken word thing and then an experimental noise thing. It’s all related [in that scene].

James: As far as I can see, Glasgow is one of the best places to be creative.

Johnny: Yeah, the output from people is very high. I guess it goes back to…

Andy: Inventing everything. Inventing the world.

I read that book! [Mutual laughter]

Brendan: But it’s interesting because everyone gets sucked into London as a place to go create art but I feel like Glasgow is still small enough to create these [thriving communities]. It’s not that big a place so it’s got the element of sucking everything in. Everything creative in Scotland comes to Glasgow.

Johnny: It’s like in Glasgow you’re going to create more ripples than doing the same thing in London.

Andy: London is full of shit [mutual laughter]. I’ve lived there for five years.

James: That could be the title of the article: “London’s full of shit. I love living there.” [More laughter]

Andy: But it is though! There’s no community. Everybody’s out to step on each other. It’s a terrible place. Everybody there is full of shit. You get some folk with some talent but generically, it’s shit. It’s full of chancers.

Brendan: We were talking about it. In London and places like here, your level of hard work and ability isn’t as important as opportunity and being in the right places. I think that’s probably the case with artists when they go there. Your integrity doesn’t matter as much.

More like, “Can I make money or can you make me money.”

James: That’s the thing within the Glasgow community. If you’re a dickhead, you’ll be found out pretty quickly. I don’t know how they’ve not found us out. [Mutual laughter]

Andy: They’ve found me out. [Mutual laughter]

Brendan: Why’d you think he moved to London? [Mutual laughter]

Andy: Glasgow’s found me out, London’s found me out. I need to find another place now.

James: Can he stay with you? [Mutual laughter]

But when you guys were off and not in the mix as much, did you feel pullback from your fellow musicians?

[Andy and Johnny are called in to begin soundcheck. The laughter ceases.]

James: Yeah…I mean I was away doing other things. The project I was doing that I told you about called Outlines, and I got married and had a kid. But even though we were away for a couple of years, behind the scenes there was a lot going on. We were working really hard on these new songs. We’re a band that takes our time.

Brendan: Aye, and I guess we were going through some changes and were evolving in some ways. And Andy comes through with the demos when he comes up with them. It’s not like anybody’s like, “Hurry the fuck up, Andy.”

James: But there was definitely pressure from ourselves. We took our time doing it but we were dying to get back out again. But we needed to make sure we came back at the right time. The record was done in May and we were like, “We need to get back out,” and that would’ve been a mistake. We just felt that we had worked on it for so long and a lot of things had happened and we didn’t care, we just needed to get it out and that was the wrong decision. People around us were being…

Brendan: Well, Mogwai.

James: Yeah they were like, “You need to take some time for yourselves and process some stuff. You need to make sure that when you go out, you’re ready.”

And they were speaking from their own experiences.

James: 100 percent

Brendan: Particularly Stuart. We were really adamant at one point like, “Fuck this. Why would we want to wait?” And he made a good case just talking from experience. That’s why it’s so amazing to have them as big brothers with Rock Action [Mogwai’s label]. Just being able to say, “Look, we’ve fuckin’ been there. We know how this works. Trust us, [taking your time] is the right thing to do.” And we were wrong.

James: And they were like, “Yeah you have taken so long on this, so why rush it?” We were going through a lot of stuff at that time and we were being irrational. We weren’t thinking straight. Emotions were very high. But it’s amazing to have people around us that know us and can go, “We believe in you, and that’s why we’re telling you.”

And it’s their label right, so…

James: Yeah. They said, “Look, we’ll put it out if you want us to, but we’re telling you, do yourself a favor and give yourself a chance.”

Are the songs better for it, because of more time taken?

James: We’re better for it as people. We were better prepared to go out and do this. If we had forced that, we might have all imploded.

Brendan: But in a way, I think the songs are better for it. When we did those Cure shows, the [chatter] was, “You need to capitalize on this. If you wait too long, folk will have forgotten. Don’t dick around, you need to get a record out.”

James: Yeah like, “Take advantage while you can.” With that, the band’s profile might have raised more but the music wouldn’t have been as good. We would have played for more people possibly, but that [shouldn’t be the reason]. I mean, of course, we want to play for more people, but it’s important to make sure that first and foremost the music is the most important thing.

Brendan: There was folk that was saying after The Cure stuff that we should even throw an EP out and go straight back to the U.S. and tour off the back of that. Blah blah blah. It’s obviously good to shape an album campaign and be aware of what works but…

James: But it’s not the reason why we do it. Like we’ve been talking about, it’s more personal than that.

It’s like a show and a crowd, that comes and goes but a record is a record. It’s there to stay.

James: It’s going to be there forever. And you don’t want to look back and go, “Ahh we fucking rushed that,” or “I did that because somebody said we needed to get back on the road.” That might be how the industry works but that’s not how we work.

It must be so nice to have Mogwai tell you to be patient from that position.

Brendan: They also said that January is the best time to put out a record!

James: They’re people who we trust. They have our best interests in mind. Yeah, they’re our record label and a record label needs to make money but I knew it was coming from a place of “I’m your friend.” And it proved to be [the best thing]... Well, the record’s not out yet but…

Well, I love it. I really love it.

James: Ah, thank you.

Last thing. This summer show in Glasgow with The Cure, Mogwai, you guys, and The Joy Formidable. How did that come together?!

James: Well after doing the shows with The Cure, I can’t count the amount of times I said to Robert, “When are you going to play Glasgow? It’s been 27 years.”

Oh shit, has it been that long?

James: Yeah. And he never really gave a reason but he loves Scotland genuinely. So we got the offer through about a month ago. Playing all around the world with them was amazing but the question everybody had when we got back home was, “Why are they not playing here?” and finally it’s like, “Well, here you go.” But to be able to play in front of our hometown and them being able to experience the highs of watching them that we had for the longest time…to be like, “Yeah this was our lives for a year.” And to do it with Mogwai as well…. It’s going to be amazing. If the weather holds up…but even if it doesn’t, fuck it. And Bellahouston is basically 10 minutes from my house.

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