In the green room of Soho’s Borderline, a half-drunk bottle of Buckfast lies on its side on the table. Despite my nerves – more on that later – I had the temerity to point out to The Twilight Sad there probably aren’t many bands touring at the moment who’s drink of choice is a fortified tonic wine notorious for its association with underage drinkers and homeless people. “Aye, that’s mine”, lead singer James Graham tells me. “It’s what I drink in the van. Just to… get ready for the show.”
Which brings me back to my nerves. I was nervous before meeting The Twilight Sad. Part of what makes them so wonderful as a band -their seriousness and intensity – are attriubutes that I don’t readily associate with being wonderful interviewees. But more worrying to me was the fact that the only previous experience I’d had of the band in the flesh was at a performance at XOYO last year, where James Graham’s stage presence was terrifying. There are times, watching him up there, when you wonder how much he’s really enjoying this, although the half bottle of Buckfast did clear up a few things. Thankfully, Graham laughed off my question regarding his in-performance enjoyment.
“(Laughing) No, it’s not really like that. When we started out, we played three gigs in three years and after we got signed we just had to learn how to be ‘in a band’. We got thrown over to America and started to put a bit more into the shows. And actually now I’m enjoying it more than I ever have. I know it looks like I’m a bit of a maniac, but I am enjoying it. The songs aren’t exactly happy-go-lucky songs, it’s just trying to get across to an audience what I first felt when I wrote these songs and what the songs are about to me. I know it can come across pretty intense, but they’re intense songs.”
It’s something that comes up a few times in our conversation: the authenticity of what he and his band are doing. I took this discussion toward his lyrics, which have always been more about evocation (of time, of place, of feeling) than narration, though the few tracks we’ve heard so far from No One Can Ever Know, the new record due in February next year, suggest a slight change in this. But Graham is quick to dismiss any notion of a deliberate change of style, instead he concentrates on communicating the truth of an emotion, whatever form that might take.
“There’s no concious decision to do anything different on this album. I just find what I want to write about, and then I do it. I’ve done these new songs the way I’ve always done them – I’ve just been honest. I’m not going to start writing in a different way on purpose because that would take away from the truth of what I trying to say.”
Guitarist, producer, and co-songwriter Andy Macfarlane makes similar claims about the musical side of things, despite the fact that early press from the band pushed the idea of this record expanding The Twilight Sad’s sonic palette. Last month’s 7″ single ‘Sick’ brought some music to back up their words, with it’s heavy use of digital and electronic elements.
“Aye, we’ve used some different instruments, but like James says about the lyrics, we never sat down and went ‘this one’s going to be different.’ It just develops that way,” Macfarlane says. After the band’s tour with fellow Scots and electro-pop dons Errors last year, I asked if that experience had any influence on the development of their sound.
“Maybe, maybe. I don’t think it’s a case of any single influences. I don’t really follow new music, and I find it hard to find new music that I want to listen to, and then I deliberately don’t when we’re writing anyway. Just try and find other things that shape what you’re doing.”
Other things, I suggest, like films? Cinema seems to have been a big influence on the band’s style, with songs like ‘That Summer At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy’ taking its title from a line in Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me, but that was simply because “the songs need titles”, Macfarlane wryly informs me.
“But you have said that you write music while watching films with the sound off”, Graham adds.
“Aye, it’s just something to kinda structure… so you’re not concentrating solid on one piece, something to take your mind off somewhere else…”
It’s a quality that is often audible in the band’s music, songs which can prompt a synaesthetic, visual experience through Graham’s oblique imagery and Macfarlane’s superlative understanding of noise dynamics. The tracks the band play from the forthcoming record at their show later in the night, true to their word, aren’t a huge departure for The Twilight Sad. Though they now ride along on synths and drum machines, the defining characteristics remain Macfarlane’s wall-of-sound guitar and Graham’s unmistakable vocals.
For a record still months away from release, everything sounds remarkably well-rounded, but Graham tells me that this one has had a longer gestation period than most. “The album was recorded in January but we’ve just been sitting on it. They said it’s to do with the marketing or something. It was only recently the album artwork was finalised. There were a lot more elements going into that than just the music. It’s been a bit of a wait… but it was a bit unusual to just sit on the album that long. We’re pleased with the artwork as well, that’s something we like to put a lot of work into and make it pretty. We were told that people buy our records 80% in physical and only 20% in download, which I was really pleased about. But it’s been so long now since we did this and we’ve been touring on and off all year. I think once album three’s out of the way we’re going to be ready to go straight into album four.”
Macfarlane affirms this, and I ask if there is anything else they are planning to do after this record. “No. Just make another record.” And now, after this interview? “Get pissed and play a show.” Let’s hope their ambitions don’t change any time soon.
No One Can Ever Know will be released through Fat Cat Records on the 6 February 2012, and they’ll also be playing the following dates in support of the release.
09 Feb – Grand Ole Opry , Glasgow
10 Feb – Ruby Lounge, Manchester
11 Feb – Queens Social Club , Sheffield
12 Feb – Hare and Hounds , Birmingham
13 Feb – Fleece , Bristol
14 Feb – Cargo, London
15 Feb – Stealth , Nottingham
16 Feb – Brudenell Social Club , Leeds