Interview with The Twilight Sad

Photo Credit: Nic Shonfeld

Hello James and Andy! It’s so wonderful to catch up with you between tours and before the release of your new album, No One Can Ever Know, in February 2012.  I would think that you can relax for a bit now, but based on your tweets, it sounds like you’re staying busy!  What is this about filming an acoustic session?  Have you been gathering footage of your gigs to eventually release as a live DVD?  That would be brill!

James:  No, no plans as of yet for anything like that.  We were supposed to be filming an acoustic session for a website today, but unfortunately the weather over here in Scotland took a turn for the worse. I think Glasgow was in the middle of some sort of hurricane and everyone was advised to stay indoors. We’ve just come off a UK tour where we road tested a lot of the new material, so things have been pretty busy recently. We’ve had most of the year off and the album was finished a while ago, so it’s been frustrating sitting on it for so long. So it’s great to be out there and busy again. Although the album has been finished for a while, we’ve been working on all the other elements that go into an album campaign such as videos, tours, art work etc… which we like to take our time with, instead of rushing things like that.

I’ve heard “Kill It in the Morning” and “Sick” off your forthcoming album.  They seem to be on opposite ends of The Twilight Sad spectrum, with slow-builder “Kill It in the Morning” having darker elements of noise, while “Sick” is more spare, with softer vocals and an angular guitar line.  The common denominator seems to be the use of keyboards, which hover over and brighten each track.  Who have you enlisted as keyboardist and is this the main change to your sound?  Is “Sick” (or “Kill It in the Morning”) indicative of the direction your taking on your new songs?

Andy:  I played the synths on the record, but Martin Doherty who’s been with the band since the second album, plays them live. I wouldn’t say the keys are the main change to the sound; it’s probably more the sparseness of the sound and the fact that there aren’t endless layers of guitars and synths building up a wall of noise, like we’ve done in the past.

Both “Sick” and “Kill It In The Morning” are probably equally indicative of the direction. I don’t think there’s one specific track that can sum up the whole record; it’s more of an album that has to be listened to from start to finish.

Andy, much mention has been made of your fulminating “shoegazer”-type guitar sonics on past songs.  How does that play out on No One Can Ever Know?  Are the guitars more subdued or angular (like on “Sick”) this time around?  Do you feel a connection, guitar-wise, to dynamic shoegazer bands from the 1990s like Ride, Catherine Wheel, or Slowdive?  Did bands like that influence how you play guitar?

Andy:  No, not at all. I do like those early 90’s bands, but it was never something that influenced how I play guitar. I was always more interested in guitarists like Johnny Marr, Tom Verlaine, Rowland S. Howard, Robert Smith, Ron Asheton, Thurston Moore, etc…  I didn’t really like being attached to the “shoegazer” type style, but it was probably ‘cause I would play so loudly. That was more for me to have something to hide behind, ‘cause I wasn’t too sure of what I was doing until a couple of years down the line.

I suppose the guitars on the new record do have a more “angular” feel to them; they’re probably more along the lines of people like John McGeogh or Keith Levene. They’re much more sparse compared to the dense, multi-layered guitars on the first two records.

James, your compelling, emotive vocal delivery sends chills down my spine, but it must be exhausting to put yourself on the line like that, especially live.  Do you naturally gravitate to this passionate way of singing?  Did you ever consider singing in an emotionally detached tone to match the bleakness of your lyrics?

James:  I just do what comes naturally. If you put too much thought into the way you deliver your lyrics, then I’m pretty sure there’s more chance of your delivery coming across as contrived. I’m not going to lie – a six week tour when you’re playing nearly every night takes it out of you, but we’re so lucky to be able to tour the world and we give everything we can every night because people have spent their hard-earned money to come see our band. When you’re travelling for hours every day, that one hour that you’re onstage is the point in the day you get to relax and do what you love, and although it’s tiring, it’s amazing to be given the chance to play our music every night. Be it 10 people or 1000, it doesn’t matter.  We appreciate that people have taken the time to come see us, so it’s up to us to put everything into it onstage. Alcohol definitely helps!

Photo Credit: Nic Shonfeld

I’ve read that your lyrics are based on your own experiences or that of people you know or have grown up with.  I’m relieved to know that not all your song content is based on personal account… That being said, a good amount of your lyrics deal with family issues and home life, and I was wondering if (and hoping that) you had a happy childhood, or at least are left unscathed by the past…

James:  I had a really happy childhood. My family is our biggest supporters and I wouldn’t be able to do this without the support I get from them. From an outsider’s perspective, I could definitely understand why they might think the opposite though. We all go through ups and downs in life no matter if you’re generally a happy person or a miserable bastard. I just like to focus on the darker side of life because I find it more interesting. I prefer darker films, music, etc…, but generally I’m quite content.  But I do have my down days, which is probably when I’m at my most creative. I never write a song just for the sake of it; I only do it when I’ve got something to write about. All of my lyrics are personal; they are either about things that have happened to me, my friends or family, and I just try to be as honest as I can within my lyrics.

Forgive me, as I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but your band name is a fragment taken from the poem But I Was Looking at the Permanent Stars by Wilfred Owen.  Do you feel a kinship with this poet?  Do you approach your songwriting in the spirit of that poem, which deals with lost youth and violence (albeit in a World War I setting)?

James:  I’m not going to lie; I don’t read poetry at all. I’m more into my comics and graphic novels. What I will say is that you are one of the first people to actually know where our name comes from.  We didn’t have a band name for a while and Mark came to practice one day and said “How about The Twilight Sad” because he’d seen it in that Wilfred Owen poem, and from that day forward that was the band’s name because we couldn’t think of anything better. Everything about the band stems from the music and the lyrics, i.e., the artwork/song titles/videos, but at the point where we named the band we didn’t have any songs, so the band’s name is just a name and doesn’t really have anything to do with the lyrics or how we approach our music.

Peering into your past, after the formation of The Twilight Sad in the early 2000s, but before you were signed, you recorded demos that you sent to the Brighton-based label FatCat and it’s been the band’s home ever since.  Why FatCat and was it only to FatCat that you sent your demos?

James:  We sent our demo to every label that we liked at that time and Fat Cat was the first and most enthusiastic label to get back to us. Their back catalogue spoke for itself and we were flattered that a label as well-known as them took any interest in us at all. At that point we had only played 3 gigs in 3 years and the songs on the demo were the only songs we had. The first song we ever wrote was “that summer at home I had become the invisible boy” and I’m pretty sure that’s the song that got us signed. FatCat came up to Scotland and signed us after or 4th gig and then we went into a studio and recorded our first album, 14 autumns and 15 winters. Everything happened really quickly for us and we didn’t really have time to stop and think about what was happening and now we’re just about to release our 3rd album.  It’s all a bit crazy to be honest.

James I see that you tweet regularly, but post to your official site intermittently.  Any reason for the Twitter preference?  I enjoy the Blogspot posts because you go more into detail about band news and also list your current fave music, TV shows, movies, and books.  You’ve mentioned being into Donnie Darko, Game Of Thrones, Mogwai, and ummm, Danielle Steel novels in the past.  What are your latest faves? 

Mine are you, of course, and mr. Gnome and The Twilight Singers for music, Revenge (a delectably devious nighttime sudser) and Game Of Thrones for TV, and Black Death (it plagues me) and Mr. Nobody (visually and conceptually stunning) for film.

James:  I don’t know why I prefer Twitter. I don’t really do any other social networking, but I thought I’d better move with the times and start somewhere. I was a bit hesitant to begin with but I’ve actually started to enjoy it. It’s great to talk to people who like our band and answer any questions they might have and let them know what we’re up to. I stopped doing the blogspot thing because I didn’t really know what to write all the time and someone told me my posts were terrible. With Twitter I can keep it short and simple. I also find Twitter quite funny as I retweet anyone who talks shit about us and they usually get upset that I retweet it. My philosophy is that, if you don’t have anything good to say then don’t say anything at all. Don’t get me wrong, I am also guilty of being negative but I think 90% of what I write is positive and I promote a lot of good things/bands out there. My favorite TV show at the moment is Mad Men (I’ve seen every season and have started from the beginning again because I like it that much). I’ve been listening to recent albums by Radiohead, Mogwai, Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat, Malcolm Middleton, and Wild Beasts. Did I really say I was reading Danielle Steel novels? Ha, that wasn’t true. I’d take everything I say with a pinch of salt. I have been reading the Essential X-Men; I’m a huge Marvel comics fan.

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