Interview: James Graham of the Twilight Sad

photo by Daniel Goncalves
photo by Daniel Goncalves
photo by Daniel Goncalves
photo by Daniel Goncalves
photo by Daniel Goncalves
photo by Daniel Goncalves

by Jack Diablo
After writing album reviews for FatCat Records recording artists We Were Promised Jetpacks and the Twilight Sad, I became enamored with the onslaught of great bands hailing from Scotland. As it turns out, both bands will be making a Florida stop at Orlando’s the Social later this month. I was fortunate enough to score an interview with James Graham, lead singer for the Twilight Sad, before the show. Here’s what he had to say:
EU: The Twilight Sad are on tour with label-mates and fellow Scots, We Were Promised Jetpacks and Frightened Rabbit. My first question is, what is going on in Scotland right now?!
James Graham: Well I don’t really know to be honest. I think Scotland’s always had good music coming out of it. We’re just the new band coming up from there. I don’t know if there’s anything in the water or the whisky or something.
EU: The Twilight Sad started as a highly experimental group. What prompted you to change directions and make music with more commercial appeal?
JG: I think I got into bands that wrote proper songs and I actually found some things that I wanted to write about as well. Before that I’d never really tried to write a song before. The ten songs on the first album, they were the first songs that I ever had written as well. I don’t know, we didn’t just want to be an instrumental band anymore, we just felt that we had something to write about.
EU: FatCat Records picked you guys up after only your third gig. Were you surprised at how fast things started moving for you?
JG: Yeah, definitely. It was really quite surreal. One minute we were playing in front of our friends and family, the next minute we were recording our first album. I think our fourth or fifth gig was in New York, so it was a bit of a whirlwind, you know. We weren’t really used to playing as a live band and the next thing you know we were over in America touring. I never really thought about it at the time but now looking back, I think, “Wow, how the fuck did that happen?” I don’t really know any other band that came up the way we have. Maybe as lucky as we have been, just in getting signed, because that’s the hardest part back home is actually finding yourself a record label that wants to put out your records.
EU: Having toured America before, how do American audiences reception to the music compare with those back home?
JG: Over here, the American audiences seem to embrace it a little more. When we were playing over in America before, we would play in front of quite a lot of people and then we’d go home and again we’d just be playing in front of our friends and our parents and stuff like that. America really embraced us as a band first and I think it’s something we really appreciate. The audiences over here just really seem to love honest music. We’re not a pretentious band, all we have is just the songs. We’re not trying to be a style-band or anything like that. They just seem to appreciate honest music and people who are trying to do something different, whereas back home people don’t seem to be as open to actually listening to bands and giving them a chance. I think it’s something to do with over in Britain, they’ve got the singles charts and things. Some bands just release one song and if they don’t like it, they don’t get a chance again. Over in America, they seem to still embrace the concept of an album and will actually listen to a band over the period of an album.
EU: You’ve described the new album, Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters as “noisier and bigger” than your first album and suggested a much darker tone. Is this somewhat of a return to your experimental roots or a progression in a completely different direction?
JG: There’s some instrumental tracks and, I don’t know, noisy things and stuff like that on the record. It’s more of a record than the first one. This one just feels like one kind of beast. But the thing is we’ve put some more normal songs on there as well. We like writing good songs and layering in effects and things on top of it. I think it’s a little bit more experimental and people will have to give it a little bit more time than the first one but I also feel, in some ways, it’s more melodic. But again, you just have to give it the time to appreciate it as well. The first one definitely wasn’t a happy album either, but on this one the subject matter was just more focused I think.
EU: Are there any other up-and-coming Scottish bands we should know about?
JG: Yeah, there’s one or two. There’s a band called the Phantom Band. I think Peter Buck from R.E.M. is a big fan of them. He’s been promoting them a lot. There’s a band called Remember Remember who are on Mogwai’s Rock Action label. There’s a band called Errors who are on Rock Action as well. And there’s a band called My Latest Novel and there’s also a band called Copy Haho who sound like Pavement but from the north of Scotland. There’s a lot of rubbish ones but like any music scene there’s usually a whole load of shit music, but then there’s like four or five bands that actually play good.
EU: Do you have a pretty close relationship with your tour-mates?
JG: Yeah, Frightened Rabbit, we kind of came up through the ranks I suppose you could say with them. We both got signed at the same time. We did a lot of touring back in Britain together and we’re good friends back home. We hang out when we’re not touring. And it’s the same with all the other Scottish bands to be honest, such as Mogwai. We just finished an American tour with them and we’re good friends as well. Once you know one person in one band in Scotland, it’s like you know everybody. It’s quite a small community if you know what I mean. But yeah, we’re all good friends and it’s good to be touring over here with them.
EU: So what lies ahead for the Twilight Sad after this tour?
JG: Starting from now, we’ve got 57 gigs across America, Britain and Europe until the start of December. It’s pretty much playing live for a long time up until Christmas and then there’s a song and a couple of other things we’re working on now that we’re going to release early next year. We’ve already started on our next record as well so it’s pretty much just going to be playing as much as we can and getting in front of as many people and let as many people hear our music as possible. There’s a privilege to be able to play music for a living so we just want to play as much as we can. We’ll probably kill each other by the end of the tour because we’ll be absolutely knackered, but we’ll give it our best shot anyway.