The Twilight Sad – James Graham interview – April 2015
Back in April I had a chat with James Graham before their Cluny show in Newcastle and I was also lucky enough to catch them soundcheck. That gig turned out to be one of my favourite shows of 2015, although the Barrowlands gig in a few weeks promises to eclipse that. Either way that day was special to me. Here’s my interview with James, originally published in NE:MM. Adding it here for archive purposes 🙂 But it’s nice to revisit it.
Interview by Graeme J. Baty
It’s certainly no secret that I am a bit of a Twilight Sad fan. They’re a band that hold a special place in my heart and are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. Barely a day goes by without listening to at least one of their songs. The April sold out show at Cluny marked my 5th time seeing them (and the 3rd in the last 12 months!).
Vocalist James Graham kindly agreed to have a chat with me about world tours, Robert Smith, disco funk reggae, the Big Issue and much more.
GJB: Starting off with a nice easy question, how would you describe your music in one sentence?
JG: Thought you were gonna say one word! It’s obviously Scottish; it’s dark, melodic, honest, and erm big. I hate to use the word epic, that makes it sound like some movie, (pauses in thought) it’s cinematic, that’s the word! Oh aye and miserable, sorry about that!
GJB: You’ve had quite a bit of success with the recent album, not just with critics and fans but with a wider audience too. Was that expected?
JG: Aye it was pretty ridiculous. What did they say? “The most critically acclaimed Scottish album of the year?!”
GJB: Does that feel strange that people are finally catching on to it?
JG: Well the last record, and the record before that was nominated and we won the public vote for that which was really, really cool because I didn’t expect it, winning the public vote against Calvin Harris and Emeli Sande (laughs). Maybe the press didn’t pick up on us or something but that was pretty cool. But with this one, when you make an album like that you would kind of hope that it would be in the running but we (pauses), I mean we’re up against massive bands like Mogwai who are one of our favourite bands, Belle and Sebastian, bands like that, it is just nice to be mentioned amongst those names and I think that is pretty special.
GJB: In contrast to the 3rd album which marked a real departure, the newest (4th) album seems to represent a natural progression for you. Were there any challenges along the way?
JG: It was just natural. With the 3rd record, it’s still a record that I’m really really proud of, I mean it was definitely a risk for us and at the same time it was a risk we needed to take. We wanted to try new things and if we hadn’t of done that we wouldn’t have made this record. So we’d actually written all the songs before we toured the 1st album (and released a deluxe version in 2014) but we played two Glasgow shows before we went into the studio and there was something that stuck in my head about those shows, well maybe performance wise it just kinda mapped it up you know. The new record was written over the period of a year, whereas the 3rd record was very insular and very cold sounding.
GJB: Am I right in think that the 3rd album was harder work?
JG: Em it was not the song writing or the way we wanted it to come out, it was just that we were down in London recording it. We just wanted to put ourselves out of our comfort zone, I think that it was important to do that and this one we knew what we wanted to do and we achieved it but again we were treating to skew things but we learned a lot from it and then taking it into the new album, we basically took it and then opened it up. We’re still learning what we’re good at, learning about what the band is and as long as we still think that we’ll continue on. Keep evolving, we wanted to open the whole sound out (for the 4th record) and bring in a big sound. We’ve tried some new stuff on this record that we’ve never tried before like brass instruments, stripping everything back in the last song as well, a piano track and things like ‘Pills I Swallow’. We still think we’re pushing it forward but at the same time there was a confidence in what had come before.
GJB: Do you find the new songs fit better into a live set?
JG: We like to do a mixture of all the albums, obviously were out promoting the new record so it’s more heavy on that side but it’s nice to see the way the whole set flows from album to album. It’s up and down, and that’s maybe what we didn’t have when we started out. We were just like booooom in your face constantly, there was no room to breathe it was constantly like what the fucks going on here?! And I think that might have scared a lot of people.
GJB: I recall my first time witnessing The Twilight Sad live show experience with Mogwai and being left utterly speechless. James laughs and remembers his broken mic on the night! Despite that technical difficulty they went down amazingly well.
JG: It was like a wall of sound, being bludgeoned. Aye it was like get in there and make an impression. I enjoyed that and we still have those elements in our set but when you’re doing an hour and a half (set) it’s like you cannae do that to someone for that length of time! So we’ve got some ups and downs, we’re like finally feeling that we’re a proper band (laughs).
GJB: You’ve been busy touring all over the world this year, how did the foreign audiences find you?
JG: Good. Well this whole tour is all in all 10 weeks, we started 4 weeks in America with 1 day off, and 6 weeks in Europe. It’s been long and all that but it was really good, we sold out New York, Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco, (so it was) really successful tour, we even ended playing places like Fargo. (We go off on a tangent talking about the amazing movie and series) it was weird gig, don’t get me wrong, it was minus 21 outside while we were playing but that’s the thing this band gets to go places like that and experience it. The gig was good, there were maybe 50 or 60 people there and I didn’t expect anybody to know who the fuck we were in in Fargo you know! But the US tour was amazing, so much so we’re already talking about going back because people seem to really want us over there. I think there’s a lot of people relate to Scotland because of their ancestry which is cool, I don’t mind how people get into our music just as long as they get it, you know. I like going on tour over there it’s really good.
GJB: What were your reasons for the ‘Fourteen Autumns’ debut album tour in 2014? And were you scared of the reaction considering many people are now backlashing against the trend for reunions and nostalgia?
JG: It wasn’t a planned thing, it was suggested to us. I think we were in a really bad place at the time, so we were thinking maybe we won’t get this chance to do it again and the album had not been available on vinyl in ages so it it’d be kinda nice to repress it for people that haven’t got it on vinyl, do something a bit special and it was nice to look back before we looked forward. Maybe it reminded a few people about us.
GJB: You and Andy have been doing some acoustic tours as a two piece? What brought that around?
JG: Well when the songs first start of they are really basic and stripped back, so we knew they worked that way, we didn’t really do it as much when the band started out but maybe around the 3rd record people started asking for it, so we started doing it more and when we saw the reaction it was amazing and it’s nice to show that we’re not just once dimensional. And we take some pride that we’re real songwriters as well and the more we do it, the more people like it. I really enjoy doing them it’s a totally different experience.
GJB: You became a Big Issue vendor recently for charity, how did that come about and what did you learn in the process?
JG: Well they asked me and I said yeah right away not really realising what was in store. It was me, Stuart from Mogwai, a few other musicians from Glasgow, comedians and politicians and we had an hour each but we still got to see what people go through every day and people looking at you like you’re nothing. It was really eye opening and I’m glad I did it, I sold about 18 magazines maybe but that was only because I’d tweeted about it. The average vendor sells maybe 14-15 in a day and they make £1.25 per sale so it’s not really much, it’s some living for them but they’re not making much. I’m just glad I did it, I mean it’s only one hour of my day and they’ve got to do this every day.
There’s A Girl In The Corner (Clip) by Robert Smith
GJB: The Robert Smith cover version on the new release is quite a coup! Due to be released on the 15th June 2015. How did that come about?
JG: Well Stuart from Mogwai emailed Robert a few years ago saying that there’s this band I think you’ll like I’ll send you some of their records and he got back saying “I’ve already got them and I’m a big fan”. And Stuart forwarded the email to us, we were like “holy shit!”. We were just thinking about this release and we sent him a copy of the new album before it came out. He got back to us – “beautiful” – and we were “well that’s the best review we’ll ever get!”. We sent him another email and asked him if he’d be interested in covering the band, we never expected him to get back with a yes, But he got back maybe a week later, me and Andy were in the car driving home after an acoustic set and I’ve never seen Andy get excited before but “he’s gonna do it!!” When it came through we all sat around in silence just listening to it – his cover is great. He’s done more than heíd ever need to. All the money he makes from the sale is going to charity. Robert Smith is one of the reasons we’re in music and he has covered one of our songs. Andy was like “I feel like I’ve completed music! It’s like level 50 completed!” It’s something I’ll always look back on and think that is pretty cool.
GJB : One last question. How come ‘Airport’ didn’t make the album? I love that song and are there any other outtakes lurking around?
JG: Yeah we all like that song but we didn’t really know where to put it, we had the track list down. So we kept it for something special, a nice picture disc, so it got its own wee special thing. There are a few instruments and some stripped back version of songs from the album that we’ll release later in the year, it shows kind of a different side of the band.
Special thanks to James for taking the time to chat, particularly when he was losing his voice from 9 weeks on tour. They then went on from after this interview to perform one of the best shows I’ve ever seen them play. Truly is a contender for gig of the year. Sitting around in the bar after the show it was clear from people in attendance that the night was truly special; everyone was full of energy and praise for the performance; that buzz you can only get from a phenomenal concert.
Pics from that show here.