The Twilight Sad uk
Scots, as a rule, are not noted for their emotional communication; straying rarely from a sort of safe - albeit repressed - stoicism. So when James Graham stood before a sold out London venue earlier this year, awed by the level of support for his band, it was really quite a spectacle to see the Twilight Sad frontman fighting back the tears as he thanked the crowd from the bottom of his heart. A decade after the band first started playing together and seven years after the release of their debut album, the band had decided to tour Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters in its entirety across the UK to coincide with its vinyl re-release. The shows saw fans flying in from countries as far flung as the USA, Israel and all across Europe to catch them.
“If I'm honest I didn't realise how special the gigs would be and just how much that album means to people,” Graham says. “We'd had a pretty rough year as a band in 2013 and that was the first time we'd toured this year, so to see so many people come out and support the band at those gigs was a really big thing for us. We're very lucky that the people who like our band travelled far and wide to see us and we want to make sure that it's worth it every time we play.”
Fourteen Autumns is something of a paradox. Such is its status as a classic amongst long-time followers of the band that it feels much older than its seven years, while each listen carries with it something new and thrilling. Indeed, Pitchfork noted the band’s instant familiarity coupled with their ability to take this in “unexpected and exciting directions”. Its wildly dynamic production sees cascading walls of sound give way to quiet moments of sombre reflection, Graham’s thick Glaswegian accent and evocative storytelling a powerful display of anger, sadness and despair. The themes of childhood angst and suffering suggest a confessional folk record, but transposed onto Andy MacFarlane’s shoegaze-influenced guitars and Mark Devine’s powerhouse drumming Fourteen Autumns is something else entirely. While the band didn’t become an overnight chart-topping sensation, the vast level of critical acclaim and constant calls from fans hungry for vinyl (eventually spurring its re-release) highlighted how important a part of their career the record has become.
Forget The Night Ahead was released in 2009, a discordant and gloriously unsettling followup to the band’s debut. Graham wrote at the time: “One thing that I can promise is that the lyrics are very dark, but you might have to look into them a bit to realise. They are mainly based around things that have happened to me over the past two years, revolving around losing people and being none too proud or happy with myself about my antics and situations I’ve found myself in. So if you’re looking for a record with a lot of hope and happy songs then fuck off, cause you won’t find it here with us!” Once more, it drew praise from across the press, NME lauding its “much darker ambience, with big melodies and vast romantic landscapes”, while The AV Club wrote that it showed “a band capable of muscling up without losing a fascination with fragile, fleeting moments”.
In February 2012, the band brought out their third studio album No One Can Ever Know. It marked a significant shift in direction, eschewing the previously dominant wall of sound production in favour of what MacFarlane called a “colder, slightly militant feel”. Its more electronic arrangements took influence from the likes of Public Image Ltd, Liars and krautrock pioneers Can, with electronic producer Andrew Weatherall (Primal Scream, Fuck Buttons) acting as a consultant during the album’s studio inception.
MacFarlane says: “We initially got Weatherall on board to produce the record as we were trying to push ourselves out of our comfort zone to go for a more sparse approach the sound. He would send over mix tapes of early Factory Records releases and other songs from that era, to show the direction he thought we should go, and would come in the studio so we could bounce ideas off him. We ended up producing it ourselves, but it was useful having someone with his experience to be there to reassure us that we were doing the right thing.”
“Purer than innocence and richer than gold, No One Can Ever Know confirms that the Twilight Sad are simply too good to remain a-little-less-than-well-known,” Drowned in Sound wrote, while BBC Music described the songs as “more than ostentatious angst; they’re doors onto shadowy, eerie scenes”. A limited edition tour EP as well as No One Can Ever Know: The Remixes followed in November, seeing tracks from the album reworked by the likes of the Horrors, Com Truise, Breton and Liars.
The same year, the band found an unlikely partner in the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, performing a series of intricate arrangements of their songs as part of The Spree festival at Paisley Abbey in October. For a group whose noise-laden live shows are synonymous with the tight unity afforded by a small stage, adding 89 members to the band and playing to a former monastery seemed unprecedented, even risky; but in the sweeping strings, brass flares and tuned percussion of the RSNO the Twilight Sad took on a cinematic quality. The live recording of the show which surfaced last Christmas was an indicator of a band willing to venture into unchartered territories and coming out the other side stronger than ever before. Where NOCEK demonstrated their comfort in minimalism, the RSNO collaboration showed a band able to succeed at the opposite end of the spectrum. For now, it’s all eyes ahead as the band ready their fourth album, Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave.
“We spent a lot of time at home when writing this new record, we got to hang out with old friends and get back to some sort of normality, which I think really helped me clear my mind and focus in on writing these new songs,” Graham says. “I had a lot I wanted to get off my chest and I've done that with this new record.”
Where each album prior to NWTBHANWTL saw the Twilight Sad tackling new sounds and ways of writing, their latest work draws from their entire career. MacFarlane says: “Over the 8 years we've been touring, our live sound has taken on different forms, from full on noise/feedback, to a sparse, synth led sound, to a stripped back set up with just keys, drum machine and guitar, to playing with an orchestra, and to just an acoustic with vocal. We wanted to try and capture all of those elements and develop them in some way to make the new record.” Opting to stay in Glasgow, the album was produced at Mogwai’s Castle Of Doom studio, engineered by live soundman Andrew Bush, mixed by Peter Katis (also responsible for Fourteen Autumns), with touring member Johnny Docherty playing bass.
Despite critical acclaim accompanying all of the band’s releases to date - not to mention their exhilarating live shows - mainstream popularity has largely evaded the Twilight Sad, while the scene from which they hail has become more of a force on the international circuit. As their fellow Fat Cat brothers Frightened Rabbit parted ways in favour of a major label deal, former TTS bandmate Martin Doherty found fame as one third of Chvrches. Both have remained firm friends of the band, the latter inviting Graham to join them onstage at their recent T in the Park appearance, and there’s certainly no bitterness or envy on the Twilight Sad’s part - but it does seem like an injustice has been served for a group so talented.
“Do I want our songs to played on the radio? Yes I do. Do I want our band to have features in magazines and websites? Yes I do. The only reason I want that is so that more people can learn of and discover our music,” Graham says. “We would never write music just to get those things, if people like our music enough to make those things happen then that's great, if not we're not going change our music so it fits into certain boxes to make that happen. I love being in this band, it's everything to me. I want to play big gigs, small gigs. I just want to write and play music for as long as I can. We don't write pop songs (p.s. I love pop songs) so I don't think we'll ever really break into the mainstream but if we can keep progressing musically and people are still coming to our gigs then I'll be happy. If something crazy happened and we did break through to mainstream we'd embrace it with both hands while still staying true to ourselves.”
A first listen to the album confirms everything the band has said - noisy, densely layered, and deeply melodic, it wouldn’t be out of line to say this may be their best yet. One thing’s for sure - the Twilight Sad have still got a lot of life left in them.
“I think it's a testament to the music we've written and the people who support our band that we've got this far,” Graham says. “Everyone always says their new album is their best, I'm not going to say that. I love all of our albums as they document that time in our lives be it good or bad. All I'll say is that I am extremely proud of the record and I hope everyone loves it as much as I do.”