The Twilight Sad have always been one of our favourite bands here on Backseat Mafia. Their fourth album, ‘Nobody wants to be here, and nobody wants to leave’, dropped on Monday and see’s the band again make plaintive, emotive songs, and wash them through in Mogwai / Epic Rock (insert your own favourites) style backings, with an extra dribble of shimmering, shoegazey guitars.
Its no surprise then that, like their other albums, Nobody wants to be here is brilliant. In the run up to the release of the record, we spoke to James from the band.
I hardly dare ask, but have you got over the independence vote yet?
Politics was always a very private thing in my household when I was growing up and that’s something that I’ve taken on board as I’ve got older. So I’ve decided to stay out of the independence debate. I grew up and voted in North Lanarkshire, I now live in Glasgow. Those were two of the three places which voted “Yes”, Glasgow was a strange place to be in the day after the vote. I was disgusted by the events at George Square the night after the vote. Those people who were causing trouble were just looking for an excuse to do that, I was ashamed to be from the same country as them. They didn’t represent the ‘Yes” or the “No” voters, they were just mindless idiots. The good thing to come out of the referendum was that so many people are now wanting to get involved in politics to help make Scotland a better country. We just have to all work together to make that happen. I just hope that these “New Powers” we were promised actually happen and make a difference. Another thing after the vote which made me proud to be from Glasgow and Scottish was all the food banks set up in the middle of town. That was the kind of people we are and it was good to show the world that.
Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave is the title of your new record – Is that about Scotland, or any place in particular?
The album title describes many different things. I wouldn’t say it’s just about a place. I love Scotland, I miss it when I’m on tour and where I am from has been a major influence on me and the music I write. The album is about relationships, small towns, where we grew up, coming home to or leaving a place you love or hate. The realisation of that something you love might be over or someone you cared for has left.
I read that you’ve drawn from your entire career when writing this record – what did that involve? Did you feel you needed to change things after No One Can Ever Know? Or was it just a case of evolving and trying different things?
We started writing the record the same way we always have. Andy sent me over some music and I wrote my melodies and rough lyrics then sent them back to him. After that we see which direction the song has taken and what instrumentation would suit the song. A lot of that depends on what Andy’s listening to and influenced by at the time. Andy makes a demo and then we go into the rehearsal room to play the song as a full band to nail down the drums and the bass parts. We don’t go into any album with any major ideas of how we want it to sound, we just let things happen naturally and what comes out comes out. We are a band who constantly wants to move forward and progress our sound. I’d say that we were trying a lot of new things on “No One Can Ever Know” and we wanted to use what we’d learned from that record and just open the sound out. There are still a lot of electronic elements on the record but they aren’t always the main focus in the songs. Whereas, “No One Can Ever Know” was a very insular sounding record “Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave” opens that sound out while moving into new areas which progress our sound, I think. The guitars are back a bit and we even use some brass on one song, which I never thought would happen but I’m really glad it has.
So with all these elements in place, how would you describe the record?
I think it’s the best collection of songs we’ve ever written. I think it’s a big sounding record when it needs to be big, but it also has very intimate moments on there where we stripped the sound back just to the basic song. It’s still miserable but at the same time there’s a little bit more hope within the lyrics (just a little, no more than a little). It’s most definitely an album and not just a collection of songs. Like all our albums each song is a chapter in the overall story of the record.
Any reason why you opted to stay in Scotland and record at Mogwai’s studio? Good times?
We wanted to be close to home this time. We had recorded the last album in London and this time we wanted to be able to go home every night and clear our heads after what was usually a 12 hour day in the studio. Mogwai have always been really good to us and they’re good friends as well. I had the chance to have a look at the studio when they were recording “Rave Tapes” and I suggested recording there to the rest of the band. We also wanted to work with our live sound engineer Andy Bush who engineered the whole record, he lives in Glasgow so it all just made sense to record at The Castle Of Doom. I mean The Castle Of Doom is a pretty cool name and a studio with that name it really suited the music we make.
Lyrically, is it a very personal record?
Every song I’ve ever written has been personal. I’ve never written a song if I didn’t have something important for me to write about. I also write when I have something personal, or that has affected me, to get off my chest. Each album represents a certain time in my life and writing lyrics is like a strange type of therapy for me.
I always think that this must be the hardest time, that bit where everythings done, and your just waiting for it to hit the shops – apart from answering questions for people like us, that is. Are you just wanting it to get out there, or have you already moved on to other things?
Aye, I find this the hardest part to be honest. A lot of sleepless nights. I’m really proud of the record and it’s been for our ears only for a while but now it’s out there for people to listen and to have their own opinions on and review. I’m both terrified and excited at the same time. I’m a bit of an emotional wreck at the moment. I’m excited for people who like the band to hear it as I think they will like it. I won’t listen to the record again unless I have to because I’ve forgetting a part or a lyric. I try to never listen to a record once its released – it’s done and it’s time to move on and focus making the live versions of these songs their own thing. It’s all about touring and making our live sets the best they can be now.
And your heading out on tour – looking forward to that?
Yeah, I am. We’ve got the next eight months mapped out for us which include two US tours and a big European tour next spring. I love touring now. When we started I struggled to deal with life on the road but now I know what to expect. I love meeting people from different walks of life who like our music. My favourite things about being in the band are writing the songs and playing them live. We’re very lucky to have the opportunity to visit different countries, I think our next tour of America will be the 15th time we’ve been over there. Bands that are much bigger than us don’t get the opportunity to play over there so it’s a real privilege to be able to go over there. My big hope for this record is that it gives us the opportunity to travel to new places and play in front of new people.
So what’s going to be rocking the tour bus playlist?
I’ve got some new stuff to listen to when I’m away. As we’re driving into certain towns we try and listen to bands and artists from that area. For example we’ll be listening to Gun N’ Roses as we drive into Los Angeles and Nirvana in Seattle.
Here is the new albums that have been released this year that I’ll be listening to on the road:
Perfume Genius – Too Bright
Caribou – Our Love
Remember Remember – Forgetting The Present
Mogwai – Rave Tapes
Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Lykke Li – I Will Never Learn
Aphex Twin – Syco
Sharon Van Ettan – Are We There Yet
The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream
The Phantom Band – Strange Friend
Is there anything that you always have to take with you on tour, beyond the obvious clean pants, spare leads, resolve and the like?
Spare Bottle of Vodka in case the promoter is a stingy bastard and gives us two drinks tokens each.
Any other plans for 2014?
Tour and more touring. Try to not kill each other.