Over the past twelve months the uniquely home-grown sonics of the ‘Twilight’s magnificent Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters and Frightened Rabbit’s equally elegiac The Midnight Organ Fight have pulled relentlessly on the UK public’s heartstrings. Forget the grating art school chic of Franz Ferdinand, these acts truly encapsulate the sound of modern Scotland: vehemently sarcastic, bitterly morose and absolutely, unflappably honest.
So in the first of a two part interview, The Line of Best Fit caught up with Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison and The Twilight Sad’s James Graham before a gig in Edinburgh during the Fringe to discuss their morbid disposition, the increased popularity of the Scottish brogue and, of course, Gwen Stefani…
Well, we’re in Edinburgh and it’s the Fringe Festival. Have you had any chance to see shows?
James Graham: Nah, I’ve no money at all.
Scott Hutchison: I went to see Limmy last week.
SH: You don’t know Limmy?? Aw man, where’ve you been? If we’re talking about Scottish stuff he’s the funniest guy about at the moment. He’s got a website and he does all these podcasts and videos. It’s just wee characters that you’d definitely know if you lived in Glasgow or anywhere in Scotland really. He’s got this one character whose an ex-junkie called Jacqueline McCafferty.
JG: [shouting in coarse Glaswegian accent] Jacqueline, Jacqueline McCafferty.
SH: And he’s got another character called John Paul the Ned who’s brilliant. You should definitely go check him out.
JG: I can’t afford to.
SH: I’ll take you as a wee treat then.
JG: Aww… thanks.
Do you need to pay? Can’t you guys play the ‘don’t you know who I am’ card and stroll in to anything you want these days?
JG: They’d probably just laugh us away.
SH: Have you ever tried that? I mean, it’s easy to get on guestlists but have you ever actually rocked up to somewhere and tried it?
JG: Nah, I’d be too embarrassed – it would be awful. There was a guy going about in Glasgow saying he was our manager at one point and getting into places. Why would you even say that? You wouldn’t get in anywhere. I think the doormen just laughed at him.
Talking of japes, why do so many Scottish bands – and I count both your groups in this - have such a morbid sense of humour when it comes to lyrics?
SH: I think Scottish life can be a bit dark and miserable. I mean it’s not California here and I think it’s been bred into us. I’m always asked if I listen to Arab Strap records in my room all my time but I’ve never listened to an Arab Strap Record all the way through.
JG: [genuinely stunned] Honestly?
SH: I’m not kidding, I’ve listened to about three songs.
JG: Christ, I listened to one the other day.
SH: Aye, it’s not that I’m not interested in them but I think it confirms that it’s an innate Scottish quality to look on the bright side of darkness. [Looks at James] But you’re not very funny.
JG: I’m not funny – there’s nae uplifting parts to me at all.
SH: I went round to his house the other day and it was a beautiful summer day - one of the hottest of the year - and James was sitting by his laptop in his bedroom with the blinds down and one wee lamp on. I think he’d just closed a very rude window as I walked in.
JG: Aye so it was: YouPorn.com, I think. But I don’t really like hot weather so that was why I was sitting in my room in the dark. I just fucking hate the summer.
I hear you, especially in Scotland: a combination of pissing rain and sweaty buses equates to an omnipresent stench of wet dog.
SH: I know what you mean. You know those t-shirts you forget to wash after a particularly stinking day and then when it rains a few weeks later the dog smell comes back?
JG: I’ve nae idea what you’re talking about.
SH: You’ve never had that? I guess that’s because your mother does your washing for you.
JG: [Sarcastically] She does, aye.
Right, back to the topic fellas. Why do we Scots write such morose songs?
JG: I dunno, I just don’t like happy songs so I wouldnae write any. I hate happy people who go about smiling all the time, pretending that life’s great. That’s just not me and I don’t think many people are like that either – the Scots are just as miserable as fuck.
SH: I think the dark side is more interesting; no-one likes people who think everything is great.
JG: Like that woman from the T In The Park coverage, the one who used to be in El Presidente. She spent the whole festival saying: “amazing, amazing, amazing”. Fuck Off.
SH: Aye, amazing as a word should be used considerably less than it is at the moment. Not everything can be amazing.
There’s a fair amount of brutal colloquialism in your lyrics – I’ll use ‘puttin’ the boot in’ and ‘kicking your cunt in’ as prime examples. How does that go down outside of Scotland?
JG: In America it worked just as well.
SH: Yeah but your ‘cunt’ [in That Summer At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy] is quite a subtle one.
JG: We also got away with it on the Gideon Coe session during the day. Nobody noticed at all.
SH: We’ve got one of our songs coming up in a mainstream American TV show that has a cunt and a shit in it and they’re playing it whole. I don’t know how it’s going to work, I don’t know if they’ll voiceover it with ‘jobby’. They really hate ‘cunt’ over there and when I use it they think I mean kicking a woman in a vagina or something equally as horrid; yet over here it’s acceptable.
JG: My mum and dad asked me about the lyrics but we’ve just never, ever spoken about ‘that’ lyric.
SH: So, is that ‘cunt’ someone I know?
JG: [Laughs] No, it’s a generalisation that signifies a whole lot of people.
SH: You mean it’s an umbrella over one person so they can’t be identified?
JG: Aye, a cunt-brella.
Have you ever seen the American website that tries to decipher your lyrics James?
JG: Oh aye, it’s amazing. It’s a shitty website that someone’s made up and it’s got stars and shit all over it.
SH: Is it that one that looks like a My Little Pony website or something. As if they needed to say ‘Unofficial Twilight Sad website’ when it’s covered in stars and glitter. Although, it might have been Andy’s doing.
With the brogue being ‘in vogue’, so to speak, I take it you see it as a good thing that folk here are singing in their own accents rather than using that faux-American drawl bands used to put on?
SH: I don’t sing in the same strength of accent as [James] does but I find that when I’m singing one of their songs I start [puts on his finest Weegie accent] strengthen’ it up a wee bit, eh. But I think there’s no other way of singing [The Twilight Sad] songs than like that.
JG: I do roll my r’s a wee bit but I never really think about it.
SH: You know there’s these American bloggers out there who call him Groundskeeper Willie?
JG: Aye, Groundskeeper Willie – fucking brilliant eh? But I’ve never really thought about singing in an accent.
SH: I don’t know why I sing with an accent either - I’d never heard his band before I started Frightened Rabbit and I’d never hear Popup either.
JG: Nah, I’d never heard Popup either, in fact I don’t think I’ve heard them to this day. Or have I? I think we’ve played with them…[ponders this for a minute].
SH: Anyway, moving on…If I’m singing about things that are happening in my own life then there’s no way I could be honest about it if I’m singing in another accent. If I put on an American accent then it wouldn’t work at all and people wouldn’t believe it.
JG: Aye, these songs are about us and there’s nae point in trying to do it any other way.
It’s well known that The ‘Twilights’ rose to prominences in the States before being picked up here, whereas I remember seeing Frightened Rabbit a multitude of times in various venues over the past few years. Considering your pathways, is it strange you’re now both on an equal par now in the States?
JG: Aye we had an American release out before we’d put anything out and then we toured there for a bit and then we came here. I quite glad we did that in many ways.
SH: It’s kind of unique to Fat Cat to be honest. So many labels think you have to work on the UK before you have a chance of making it in the States and that’s why you have the stupid pressure of cracking America or whatever. If you just go there and work like you do over here it’s probably going to happen – they fucking love Scottish music, in fact they love Scottish ‘things’. [James laughs] They do man, they love everything about Scotland.
JG: The thing is; if there’s a buzz about a British band in Britain the American’s don’t really give a fuck. But if there’s a buzz about a British band in America then it all filters back.
You mean like Bush?
JG: Aye, we’re the new Bush apparently. [Raises fists in celebration]Yes!
Could be worse, I’m pretty sure most folk would be chuffed waking up to Gwen Stefani in the morning.
SH: [Laughs] I had to do this blog thing on the Guardian and I talked about pumping Gwen Stefani from behind. I’m not sure it will ever be published.
JG: We had to do a single review column for The Skinny [local culture magazine] and we gave Bush’s new single five stars for boabin’ her and two for the song.
Okay, I’m sure Gwen’s getting the divorce papers sorted as we speak. So, how different are the American crowds to those in the UK. I’m assuming Frightened Rabbit don’t quite have the same scale as the Twilights just yet?
JG: Nah, they’re much bigger than we are over there.
SH: We sell shows out in the States all the time but I don’t think we’ve sold one show out over here. So, yeah, we’re doing pretty well over in America.
JG: We haven’t been out there in a while so I really don’t know. I think the only significant thing for us, was playing the Pitchfork festival. All the other shows were pretty small, at about 200 – 300 people.
That’s still pretty good I’d say, considering I saw The Ruby Suns over there and there must have been about twenty people. It’s odd they don’t seem to support their own, don’t you think?
SH: Yeah but it can be really random as well. There were some pretty dead shows initially.
JG: Aye, you have to get through the shit to get to the good.
SH: People over there find music a lot more independently than they do here - there’s not quite so much external influence. I find the NME governs what people think all too much here and they don’t really have that in the States.
JG: They’ve got Pitchfork but quite lot of people look down on them for being cuntish to bands. They’ve been really good to us but I think there’s a lot of negativity towards them because of how harsh they can be. If you look at the Black Kids review or even the Jet one where a monkey was drinking its own piss – it’s pretty funny but if it was your band you’d be like [puts on mortified expression].
SH: Pitchfork are capable of ruining bands careers.
JG: Aye they are: British Sea Power got U.2 for their new album. I really think that’s worse than a monkey drinking its own piss.
Look out for part two of the interview next week.
First published here at my new home...